Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 2, 2010

The perfect citizen?

Filed under: Aviation Security,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on November 2, 2010

Today’s guest blogger is S. Francis Thorn.  Thorn teaches homeland security at a university in the United States.  He has a military and intelligence background.   This is his first post for Homeland Security Watch.


First off, the “picture” is fake. It is digitally manufactured.

This “art” is taken from a Wired.com article regarding promotional marketing for a medical imaging company.  With technology being so pervasive, dare I say promiscuous, it may be more common to see medical imaging technology -or technology in general – being cross-pollinated with other disciplines for different uses. After all, if GPS is good for munitions finding their target, it is also good for helping people find the nearest hospital.

That said, the recent concerns surrounding TSA screening techniques is an indication further discussion is necessary, especially as it relates to the pervasive use of technology and its impact on privacy. When a commercial airline pilot is willing to risk his job – during one of the worst economic periods in American history – over TSA screening techniques, this pilot may be saying ‘I’m no longer willing to ride in the back of the bus.’ And should we blame him? TSA itself has abused the technology.

Additionally, how much confidence does DHS/TSA leadership inspire when a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ security model is projected?

At a recent event at JKF International airport, where Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano was showcasing the new Advanced Imaging Technology (ATI), she apparently did not participate in demonstrating the efficacy of the technology, but instead used “volunteers.”

But let’s not skirt the main issue – which is protecting the American flyer from terrorism. Let there be no doubt, the threat is real.

In the context of threats to U.S. Airlines, there may be some common denominators – like citizenship (…or the citizenship of packages). Poor Juan Williams…

Flight 175:

Marwan al-Shehhi (United Arab Emirates)

Fayez Ahmad (United Arab Emirates)

Mohald al-Shehri (Saudi Arabia)

Hamza al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia)

Ahmed al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia)

Flight 11:

Mohamed Atta (Egypt)

Walid al-Shehri (Saudi Arabia)

Wail al-Shehri (Saudi Arabia)

Abd al-Aziz al-Umari (Saudi Arabia)

Satam al-Suqami (Saudi Arabia)

Flight 77:

Hani Hanjur (Saudi Arabia)

Khalid al-Mihdhar (Saudi Arabia)

Majid Muqid (Saudi Arabia)

Nawaf al-Hamzi (Saudi Arabia)

Salem al-Hamzi (Saudi Arabia)

Flight 93:

Ziad Jarrahi (Lebanon)

Ahmad al-haznawi (Saudi Arabia)

Ahmad al-nami (Saudi Arabia)

Saeed Alghamdi (Saudi Arabia)

Flight 63:

Richard Reid (Great Britain)

Flight 253:

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (Nigeria)

True, American’s can be radicalized domestically and access various transportation systems – but they can also join the U.S. Army (here and here) or get invited to speak at Pentagon luncheons….

One challenge with aviation security — as last week’s air cargo incident illustrated — is that there is a significant international aspect. The U.S. has integrated itself into the international system (i.e. globalization) to such an extent that external security threats are having an impact on internal freedoms. In the context of aviation security and its affect on privacy, the conversation regarding America’s relationship with the international community has been anemic.

For example, if individuals are traveling from overseas to kill Americans, is it appropriate to revisit programs like our visa wavier program before placing tighter security restrictions on the internal movements of American Citizens? Internationalism, in many ways, is antithetical to the American ethos.

For those curious about how America might interact with the global community, President George Washington’s Farewell Address is a necessary primer. As a suggestion, pay particular attention to Washington’s council “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Essentially, with certain caveats, Washington’s prescription for preserving American freedom is for the United States to interact with the global community in the most detached manner possible.

In the context of America’s approach to aviation security or National/Homeland Security writ large (i.e. international security partnerships/alliances/collaboration), it seems a question we need to answer as a nation is – whether Washington’s council is relevant or obsolete?

For those who consider Washington’s council is obsolete – strike a pose.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 2, 2010 @ 2:31 am

Well an interesting topic but unfortunately when the US chose to be the world’s leading advocate of Globalization or developing Thomas PM Barnett’s “The Pentagon’s New Map” it is rather too late to argue that the US is not dependent and interdependent on the International Community. This is not a question of “No Permanent Alliances” but instead that old question of interests. The US has an interest in a global picture that includes many different facets. The problem of course is that International Law has not kept abreast of technology or in the case of new norms, often established by the US, or the UN in its declaration of HUMAN RIGHTS, has often failed to abide by its own established norms. The leading example of course is the failure of the US to join the ICC [International Criminal Court] when in fact that court is grounded in the principles of the Nuremberg War Crimes trials.
We [the US] lead the world in the complexity of our democracy (Republic) and in our pluralism and secularism. We also lead the world in drug abuse, whether by use of so-called Ethical Drugs and big Pharma or use of illegal substances, and other less attractive aspects of international participation, including allowing any sort of financial shenanigan as long as its domestic impacts are at least somewhat moderated.

All of this may come down to leadership. Where a post of this quality on a blog of this quality can still ask a question that has long since been answered. The US has chosen to link the world technologically, financially, its health aspects, and somewhat awkwardly in its social constructs, politics, and other critical norms.

We have a Congress that eliminates some of its most effective support mechanisms, such as the Office of Technology Assessment, and whose Science and Technology legislation is constantly dominated by so-called principles of a “free-market” that tracking back to HOBBES was rejected by the Enlightenment by Locke and Rousseau. Are we in fact an Enlightened nation?

These are age old questions but odd that this post arose on an Election Day in which one active force that will possibly display itself is believers that reality can be ignored and the clock turned back.

The struggle for economic dominance by nation-states or individuals will never end, nor will the struggle for social justice and fairness in allocation of the world’s resources.

This is not an argument for elitism but but broad and deep education of the one population on earth blessed with traditions, numbers, resources, and sometimes in the past leadership that can help others to understand the stakes. Read the so-called “Atlantic Charter” again, or the 14 Points, or the “Four-Freedoms” and then examine closely whether these statements of principle were truly top down or bottom up.
The Cell Phone can serve interconnectedness and reducing Tom Barnett’s gap but it is also a wonder trigger mechanism for explosives and organization of sub-state violence. But it does require leaders with courage, experience, a sense of fair play and justice, and a willingness to resort to real communication with others and not posturing to fit some domestic lobby.

Let’s face it! We may well have somekind of isolationist dreams of a past that probably was not as simple as some might think, but we are not in that simpler world. Yet we continue to elect persons to high office that are unable to translate the need for community and that the first principle of leadership is uniting not dividing. And we always hope to promote leaderhsip that has as its mission and goals betterment of its followers, not destruction of others.
I just finished reading the new book “The GUN” by C.J. Chivers discussing not only the AK-47 and its history but automated weapons generally. Did the world really focus on the changes and impacts developing a weapon that a 10-year old could master becoming a world-wide available technology.

There is no longer an ACDA [Arms Control and Disarmament Agency] in the Executive Branch of the US government and even in its prime it dealt with nuclear proliferation issues not conventional weaponary. Yet as the book points out automated weaponary has killed far more than nuclear weapons, although clearly in much less elegant ways than the nuclear “Priesthood” had in mind. In recent days we have learned that we had a past President and more recently an Air Force that failed to understand the basics of nuclear command and control and nuclear surety and safeguards, yet we are asking others to lay down their arms and accept our leadership.

The big happy dog wagging its tail in a China-shop world with various attractions being offered to it by those often with corrupt or evil interests even if it fails to be seduced by those attractions may still break a lot of China wagging its tail.
Perhaps time for a leadership that itself has gone through obediance school.
I always think back to George C. Marshall and his leadership that helped win a world war. A close run thing if ever there was one. And I look at his gifts and talents and leadership. In doing so I realize self-control and self-discipline was his most outstanding characteristic. Looking at our leadership and their willingness to keep learning and experiencing the complexity of the world and the human factors therein. I would argue that they are now merely the reflexion of an undisciplined, often drugged, often poorly educated, often mislead people who once were willing to be told the truth and now shy from such revelations.
Those who don’t vote today, and I hope they will be few, trash those who gave the last full measure in the past, so that government of the people, for the people, and by the people will not vanish from the earth. Exercising that vote, despite the real choices of representatives and leaders perhaps being more limited than we wish, has to be the starting point for leadership by the people of the US for the Global community. Let US exercise that self-discipline and get out and vote.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 2, 2010 @ 7:16 am

Mr. Thorn:

Our first President’s Farewell Address is — like the man himself — a carefully crafted, self-consciously nuanced, and pragmatically principled piece. The entire text (to which you also linked) is available at:


While President Washington’s warning to “steer clear of permanent alliances” is clearly germane, I would argue the original warning was more focused on the danger of “permanent” rather than a concern for alliances per se. While not nearly as concise, I perceive the following excerpt more fully captures the intent of the author:

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

The approach is principled, but its foundation is self-interested realism… with recurring attention to how the situation will change so our policies and alliances must change.

To your more specific point regarding airline safety. In the spirit of President Washington’s wisdom, I wish we would be truly realistic and state clearly there is no reasonable and economically sustainable way to fully protect a publicly accessible transportation system (in the air or elsewhere) and that to insist otherwise “is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 2, 2010 @ 8:11 am

Actually Phil I believe the following policy change would help. Ban all cargo on passenger planes other than personal luggage. Stop screening cargo plans completely and let the pilots and airlines take the risk, and insurance companies. And all cargo from cargo planes would have designated transshipment points from new rural airports built as part of the economic stimulus needed in USA. Hey I would not travel on any plane with unscreened cargo in which bombs could not be protected. But hey I am sure that the added risk to the cargo aircraft would be handled somehow. After all if 80% of cargo is in cargo only planes how much would the extra 20% cost for inclusion?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 2, 2010 @ 9:07 am

Bill, I am sure there are many measures that can — and should — be taken to help. Your suggestion strikes me as prima facie reasonable.

But everytime we dodge-a-bullet and especially when we take-a-bullet the public conversation seems to be dominated by how to make sure this “never happens again.”

The conceit that we might make this kind of system anything close to risk-free strikes me as more threatening than the terrorist threat itself. Do what we can. Celebrate our victories. Mourn our losses. But don’t underplay the fundamental nature of the challenge.

I understand that anyone hoping to serve in an office of public trust cannot say this. But I am beginning to think that such curmudgeon-like realism may be the best contribution I can make to cultivating resilience.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

November 2, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

Two thoughts on Phil’s comments with an overarching point of view n the lead post .
“But everytime we dodge-a-bullet and especially when we take-a-bullet the public conversation seems to be dominated by how to make sure this “never happens again.”
It is an ill-conceived desire to try and prevent everything. The “it never happens again” mentality, in my opinion, creates a surge and overlapping strength in one area thereby creating gaps in another. This is the purpose of Random antiterrorism measures (RAM’s) in the DoD. By adding some unpredictability and no notice alterations to posture and capability, in theory, we create uncertainly on the part of the adversary. The uncertainty of course adds to our observation capacity and also maintains disequilibrium. Operationally, it has to happen. Unfortunately, the DoD community is not a societal reflection of America at large and would prove daunting, but not undoable- So hardened or resilient?
“I understand that anyone hoping to serve in an office of public trust cannot say this. But I am beginning to think that such curmudgeon-like realism may be the best contribution I can make to cultivating resilience”…I could not agree with you more. In fact, some straight talk, something that may have been an American hallmark at one point has gone the wayside of Politically correct BS.

Whether it’s the litigious nature of America, the double speak of legislatures, or simply a manifestation of all elected leaders and constituents not wanting to discuss or hear the truth that disables us and makes u s more vulnerable.

Case in point; yes many of the terrorists of 9/11 were Saudi. Yes, the current terrorist plots have some Saudi involvement. We also import large…very large amounts of oil from Saudi Arabia. Our energy needs do nothing but increase so where do we suppose to get our energy from? Due to some geographical quirk, they have the oil we need. So we either have to change behavior or change expectation. We became the strongest and greatest country in the world because we had energy to fuel the expansion… we need energy to maintain, so where do we get it? We need them.

They consequently need us as well. To some degree, their economic stability is reliant upon our consumption. Their huge welfare state is predicated upon our consumption. They’ve initially squandered their initial influx of wealth, than distributed through their royal family organization, and than by and large, by off their constituents and hire ex-pats to do their labor.

So do we want a stable Saudi or an unstable one? Are we part of the solution or part of the problem?

Insofar as global interactions and responsibilities; we assumed that mantle with growing necessity from WWII on. Perhaps we are a benign empire, but in that empirical imperative, it was done to enhance America and its citizens, not just business and not merely to craft influence. Isolationism is no longer an effective idea, if it ever was one to begin with. The global confluence of business, education, logistics, resources, et al all point to a necessity to collaborate more, not less.

China and India have 37% of the worlds population combined with the US having 5%. They have more needs, a growing middle class, and own most of our debt and outsourced work… so who needs who? In practicality they have more smart kids than we have kids. They have more smart people than we have people. Ergo, they have more possible solutions than we have solutions.

So does that make us weaker or not?

Hence, I come back to everything being part of Homeland Security; education, agriculture, commerce, energy, infrastructure, manufacturing base, natural resource consumption and production, defense, environment…everything is interconnected and we globally are interconnected, so it seems a bit of a stretch to get the genie back in that bottle or assume we can extricate ourselves from the world.

We must move away from the never happen again and PC self imposed constraints if we’re to compete for what appears to be a finite set or resources.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 2, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

As the saying goes “When you sup with the Devil make sure you have a long spoon” but in the case of Saudi Arabia afraid it is a short fuel pump hose.

Sooner or later the Saudi Royal family will not be able to prevent regicide.

Comment by S. Francis Thorn

November 2, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

Mr. Palin,

I appreciate your comments. I have read your blogs and appreciate your contributions to the homeland security conversation.

I’m not sure I completely agree with you in describing Washington as being “self-consciously nuanced.” However, he cannot be accused of being an absolutist either. Washington’s council, as it relates to the United States relationship with the international community seems rather clear; friendly to all, but detached nevertheless. What some may interpret as nuance, others might interpret as hedging.

Detachment (much like unilateralism, neutrality or isolationism) is synonymous with freedom. Even though caveats may exist for “temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.”

In the context of global interaction, what would you consider is a reasonable definition of a “permanent” alliance? Is a reasonable standard Senate ratification of an international treaty? If international treaties are necessary, should they have mandatory expiration dates?

To respond to your comment: “I wish we would be truly realistic and state clearly there is no reasonable and economically sustainable way to fully protect a publicly accessible transportation system (in the air or elsewhere) and that to insist otherwise…”

It seems rather absolute, if not somewhat fatalistic. That said, I understand the spirit of your statement. I’m not going to suggest that a silver bullet exists. However, there seems to an opportunity to minimize America’s exposure to international threats while ameliorating domestic privacy concerns.

The challenge, we as a country seem to be wrestling with – is how can the United States decisively confront 21st Century threats, preserve American values and traditions, and do so with fiscal discipline? Within those parameters, Washington’s council – as it relates to America’s interaction with the international community – might be a homeland security option worth exploring.

Comment by S. Francis Thorn

November 3, 2010 @ 1:19 am

Mr. Cummings,

Thanks for your comments.

It seems Thomas P.M. Barnett’s thesis is becoming increasingly obsolete…

In “The Pentagon’s New Map,” Barnett – in short – indicates that global disconnectedness is a major obstacle to planet-wide peace and prosperity. The evidence suggests the exact opposite. The internet is being used for recruiting and to disseminate terrorist propaganda. International transportation is being attacked. Al Qaeda has just published an online Jihad magazine. Cyber attacks…currency disputes…trade imbalances…I could go on ad nausea.

We are more connected than ever. Where is this peace dividend?

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 3, 2010 @ 4:53 am

Mr. Thorn thanks for the comment. As I understand Dr. Barnett’s thesis the efforts of the Core nation-states to help and encourage the GAP countries to become part of the CORE is an effort that thrives in globalization and peaceful efforts not just military adventure.

There is no question that the alienation of some individuals in modern society has been reinforced by globalization. Thanks again for the comment. Tom’s Thesis is worthy of study and comment and perhaps even rebutal. Since both my Mother and only sibling-a sister- were adopted I find Tom’s adoption of foreign children to join his family a very interesting insight into his world view. One that I approve of and wish more shared.

Hoping the CORE expands for its hopes and not its fears.

Comment by Citizenship; Terrorism and the Skies

November 3, 2010 @ 9:24 am

Well, Mr. Barry Obama, your Goldman Sachs (GS) led “New World Order” ambitions were fortunately thwarted by an electorate which is far more enlightened than most of you have ever wanted to acknowledge.

Last night, the message from all walks of our Main Street USA community, “Get to work and put an end to the charade!”

Clarity in government, resilience among the Patriot! We needed no megaphone, only a ballot mark to express our disappointment and frustration with you no matter which side of the aisle you represent.

The gap in military and other is closing quickly with our adversaries as we have become so engrossed and intolerant of one another. Yes, some passionate, however for the many, self-agenda and nothing else.

Leading a global team with valued skill sets and proven solutions in technology in addressing prerequisite and substantial waste water and water purification development projects in making an attempt to afford access to the nearly 1 billion souls who have not a clean glasss of water at this very moment or trying to offering a proven design in manufactured homes for the unfortunate in Haiti or for pan-African utilization and whether George Soros, Wall Street, non-profit organizations, governments and so on and so forth, no one is willing to grant a $2million “humanitarian” loan to our corporate ambitions and it is so, so frustrating.

…it is time we depend on each and every one of us to roll up our sleeves and understand that numerous folks who should not be underestimated seek our demise and we must muster our entrepreneurial and creativeness to challenge all those who challenge us on earth and in the skies.

Stop this bickering among party lines. Identify with us on Main Street USA and do your utmost to listen to one another to find a level acceptable to both sides offering respect to one another.

Good citizens, charitable people we have many among us, yet we have become far too undisciplined in our ways and far too selfish.

Do what is necessary to protect those of us who use aviation as our method of travel. We understand the complexities and we understand the need for screening and for the dictate that no cargo will be carried on commercial passenger airlines. If one needs to send a package, if so important, it will cost more and the sender must determine if cost worthwhile.

For decades, I heard about the war on drugs, the necessity to transition our dependence on oil…all quite true, yet not a reality for as a people, we lack the will as most others to make tough decisions without which, darkness looms ahead!

The Russians dropped by the office the other day offering proven technologies for filtration where water and oil would be seperated and in fact all else from water – a technology which the oil industry could use in vessel oil storage tanks when loading and offloading where this technology could be utilized, technology to improve viscosity and so much more.

I bring this up as I represent US and Canadian companies and we should not be looking beyond our borders as we led the industrial revolution and even the technological revolution which has improved Life for so many globally and special interest groups and greedy corporate America have no place among us any longer.

Whether individual citizen or corporate citizen, we have a responsibility to one another and to our beloved Republic!

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