Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 4, 2011

From the other blogs – for Tuesday, January 4th

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 4, 2011

Heading into Year 10, a lot of people still write about homeland security-related issues.  Here’s what appeared in blogland over the past week or so:



Politico reminds us that climate change is the next security threat:

“Certain senators and the new Republican-controlled House are attacking the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit carbon pollution. This is likely to have devastating consequences for our environment and our national security…. [US] oil dependence is among the most dangerous threats to U.S. national security. For years, senior military and intelligence officials have warned that too much of U.S. oil payments eventually trickle down to terrorists, who use it to buy the weapons used against our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey said it best: “This [the war on terror] is the first time since the Civil War where we are funding both sides of the war.”

The folks at Climate Progress write about Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010. They claim “The NY Times and others blow the story of the century.”

We had jaw-dropping science in 2010 (A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice). We had gripping climatic disasters (Masters: “The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability”; Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”). And we even had major political theater — domestic (The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 1 and Part 2) and international (see The Cancun Compromise). But, as we’ll see, the one-time paper of record didn’t have climate change in a single one of its largest lead headlines. And analyses of multiple databases reveal that the rest of the media sheepishly returned to 2005 levels of coverage.

National Guard

Jason Sigger’s Armchair Generalist comments on an article about the National Guard’s ten top missions in 2010. Sigger highlights mission number 9: “the DoD’s decision … to develop ten Homeland Response Forces that will aid in the response to a CBRN incident.”

Really, guys? This makes your “top ten” list? You’re that proud of the 2010 QDR decision to add 5700 NG troops across the country to join the 57 WMD Civil Support Teams and the 17 CBRNE Emergency Response Forces that are already sitting quietly, bored out of their minds, waiting for any excuse to do something other than respond to “white powder” scares and other false alarms?Amazing to be so proud of such a colossal waste of federal funds aimed at developing such an overprotective response to an over-rated threat. Yes, these NG troops do help train state and local emergency responders on CBRN hazard response, but this technical skill isn’t unique to DoD. It’s not 1998 anymore.


CBS News’ Armen Keteyian reports (in late December ) on a terrorist threat to attack multiple hotel and restaurant salad bars and buffets in the US:

A key intelligence source has confirmed the threat as ‘credible.’ Department of Homeland Security officials, along with members of the Department of Agriculture and the FDA, have briefed a small group of corporate security officers from the hotel and restaurant industries about it….

The plot uncovered earlier this year [2010] is said to involve the use of two poisons – ricin and cyanide – slipped into salad bars and buffets….The plotters are believed to be tied to the same terror group that attempted to blow up cargo planes over the east coast in October, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In online propaganda al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has praised the cargo attack, part of what it called “Operation Hemorrhage,” a plan to attack “the enemy with smaller but more frequent operations” to “add a heavy economic burden to an already faltering economy.”

2010 Counterterrorism Calendar

The Homeland Security Digital Library announces the availability (thanks to the National Counterterrorism Center) of the 2011 Counterterrorism Calendar (pdf copy of the calendar available here).

Look who’s materially supporting terrorists — arguably

Jacob Sullum, at reason.com comments on this New York Times story by David Cole. The article describes how — because of a Supreme Court decision last June — “former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and former national security adviser Frances Townsend arguably violated the federal ban on providing ‘material support’ to terrorist groups when they spoke at a conference in Paris last month.”

Hurricanes cause earthquakes – hypothetically

Brian Romans, at wired.com discusses an earth science idea “linking the devastating Haiti earthquake in January 2010 to strong tropical storm systems that struck the region in 2008…. The hypothesis put forth by [Shimon] Wdowinski and colleagues is that the mass of sediment removed from Haiti’s uplands (and deposited in adjacent lowlands) influenced the stresses on the Léogâne Fault zone enough to cause it to rupture, resulting in the devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. The cause of such rapid erosion, according to the abstract, was the combined effects of two hurricanes and two tropical storms in 2008 on a severely deforested landscape.”


PrivacyLives summarizes recent stories about privacy and camera surveillance systems.

Jim Harper of CATO@Liberty predicts new DHS programs will create more privacy concerns in 2011:

[T]he Department of Homeland Security is working on the “next big thing”: body-scanning everywhere. This “privacy impact assessment” from DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate details a plan to use millimeter wave—a technology in strip-search machines—along with other techniques, to examine people from a distance, not just at the airport but anywhere DHS wants.

Legal terrorism

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation published its twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. The current post is about terrorism arrests in Europe, the Obama Administration’s thinking about an indefinite detention review process, and the circulation on the internet of Al Qaeda’s English-language manual, “The Explosives Course,” about how to construct and deploy “explosives made from everyday materials.”

Homeland security and DHS

Foreign Policy also published a short essay by Anne Applebaum claiming “Homeland security hasn’t made us safer.” She argues “The events of 9/11 did not prove that the United States needs to spend more on local police forces and fire brigades; they proved that Americans need to learn how to make better use of the information they have and apply it with speed and efficiency.”

Security Debrief’s Rich Cooper has a new year’s wish for DHS

Having stability in leadership is good for everybody, but it also points to a fact that there should be no more excuses when it comes to actions and decision making. For the better part of this past year, there has been (for lack of a better description) an “analysis paralysis” on-going at DHS, and it needs to end. By “analysis paralysis” I’m talking about looking, talking and studying an issue to figure out what you’re going to do about it, and then never getting around to doing anything about it because you’re too busy (or acting busy) looking, talking and studying the issue without end. It’s sort of like the DMV’s of old where you stood in line forever to get nowhere fast.

• … what, if any, realignment or reorganization is going to happen with the department given the completion of the QHSR and the Bottoms Up Review.

• What’s the status of collective bargaining for TSA’s workforce?

• What about the future of … the Secure Border Initiative.

• What about improvements in information sharing? … And what impact, if any, did the WikiLeaks disclosures have on information sharing initiatives?

• What about improved management systems and acquisition processes?

Social networks and data

Kim Stephens, at idisaster 2.0 writes about “Swift River,” a web-based tool that allows users to aggregate a lot of social media.

Kim writes:

Why do emergency managers need to aggregate data from the web and social media sites? The answer is simple, they don’t. But, if your community is using social media to connect to citizens during non-disaster events, you should expect your citizens will use that same conduit to ask for assistance or to inform the city/county of problems during a crisis. The recent snow storm in the Northeast provided ample examples of how this may occur. Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, had an active twitter account before the blizzard–over a million followers; after the snow fell in prodigious amounts, the citizens used this communications platform to let him know about problems they were experiencing….

In the future–very near future, we will need to be able to do four things quickly:

• curate relevant/new situational awareness data as seen from our citizens’ perspective (they are everywhere–our city workers are not)

• verify information from non-governmental sources

• discard duplicative information

• display information in a interactive format with access to and from multiple agencies (including potentially volunteer organizations)

Kim thinks Swift River (which works well with Ushahidi)  is a promising approach to the real time aggregation issue.

TSA behavior

In a November post (that I saw recently), Government Against the People suggests some TSA behavior meets the USA Patriot Act definition of terrorism: “activities that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.”

TSA’s Blogger Bob says the reports about a 70% TSA detection failure rate is based on testing from 2004-2005, and the tests were conducted at only three of the 450 federalized U.S. airports.  He also says most of the media reporting those data do not also report the “steps that have been taken since then to improve security.”

Human Trafficking

The JAWA Report’s Mike Pechar comments on human trafficking:

Rather Hook in Africa than Live in China

(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo) Eleven Chinese women were abducted by human traffickers and taken to Africa to work as prostitutes in a karaoke bar. After a joint raid by Chinese and Congolese police on the karaoke bar, however, the women decided to stay in the country, saying it was easier to make good money there than in China.

Interestingly, the decision to stay in Africa may have been swayed because of a significant alcoholism problem within the Chinese hooker population. Fortunately, the drunk Chinese hooker project funded by the National Institutes of Health is addressing the problem.


Cyber threats

James Andrew Lewis, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, offers a chart documenting cyber-attacks against the U.S. government since 2006.

Dennis O’Reilly writes for CNET news. Last week he wrote about how to future proof your electronic data (sort of home-based homeland security):

It’s easier than ever to make sure copies of your most important records, documents, photos, videos, and other personal data will be readable/viewable/playable long after the hardware and software used to create the files have bitten the dust.

The four keys to safe data archiving are to choose file formats that won’t become obsolete, use storage media that won’t deteriorate or become inaccessible, make multiple copies stored apart, and check your archived data regularly to ensure it’s still readable.

He provides more details about doing this at the CNET link.


Bruce Schneier points to thebrowser.com’s post about Mary Habeck’s (professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University) recommendation for five books you must read to understand the War on Terror.” Schneier’s blog has interesting comments about the list.

And, speaking of lists, the Homeland Security Digital Library’s (HSDL) On the Homefront blog offers its list of 2010’s interesting homeland security books:

Throughout the year, we at HSDL have brought you new and interesting reports and papers that explore the current Homeland Security debate. At the end of every year we like to step outside of the ‘digital world’ to give our readers some suggestions from the ‘printed world’. … The following is a list of selected titles that cover a range of current Homeland Security issues. Our special thanks to Greta Marlatt, a librarian on our staff, for compiling this list.

You can find the list at this link: http://www.hsdl.org/hslog/?q=node/5901

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1 Comment »

Comment by william R. Cumming

January 4, 2011 @ 9:11 am

Great blog summary! Thanks Chris!

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