Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 19, 2010 @ 4:37 am

The “bugs” will win! Think of the gift of virus’ when interplanetary and interstellar travel begins. As Carl Sagan would say we are all “Stardust” but the universe of the virus also.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 19, 2010 @ 6:42 am

Perhaps just “rightous indignation”? By the way I forget its it correct that virus’ are not exactly animal, vegetable, or mineral?

Comment by John G Comiskey

November 19, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten -virus prevention too.

see: http://it.pinellas.k12.fl.us/Teachers3/johnsond/images/8F209794EC9F460AAAF9083B55A64A3B.jpg
I wonder if the self-righteous ragers raged in Kindergarten or simply missed anger management K101.
I’m a little biased. I am married to a Kindergarten teacher. It happens that today is our 22nd anniversary In those many years, I visited my wife’s class in both my NYPD and US Coast Guard uniforms and spoke of many things to include the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. see: http://library.thinkquest.org/06aug/02087/Comiskey.htm

In addition, I have proposed a K-12 Civic Education Counter Terrorism Strategy. I abandoned that thesis after concluding that Civic Education is a good way to maintain a democratic society but not necessarily an effective means to transform undemocratic societies into democratic societies. The events of this week do not say much for the status quo civic education or humanity for that matter.

I too was disgusted by “the don’t touch my junk” virus.

I taught an undergraduate Criminal Justice Class today and hoped to incorporate the current TSA body-cavity and pat down controversy. I greeted the first student who walked into the class and asked her to acquire 25 copies of the NY Times from the front desk [The NY Times provides free papers to the school].
When the students walked into class I announced that we would do an exercise that would facilitate a writing assignment. The assignment raises the question: Is the current Criminal Justice System suitable for the 21st Century. I instructed the students to search the paper for current issues that might challenge the 21st Century Criminal Justice System. When asked, students volunteered answers that included Mr. Ahmed Khalfan’s [a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner] conviction despite allegations of torture. Another student offered an article that offered greater NYPD oversight -open seats on the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Finally, a student offered the TSA controversy ….the segway I was hoping for.

[My apologies to those readers who have read the previous “don’t touch my junk” blog; some of this is a repeat but necessarily so].

I offered what I consider to be a pragmatic approach to air travel -a line from a recent Roman Polanski movie, the Ghost Writer wherein the former Prime Minister of Great Britain is in peril of ICC prosecution for crimes against humanity i.e. torture. see: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3376022553/
The former PM angrily defends his position and offers future air travelers a new option.

A choice to board either of two planes. The passengers on the first plane have all been searched and relevant threats and vulnerabilities have been assessed by the government’s intelligence agencies by necessary measures. The passengers on the second plane have not been searched and no intelligence agencies have assessed threats and vulnerabilities relative to the flight.

Which plane do you want to board?

In the interest of safety and efficiency TSA and others have enacted a number of security measures. Some of them are tedious, intrusive, and possibly unnecessary. TSA is has been charged with ensuring our air security -a difficult task under any circumstances. A relatively small number of TSA agents have been charged with misconduct.
This week self-righteous ragers raged that TSA shouldn’t “touch their junk.” Okay, simply board plan number two.

Where is our humanity? Rights go hand in hand with responsibilities and especially the Golden Rule.

This Sunday, I am going to pray for the men and women of the TSA, the ragers, and kindergarten teachers and students.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 20, 2010 @ 4:30 am

An apology to John: HLSWatch has a new and improved spam filter. His comment was not published until I personally intervened… several hours after he first commented.

As we see in other contexts, our effort to separate good from bad can sometimes frustrate the good… especially if we are unable to deploy a solution that is wholly and mindfully human.

I will take this opportunity to share something that I found antithetical to the rage and worse we so often encounter. The link below will take you to a YouTube. If pushed, I could decontruct the video for insidious aspects of materialism, religious imperialism, commercial misuse of the sacred, and more.

But my personal reaction was to smile more and more as the video proceeeded, to sing along, and to end up teary in appreciation. Despite all, we want to be in relationship with one another… and this fundamental want and need is our best bet for overcoming the fear, frustration, and anger that can separate us.

And please notice, it has had over 3.7 million viewers. Have your audio near maximum.

Random Act of Culture: Philadelphia Opera

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 20, 2010 @ 8:20 am

Look air travel is a totally subsidized federal effort, never profitable and never will be in the US. Why? Actually there is no free market. Landing slot lotto impacts that. So the real joke is that the airlines pretend they are private when only federal subsidy and tax breaks keep them afloat. I would throw the whole thing open to the free market and see what happens. Some airlines with security measures and some with not. Let the p u public choose. Real security would be to allow cargo screening on cargo planes 100% and tight control of access to airports. Screening away from terminals. No packing terminals with passengers angry from lineups. Let their anger occur elsewhere and perhaps pre-screening is the answer. The current system is a deterrant to air travel as a alternative travel mode. Interesting that a failed business system now appears even more likely to be ended by a failed security system. Ever wonder why foreign carriers can’t fly whereever they want in the US?

Comment by rageahol

November 21, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae.

it is not a virus. it does not live more than a few days outside of the body. it is spread more or less exclusively from exposure to water or food contaminated by feces that contain the bacteria.

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