Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 9, 2010

Riding the Time Machine: November 2006

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 9, 2010

Looking at some of the stories and analysis that appeared during the early days of Homeland Security Watch is one way to glimpse the slowly but surely emerging history of homeland security.

Here’s a selected look at some of this blog’s headlines from November 2006,  four long years ago.

You may recall that was a time when the Democrats took “control” — an interesting vestigial concept from the 20th century —  of both the house and senate.

The full posts can be found through the search function of this blog (a helpful feature to know about), or by going to this link and working your way back through time.

[Note: the number after each headline refers to the day the post appeared.]


– FBI official: UK plotters aimed to blow up planes over U.S. cities (2)

– [Federal Times] Op-ed looks at the border security system. (2)

– NPR series [on All Things Considered] on the lexicon of terror.(2)

– US Institute of Peace will hold an event on “Five Years after the Fall of the Taliban: Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism.”(2)

– [British Think Tank] Demos report on ‘The Business of Resilience’ (3)

– [Maritime Security Risk Assessment Model (MSRAM)] A new risk management tool for maritime security (6)

– Conference Board report on ‘The Business Case for Security’ (6)

– The liquid and gel lobby fights back [with a march on DC] (7)

– Homeland security after the midterm elections [“…the most important implication of this power shift is that homeland security will finally become a subject that is owned by the entire spectrum of political sentiment, and not one party.”] (9)

– A House reorg on homeland security? [“A Democratic leadership source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not final, said Pelosi is likely to reorganize House committees to streamline jurisdiction over security matters.”] (10)

– Free the CRS, and bring back the OTA [still working on this one also] (13)

– A TSA scofflaw on YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzTwRctV1rw] (14)

– DHS holds 10-print industry day. (14)

– Immigration and terrorism: what are the ties? (15)

– Shell companies and security vulnerabilities (15)

– ICE removes detention and removal strategy from website (15)

– Final ISE [Information Sharing Environment] plan offers new framework for state-local intell sharing (17)

– DHS privacy office releases annual report (20)

– DHS describes [and illustrates] the ‘border calculus’ (20)

– [Internal DHS] Report criticizes DHS contracting activities (24)

– US-VISIT program: one terror apprehension since inception (30)

– Chertoff admits error on NYC grant decision [“We’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps there was a little too much bean counting and a little less standing back and applying common sense to look at the total picture….”] (30)


[Thanks, again, Christian]

November 8, 2010


Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 8, 2010

I was talking to a family friend this past weekend who retired from his company after 30 years.  Thirty years with the same company – something that you do not hear about too often in these days of downsizing, transient workforces, and job transfers.  Finding people who spent 10 years at the same place is becoming a challenge (5 years if you happen to reside in the D.C. area).

As I talked to the friend, I thought about the election last week where voter loyalty and party identity are the exceptions, not the norm.  Independent voters – who identify with neither the donkey or the elephant – appear to be growing in numbers and have shown that they will vote against candidates regardless of party.  The 2006, 2008, and 2010 trail of losing incumbents serves to demonstrate that loyalty in politics is not what it used to be.  Indeed, many predict that Congress may continue to experience a pendulum of power swapping between Republicans and Democrats through several more cycles (though redistricting efforts could make this theory irrelevant).

Even our allegiances to sports teams is not what it once was with attendance at games and television ratings down and owners moving teams to find more passionate fans.  I mean, what does it say when a team in the World Series declared bankruptcy in the months before the playoffs?

So what do these examples have to do with homeland security? Nothing and everything.

Nothing in that there is no clear homeland security threat to be seen in them, though I am certain someone out there might point out that economic espionage may be more prevalent for employees who have no investment in a company or that transitional governments are more prone to security risks.   I will defer to others to make those arguments.

Everything in that they show a troubling trend where “loyalty” and “affiliation” are becoming less prominent in our society, resulting in less allegiances, more alienation, and a greater need to be a part of some group.  Such a trend could lend itself to the development of homegrown terrorism, as  the Council of Foreign Relations recently noted in a report.

So how exactly does the U.S. government reverse the growing trend towards “me” and “alone,” which may contribute to homegrown terrorism? Some guidance can be found in the President’s National Security Strategy released in May.  The report found that the empowerment of communities was critical to counter radicalization:

Our best defenses against this threat are well informed and equipped families, local communities, and institutions. The Federal Government will invest in intelligence to understand this threat and expand community engagement and development programs to empower local communities.

I wonder, however, if instead of intelligence we need a comprehensive sociological and cultural analysis of our changing societal norms.


November 5, 2010

“One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day”

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on November 5, 2010

While the nature of the nuclear threat has drastically changed since the end of the Cold War, that bumper sticker message still rings true.

In contrast to President Obama’s stated belief in nuclear terrorism’s “game changing” nature (made clear in his remarks to Bob Woodward), there have been a number of recent analyses that pushback on the existence of a nuclear terrorist threat.  These include the previously blogged about Bruce Hoffman and Peter Bergen report, Bergen by himself in the CTC Sentinel, former CIA and FBI agent Philip Mudd in that same publication, and Al Mauroni on this website (via Homeland Security Affairs).  Even Noble Prize winning economist Thomas Schelling appears to have reconsidered his earlier prescient warnings about nuclear terrorism during a recent conference.

I do not suggest that all the authors I mentioned make the same arguments or that what follows is an exhaustive analysis.  However, I did want to highlight some of the reoccurring points levied against the risk of nuclear terrorism and provide some small measure of rebuttal (this is a blog posting—not a journal article…).

To be clear, I am not suggesting that a nuclear bomb is more likely to be used by terrorists than conventional bombs (insert target/delivery vehicle here—planes, trains, or automobiles), small arms, or other conventional weapons. However, it seems that the discourse (if not all the official attention) concerning terrorism focuses on certain prevailing memes.  Following 9/11, the conventional wisdom held that the next Al Qaeda attack on the homeland had to trump 9/11.  Combined with the anthrax mailings, this led to a sense of urgency regarding CBRN. This reasoning was often used to explain the absence of a wave of attacks involving shopping malls and other soft targets.  The conventional wisdom began to shift over the years with the lack of subsequent large-scale attacks.  Now it seems overwhelming opinion points toward a wave of smaller attacks, likely homegrown, exemplified by the attempted Times Square and cargo plane bombings.

What I wonder is why shouldn’t we consider a range of possible attacks and orient ourselves appropriately to the chaotic nature of terrorism? An innovative bomb maker in Yemen may not pose a nuclear terrorism risk, but it is possible that a compartmentalized nuclear plot is underway far from circling drone aircraft in Pakistan.  And what about the threat from terrorists not directed, aligned, or even inspired by Al Qaeda?

To the arguments:

Al Qaeda is under too much pressure or lacks a secure base from which to carry out such a complicated plot.

Or put another way, how can Al Qaeda plan and carry out a nuclear attack when they are too busy avoiding drone attacks?

At first blush, this seems like the proverbial candle stick holder in the library next to the dead body of nuclear terrorism (if you don’t get the Clue reference, please just understand that it is a strong argument).

However, then one remembers 9/11.  Did the terrorist pilots learn to fly aircraft in Afghanistan?  No, they went to flight school in the U.S.    The entire operation was planned in those terror training camps, right?  Well….not exactly.  It seems Hamburg (why aren’t we engaged in a COIN vs. CT argument about Germany?) and Kuala Lumpur might also have played a role.

My general point is that even the largest of terrorist plots do not require a safe haven in Afghanistan or even Pakistan to be successful.

Too many complicated steps involved—from obtaining the material through delivery to target—making success unlikely.

This is a particularly popular line of reasoning among skeptics who reference Council on Foreign Relation Senior Fellow Michael Levi’s book “On Nuclear Terrorism.”  Levi examines each step terrorists might need to successfully take to carry out a nuclear attack.  Adding up the probabilities for failure along the way, he concludes a nuclear terrorist attack is possible but not likely.

Yet skeptics should take note before citing him again—he still recommends a range of actions that conform exactly to the steps so-called nuclear terrorism “alarmists” suggest.  These include securing weapons-useable material, the deployment of radiation detectors at well-chosen sites, intelligence and law enforcement work, and even public preparedness.

If one takes all the steps required to successfully pull off the 9/11 attacks and considers the probability of failure at each juncture, and then adds them up, it is unlikely such an attack would have been successful.

Yet it was.

Unobtainable technical expertise.

Or, as former Pakistani President Musharraf is alleged to state, “men in caves can’t do that.”

Yet unfortunately they can.  If they posses the required fissile material.  A simple HEU-fueled bomb was never tested before it was dropped on Hiroshima.  It does not take a Manhattan Project to come up with a workable design—while complete plans cannot be found on the Internet, the physics behind the bomb is well known.  An exercise, referred to as the Nth Country Experiment, took typical physics graduate students and had them design a working nuclear weapon.  And they succeeded (as have a few other publicly known cases). This, supported by technical analysis pointing out the need for a skilled, yet small, team supports the notion that such an attack is possible.

The material required for a nuclear weapon is unobtainable.

In a recent conference, Peter Bergen is reported to have stated, “all of the reported thefts of highly enriched uranium since World War II would add up to only about eight pounds, or roughly a third of the amount needed to construct even the simplest nuclear device, he said, adding that none of the thefts were related to Islamist militants.

So there really isn’t the material let alone the expertise for terrorist groups to create a nuclear weapon.”

Okay.  I accept those figures.  But all, or at least the vast majority, of that intercepted fissile material was never reported missing in the first place.  So either we can rest our hopes on the fact that all the material found in busts does not add up to the amounts required in a nuclear weapon, or we can worry about the potential missing material not reported and not intercepted.

In addition, this is where some point out the lengths that Iran or other countries have gone to in their nuclear ambitions without success.  This simply confuses the issue.  Nation states seeking nuclear weapons have to master the hardest part—producing the highly enriched uranium or plutonium needed for the bomb. States then would want to build a weapon small enough to be delivered by missile or small aircraft.  Terrorists would never be able to produce this material, so they need to acquire it through theft or purchase.  Their weapon could be a crude device requiring a small truck to deliver it to target.

No indication of any nuclear aspirations in previous plots.

This is an argument that is difficult to understand. Again, Mr. Bergen: “In a study of all the jihadist terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, about 172 incidents in all, Bergen said, the think tank found that none involved weapons of mass destruction.”

How many terrorist plots in the 1990s involved crashing airplanes into buildings? Or even attacking U.S. warships? So why should we only consider the type of attacks that have already occurred as the only potential threats?  Terrorists have expressed interest in nuclear weapons.  It is possible, though difficult, for them to acquire nuclear weapons.  And the consequences would be almost unimaginable.  Simply because they have yet to carry out an attack using a nuclear bomb is not a logical argument that they can’t or won’t.

We should focus on the terrorists instead of the potential weapons.

This is a seemingly sound idea popularized by Bruce Schneier.  Except that it is most often used to either argue against security screening measures at airports or any focus on CBRN (strangely, no one uses this reasoning to argue that we should ignore someone with no known terrorist connection living in a large urban area buying hundreds of pounds of fertilizer that could be used in a bomb).  In terms of the nuclear terrorism threat, while a focus on the potential actors is vital, what is the guarantee that we will be 100% successful?  Without such a success rate, it seems the argument against securing potential bomb making material is rather weak.  For example, David Headley was not only involved in scouting out sites for the Mumbai attacks, his activity was brought to the attention of authorities by his wives (yes, plural).  This did not lead to the disruption of the operation and the pieces were only put together afterwards. How confident can we be in our ability to disrupt all potential future terrorist plots?

Again, I am not arguing that nuclear terrorism is likely to occur tomorrow.  Or that it is more likely than any number of conventional attacks.

I am suggesting that it is a threat worthy of serious policy consideration, especially given the potential consequences.  And I welcome comments trying to convince me otherwise.

Further reading:

Rolf-Mowatt Larssen, “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Evolving Forms of the Nuclear Genie.” http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Evolving%20Forms%20of%20Nuclear%20Genie.pdf

Graham Allison, “Nuclear Terrorism Fact Sheet.”


November 4, 2010

The problem in Haiti: Known, knowable, complex, or chaotic?

Filed under: Catastrophes,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 4, 2010

Late today or early tomorrow Tomas is expected in Haiti.  Whether he arrives as a strong tropical storm or a weak hurricane does not make much difference. 

An estimated 1.5 million Haitians are homeless.  Crowded tent cities set up in the aftermath of January’s earthquake are their principal shelter.  The recent cholera outbreak continues to spread.  According to the Pan American Health Organization there are over 4700 confirmed cases and 337 deaths.

At Corail-Cesselesse, 15 miles north of Port-au-Prince, at least 7000 live in a camp established on a flood plain.  According to the AP during an isolated July thunder storm, “torrents of water and high winds… collapsed 344 tents and sent 1,700 people — a quarter of the camp — fleeing for new shelters.” Many Haitian tent cities have been  established in flood plains or are at risk of landslides. 

          Haitian tent city, AP photo by Ramon Espinosa

Last week  Tomas hit St. Lucia with 21 hours of sustained rain.  A similar period of intense rain is expected to wash over the steep, eroded Haitian landscape during the next 18-to-36 hours. According to the Miami Herald, “Despite government appeals to find a safe spot to ride out Tropical Storm Tomas, many Haitians say they have no choice but to hunker down in tents and flimsy homes.”

In early October a study by Refugees International found:

Nearly ten months after the January 12 earthquake, the people of Haiti are still living in a state of emergency, with a humanitarian response that appears paralyzed. Camp inhabitants are protesting against their living conditions and threats of evictions and objecting to the arbitrarily appointed or completely absent camp managers. Gang leaders or land-owners are intimidating the displaced. Sexual, domestic, and gang violence in and around the camps is rising.

It’s about to get worse.

A catastrophe is the sudden shift in what is expected.  In the case of Haiti, a catastrophe would be good news. From the colonial period until today Haitian history can seem a slowly unwinding apocalypse interspersed with outbursts of joy.

Since the earthquake there have been several proposals for moving Haiti forward.   Below are brief reviews of three.  In part these three were chosen to reflect three angles on reality typical of  recovery thinking.

  • The problem is a matter of management.
  • The problem is a matter institutional competence.
  • The problem is a matter of long-term planning.

All three share a call for more money.

While radically reductionist, these summaries accurately suggest a worldview particular to each proposal.  Moreover as each  proposal argues the case for its worldview there is a tendency — sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit —  to perceive other worldviews as too narrow or unrealistic.


Following are three contiguous paragraphs from the executive summary of the Refugees International October report:

OHCHR’s leadership has not committed adequate resources to the protection cluster, including the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Child Protection sub-clusters it supports. There is no full-time staff for the cluster, which is utilizing already over-committed personnel spread thin across a myriad of other duties. OHCHR has traditionally worked on long-term law reform issues in Haiti, submitting policy papers to the government and working for incremental changes — important work in Haiti, but not focused on operational protection response in an emergency environment. Additionally, being integrated into MINUSTAH, OHCHR has the disadvantage of not being perceived as neutral by many parts of Haitian civil society.

The operation of the cluster system can become more effective. Co-leadership of the Protection Cluster by OHCHR and UNHCR, using their complementary experience, would improve the situation. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has essential operational experience in responding to protection needs in emergencies, but there are only four UNHCR staff deployed in Haiti, seconded to OHCHR. This has not been sufficient to bring about increased engagement by OHCHR in operational protection work. The Protection Cluster should seek additional funding for UNHCR through the UN appeal, to enable UNHCR to expand their displacement-focused work throughout the country. UNHCR should also be given the authority to implement key protection best practices, such as setting up case management systems and Standard Operating Procedures.

The Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) cluster is key for ensuring that protection of camp residents’ rights is mainstreamed by all the agencies working in the camps, but it is led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is not a protection-based agency. By taking on CCCM, IOM has taken on a protection role for which they are not equipped. IOM currently has only three junior protection officers, out of 700 staff, and no links with local protection officers to gain a better understanding of the cultural context and the threats facing displaced people. One agency cannot do protection work alone and more experienced protection officers need to be recruited by the various UN agencies, IOM and international NGOs in Haiti.

If only the right number of staff with the required skills would be assigned to the appropriate priorities much more progress would be possible.

Institutional Competence

Since March the National Security Division of the Rand Corporation has developed a report entitled, Building a More Resilient Haitian State.  Here are three paragraphs from its introductory summary.

Prior to the earthquake, the government of Haiti broadly articulated its strategy for pursuing development and improving governance in its Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (GPRSP) of 2007. Building on that paper, a general strategy for reforming Haiti’s economy was approved at an April 2009 donors’ conference in Washington, D.C. After the 2010 earthquake, the government prepared its Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti, which it presented at a donors’ conference held in New York in March 2010.
These documents provide a vision for Haiti’s reconstruction and development and identify funding needs. However, they do not provide a comprehensive, critical examination of preexisting plans in all sectors that takes into account the need to put state-building at the forefront of efforts to ignite progress(Palin’s emphasis). They often fail to set realistic goals and priorities; these failures risk squandering resources and,  more importantly,  the opportunity to set right deeply embedded problems.
The purpose of this report is to fill this gap by appraising past and current plans to improve public-service provision in Haiti and, drawing on these appraisals, providing recommendations to improve those plans. The report focuses on setting priorities for the next few years and suggesting measures that might produce palpable improvements in the provision of public services during this time frame. The report is designed to be useful to the government of Haiti as it develops detailed plans for policy and institutional reforms and to the international donor community as it determines how to support the government’s efforts.

Long-term Planning

The official approach is set out in the reports obliquely critiqued above by the Rand study. The following is taken from pages 8 and 9 of the Action Plan.

… the Government has drawn up a framework for reconstruction, based on the various proposals received, that will focus on four main areas:

1. Territorial rebuilding, including identifying, planning and managing new development centres,stimulating local development, rebuilding affected areas, implementing economic infrastructure required for growth (roads, energy and communication), and managing land tenure, in order to protect property and facilitate the advancement of large projects.

2. Economic rebuilding, which, along with developing key sectors, will aim to modernise the various components of the agricultural sector, providing an export potential in terms of fruits and tubers, livestock farming and fishing, in the interests of food security; develop the professional construction sector with laws and regulations relating to earthquake-resistant and hurricane-resistant materials and implementation and control structures; promote manufacturing industries; and organise the development of tourism.

3. Social rebuilding to prioritise a system of education guaranteeing access to education for all children, offering vocational and university education to meet the demands of economic modernisation, and a health system ensuring minimum coverage throughout the country and social protection for the most vulnerable workers.

4. Institutional rebuilding that will immediately focus on making state institutions operational again by prioritising the most essential functions; redefining our legal and regulatory framework to better adapt it to our requirements; implementing a structure that will have the power to manage reconstruction; and establishing a culture of transparency and accountability that deters corruption in our country.

This ideal, to be reached within 20, years calls for the mobilisation of all efforts and all resources to “make a qualitative change”, the theme of the National Strategy for Growth and Poverty Reduction in November 2007. This strategy remains an important reference point in setting objectives.

In reading each of these carefully considered and constructive reports I am struck by how they track the Cynefin Framework.   The  Refugee International report seems very confident of what is known and, as a result, what can be fixed and how.   The Rand study aims  to analyze a complicated situation and apply systems thinking. As is often the case with politically oriented proposals, the Action Plan is probing, sensing, and responding to a self-consciously complex situation. 

None of these approaches seem prepared to acknowledge that we may be engaged in a truly chaotic situation where the most promising approach is act, sense, respond.

(For a bit more on the place of  the Cynefin framework in homeland security please see Shape Patterns, Not Programs from the Homeland Security Affairs Journal and Believe in the Model: Mishandle the Emergency from the Journal of Emergency Management and Homeland Security)

November 3, 2010


Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on November 3, 2010

Over the weekend, an International Herald Tribune story published in the New York Times caught my eye. It chronicled an interesting development in the English language and pondered what it could mean for our culture. As I watch the election returns roll in and reflect on other news of the day, I find it difficult to reach optimistic conclusions about what this semantic shift might signal.

In the story, Anand Giridharandas recounted a study of word usage in American published works that indicated the occurrence of the words “achievement” and “fun” rose by factors of eleven and four-fold respectively between 1810 and 2000 while the appearance of the words “excellence” and “pleasure” fell by fairly similar margins over the same period. As Giridharandas notes, explanations for such shifts are hard to come by and often involve myriad complex factors.

Nonetheless, I find it hard to ponder the rationale for such shifts even momentarily without noting the differences in the words and the meanings they connote. Excellence reflects internal qualities, especially of character, while achievement is usually conferred by others. We like to think of excellence as an absolute quality, while achievement can hardly if ever be considered without reference to some standard besides itself. Likewise, pleasure seems to suggest an internal sense of satisfaction with or appreciation of something outside ourselves. Fun, on the other hand, tends to imply something about the character of activities themselves not simply our experience of them and their intrinsic qualities.

It is hard to contemplate the results of elections these days without imaging that the winners and those who support them find satisfaction in their achievement while others, including some who voted for the lesser of evils, wonder why it’s so hard to find excellent candidates who reflect their values. Low voter turnouts and polls that suggest deep ideological divisions remain among the electorate suggest even those who take pride in the performance of their civic duty on election day may take little pleasure in the task even if as they revel in the fun of their favored candidates’  victory parties.

Civic virtues, like the qualities suggested by the waning influence of the words excellence and pleasure and the values they imply, still move us. This was evident today by the reaction of those who knew or simply knew of John D. Solomon to the sad and shocking news of his untimely passing at the age of 47. John was the author and force of nature behind In Case of Emergency, Read Blog. A fierce advocate for citizen preparedness, John was eulogized today by many, including FEMA administrator Craig Fugate who noted:

John was both an important ally and critic of emergency managers.  I always appreciated his willingness to offer candid assessments of where we stood as a country as far as preparedness, and respected his honest feedback about our work here at FEMA.  He pushed all of us to always do more to engage and prepare the public – and set the standard for what it meant to be part of our nation’s emergency management team.

John’s friend David Shenk broke the news of John’s death to the readers of John’s blog. He noted how immensely talented John was and how committed he was to the work of disaster preparedness. Readers of John’s New York Times obituary will note that his life was characterized by many stunning achievements. He clearly was a man who enjoyed life and the company of family and friends with whom he shared many fun times. As I reflect on my limited contact with John, however, it was the strength of his character and the pleasure he took in pursuing excellence and encouraging its pursuit in others that will remain with me as his lasting legacy.

The authors and contributors at HLSwatch share the sense of loss at John’s untimely death and convey our deepest sympathies to John’s family and friends, especially his wife Abby and daughters Sara and Rebecca. We share too John’s commitment to building a more resilient nation and will do all we can to hold ourselves accountable for living lives of meaning and value by displaying and encouraging commitments to the civic virtues John embodied throughout his all too short life. Rest in peace, brother.

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.

November 1, 2010

Yemeni package threat: Aggregating the reports

Filed under: Aviation Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 1, 2010

There are plenty of breaking news reports on the  packages found late Thursday, October 29.  Following are a few of the more detailed and helpful I have seen.  Many of these reports will be updated in the hours ahead.  (This post originated at 5:30 Eastern on Friday, October 30.)


September “dry run” confirmed (BBC)

Yemen launches manhunt for bomber (Reuters)

British special forces part of Yemen manhunt (Telegraph UK)  Chief of British Defence Staff says military intervention in Yemen “might be” necessary (Telegraph UK)

Yemen indicts al-Awlaki (AFP)


The BBC is claiming  official confirmation that the source of information on the Yemeni package plot is a a former Guantanamo detainee.

On October 15 AFP reported the man had reached out to Saudi authorities.

SUNDAY UPDATE (At the request of Bill Cumming I am continuing the thread, although at a reduced pace.)

Suspect arrested in Yemen (Telegraph UK) (Student is thought to have be source of packages)

Likely bombmaker identified (Telegraph UK) (Same technician suspected in Christmas Day and other attempted bombings)

Awlaki identified as likely “mastermind” (Guardian UK)  (Includes reporting on likely escalation of US operations originating in Yemen.)

Bomb points to Al Qaeda according to Dubai police (Khaleej Times Dubai)


PETN confirmed as explosive (BBC)

Detailed description of IED found at Dubai (Telegraph UK)

Yemen packages expose gaps in air cargo screening (National Journal)

Secretary Napolitano affirms apparent AQ connection (ABC News, Good Morning America)

In June the GAO updated its report on Air Cargo Screening

In June the Council on Foreign Relations provided a helpful update on the situation in Yemen: http://www.cfr.org/publication/9369/islamist_radicalism_in_yemen.html


Cargo plane bomb alert: explosive devices ‘designed to harm US synagogues’  (Telegraph UK)

Terror alert: how the hunt for the packages unfolded (Guardian UK)  (Nice overview of the timetable)

 Obama Says Explosives Were U.S. Bound (New York Times)

Gibbs and Brennan Brief on Terrorism Threat (Politico)

Video of the President’s statement on the Yemeni packages (Washington Post) (after an advertisement) and the complete Post story.  And now there’s a transcript of the President’s statement from the Post.

Packages bound for Chicago synagogues (Chicago Tribune) (One of the synagogues is across the street from the Obama’s southside home.)

Yemen Terror Alert (BBC) (Helpful side-bar pieces on the broader context in Yemen)

Statement from UPS on investigation (UPS)

Statement from Fedex on investigation (Fedex)

Reuters seems to have the best contacts on site in Dubai, where one of the suspicious devices was found.  So far not much is being reported but you might check the link for updates: Package found in Dubai at lab for tests.  The packages originated in Yemen where Reuters also seems to be the most likely candidate to tell us something, if something worth telling is found: Yemen investigating suspicious packages.

« Previous Page