Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 30, 2010

Portland: “They don’t see it as a place where anything will happen.”

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on November 30, 2010

The arrest warrant reads like notes for a novel that will never be finished.


First, the email message from the northwest frontier province of Pakistan to Mohamed Osman Mohamud (or MOM):

salamz bro
it’s me [Unindicted Associate 1, or UA1), i made it to Mecca.  if u wanna come, theres a bro that will contact u about the proper paperwork u need 2 come… i cant go online 4 a while,, i hope 2 see u soon
abu abdallah.

Then a return email from MOM, somewhere in Oregon to UA1:

yes, that would be wonderful, just tell me what i need to do.  always wanted to see the ka’bah.

Contact made.  Now it’s time for operational security:

UA1 — hey.  check this email  jvjv003@hotmail.com.  pass is the same as the email except theres an = between the name and numbers

Anyone who’s tried to send a secret password to someone via email knows you don’t actually write the password. You do something cryptically fancy, like mask the password with a clue that is only obvious if you happen to actually read the message.

A few minutes later, from UA1:
contact abdulhadi (who will now be known as Unindicted Associate 2, or UA2)

Email addresses are unforgivingly precise.  MOM sends the following email to what he thinks is the correct email address, but he confuses the address with password and writes instead to jvjv=003@hotmail.com

Abu Abdallah — how are you brother abdulhadi, I was referred to you by a friend plz get back to me as soon as possible.

MOM gets an immediate response:

Your message is undeliverable.  There is no such address.

For the next 6 months, MOM keeps sending emails to that address, hoping for something other than an “undeliverable” message.

To move the plot along, we’ll leave some of the details out.  But in January, MOM writes an email to a friend in Saudi Arabia asking his buddy to pray that MOM will be a martyr.  In June, MOM is not allowed to get on a plane from Portland, OR to Kodiak, Alaska.  He had a fishing job in Alaska, he told the FBI.  MOM also told the FBI he knew UA1.

By now, MOM is on several lists.

Later in June, FBI Under Cover Employee 1 (UCE1)  sent an email to MOM from a JVJV003@live.com address.  The address is close, but not quite the hotmail address UA1 handed out.

hello bro…go to hushmail.com and set up an account…send a message to me at abab003@hushmail.com, I hope to hear from you soon.

MOM does what he is instructed, and sends back:

assalaum alaykum brother how are you,

UCE1: I am good brother thank you for asking.  I’m sorry for the delay in our communication, we’ve been on the move.  may God reward you for responding so soon.  are you still able to help the brothers? in sh’allah, I’ll hear from you soon.

MOM: I have been betrayed by my family, I was supposed to travel last year but Allah had decreed that i stay here longer than might heart desired.  I am trying to find a way to go….  pray for me that allah will free my passage from the lands of the polytheists….

In late July MOM suggests a place in Portland for him and UCE1 to meet.  UCE1 cites “security concerns” as a reason for not wanting to meet at the place MOM suggests.  MOM starts to wonder if UCE1 is really who he says he is, and not — say — an undercover FBI employee:

and of course I will have a set of questions for you when we meet about your aqeeda to make sure you are not a spy yourself.  which of course leads me to ask, that only UA1 could have given you my email address, or one or two brothers did.  how did you get my email and if UA1 did give you my email then how do you know him and describe him to me if you really do know him.  only as a precaution brother no hard feelings

UCE1 writes back: a brother from oregon who is now far away vouched for you. i’ll answer all your questions when we meet.

A few days later they both meet in Portland.  As they are walking, UCE1 asks MOM what he’s done to prove he’s a good Muslim.  MOM says he’s written a few article about jihad.  [His April 2009 article in Jihad Recollections was titled “Getting in shape without weights.”]

MOM starts asking questions.  How did UCE1 get MOM’s email address.

UCE1 says he “got it from the council.”

Then the big question, from UCE1 to MOM: “What would you do for the cause?”

MOM says he “could do anything.”

UCE1 says he can’t tell MOM what to do, “that is had to come from your own heart and from Allah.”

Then UCE1 suggests five options:

“pray five times a day and spread Islam to others; or continue studying and get an engineering or medical degree so he could help his brothers overseas; or raise funds for the brothers overseas; or become ‘operational; or become a ‘shaheed,” a martyr.

MOM responds immediately: “I want to be operational. But I do not know how and I will need training.”

UCE1: Elaborate please, what do you mean by being operational?

MOM: I want to put an explosion together.  I’ve heard of brothers putting stuff in a car, parking it by a target, and detonating it.”

UCE1: I would be able to help with that kind of operation.  I can introduce you to a brother who is an expert in explosives.  Meanwhile go do some research on some possible targets.  I’ll be in touch again in about a month.”

Just about all the meetings between MOM and UCE were recorded.  However, according to the arrest warrant, “due to technical problems the meeting was not recorded.”

Conspiracy theories and doubt are built on much less than this.  What kind of technical problems prevented this first meeting from being recorded?  “How convenient,” nods the entrapment camp, knowingly.

MOM and UCE1 meet again in August, where MOM gets introduced to FBI undercover employee 2 (UCE2), the “experienced operator.”  At this meeting in a Portland hotel room, the multiple audio and video recorders encounter no technical problems.

After the pleasantries, MOM says when he began thinking about using violence:

Well, when I was fifteen, I prayed about whether I should make jihad in a different country or make an operation here, like something in Mumbai. You know, it would be simple.  You could get some weapons.  So I prayed for guidance and it was like when I was fifteen, and I had a dream that night, and in my dream I saw the mountains of Yemen….  If you don’t sacrifice your own kids, when will victory come?  There has to be sacrifice before you know any progress is made.”

MOM was 17 when Mumbai happened, not fifteen; but you know how guys in a hotel room can sometimes bullshit about the facts.

UCE 1 and 2 asked if MOM had a target yet.

MOM: Basically it’s Pioneer Square in Portland.  It’s the main meeting place when they have events.  Everybody comes up there.  So they have, on the 26th of November, they have a Christmas lighting and some 25,000 people that come.  You know the streets are packed.  I thought if you could help me get a truck, you know, so that they could refrain.  If you understand what I’m saying to you?

UCE1: But, what’s in your heart?  So I’m just bringing it to your mind.  You know there’s gonna be a lot of children there?

MOM: Yeah, I mean that’s what I’m looking for.

UCE1: For kids?

MOM: No, just for, in general just a huge mass that will be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays.  And then for later to be saying this was done for you to refrain from killing our children, women….  So when they hear all these families were killed in such and such a city, they know you will stop.  And its not fair they should do that to people and not be feeling it.  The sheikh Usama said that America will not even dream of security.”

UCE2: I love the idea.  But you can leave anytime you want.  And by the way, you know there will be law enforcement at the event.

MOM: In Portland? Not really.  They don’t see it as a place where anything will happen.  People say, why would anybody want to do something in Portland.  It’s on the west coast.  It’s Oregon.  And Oregon’s like, you know, no body ever thinks about it.  If were like in LA or something, that’s different.

UCE2: So are you telling me that you don’t mind driving the truck and blowing it up while you’re in it?”

MOM: Yeah, I don’t mind that. [Although in September, MOM decides his preferred operation will be to park the van, leave the area, and detonate the device by using a cell phone.  “The same thing happens,” and he lives to tell about it.]

UCE2: Are you sure you realize how difficult this operation would be?

MOM: Yes.  I will push the button.

UCE1: Allah is looking at you right now.

MOM: Allah is always looking at me.  But every day we see in newspapers and the news our people are killed.  So for us to see the enemy dead would be a smile from me.  You know what I like, what makes me happy?  You know what I like to see? When I see the enemy of Allah and their bodies are torn everywhere.

UCE1: Are you really sure you want to do this?   We want to make sure that it’s in your heart.  If we get all the way there and you’re like “Uh oh;” if that happens, we’ll be disappointed but you always have a choice.  You understand?  With us you always have a choice.

A few days later, UCE1 tells MOM to think and pray about it.  “A bomb is a very serious matter. This attack must come from the heart.”

MOM writes back:

I prayed for guidance and when i woke up my faith was sky high for no apparent reason.  so i see it as a sign that the traffic light is green lol…”

[“lol” in case you don’t know stands for “laugh out loud.”]

MOM’s next task is to find a place to park the van containing the bomb, and buy some bomb components for UCE2: one Utiliteck Mechanical Programmable Timer, two Nokia prepaid cellular telephones, one heavy duty toggle switch and one heavy duty 9 volt snap connector.

The UCEs give MOM $2700 to rent an apartment that can be used as a safe house after the attack; $110 dollars will be used to buy the bomb parts.

UCE1 tells MOM how strong the bomb will be.

UCE1: And when you dial the phone number on the cell, I’m telling you, when you look at how big this bomb is you can park the car probably two blocks away, and both blocks are going to be gone.

MOM: Really?

UCE1: Yeah. When you see, when you see what he (UCE2) builds.

MOM: Wow, like two blocks?

UCE1: Yeah.

MOM: Wow, that’s amazing.  It’s gonna be a fireworks show… a spectacular show….  New York Times will give it two thumbs up….”

By October, MOM picked a location near Pioneer Square where he wanted to park the bomb-laden van.  He showed the UCEs a Google street view photograph of the location.

In early November, the UCEs took MOM to a remote location in Lincoln County, Oregon to test the device.

MOM was told the purpose of the trip was to test the functioning of an explosive device.  He was also told the device he would use in his planned attack was similar to the one they were going to test, but that it would be significantly larger and hundreds of times more powerful….

When they arrived at the Lincoln County location, UCE2 showed MOM an inert explosive device.  The device was concealed in a blue backpack.  UCE2 and MOM placed the inert device in a location previously set up by law enforcement.

While UCE 1 and 2 drove MOM to a location where they planned on detonating the device with the cell phone, bomb technicians replaced the inert device with a live explosive device.

When MOM and the UCEs reached the location, the UCEs showed MOM how to use the cell phone to detonate the bomb.  MOM used the cell phone the way he had been instructed.  When he did that, the bomb technicians detonated the live device.

MOM believed his actions made the bomb explode.

On the drive back, UCE1 asked MOM if he was capable of looking at the bodies of the people who would be killed at the Pioneer Square explosion.

MOM: Do you remember when 9-11 happened when those people were jumping from skyscrapers…I thought that was awesome.”

UCE1: You know you’re going to see body parts and blood.

MOM: I want to see that, that’s, that’s what I want for these people.  I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.”

When they returned to MOM’s new apartment, he made a video, to be shown after the attack.  In his statement, he said,

This is a message to those who have wronged themselves and the rights of others….  A dark day is coming your way.  For as long as you threaten our security, your people will not remain safe….  Did you think that you could invade a Muslim land, and we would not invade you, but Allah will have soldiers scattered everywhere across the globe.  To those doubting the victory of Allah’s then we say there’s a lesson in the USSR for you, and also in the events going on in Afghanistan….  To those Muslims who reside amongst the infidels we say to them, what has stopped you from fighting in the cause of Allah?  Because living here is a sin…. Explode on these infidels.  Alleviate our pain.  Assassinate their leaders, commanders, and chiefs from your brother to his brothers.

On November 26th, UCE 1 and 2 and MOM went to look at the “bomb.”  It was packed into the back of a late-model, white full-size van.

The bomb consisted of six 55 gallon drums containing inert material, inert detonation cord, inert blasting caps, and approximately one gallon of diesel fuel which gave off a strong odor.

In the front seat of the van, FBI agents placed a detonation mechanism, consisting of a cell phone, a 9 volt battery, an arming switch and a phone jack plug.  MOM looked at the bomb and smiled.

“It’s beautiful.”

UCE2: Are you sure you want to go through with this.

MOM: I am sure

Shortly before 5 PM, UCE 2 and MOM drove to the Yamhill and Sixth Street location near Pioneer Square.  The FBI and the Portland Police Bureau made sure the street and parking spot MOM picked out were opened as the van approached.

UCE2 parked the van. MOM attached the blasting cap to the device.  UCE2 turned on the phone that was designed to detonate the bomb and asked MOM to flip the toggle switch.  He did.  Those were the same steps MOM was shown when he detonated the practice bomb in Lincoln County.

UCE2 and MOM got out of the van, walked a few blocks and then were picked up by UCE1.  The three men drove to Portland’s Union Station, and dropped off UCE1.

UCE2 then pulled into a parking lot and stopped the car.  He gave MOM the phone that was supposed to detonate the Pioneer Square bomb.  UCE2 started to read the phone number that MOM had to dial, but MOM did not wait for the number to be read to him.  He read the number off the paper UCE2 held, and dialed it faster than UCE2 could recite.

After he dialed, the FBI confirmed the call went through and the inert bomb did not detonate.

UCE2 then suggested that MOM step out of the car and try making the call again where the cell phone signal might be stronger.

MOM got out of the car and called the number again.

Then MOM was arrested.  He yelled Allahu Akhbar.

I understand that to mean God is Great.


10,000 people safely attended the Christmas Tree lighting in Pioneer Square.   The FBI did the prevention job many Americans want it to do, with the aid — apparently — of the Somali community.   Nineteen year old Mohamed Osman Mohamud did not commit mass murder.  He received a court appointed attorney who will probably argue the FBI entrapped his client.  Someone set a fire at the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, Oregon; but it apparently did little damage.  The US attorney said he would prosecute the arson case aggressively.

Our Constitution is fairly great also.

What would this week — this season — be like in America if Mohamud had found someone other than the FBI to help him build and detonate a bomb?

It’s not what terrorists do to us that matters,  Admiral William Crowe once said, but what we do to ourselves after we’ve been attacked.

Mohamud’s arrest warrant reads like notes for a novel that will never be finished.  There will be more chapters — even in places where nothing ever happens.

What can we as a nation do to make sure we are the author of the chapters written after the next attack, and not an unthinking, knee jerk audience?

November 27, 2010

The FBI was listening

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 27, 2010

The Oregonian reports:

The FBI thwarted an attempted terrorist bombing in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square before the city’s annual tree-lighting Friday night, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon.

A Corvallis man, thinking he was going to ignite a bomb, drove a van to the corner of the square at Southwest Yamhill Street and Sixth Avenue and attempted to detonate it.

However, the supposed explosive was a dummy that FBI operatives supplied to him, according to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint signed Friday night by U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a Somali-born U.S. citizen, was arrested at 5:42 p.m., 18 minutes before the tree lighting was to occur, on an accusation of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. MORE (The Oregonian is aggregating news coverage and opinion on the arrest here.)

According to the FBI the young man began considering terrorist acts at age 15.

Intelligence and police work requires careful observation and listening. We ought be grateful for the attentiveness of these professionals.

What might have happened if others had been listening more carefully years before?

SUNDAY UPDATE: An Islamic center in Corvallis, Oregon was the target of arson early Sunday morning.  More from the Corvallis Gazette Times. (Coverage is also available via The Oregonian’s aggregation link provided above.)  Further coverage of the arson from Al Jazeera and Dawn (Pakistan).


Following is a post that originally appeared on November 26 entitled:

Homeland security, you, me and the National Day of Listening


O.E. hlysnan  “to listen,” from P.Gmc. *khlusinon  (cf. O.H.G. hlosen  “to listen,” Ger. lauschen  “to listen”), from PIE base *kleu-  “hearing, to hear” (cf. Skt. srnoti  “hears,” srosati  “hears, obeys;” Avestan sraothra  “ear;” M.Pers. srod  “hearing, sound;” Lith. klausau  “to hear,” slove  “splendor, honor;” O.C.S. slusati  “to hear,” slava  “fame, glory,” slovo  “word;” Gk. klyo  “hear, be called,” kleos  “report, rumor, fame glory,” kleio  “make famous;” L. cluere  “to hear oneself called, be spoken of;” O.Ir. ro-clui-nethar  “hears,” clunim  “I hear,” clu  “fame, glory,” cluada  “ears;” Welsh clywaf  “I hear;” O.E. hlud  “loud,” hleoðor  “tone, tune;” O.H.G. hlut  “sound;” Goth. hiluþ  “listening, attention”). The -t-  probably is by influence of O.E. hlystan  (see list (v.2)). For vowel evolution, see bury.  (From Dictionary.com)

Listening to achieve splendor, honor, fame and glory is mostly neglected.  In our age speaking, writing, blogging, texting, tweeting more and more — and more provocatively — is what produces fame (if not glory).  Just ask Ashton Kutcher.

But in our modern — and perhaps particularly American  — propensity to expect  others to listen, what are we missing?

Are we listening to the survivors of earthquake, flood, and epidemic in Haiti? Or to those with similar challenges in Pakistan?  Are we listening when our local government authorizes construction on a flood plain or where wildfires regularly recur or where water is in short supply?

Are we listening to the findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Engineering study and other studies related to the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon?   Are we considering meaningful analogies for agro-chemical stockpiles in the Central Valley of California, for refineries along the Gulf, for nuclear plants in New England?

Are we listening to the hopes and fears, especially of isolated young men, in the chaotic cities and tribal homelands of South Asia and the Middle East, gritty European suburbs, in the apartment next door, in the seat beside us, in our own home?  Do we have the cultural context to understand what we hear?  Do we have the empathy — or perhaps better, the courage — to listen patiently and self-critically?

Are we listening actively with authentic questions and real curiosity? Are we listening in order to better understand, to communicate more effectively, and to act more wisely?

Today, November 26, is being promoted as a National Day of Listening.  In a set of instructions for good listening the sponsors urge:

Listen closely. Look your storyteller in the eyes. Smile. Stay engaged…

Ask emotional questions. Asking “How does this make you feel?” often elicits interesting responses. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Respect your subject. If there is a topic that your interview partner doesn’t want to talk about, respect his or her wishes and move on.

Take notes during the interview. Write down questions or stories you might want to return to later.

Be curious and honest, and keep an open heart. Great things will happen.

Listening will not prevent every harm.  Reality unfolds.  Natural events, accidents, and evil intention will persist.

But authentic listening — combined with wise action — allows us to have a relationship with reality that maximizes our resilience, minimizes our risks, and enriches our lives.

November 26, 2010

A reason to give thanks

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 26, 2010

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Ate well, drank well, and most importantly, spent time with family and dear friends.  On a personal note, given the focus on the TSA this past week, I found it somewhat amusing that a TSA employee was a part of my own Thanksgiving dinner experience.

In terms of homeland security, we should all give thanks to those who protect us everyday.  At the top of the homeland security enterprise pyramid, obviously, are all the private citizens of this nation who are the true first preventers and responders. Then the professionals (first responders, law enforcement, DHS workers, intelligence employees, and military personnel who risk their lives to protect us everyday), politically appointed leaders, and everyone else who play vital roles in this effort.

Given the constant focus on terrorist threats and other risks, today might be a good time to get a slightly different perspective.  Though the threats we face are real and while our economic problems continue,  is it possible that perhaps we miss a bigger truth: that we still maintain a position of unparalleled strength in the world.

I will let Harvard professor Stephen Walt explain:

Although we are constantly bombarded with alarmist reports about grave dangers facing the nation from outside, the United States remains remarkably secure compared with other states. The U.S. economy is still the world’s largest and most diverse, despite its recent woes, and it is still more than twice as large as the number 2 and number 3 economic powers (China and Japan). We spend more on national security than the rest of the world put together, are the only state with global power projection capabilities, and have the world’s most sophisticated nuclear arsenal. Many of the world’s significant military powers are our allies, so our actual lead is even greater. There are no major powers near to our shores, and we are insulated from many global problems by two enormous oceanic moats.

The United States does face a modest problem from terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, but that is due in good part to our own ill-advised meddling in the Middle East and elsewhere. And assuming it never acquires a nuclear weapon (which we can prevent by working with others to enhance nuclear security around the world), Al Qaeda is not an existential threat to our prosperity or way of life. Even if all their thwarted plots had succeeded–and I’m very glad they didn’t–the damage would pale in comparison to the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Indeed, if history is any guide, international terrorism at its worst poses less threat to American life than auto accidents, nut allergies, or falling in a bathtub.

In short, although perfect security is beyond anyone’s grasp, the United States is as secure as any state could ever expect to be.

As worrisome as the security situation can appear sometimes, perhaps we can be thankful that things are not always as bad as they seem.

November 23, 2010

President Kennedy on TSA and homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 23, 2010

Over the past few weeks, just about everything that can be said about TSA has been said.

But not everyone has said it.  At least not yet.

I was going to add more words to the TSA theatrical.  I’d been collecting stories and ideas from colleagues all week, some negative and some positive.

But I’ll save those for another time.

I remembered as I sat down to write this post – on Monday evening — John Kennedy was assassinated 47 years ago.

I was riding a New York city subway when I heard the first rumors.  A young girl was crying.  The news buzzed through the car from person to person, like a primitive twitter message.

At the next station, I ran out of the train up the stairs into the city.  Like a scene from a 40s movie, people stood around cars stopped in the middle of the street, listening to radio broadcasts.


If the president were assassinated today, the first question would be which terrorist group did it.  We have so many choices.

No doubt we would spend countless hours considering the homeland security implications of the murder.

I wondered what John Kennedy would have to say about the nation’s recent belligerent, polarizingly directionless clamor about securing the homeland.

TSA may be the current – and almost perennial – focus.  But other domains in homeland security get their turn: immigration, border security, intelligence, customs, defense, emergency management, pandemic response.  The list extends into forgetfulness.

Kennedy once said, “If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a better place to in which to live.”

Based on that invitation to license, I gathered some Kennedy quotes and, with a few distorted interpretations, adopted his words to the contemporary homeland security environment.


On terror:

Terror is not a new weapon. Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example. But inevitably they fail, either because men are not afraid to die for a life worth living, or because the terrorists themselves came to realize that free men cannot be frightened by threats, and that aggression would meet its own response. And it is in the light of that history that every nation today should know, be he friend or foe, that the United States has both the will and the weapons to join free men in standing up to their responsibilities.

On fear of Muslims and Islam:

For while this year it may be a Catholic [or Muslim] against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart in a time of great national peril.

On the difficulty of defeating 21st century terror, in all its forms:

We must think and act not only for the moment but for our time. I am reminded of the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.

On trusting the American people to handle the truth about threats, vulnerabilities and potential consequences:

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

On the tendency for government to keep secrets from its citizens:

The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

On the need for government to listen to people who object to what is happening at airports:

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

On the motives of people who criticize homeland security and TSA:

Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘One who has the heart to help has the right to criticize.’ We are going to help.

On the importance of people who criticize TSA and anything else done under the banner of homeland security:

The [people] who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the [people] who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.

On what to do if you don’t like the way homeland security in general and aviation security in particular is being managed:

The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need [people] who can dream of things that never were and ask “why not?”.

On the perceived efforts of TSA, DHS, fusion centers, and other manifestations of “The Man” to steal our liberties:

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

On the security implications of people who actually believe the federal government could get its act together enough to be the brains behind the 9/11 attack or to plan the wholesale incarceration of dissidents (either from the left or the right):

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.

On people who visibly carry weapons to political gatherings, who plan to boycott backscatter machines on Wednesday, who protest the corporate takeover of politics, and who resist everything else that can be seen as a threat to freedom:

Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.

On the homeland security role of the Main Stream Media, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Drudge Report, Huffington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, blogs, et al:

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants” — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

But on the other hand:

Today no war has been declared — and however fierce the struggle may be, it may never be declared in the traditional fashion. Our way of life is under attack. Those who make themselves our enemy are advancing around the globe. The survival of our friends is in danger. And yet no war has been declared, no borders have been crossed by marching troops, no missiles have been fired.

If the press is awaiting a declaration of war before it imposes the self-discipline of combat conditions, then I can only say that no war ever posed a greater threat to our security. If you are awaiting a finding of “clear and present danger,” then I can only say that the danger has never been more clear and its presence has never been more imminent.

It requires a change in outlook, a change in tactics, a change in missions — by the government, by the people, by every businessman or labor leader, and by every newspaper. For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence — on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the … War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.

Nevertheless, every democracy recognizes the necessary restraints of national security — and the question remains whether those restraints need to be more strictly observed if we are to oppose this kind of attack as well as outright invasion.

[Senator Kennedy] On Afghanistan:

Mr. President, the time has come for the American people to be told the blunt truth about [Afghanistan]…… to pour money, material and men into the [mountains of Afghanistan] without at least a remote prospect of victory would be futile and self-destructive. Of course, all discussion of ‘united action’ assumes the inevitability of such victory; but such assumptions are not unlike similar predictions of confidence which have lulled the American people for many years and which, if contained, would present an improper basis for determining the extent of American participation.

Despite this series of optimistic reports about eventual victory, every member of the Senate knows that such a victory today appears to be desperately remote, to say the least, despite tremendous amounts of economic and material aid from the United States, and despite a deplorable loss of … manpower….  I am, frankly, of the belief that no amount of American military assistance in [Afghanistan] can conquer an enemy which is everywhere and at the same time nowhere….

On the role of intelligence and defense in homeland security:

I was assured by every son of a bitch I checked with — all the military experts and the CIA — that the [Bay of Pigs Invasion] plan would succeed.

Words scheduled to be delivered at a luncheon speech, Dallas Texas, November 22, 1963

We in this country, in this generation, are, by destiny rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, goodwill toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as it was written long ago, ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’

November 22, 2010

The Pat Down …

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 22, 2010

In case you missed it, here is a link to Saturday Night Live’s skit on TSA’s enhanced security procedures.

The skit made light of what has spread quickly over the last week — protests from travelers, the White House, the left, and the right over the increased use of Advanced Imaging Technologies (AIT) and “pat-downs” for those who refuse to go through the full-body scanners or trigger the metal detectors.   The use of these procedures and the ensuing uproar have left TSA and its new Administrator John Pistole in a difficult position.  Yesterday Pistole seemed to back away from assertions he had made earlier in the day on television programs that TSA would not change its policies by issuing a statement that the agency would work to make screenings “as minimally invasive as possible.”

In many ways, TSA could not win in this situation.  On one hand, if it did not change “something” to make security stronger this holiday season and another “underwear bomber” appeared, then the agency would have been made into a political piñata.  On the other hand, its roll out of procedures that can be deemed invasive and burdensome and that make normal Joes and Jills who are flying feel like the bad guys hasn’t gained the agency any fans.

The truth of the matter is that as we get further away from 9/11 without a successful attack happening, TSA’s job becomes harder.  (Indeed, the same can be said of DHS as a whole).  Americans feel more secure and less worried that something is going to happen, especially when they are trying to survive economic hardships that face them day to day.  As a result, TSA must be more transparent on its security efforts and use a common sense litmus to what it employs.  Few, I would venture, would argue that we do not want TSA to protect us and that the agency must be capable of stopping the next terrorist who targets an airplane.  What should the agency do?

First, it should continue its efforts to develop more intelligent screening and security measures.  After a recent flight, it dawned on me that the agency’s efforts often only see what “good” travelers want them to see.  It is incumbent on the traveler, for example, to remove his liquids, his computer, and take off his jackets and shoes before going through security.   Sometimes people forget to remove their liquids and nothing happens.  Most of us know of some travelers who routinely ignore the liquids out mandate and still have not been stopped.  Other times, some of the practices leave us scratching our heads.  For example, I recently traveled with a three month old whose booties had to be removed because they counted as shoes.  As someone who has worked on homeland security issues, I know why many of these practices exist but I still wonder how we can make things better so that the things we are protecting (the traveling public) are not left feeling as if they are the threat or worse, more threatened.  Investment in new technologies that can scan our bags for liquids or allow us to leave our shoes on would go a along way. Of course, the implementation of emerging technologies and measures such as profiling will not likely be without criticism.  The deployment of AIT machines have demonstrated that.

Second, TSA should embrace programs such as  domestic registered traveler programs that have a security component and allow those travelers who are a minimal security risk to pay a fee, submit to a  background check, and go through an enhanced security checkpoint experience.

Third, TSA should heed the recommendations of the Inspector General last week in its report, Transportation Security Administration’s Management of Its Screening Workforce Training Program Can Be Improved, and ensure that screeners receive thorough and consistent training.  A number of the “horror stories” reported about TSA’s screening procedures over the past several days do not stem from the new procedures per se but from mistakes made by TSA officers.  For example, Administrator Pistole told “Good Morning America” this morning that at least one screening went too far when an officer reached insider’s a traveler’s underwear.  Stories of forced removals of prosthetics and breakage of urostomy bags also demonstrate the need for good training.

Fourth, Congress needs to help TSA out by partnering with the agency and not playing out its efforts via the news cycle and blogs.  TSA has nearly an impossible task and it could use some constructive help in coming up with long-term solutions and not being forced into reactionary positions.

Last, the American people can help TSA out by being patient yet diligent.  TSA is tasked with assuring that we mitigate as many risks as possible to ensure that we avoid another 9/11.  Sometimes it might not be able to share threat information with the public because it is protecting its information sharing mechanisms or needs to continue its investigation.  While we should hold a common sense test to the agency, we should give it some leeway to do its job.

Recent aviation security posts

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 22, 2010

Several thousand new readers accessed HLSWatch on Sunday. You are clearly interested in TSA-related information. Following are several recent HLSWatch posts by a range of writers. You can view the entire aviation security archives by selecting the term from among the categories to the immediate right.

If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested by Dee Walker

The perfect citizen by S. Francis Thorn

Why did the land of the free and the home of the brave chicken out? by Christopher Bellavita

Binary explosivesby Mark Chubb

The Operation was a failure, but the patient lived by Christopher Bellavita

The week (year?) in aviation by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan

Vulnerability to various viruses and other poisonous ooze by Philip J. Palin

November 20, 2010

Considering Risk, Setting Priorities (or why baseball general managers should be in charge of homeland security)

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on November 20, 2010

“When it does [get crazy], you attempt to stay disciplined and look for other solutions that may carry risk in a different way.’’ … “It’s what kind of risk can you tolerate.”

Insightful words coming from a leading voice in the homeland security community?

Unfortunately, no.  Instead, they encapsulate the operating philosophy of Theo Epstein, general manager (GM) of the Boston Red Sox.  Elsewhere in the same interview, Epstein brings up risk as a determining factor in Red Sox decision making several more times.  In terms of baseball, the risk he is discussing involves filling positional requirements by investing in free agent players.  Whether they are superstars or bench players, free agents are normally priced according to their past accomplishments, not their expected future performance.  Often their best years are behind them and teams pay top dollar for declining returns.

To manage this risk, GMs can drive hard bargains with free agents, promote a prospect, or trade prospects for another team’s player.  As Epstein stated, these options all carry risk in a different way.  Obviously, managing risk is the means to putting together a winning team.  Savvy GMs do not put all their eggs in one basket—for example, putting together a team of sluggers but ignoring defense and pitching (an accusation levied against the Texas Rangers until recent seasons, paying off with a World Series appearance last season).  They do not fall in love with particular players, cutting the cord when the time comes for the sake of the team.  While they learn from the past, they are always cognizant of future trends.

If only homeland security officials could adhere to a similar philosophy.  I fear that despite constant affirmations regarding adherence to risk management principles, administrators, departments, agencies, and offices are often unwillingly to let go of “star players” in the form of politically popular grant programs or policies that are designed to react to the last threat or failed attack (that may or may not involve taking the measurement of your private parts).

I recognize that the Department as a whole has adopted the mantra of risk-based decision making and that several of the components have taken that to heart in their planning and daily operations. Yet when policy push comes to shove, few have been willing to stand up for such principles and call for commensurate security arrangements.  More importantly, few have been willing to end any program that proves ineffective if it has already attracted some institutional support.

Instead, we have statements such as those recently aired in a New York Post op-ed by Peter King (R-NY), incoming chair of the House Homeland Security Committee:

“Rep. John Boehner, who’ll be the next House speaker, and I have discussed the necessity of having the committee actively oversee DHS to ensure that it’s fulfilling its mission of protecting America against Islamic terrorism and effectively coordinating its activities with all elements of the intelligence and law-enforcement communities.”

While I have not asked Congressman King’s office to elaborate, this seems to me like an interesting interpretation of DHS responsibilities and priorities.  DHS was created in response to an act of terrorism perpetrated by followers of an Islam-related ideology.  Yet it does not seem prudent to focus only on one threat and ignore others, such as terrorism motivated by different ideologies, or those large natural catastrophes that seem to occasionally plague the U.S.

“As chairman, I’ll make securing our homeland from terrorists the committee’s primary focus. This seems like an odd thing to say, because that should be its top priority already. Yet, over the last four years, the committee’s Democratic leadership has moved its sights from that target. The Democrats have convened hearing after hearing on such issues as Hurricane Katrina and diversity in the DHS workforce. Those are important issues, for sure. Yet they convened those hearings to the exclusion of hearings on such serious terrorism issues as the al Qaeda-linked massacre at Fort Hood and President Obama’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and transfer terrorists to the US homeland.”

Again, apparently the lessons learned from Katrina (and the more recent BP oil event) are considered important “for sure,” but not serious.  The Fort Hood shootings were tragic, and the issues of radicalization and lone wolf terrorists are worthy of continued investigation.  However, shouldn’t natural and technological disasters also be worthy of attention?  Or will it have to wait until there is an event that threatens to collapse the national preparedness and response structure?  This sounds like a move away from a well-rounded team to one that focuses only on home run hitters.

“I’ll work to strengthen Securing the Cities, a proven partnership among federal, state and local authorities to prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism, through a ring of detection devices in and around the New York metro area. The administration has twice tried to end funding for this critical counterterrorism program; each time, I’ve succeeded in securing continued funds to protect New York City — and I hope to see it copied in other cities throughout the nation.”

This could prove to be an especially interesting issue.  Representative King will likely push through funding for this program with little resistance, but hopefully he will have to explain the cost-benefit ratio for the program when compared to other potential investments in deterring dirty bomb attacks (because let’s be honest: the vast majority of sensors currently deployed are unlikely to detect a nuclear weapon) and explain how this
“pilot program” can benefit other metropolitan areas that lack the vast resources and political capital and support of the NYPD.

Representative King hails from New York City, so I will not insult him by suggesting that Theo Epstein be hired as a consultant for the House Homeland Security Committee.  But is it too much to hope that he may reach out to the general managers of the Yankees or Mets?

November 19, 2010

Vulnerability to various viruses and other poisonous ooze

Filed under: Aviation Security,Biosecurity,Cybersecurity,Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on November 19, 2010

The re-introduction of cholera to Haiti — the US and Dominican Republic — is a huge step backward in a century long effort to corner, contain, and eliminate the highly infective and deadly disease.  The precise cause of the outbreak is not yet known, but experts have said the simple absence of hand soap has considerably accelerated the spread of the bacteria that causes the disease.

This week for the first time in seven years a human case of Avian Influenza was confirmed in Hong Kong.  But already this year there have been 22 confirmed cases and nine deaths in Egypt and seven cases and two deaths in Vietnam.  Most epidemiologists continue to consider the world past-due for a serious pandemic. The Avian H5N1 virus is thought to be the most likely source.

Last year’s Swine Flu or H1N1 pandemic should have been — and in some ways was — a fantastic real-world exercise for pandemic preparedness.  We were lucky the particular virus was fairly low-grade.  Our weaknesses were exposed, but the consequences were modest.  But from what I can see, the less-than-dire consequences of H1N1 may have suppressed personal and institutional preparedness for H5N1 or other potential strains of pandemic influenza.

Wednesday a series of cyber specialists told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the Stuxnet Wormhas viral capabilities. “What makes Stuxnet unique is that it uses a variety of previously seen individual cyber attack techniques, tactics, and procedures, automates them, and hides its presence so that the operator and the system have no reason to suspect that any malicious activity is occurring,” according to Sean P. McGurk, acting director of the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center.

But while Stuxnet is visciously sophisticated once it infects a system, prevention measures are classic.  According to PC Magazine these include, “Deploy an anti-malware solution; watch out for vendor security notifications and alerts, and apply patches; ensure that users are updated via security education and awareness programs; and be aware of their assets.”  Attention and discipline are the most important preventive measures.

A Russian biologist, Dmitry Ivanovsky, discovered viruses in the late 19th century.  The word virus has a Latin origin that usually referred to a poisonous ooze.  

Virus is closely related to the Latin virulentus.  The English “virulent” also means poisonous, but today is probably more often used for anything that is extremely infective and rapidly spreading. Especially in this context, it has made sense to use the biological term for malicious computer code and now for anything digital that is rapidly consumed.

The John Tyner — “don’t touch my junk” — video and narrative has certainly gone viral.  I am disgusted by it.  The combination of a puerile wanna-be passenger and a couple of aggressively bureaucratic TSA agents has certainly produced a poisonous ooze of invective going every which way. 

Like soap in Haiti and disciplined attention with our computers, a reasonable dose of recognizing the humanity of one another might have avoided the entire drama. 

In regard to transportation security, there are meaningful issues of privacy and security that deserve serious consideration. In their Tuesday post Chris Bellavita and Dee Walker outlined several.  Most persuasive to me is that TSA is too often  preoccupied with going through the motions.  They need our help, as informed and active citizens, to focus on delivering real security value.

But John Tyner is no Rosa Parks.  Neither are the two slightly obnoxious TSA agents a latter day Sheriff Clark and Governor Wallace. John Tyner missing his plane is no Bloody Sunday.

What I perceive in most — not all — reactions to the John Tyner incident is an epidemic of self-righteous rage.  I saw similar symptoms yesterday on the streets of Baltimore.  I can’t always flip the channel quickly enough to miss it on television.  I hear it on radio talk shows and in the halls of Congress.  I don’t know the epidemic’s source, but the destruction caused is easy enough to see.

I can understand the rage of some Haitians — ten months after the earthquake, two weeks after being flooded out of their tents and shanties, and now told the water on which they depend is deadly — in some moments I share their rage. 

But how do we diagnose — or treat — the rage of  the well-fed and warmly housed?  There seems to be some virus attacking our sense of relationship with one another, of being Americans together, of our shared humanity.

In 1992 the rap metal band Rage Against the Machine wrote what seems to have become the angry anthem of those from the left, right, and plenty in the middle:

I’ve got no patience now
So sick of complacence now
I’ve got no patience now
So sick of complacence now
Sick of sick of sick of sick of you
Time has come to pay…
Know your enemy!

It is an epidemic: virulent, poisonous, and just as deadly as any other infection.

November 18, 2010

Cholera in Florida and DR

Filed under: Biosecurity,Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on November 18, 2010

According to the Miami Herald:

A Southwest Florida woman who visited family in the disease-stricken Artibonite Valley of Haiti and a Haitian construction worker who lives in the eastern Dominican Republic but recently spent two weeks in Port-au-Prince became the first people to import deadly cholera.

The spread is worrying public health specialists in several countries who fear the illness could spread internationally.

The acute intestinal infection first surfaced in Haiti four weeks ago and has killed 1,110 people and hospitalized 18,382 since.

The Collier County woman does not work in a job that puts her in close contact with the public, so the chance that she might pass on the disease is small, Florida health officials said. Several more cases are under investigation in other counties, said Dr. Thomas Torok, a cholera expert in the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Epidemiology.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/11/18/1931309/cholera-fear-spread-beyond-the.html#ixzz15cpynwQD

Yesterday, November 17, the Pan American Health Organization released its most recent Situation Report.  Violence in Haiti — related to suspicions cholera was introduced by UN peacekeeping troops — is complicating efforts to contain the disease. According to PAHO:

Civil unrest since November 15 has slowed several activities of the response to the outbreak. In the northern city of Cap Haitian prevention and treatment supplies are were not delivered in last three days. WHO/PAHO cholera training was postponed, as well as an Oxfam initiative to chlorinate water for 300,000 people. A nearby World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse was looted and burned. In Hinche, six MINUSTAH personnel and a number of bystanders were injured, according to the MINUSTAH.

The full Situation Report and other updates are available via a new PAHO blog focusing on health conditions and operations in Haiti: http://new.paho.org/blogs/haiti/index.php?lang=en

As we have previously discussed at HLSWatch, catastrophes — especially in contrast to disasters — are almost always the result of a cascade of events over time.  It is the cumulative affect of the cascade, especially on human expectations, that permanently interrupts the status quo ante and results in a “new normal.”

November 16, 2010

“If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.”

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 16, 2010

It’s not exactly, “Give me liberty or give me death.” But somehow, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested” may be a fitting candidate for a 21st century analog to Patrick Henry’s cry.

John Tyner – the man who uttered these words — has become the most recent recruit to the growing “Why is TSA doing these things to us?” army of apparently regular people.

If you have not read about his Saturday morning encounter with TSA at the San Diego International Airport, or watched the now viral youtube video of the episode, you can learn about it here: http://johnnyedge.blogspot.com/2010/11/these-events-took-place-roughly-between.html

Every time there is one of these episodes – and they’ve increased since the implementation of the new “enhanced patdown procedures” [note to marketing: lose the “enhanced” modifier.  The reminder of “enhanced interrogation” is too creepy.]

Restart – Every time there is one of these episodes, it is always interesting to read the comments section of the web article or blog post.  Almost without exception the comments fall into one of two categories:

1.    Dear sir/madam: You are a jerk.  No one is above the law.  Rules are rules.  I want to fly in safety.  The  procedures are for our safety. If you don’t want to follow the rules, don’t fly.

2.    Dear sir/madam: You are a hero.  The rules are stupid.  They violate the 4th amendment.  They have nothing to do with security. What a waste of money.  TSA has not caught one terrorist.  This is how the Nazis got people to behave.  If people don’t want to put liberty ahead of a false security, they shouldn’t fly.

Osama and his buddies must be in whatever passes for hysterics in his gang over our inability to get out of the trap he set: everyone has to prove they are not a terrorist before they can fly.

Months ago, Dee Walker wrote in this blog about her archetypal difficulties with TSA.  In one of her posts, she noted that the “patdowns” she experienced were cursory at best, and clearly ineffective.

I wondered what she thought about the new enhanced procedures.

Here’s what she wrote.  (She wrote this before the Tyner incident)


Passengers: targets or threats?

The very same week that the  TSA announces a change in its check point pat-down protocols, a terrorist in Yemen with a known proclivity for making bombs reminds us, yet again, that passengers are more likely targets than threats.

To re-cap, last month, TSA promised an impending “change” in the process screeners use to engage passengers who request a pat-down in lieu of passing through the great privacy compromiser, AKA  full-body imaging devices.  At the time of the announcement, TSA spokesperson declined further comment, a strategic lapse, no doubt, intended to generate buzz and chatter.  The next day, we learned that pat-downs would become more invasive to travelers who request them.

I have previously noted that the pat-downs engaged by TSA screeners are neither thorough, nor are they effective.  Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent experiences at BWI  and Providence airports indicate this is still the case, but he also all but confirms that the TSA seeks to embarrass and intimidate passengers into compliance with the body-scanner process.

Since I have complained repeatedly about the nature and lack of accountability inherent in random selections for additional screening, you would think that I would be happy with a process like full body-imaging, that consistently impacts all travelers.  I am anything but happy.  In fact, I am outraged and it would appear I have much good company.

The touch that humiliates

The new search protocol, according to Goldberg, requires screeners “utilize a sliding motion” to more thoroughly check the crotch area of travelers; not, apparently, for the purpose of finding weapons, but with the main intent of getting travelers  “into the machines.”  In other words, it increase the likelihood of individualized, public humiliation in order to gain mass compliance.

If this news does not disturb you, I am not surprised. If this news disturbs you, then you have only yourself to blame.

We brave Americans are nothing but little sheep when it comes to air travel, me included.  We continue to think that if we cooperate, if we put our heads down while we raise our arms as directed, we will be safe.  Al Qaeda keeps trying to tell us how wrong we are, but we are not listening to them, again.  We are too busy listening to TSA screeners yell at us to remove our shoes and laptops.  Our liquids and gels are seized as we pass en route to our overcrowded seats, positioned both invisibly and mere feet above tons of unscreened and unsafe cargo.

In the most recent event, cargo that was suspected of containing a bomb, had been searched and cleared.  Agents had to be told specifically to look for computer printers before finding what ended up being a bomb that was strong enough to bring down the cargo plane in which it was being transported.   But TSA wants to more thoroughly search our crotches?

I continue to wonder when, as travelers, we will rise in protest of procedures that continue to compromise not just our privacy, but our safety as well.  We  routinely and very passively submit to a seriously flawed screening process, that has one purpose: Efficiency.

On time departures vs. air travel safety

Think about it for just a moment and reflect upon your own experiences.  On the whole, we get really mad when our planes are late, but we are not silent about this unforgivable sin. Far from it.  We complain to our friends and on travel websites about missed meetings.  When we miss connecting flights we demand to be compensated, per federal law.  We loudly demand free hotel rooms when blizzards hit as predicted days in advance.   We want Congress to pass a bill of rights for air passengers that reduce our collective risk of sitting on a tarmac.  Meanwhile, important legislation regarding screening rates for cargo has been largely ignored, and this failure has been met with the most reliable characteristic of US travelers when it comes to safety: silence.

As consumers and travelers, we are solely to blame for the current, porous state of air travel safety.  We have allowed TSA to engage a screening process that focuses its sights on us, and we have quietly acquiesced, all in the hopes that we arrive at our destinations on-time and under-budget.  We, the travelers, have failed to insist upon a more holistic screening process that does not separate passengers from the rest of the plane, its contents, its location, its destination and passenger roster.    In essence, passenger screening is the low-hanging fruit of air travel safety.

Had the al Qaeda bomb attacks launched a few weeks ago been successful, would we now have the courage to ask about the effectiveness of traveler screening?  I suspect not.  In fact, I fear the opposite would be likely.  Passenger screening would be lauded as successful, which, it would be argued, forced al Qaeda to attack asymmetrically using the cargo.

We would then (and very likely will yet), engage in some knee-jerk response designed to heighten perceptions of safety while not unduly compromising the efficiency of moving cargo, because that costs money, and those costs will be passed onto us, the passengers.  More safe cargo means more expensive tickets.  We tend to be pretty vocal about how much we don’t want that.

Revamp the entire air travel system

Sadly, no amount of silence will make us safe.  Remember, the printer cartridge plots were not foiled by screening or by searching.  They were foiled by intelligence.  The computer bombs were interdicted by hard work on the ground in Yemen and quick work facilitated by meaningful communication among agents of cooperating nations.  Can we not reasonably expect some of these characteristics to transfer to more effective passenger screening methodologies?

Passenger screening as currently practiced is a complete waste of time if there are bombs in the cargo hold.  Screening and searching cargo cannot currently be accomplished in a meaningful and cost-effective manner.  A more holistic approach to air travel safety is needed to isolate threats, whether those threats be borne by passengers or cargo.  The more time and resources we waste kidding ourselves that what we are doing is working is more time and money  wasted.   Al Qaeda has demonstrated consistent focus on its goals, and it is only a matter of time before some bloody success is again realized.  That success might be on board a plane that is in the sky today.

Are US travelers, as a group, as capable as al Qaeda?  What if, on one given day, every single traveler passing through US airports refused to enter the body-scanner as a means of protest to the current state of our system?  Would our leaders then understand that we are serious about demanding a revamped air travel safety system?

Are we serious or are we kidding ourselves, still?

How to break the chain of intimidation

Over the course of the past two years, I have been selected for secondary screening roughly forty percent of the time I fly.   I am always polite, but, for many reasons,  I never cooperate with secondary screening requests.   Almost predictably, given my experience, I got “randomly” selected for additional screening, yet again, a few days ago.  This time, I was passing through Tampa International Airport.

After informing the screener that I would not enter the body scanner, she pointedly informed me that TSA had recently implemented new pat-down standards that would include a search of the “crotch area”.  I had to wait five minutes to be searched, and then immediately engaged a second screener regarding these “new” techniques.  I asked this screener how much training each member of TSA received on execution of the new pat-down techniques.  She asked me why I wanted to know and said she was just trying to do a pat-down (as in, please don’t ask me anything, I am just trying to do my job here).  I told her that I was a police officer (I did not indicate I was retired) and was very interested in the level and intensity of training on the new pat-down standards.

She looked a little unsure of herself and told me she had received “a day” of training.  I asked her if TSA would verify for me that each trainer received a full day of training on the new techniques.  She then stated that the amount of training varied by airport and by class size.  I then asked her how many people had been in her class and she told me that if I had questions, I could ask the supervisors after she completed her search.  I looked her dead in the eyes and asked why she would not answer a very simple question, and once I promised it would be my last question, she told me that five people had been in her class.

Generally, the pat-down did not feel any different from the last half dozen pat-downs I have experienced, and it was equally ineffective as a pat-down.  I suspect that the goal was not to interdict weapons or contraband, but to elevate the level of embarrassment felt by those of us who refuse to enter the body scanner. Yet again, that had no effect upon me.  What felt markedly different this trip was how very forcefully informed I was by the first screener, and how utterly intimidated the second screener appeared by my inquiries, coupled with her apparent willingness to offer less than accurate information.

I keep getting back to wondering how we let this happen.  TSA is an agency out of control, and likely the greatest single sources of stress for travelers today. Further, screener hostility toward inquiries like mine further exacerbates my frustration and my concern for our freedom.  I have read the signs that tell me to engage the screeners, but when I do, I am met with suspicion, if not by overt hostility.  We, the people, have instilled great discretion in TSA, and yet there seems to be absolutely no desire by us to achieve accountability for the type of decisions that are made.  Why am I so routinely selected for additional “random” screening?  Why is one screener permitted to completely ignore my inquiries, when other screeners provide answers?  Why are screeners allowed to provide incorrect information?  Why have my inquiries generated an interview from behavioral detection experts, directed there to ascertain what my “problem is”?

Democracy requires information in order to work, and one of the best ways to get information is to ask questions.  Should screeners be allowed to provide inaccurate information?  Should screeners be permitted to refuse to provide me information on processes that are not classified as secret?  Should the mere act of me asking for information be punishable by additional screening?  My experience indicates, sadly yes, across the board.

I do not seek out the attention that TSA showers upon me, but when they are so kind to make me the star of their show, I think I deserve answers to reasonable questions, just as I deserve to be told why a particular question is not reasonable.  The mere act of inquiring should not generate retaliatory actions, like those I experienced in Memphis.

Traveler todo list

I have created a list of to-do’s for travelers who, like me, are fed up with the inconsistency and lack of accountability demonstrated by TSA.  I have attempted to ensure that the guidance I provide is consistent with the guidance that TSA provides.  My suggestions offer you the opportunity to gain some level of accountability:

Engage Your Screener: If you are selected for additional screening, or a level of screening that is clearly different from the majority of travelers around you, immediately ask why you were selected.  TSA Screeners will try to rush or herd you into the body scanner if you are not careful. You must immediately state that you will not enter the scanner.  You will be told about the new and more thorough pat down techniques that are being used and will again be offered the “choice” of going through the body scanner or the pat down,  Again, affirmatively state that you will not enter the body scanner.  Then prepare for all eyes to be upon you as the screener states loudly into their radio “We have a refusal”.  Do not be worried and do not allow yourself to be cajoled.  This is just another link in the chain of intimidation.

After you are told yours was a ‘random’ selection, try to note who is “randomly” selected immediately after you. If it is a person of the same race or gender as you are, ask the screener whether those characteristics were relevant to your selection.  Also note the name of the person who is providing information to you.  I strongly encourage you to be polite, and to address the person by their name, as in “Okay,  Ms. Jones, I am waiting right here until you tell me where to go.”  Or, Yes, Mr. Smith, I will remove everything from my pockets”.  Being rude just makes a bad situation worse, and frankly it is not the screeners fault that they are asked to do stupid things. Being rude will also reduce the likelihood that your questions will be answered.  Sometimes, just asking the questions can generate additional attention, and may get you an interview with a behavioral detection officer (BDO).

As you are shuttled to the side or down the middle, you may be asked whether you want to be screened in private.  I was not given that option in Tampa, which is fine because I strongly urge you to decline private screening. The more eyes on what is happening to you, the better for you.  I believe most screeners are highly uncomfortable with the new pat-down procedures and likely resent people like me, who refuse to enter the scanner.  They are far less likely to try to retaliate against you with other people watching.

Do not be afraid to ask to speak to a supervisor.  If reasonable questions are not answered, you should seek answers from the people in the booth.  Take down names, especially when employees of TSA refuse to answer your questions.  Try to also remember to ask why your questions are not being answered.  Be prepared for a general lack of cooperation and remember that TSA wants to get you into and out of the security experience quickly.   The quality of your interaction is far less important.

Finally, follow up.  Make friends, family and acquaintances aware of your experiences and contact TSA.  In his book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 Pete Blackshaw reminds us that in today’s world, the customer is king and queen.

It is time for each of us to remind TSA of that very same thing.

Getting by Giving

Filed under: Futures,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on November 16, 2010

Today I am starting a new job as a deputy fire chief in a fire district near Seattle. As such, I have been pretty consumed with the details of moving and starting a new job rather than keeping up with my homeland security reading and preparing this week’s post. Nevertheless, it strikes me that the odyssey upon which I am embarking offers a new prism through which to observe what’s happening in our field at the state and local levels.

Over the past several months, I have commented often about the importance of leadership in dealing with the challenges we face. As such, it should come as no surprise that I was attracted to my new position by a charismatic fire chief with a reputation for innovation and integrity. During the interview process, his commitment to these ideals became more than evident.

The commitment of the community and the firefighters to his success was also evident. This is not to say he has enjoyed a smooth tenure since taking up the position a bit less than a year ago. Indeed, the burgeoning fiscal crisis, the annexation of a portion of his district by a neighboring city and a campaign by the union local representing firefighters from his last department to pass a vote of no-confidence in his leadership have presented personal and professional challenges. Fully aware of these issues when I applied, it was was his pleasant (cheerful really) demeanor and ability to see the opportunities in these challenges that convinced me to join his team.

From what I can see so far, the community, the elected fire commission and the firefighters themselves see in their chief the hope of a better future despite the challenges they face as well. His ability to articulate a clear and shared vision, involve others in charting a way forward, give the work back and manage the pace of change so the challenges remain manageable have given people tangible evidence of his commitment to their welfare as well as that of the organization and the community.

One of the things that seems to distinguish the agency I am joining from some of its peers is its commitment to learning. My role comes with an unusual and unexpected title for a fire department: chief learning officer. Besides overseeing training, I am responsible for the fire district’s emergency management, risk management, research and development, and safety and wellness programs. The combination of these portfolios reflects an appreciation of the changing nature of fire and rescue services and a desire to shape the service in ways that reflect the relative shift in emphasis away from fire-related services to other activities that address risks arising from natural and technological hazards.

I have a lot to learn about my new community, the fire district, my new colleagues and my new role. In the process of getting settled, I will undoubtedly learn a great deal about myself and my capacity to endure change. One of the most important things I have learned from past moves is the importance of accepting both my limitations and the assistance of others. In the process I have become much more aware that when I recognize and maximize others’ strengths by asking for their help we both get something valuable in return.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from the experience of taking a new job or assuming a new role in homeland security? How have you shared these lessons with others and how did you benefit from that experience? How can we maximize the strengths of others to benefit the whole of the homeland security enterprise?

November 15, 2010

The Hajj: A pilgrimage for peace

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 15, 2010

According to a report early on November 17 in the Pakistani paper DAWN

Terrorism is forbidden in Islam and such acts should not be reciprocated at any cost, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah said in his Haj sermon at Mount Arafat on Monday.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz said since Allah had bestowed humans with reason, it was binding on them to differentiate between good and evil.

“Islam believes in coexistence and disapproves of all acts which aim at sowing strife in society. Spilling the blood of human beings amounts to invoking the wrath of God.”

The Pakistan Times also has a bit longer piece summarizing the sermon.  I have not yet seen an English language translation of the entire sermon.  If you see it, please give us a link in the comments.

If you see any mention of the sermon in the US mainstream media, please also provide a link.  As I post it has been six hours since the sermon was completed and the only mention I have found so far is a Deutsch Presse-Agentur wire story buried at Monsters & Critics.

November 14, 2010

Al-Qaeda: A victory is unnecessary and would never be achieved

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2010

The Sunday Telegraph includes an interview with Sir David Richards, new chief of the British Defence Staff, that is worth Yanks (and others) reading.  The story is headlined: Why we cannot defeat al-Qaeda

Please don’t stop with the headline.  Click on the link and read the Telegraph’s report.

An excerpt:

The general subscribes to the notion that such an ideologically-driven adversary cannot be defeated in the traditional sense, and to attempt to do so could be a mistake.

“In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation’s capital.

First of all you have to ask: “do we need to defeat it (Islamist militancy)?” in the sense of a clear cut victory, and I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.”

It is a bold statement and he quickly adds: “But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children’s lives are led securely? I think we can.”

Education, prosperity, understanding and democracy, he argues passionately, are the weapons that would ultimately turn people away from terrorism, although he admitted that to believe that such an undertaking could be achieved “within the time frame of the Second World War would be naive in the extreme”.

He also warns that while the threat from al-Qaeda is currently based in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, it is unlikely to remain so in the future.

Sub-Sarharan Africa is also potentially at risk from militant Jihadists and the challenge now, Sir David believes, is for those countries to be identified and helped.

Back in January in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies Sir David also made the following point,

Having learnt the lessons taught by AQ, the Taliban and many other non-state actors, and thought how to exploit them perhaps on an ‘industrial’ scale, why would even a major belligerent state choose to achieve our downfall though high risk, high cost traditional means when they can plausibly achieve their aims, much more cheaply and semi-anonymously, using proxies, guerrillas, economic subterfuge and cyber warfare?

I perceive US defense officials and military leadership largely agree with Sir David, but when they say so their comments are either ignored or sensationalized.  Such a schizophrenic response does not easily  produce a thoughtful and efficacious national strategy. 

Last Monday, November 8, a new 23 minute video surfaced featuring Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  According to the Associated Press the message in Arabic includes Awlaki’s admonition to, “Don’t consult with anybody in killing the Americans,” he said. “Fighting the devil doesn’t require consultation or prayers seeking divine guidance. They are the party of the devils.”

Al-Awlaki is a citizen of the United States, born in New Mexico.  He is currently thought to be somewhere in Yemen.  More information on the Awlaki video is available from the SITE Intelligence Group.

In his lectures and other pronouncements al-Awlaki increasingly departs from Qu’ranic guidance and Islamic tradition.  To discourage seeking divine guidance is far outside what most Muslims will recognize as their faith, especially in this season of Hajj. To discourage prayer when the taking of human life is involved is specifically suspect. 

Much more in the Islamic mainstream is the Fatwa on Suicide Bombings and Terrorism by Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.  In this scholarly finding the Pakistani Muslim leader declares “terrorism as forbidden, and an act of rebellion and brutality, and indeed of infidelity.” Dr. Qadri was in Washington DC last week (I was not).  Some of his remarks can be accessed via webcast archives at Minhaj, his religious foundation.

It is interesting that if you search for “al-Awlaki” using the Google news function at least 999 news stories are spawned for the video launched on November 8.  Inputting “Qadri” into the same function generates no links related to the Georgetown University speech given on the same day.  What might this mean for our ability to perceive something close to reality?

Al-Qaeda remains dangerous.  But whether the counter-terrorist goal is victory or containment, in either case our most effective partners are faithful Muslims who recognize the self-aggrandizing heresy of the terrorists.

November 13, 2010

Haiti update

Filed under: Catastrophes,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on November 13, 2010

On Friday the Haitian Ministry of Public Health reported 796 deaths and 12,303 hospitalized cases of cholera.  A complete report can be downloaded from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

According to PAHO:

While the impact of Hurricane Tomas was not as immediate or severe as many had feared, Dr. Jon K. Andrus, Deputy Director of the Pan American Health Organization said, “We have every reason to expect that the widespread flooding has increased the risk of cholera spreading.” The effects of this could become apparent through a spike in cases in the coming days.

Also of concern—though not unexpected—are cases being reported in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, which is home to some 3 million people.

Even before the earthquake last January, the city had inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure and crowded living conditions in many areas. Now, conditions in the city are “very ripe for rapid spread of cholera.”

“We have to prepare for a large upsurge in cases,” Andrus said. “We have to be prepared with all the resources that are needed for a rapid response.”

Based on previous cholera outbreaks the PAHO projects upwards of 270,000 cases in Haiti before the epidemic is contained.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released a new response strategy for cholera response through the end of December.  To implement the plan the United Nations is requesting the urgent contribution of $164 million.

Given the professional background of many HLSWatch readers, following are the planning assumptions for the new UN response plan:

In order to guide the planning process, the following assumptions were made to estimate the potential evolution of the outbreak.

  • Assuming all of the population (estimated at about 10 million for the purpose of this plan) is at risk of contracting cholera, and estimating a cholera attack rate of 2% (not a conservative estimate, given the prevalence of risk factors for cholera transmission including lack of safe water supply, poor sanitation conditions and the rainy season), the estimated number of cases would be 200,000 (10,000,000 pop x 2%). Of course, the effectiveness of the control measures put in place will influence this estimated figure.
  • In most cholera outbreaks, approximately 10-20% of symptomatic cases of cholera develop a severe form of the disease which requires vigorous rehydration. Therefore, approximately 20,000 cases at least would require admission for intensive rehydration treatment, and potentially antibiotics. Other symptomatic cases will have to be treated in out-patient capacities and at community level.
  • A capacity of 1,000 beds has been already set up throughout the country and will be expanded rapidly to 2,000 beds. Accordingly, the agreed holding capacity of a CTC for the purpose of this plan is 50 beds. The human resources and material and logistical requirements have been estimated based on this operational figure
  • For each CTC to be established, a cholera kit for 100 people may be used to initiate the response. Additional materials shall be made available as per the request of the responsible CTC coordinator, but kits should no longer be used to run operating CTCs and CTUs.
  • Capacity of primary health facilities for triage, outpatient management of cholera cases, and safe referral of severe cases to CTC, in agreement with the MSPP plan, must be assessed and strengthened. Hospital readiness for surge capacity and infection control and contingency plan to be able to cope with sudden influx of cholera patients must be in place to ensure safe management of patients along with prioritization of other health activities to continuity of care to other patients suffering life-threatening conditions.
  • From the WASH perspective the above scenario implies a caseload of 10 million people, i.e. those at risk of contracting cholera who need to be targeted for preventive measures. Therefore, WASH actions will need to be prioritized and strongly informed by health data, and will focus primarily on camps, high-density urban and sub-urban populations where the attack rate is difficult to slow down once the disease establishes itself.
  • Particular attention should be paid to cross-border areas and to the displaced, mobile and vulnerable populations as high-risk groups for disease outbreak and the spread of cholera.
  • All humanitarian organisations involved in cholera response are expected to contribute to the emergency stock and subscribe to this inter-cluster operational plan.

November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 11, 2010

In honor of Veterans Day and for all those who have, are, or will serve our country in the future, instead of ruminating on some homeland security-related issue I would like to point out a website from the Department of Veterans Affairs that includes information about Veterans Day and a moving video worth watching.


Video: Veterans Day 2010

The Presidential Proclamation for Veterans Day is also worth reading.


Presidential Proclamation — Veterans Day


On Veterans Day, we come together to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces. Americans across this land commemorate the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve the liberty of our Nation, the families who support them, and the heroes no longer with us. It is not our weapons or our technology that make us the most advanced military in the world; it is the unparalleled spirit, skill, and devotion of our troops. As we honor our veterans with ceremonies on this day, let our actions strengthen the bond between a Nation and her warriors.

In an unbroken line of valor stretching across more than two centuries, our veterans have charged into harm’s way, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the freedoms that have blessed America. Whether Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard, they are our Nation’s finest citizens, and they have shown the heights to which Americans can rise when asked and inspired to do so. Our courageous troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe have earned their place alongside previous generations of great Americans, serving selflessly, tour after tour, in conflicts spanning nearly a decade.

Long after leaving the uniform behind, many veterans continue to serve our country as public servants and mentors, parents and community leaders. They have added proud chapters to the story of America, not only on the battlefield, but also in communities from coast to coast. They have built and shaped our Nation, and it is our solemn promise to support our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen as they return to their homes and families.

America’s sons and daughters have not watched over her shores or her citizens for public recognition, fanfare, or parades. They have preserved our way of life with unwavering patriotism and quiet courage, and ours is a debt of honor to care for them and their families. These obligations do not end after their time of service, and we must fulfill our sacred trust to care for our veterans after they retire their uniforms.

As a grateful Nation, we are humbled by the sacrifices rendered by our service members and their families out of the deepest sense of service and love of country. On Veterans Day,let us remember our solemn obligations to our veterans, and recommit to upholding the enduring principles that our country lives for, and that our fellow citizens have fought and died for.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service men and women have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2010, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.


November 10, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on November 10, 2010

I have spent a lot of time over the past few days driving, which means I have had little time to follow the news other than listening to radio. Nevertheless, I have become aware of the furor surrounding the release of President George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points.

The whole process of decision-making is a subject I find intensely interesting, and one that has received considerable attention from scholars and practitioners alike in recent years. The decisions-making processes of leaders, particularly those confronting crises, have come under particular scrutiny for the reasons one might imagine, but also receive attention because they illuminate some interesting issues, such as the unique ability of humans to make reasonable, even highly effective decisions under unusually difficult conditions.

Anyone who has studied decision-making with any rigor recognizes that leaders often find themselves confronted with competing agendas, ambiguous goals, incomplete information and incompatible data. Time-pressure and critical consequences only compound the difficulties confronting decision-makers in crises.

From what I can tell from the interviews given by the former president on his book tour, these issues did not figure all that prominently in critical situations during his presidency. For instance, when it came to the decision to employ so-called aggressive interrogation techniques, Bush acknowledges unapologetically that he deferred to the judgments of others, despite the obvious evidence that their legal opinions were contested if not in outright conflict those of with widely-recognized experts outside the administration.

When it came to the decision to grant clemency rather than a presidential pardon to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted for his role in the outing of CIA employee Valerie Plame, Bush claims his prime consideration was protecting the institution of the presidency rather than the friendship, feelings or even judgments of others, including Vice President Dick Cheney who it is said viewed the decision as cowardly, comparing it to leaving a wounded soldier behind on the field of battle. One can only wonder whether justice had anything to do with President Bush’s judgments about the case.

The circumstances that confront leaders, especially in crisis situations, often do not avail themselves of exhaustive analysis. Even if time were not of the essence, such processes require too much clarity about the outcome and specificity about the input variables to make them practical in such instances.

These features do not confine themselves to genuinely important decisions though. I am confronted with just such a dilemma when it comes to deciding whether or not to read what Mr. Bush has written. Ordinarily, I would devour such a tome because I find the topic itself so compelling. But I have doubts as to whether the insights offered by the former president will prove all that illuminating.

In making my decision, I am trying to avoid my all too obvious revulsion to the former president and his policies. If I take the approach suggested by the author himself in the interviews aired the past few days, I would either rely on the judgments of others whom I trust without regard for critics or I would apply heuristics that reflect my deeply held biases.

I usually go with my gut in such situations, which suggests a tendency to accept the latter rather than the former bit of advice. So that leaves me wondering what those of you reading this blog think. Is Decision Points worth a read for anyone seriously concerned about the way leaders reach conclusions of real consequence to our country and the world in which we live? Do you plan to pick up a copy and give it a go? If so, why?

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