Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 18, 2011

From the other blogs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 18, 2011

Here are a few of the homeland security-related issues covered by other blogs over the past two weeks.


1. Pentagon Retools Bio-Effort After $1 Billion Flop

It was supposed to come up with antidotes for pathogens that terrorists might use for a mass-casualty bio-attack. But after spending over $1 billion during the last five years, the Pentagon’s Transformational Medical Technology initiative can barely develop drugs ready for a clinical trial. That’s why the officials tasked with running it are setting their research-subsidy targets much lower [Wired]

2. Queensland Police Facebook Page: Best Practice in Public Engagement

The Australian flooding event in Queensland is proving to be a good example of the use of social media during a crisis. Although there are multiple facebook pages, twitter feeds, blogs and even a crowdsourced map created around this event, I’d like to focus on the Queensland Police facebook page. The fact that the page has almost 165,000 fans points to its relevance, but their content and use of the platform I believe, make it a model to be duplicated. [Idisaster]

3. So Easy A Girl Could Do It

The JAWA Report reports on a news story:

Less than 18 seconds. That’s how long it took two young women to climb a U.S.-Mexico border fence that costs millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

In a video shot by filmmaker Roy Germano, two women show how easy it is to reach the top by climbing the fence’s concrete-filled steel pipes in less than 18 seconds, MyFoxHouston.com reports.

The billion dollar (so far) virtual fence has been scrapped and the physical fence as designed is ineffective. [JAWA Report]

4. Fears of cyberwar exaggerated: report –

When the writer of a notorious book for hackers says we should stop panicking about cyberwar, it is probably time to sit up and take notice.

“Governments should take a calm, disciplined approach and evaluate the risks of each type of attack very carefully rather than be swayed by scare stories,” says Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics. [Homeland Security Newswire]

5. Nuclear Mondays

Relying on chemical, biological, or radiological detectors as year-round monitors for CBRN terrorism was never a good idea. Given the very low probability of the threat, it’s not an intelligent risk-management decision to invest in these systems. Detectors are good things to have for singular events like the Olympics or the presidential inauguration. They are good things for special response teams to have to verify and control particular hazards, if a terrorist ever uses a CBRN hazard.

If the US government is seriously concerned about illegitimate transportation and open releases of CBRN hazards, the key is to emphasize intelligence collection and law enforcement to pre-empt such actions. Ensuring a rapid emergency response (using local, not federal specialists) and developing resiliency in critical government services would be the second and third priorities. Any serious policy analysis of this area would reveal these facts. Unfortunately, the government leadership chooses to ignore such analysis. [Armchair Generalist]

6. [Today] Events of Interest: Frontline program on terrorism-industrial complex: ‘Are We Safer?’ (Jan. 18)

PBS’s Frontline will air a program about security, surveillance and civil liberties — including privacy — in the United States: “Are We Safer?” ….

The magazine series launches with the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who investigates the sprawling terrorism-industrial complex that has grown up in the wake of 9/11. Her report, Are We Safer? — produced and directed by FRONTLINE veteran Michael Kirk (The Warning, Obama’s Deal) — explores the growing reach of homeland security into the lives of ordinary Americans.

Priest examines Maryland, for example. Here, Gov. Martin O’Malley tells FRONTLINE how the Department of Homeland Security backed his state’s efforts to track down terrorists, funding the creation of a “fusion center” to bring together data from new high-tech devices like license plate readers and CCTV cameras on street corners, and to combine it with the databases of local police and the federal government.

The problem, Priest finds, is that, nine years after 9/11, Maryland, like so many states, has yet to use its vast anti-terror apparatus to capture any terrorists. Rather, it’s built a massive database that collects, stores and analyzes information on thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Date: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET

Location: Local PBS TV stations  [PrivacyLives]

7. 2010 Coast Guard Video of the Year Winners

Every year the United States Coast Guard recognizes the top videos of amazing rescues, national security operations and drug interdiction. The videos chosen highlight the mission and dedication of Coast Guard members. The videos received 31,639 total views and 1,064 votes.

This year’s first place video features Coast Guard Port Security Unit 307 and the Haitian Coast Guard providing medical attention during an orphanage relief project following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. [Homeland Security Digital Library]

8. Bruce Schneier on Airport Security

Last week, I spoke at an airport security conference hosted by EPIC: The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures. Here’s the video of my half-hour talk. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Schne [Schneier on Security]

9. Inspire Issue 4: An Open Front Jihad

Inspire’s fourth issue contains new strategies for attacks, including ways to blow up buildings and participate in al-Qaida’s media war on the West. Pursuing jihad is the way to heaven, it says, urging Muslims to make a choice between heaven, sacrifice, and jihad on one hand, and hellfire, punishment, and helping disbelievers on the other. [Investigative Project]

10. The Great Food Crisis of 2011

Lester Brown writes: As the new year begins, the price of wheat is setting an all-time high in the United Kingdom. Food riots are spreading across Algeria. Russia is importing grain to sustain its cattle herds until spring grazing begins. India is wrestling with an 18-percent annual food inflation rate, sparking protests. China is looking abroad for potentially massive quantities of wheat and corn. The Mexican government is buying corn futures to avoid unmanageable tortilla price rises. And on January 5, the U.N. Food and Agricultural organization announced that its food price index for December hit an all-time high. …

The current surge in world grain and soybean prices, and in food prices more broadly, is not a temporary phenomenon. We can no longer expect that things will soon return to normal, because in a world with a rapidly changing climate system there is no norm to return to.

The unrest of these past few weeks is just the beginning. It is no longer conflict between heavily armed superpowers, but rather spreading food shortages and rising food prices — and the political turmoil this would lead to — that threatens our global future. Unless governments quickly redefine security and shift expenditures from military uses to investing in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation, and population stabilization, the world will in all likelihood be facing a future with both more climate instability and food price volatility. If business as usual continues, food prices will only trend upward. [Foreign Policy]

11. Peep show: inside the world of unsecured IP security cameras

If you’re in public, you’re on camera. If you walk into a coffee shop, the owner gets you at the register. Visit a larger store, and chances are they have your face as soon as you cross the threshold. At least one or two of your neighbors catch you on camera when you walk around your neighborhood, and many cities monitor traffic using red light cameras at major intersections. The question is no longer if you’re on camera, but rather how many different angles you were caught on while going about your day. [ars technica]

12. Dismantling the Warrior Fetish

On Monday, ADM Mike Mullen told a crowd at the National Defense University that he was concerned about the civil-military “disconnect” – that the military was in danger of being out of touch with the American public, who appears disinterested in defense affairs. This recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal made me wonder if Mullen (and other military leaders) are aware of just how much that “disconnect” is self-induced….

We need to help the military off their high step and remind them that, once the guns stop firing (and one day, gods willing, they will), the service members get to come back to society and rejoin the public. Certainly … serving in the military or police permanently changes your life perspective. For those who have been in harms way, life has a different feel than the average joe (or jane). That doesn’t mean you are outside of society, though, and we shouldn’t support a “warrior fetish” that increases the distance between those who have served and those who are protected. Just as … so many … did after World War 2, it’s perfectly acceptable to come home and quietly rejoin society as our citizen-soldiers have always done. [Armchair generalist]

13. Innovative Technologies Used in Haiti Relief Effort

The Knight Foundation released the report Media, Information System and Communities: Lessons from HAITI. The report found that relief workers employed innovative technologies, using interactive maps and SMS (Short Messaging Service) texts to help locate people in need of assistance.

“This report captures three important observations:

1. Traditional humanitarian organizations were often open to the new technologies, but remain nervous about the implications of information and powersharing through crowdsourcing and other new media platforms.

2. Joint humanitarian communities demonstrated that there were many beneficial ways to use digital media in the crisis setting, particularly texting functions.

3. Although much of the attention has been paid to new media technologies, radio was the most effective tool for serving the needs of the public. The first media priority in Haiti was to restore radio service (as it was in the tsunami and other recent crises).” [Homeland Security Digital Library]

14. The Origins of Counterinsurgency

Thomas Rid reports: The editors of the Journal of Strategic Studies kindly made some articles in the current issue available for free. One of these texts, “The Nineteenth Century Origins of Counterinsurgency Doctrine,” asks, Where does the theory of counterinsurgency come from? [Kings of war]

15. Youths in Violent Extremist Discourse

CSC researchers Pauline Cheong and Jeff Halverson have just published a paper in the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism that …examines al Qaeda texts from 1996-2009 to determine strategies used by the group to construct a pro-radical identity for young Muslims. … [Abstract]

This article examines the discursive strategies employed by violent Islamist extremists to build a persuasive collective youth identity in their messages. Our analysis draws from strategic communication, social movement, and membership categorization theories to analyze youth references made in texts disseminated by al-Qaeda from 1996 – 2009. In these texts, “youth” is constructed via three main discursive strategies.

The first involves ascriptions of allegiance to a common belief system whereby militant actions are directed toward establishing a new sociopolitical order. Extremists envision revolutionary violence as the principle mechanism for change and an integral part of religious salvation. They see Muslim youth as the vanguard necessary to bring about the new social reality. The second utilizes descriptions of pious youth as “true believers” apart from “apostate” state regimes. Every conflict against hypocrites, unbelievers, or apostates in the Muslim world is a shared responsibility amongst the Muslim ummah (as a single nation) and not exclusive to individuals of a particular “nationality” or holders of a particular passport. The good youth fulfills his obligations as a member of this ummah. The third is through references to hagiographies of extremist martyrs which serve as moral exemplars and the formation of a distinctly jihadist tradition. The idealization of these men as warrior-saints or heroes serves the need for alternative militant paradigms among the violent extremist ranks, especially youths.

The article concludes with research directions to facilitate counter-narrative interventions, such as utilizing stories from Islamic history and the life of the Prophet Muhammad to disrupt extremist claims. [Comops]

16. Federal Highway Administration Fusion Center Information Sharing Guidebook

This guidebook provides an overview of the mission and functions of transportation management centers, emergency operations centers, and fusion centers. The guidebook focuses on the types of information these centers produce and manage and how the sharing of such information among the centers can be beneficial to both the day-to-day and emergency operations of all the centers. Challenges exist to the ability to share information, and the guidebook addresses these challenges and options for handling them. The guidebook also provides some lessons learned and best practices identified from a literature search and interviews/site visits with center operators. [Publicintelligencec.net]

17. Background Report: Incendiary Devices in Packages

Following the ignition of two incendiary devices in packages at the Maryland Department of Transportation in Hanover, Maryland, and the Jeffrey Building in Annapolis, Maryland, START [the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism] has compiled background information from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) on:





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Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 18, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

Useful summary of key news items. Thanks.

I blog on emergency management and this week dealt with some issues re local resilience.
See: http://recoverydiva.com

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 18, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

Thanks for the info. And any trends detected from various blogs?

Wasn’t one Secretary DHS quoted as saying “Any fence can be climbed?”

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