Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 26, 2011

Acts of God

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Mark Chubb on February 26, 2011

On Saturday, Eric Holdeman posted a commentary on the Christchurch earthquake in which he summarized his mood as, “Mad as hell!” He suggested that righteous indignation was the only proper response from emergency managers to this and other recent disasters. He predicated this advice on an assessment that people do not take preparedness seriously until a disaster strikes. Somehow he thinks turning up the volume or the vitriol will change their behavior.

I’m afraid it will, but for the worse. People all across the U.S. are now questioning whether public officials are little more than overpaid nannies who see their primary role as nagging and annoying us for years then collecting big pensions. This is not the case in Christchurch, where praise for the efforts of responders (domestic and international) has been universally high. New Zealand’s emergency services are nowhere near as well-staffed as those in most U.S. cities. Their capacity to deal with a catastrophe of this sort is no better than what we would see here either. But they have managed to engage the public as partners in the response, and the results speak for themselves.

In the aftermath of the M6.3 Christchurch earthquake that destroyed the iconic Anglican cathedral in the city’s center on Monday evening (USA time), the church’s dean, the Very Reverend Peter Beck was quoted as saying the earthquake was “not an act of God” – it was just “the Earth doing what it does.” He added, “For me as a Christian, the act of God is in the love and compassion that people are sharing among each other. You know… they call it the Canterbury spirit. The Canterbury spirit in a sense is the human spirit at its very best. You often see that in the worst of times the human spirit is at its very best.”

Here are just a few of the acts of God witnessed in Christchurch since that horrible event …

  • University of Canterbury Student Volunteer Army mobilized hundreds of young people to perform manual labor in support of disaster victims.
  • New Zealanders outside the quake-damaged area made 3,300 offers of temporary accommodation through http://www.quakeescape.co.nz.
  • National airline Air NZ offered $50 domestic  flights to and from the quake-ravaged city to allow people to get away for awhile or to come back and look after their property or families.
  • TelecomNZ, Vodafone  and other carriers offered free landline phone forwarding to cellphones and free payphone and outbound calling services.
  • A citizen in a badly affected neighborhood supplied free drinking water to fellow citizen from an artesian well.
  • Federated Farmers mobilized a small volunteer of  rural residents and equipment to help clear debris and secure infrastructure.
  • Energy companies Rockgas and Contact Energy supplied free LPG for heating and cooking.
  • Electric power utilities Contact Energy and Meridian waived power rates for those in quake-damaged homes.

These examples do not include the countless act of selflessness and heroism performed by ordinary people in the immediate aftermath of the event.

Given a choice between Dean Beck’s prescription and that of Mr. Holdeman, I think the evidence suggests empathy not anger is the proper emotion in these circumstances. The people of Christchurch knew this could happen. They took steps to minimize the impacts within the limitations of their knowledge and resources. And they stepped up to help one another when the worst happened.

Now they have difficult decisions to make about the future of their city. They do not need self-appointed experts pontificating about what they should have done or scolding them to do better before the next time comes.

February 25, 2011

Risk Whisperer Rascality

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on February 25, 2011

Today’s post was written by Nick Catrantzos.  Nick writes for the All Secure blog and is the security director for a large public organization.  He has written once before for homeland security watch.


I would rather consult a twice convicted Vegas bookie on the odds of a terrorist attack than any number of government- or industry-subsidized risk whisperer purveyors of formulae.

Why? Because the latter — whether they do this openly or subconsciously — tailor their products to their masters, who increasingly call for risk assessments as a means of demonstrating how much more their given operation or jurisdiction merits funding over a lesser competitor, i.e., an entity not nearly facing so much risk of dire consequences.

The same approach holds true regardless of whether the risk calculation involves the likelihood of terrorist attack or of natural disaster. The master wants as much of the pot of available money as can be won by legitimate wrangling and maneuvering, as for Urban Area Security Initiative funds. Hence the recent news from the New York Observer (details here) that an amendment has just passed the House that would enable New York City to receive more anti-terrorism funding.

Where do calculations of risk come into play?

This amendment proposes that only the 25 “highest-risk” cities would receive UASI funding. Alas for those cities that may actually be more vulnerable because they lack the resources to detect, counter, or mitigate an attack. One wonders if America’s adversaries are sufficiently respectful of such maneuvering to heed the risk whisperers and to limit their attacks only to the 25 designated cities.

Now for a return to the Vegas bookie. Isn’t he a little more palatable by contrast? Why? Because he has a vested interest in the results of his oddsmaking. If he is wrong, the bet that has to be paid off affects his bottom line. If he is right, the profits are what he has earned.

Today’s risk whisperers, by contrast, have everything to gain and nothing to lose by offering their dire predictions and calculations of relative risk.

First, no public or private institution accords risk assessors executive decision-making authority. This is why the Department of Energy, despite generations of sponsoring Sandia and its computationally intensive risk assessment methodologies, does not look to its own in-house risk gaugers to decide budget priorities to counter leaks of nuclear secrets or security breaches.

Second, risk whisperers have no skin in the game. They suffer no penalty for getting it wrong. Instead, they have the luxury of proclaiming that unknown variables came into play, or that their advice was imperfectly followed, or any other reasonable-sounding excuses.

Imagine what would have happened if carnage experienced at Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech, or Fort Hood had to be anticipated through the same risk assessments that now determine which 25 cities are in greater danger than any others. Would any of these venues have made the list? Probably not. One can already hear the disclaimers being whispered: not the same kind of attack … different situations … other variables.

But the bookie would have to pay for getting it wrong and, so chastened, would be a little more careful in handicapping the next event.

Give me the bookie any time.

February 24, 2011

Dirty Bombs, Al Jazeera, A Legal Manual for the Apocalypse, Oh My…

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Legal Issues,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on February 24, 2011

A mixed bag of relatively recent homeland security items that may have escaped attention.

Dirty Bombs

The Newshour on PBS recently aired a short segment on “How Tough is it to Build a Dirty Bomb.”  If you are interested in a dirty bomb primer, you could do a whole lot worse.  The video and transcript can be found here:


The piece is a good, basic bit of reporting with an interesting interview with the man once referred to as the “Radioactive Boyscout.”  However, it would have been helpful if the reporter had pushed NYPD representatives to justify continued spending on the Securing the Cities effort instead of considering alternative means of dealing with the threat of dirty bombs.

Al Jazeera

During this tumultuous period in the Middle East, U.S. print and cable news services have scrambled to provide coverage in countries where they previously had little infrastructure.  In stark contrast, Al-Jazeera focuses its reporting on events in the region and was well positioned to respond to the string of fast breaking events.  However, very few U.S. cable companies carry the station and this led to a huge spike in traffic to Al Jazeera’s English website.

Some argue that the station is simply a platform for anti-U.S. and anti-Semitic views while others insist it is a serious news organization that allows distasteful commentators air time.  In a recent Boston Globe op-ed, former DHS Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem argues that the public should be allowed access to the vital reporting from that region Al Jazeera provides.  She acknowledges the less savory aspects of the station, but feels it should be left to the public to decide what and when to tune into any particular media.

This battle over cable access must be understood as a proxy for a broader lack of understanding between the United States and the region. Cable companies have no obligation to run programming, but their silence to the question “why no access’’ is a judgment, understood by the Arab world as a value-laden decision about America’s lack of desire to hear from the Arab world about the Arab world. In fact, the events in Tunisia and Egypt have been masterfully covered by the station, a news heavyweight in most of the world.

While US news corporations scrambled to get people and equipment to the region, AJE was already there, at the forefront of documenting the Egyptian government’s atrocities and demise, so much so that AJE’s offices in Egypt were raided and its journalists detained.

Could the existence of AJE on channel 203 or, if lucky, 114, upset American viewers? Yes. No doubt, if I watched long enough, I would find viewpoints expressed by commentators on Israel or the role of women that I find objectionable. But that basically describes my relationship with most cable news hosts, yet there they are, night after night.

James Zogby, in his book “Arab Voices,’’ highlights how American companies such as Cisco, Starbucks, and ExxonMobil have made important contributions to public diplomacy by shaping and promoting engagement in the Arab world. US cable companies ought to do the same by bringing a major player in the Arab world to American audiences.

Read the entire piece here: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2011/02/14/let_us_see_al_jazeera/

Al Qaeda and Mideast Revolution

A question arising from Mideast turmoil for homeland security officials is the potential impact on Al Qaeda–both short and long term.  Paul Cruickshank addresses both the optimistic and pessimistic in a CNN.com opinion piece.

The short term:

Furthermore, the weakening of security services throughout the Arab world may allow jihadist groups like al Qaeda in the medium-term to rebuild capabilities, warns Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist once personally acquainted with al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.

“This is a make or break moment for al Qaeda,” said Benotman, now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation, a UK counter-extremist think tank.

In the short term, Benotman says, al Qaeda will need to navigate strong countervailing winds. The clamor by protesters from North Africa to the Gulf for more democracy is hardly change al Qaeda can believe in.

“What we see playing out now is completely against what al Qaeda is preaching,” Benotman said.

The long term:

Benotman says that with the weakening of security services in some Arab countries, the greatest future opportunities may lie for jihadist groups with a narrow regional agenda rather than those like al Qaeda focused on attacking the United States and its Western allies.

According to Benotman, one of the groups that may try to rebuild its activities in Egypt is Zawahiri’s very own group: Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

In the long term, a successful democratic transition in the Arab world would arguably make the United States significantly safer from al Qaeda terrorism. The threat of attack would remain because, as September 11 illustrated, even a small group of dedicated individuals can create terrible carnage, and al Qaeda today continues to enjoy safe havens in Pakistan and Yemen from where it can organize new attacks. But if al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts are significantly hampered, so will its campaign of global terrorism.

Again, the whole thoughtful piece is worth reading: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/02/21/arab.unrest.alqaeda.analysis/index.html

Noted jihadist expert Thomas Hegghammer likes the article as well, but personally comes out on the pessimistic side of things at his blog “Jihadica:”

Basically there are two schools of thought on the matter: the ”fewer grievances” school and the “more opportunities” school – represented in Cruickshank’s piece by Osama Rushdi and Noman Benothman respectively. The former argues that democratization will stem new recruitment to al-Qaida by removing a key grievance and undermining the message that only violence can bring change. The latter argues that the unrest provides jihadis with new operational opportunities and encourages spoiler activism.

Personally I lean toward the “more opportunities” school. I agree that the recent events are bad for al-Qaida in the long run, but I see the short and medium term effects as much less predictable. For a start, the removal of a grievance does not affect the motivation of the already mobilised (this, I admit, is the same argument used by those who say Palestine does not matter for al-Qaida). Second, the relationship between grievances and violence is not linear. Terrorism is a small-scale phenomenon and usually involves people who are outliers on the spectrum of political opinion. Osama Rushdi’s claim, in the CNN piece, that “the end of the Mubarak regime will prevent men like Zawahiri from again emerging in Egypt” strikes me as hopelessly naive. Finally, discontent with Arab regimes is not the only grievance motivating new al-Qaida recruits. Hostility to Western policies and solidarity with Muslims at war with non-Muslims are also prominent motivations, and these are largely unaffected by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Among perpetrators of Islamist terrorist attacks in the West in recent years, you will not find many who say they acted out of hatred for the Egyptian or Saudi regimes.

Lawyers are an important part of the homeland security team

Not that you might have doubted that notion, but a recent New York Times article reinforces the idea.  New York State lawyers have produced a compilation of relevant laws that can serve as a guide for legal professionals during and following a terrorist attack, disease outbreak, or natural disaster.

Quarantines. The closing of businesses. Mass evacuations. Warrantless searches of homes. The slaughter of infected animals and the seizing of property. When laws can be suspended and whether infectious people can be isolated against their will or subjected to mandatory treatment. It is all there, in dry legalese, in the manual, published by the state court system and the state bar association.

The most startling legal realities are handled with lawyerly understatement. It notes that the government has broad power to declare a state of emergency. “Once having done so,” it continues, “local authorities may establish curfews, quarantine wide areas, close businesses, restrict public assemblies and, under certain circumstances, suspend local ordinances.”

Ronald P. Younkins, the chief of operations for the state court system, said the book’s preparation was similar to other steps the New York courts had taken to plan for emergencies, including stockpiling respirators and latex gloves. Like such manuals in other states, Mr. Younkins said, it is intended to give judges and lawyers a place to turn in an emergency because the maze of state and federal laws — some decades or centuries old — can be difficult to decipher. For judges, the manual may well be their only refresher on the case of Mary Mallon, “Typhoid Mary,” who was isolated on an East River island from 1915 until her death in 1938.

“It is a very grim read,” Mr. Younkins said. “This is for potentially very grim situations in which difficult decisions have to be made.”

Published with the disarmingly bland title “New York State Public Health Legal Manual,” the doomsday book does not proclaim new law but, rather, describes existing law and gives lawyers and judges ways of analyzing any number of frightening situations.

For those interested, the full document can be found at: http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/PublicHealthLegalManual.pdf

February 23, 2011

A Big Test

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on February 23, 2011

As many of you can well appreciate, I have found it incredibly difficult to watch the images of death and devastation streaming from New Zealand over the internet via television news feeds. Although my closest friends have either checked-in to say they are safe and well or are fully engaged in response operations, I cannot help but imagine that someone or several someones I know will appear on the list of casualties as the days go by and the list grows.

Despite my grief, I am trying to remain optimistic and have taken the opportunity to reflect on my optimistic assessment of the recovery from the M7.1 earthquake in September. Seismologists believe that event almost certainly triggered this shallow but strong M6.3 earthquake on Monday (USA time) that left many Christchurch landmarks in ruins. Despite the horrible images coming from Christchurch, I remain hopeful that Cantabrians, and indeed all New Zealanders, will impress us with their resilience in the face of such utter devastation. My faith in this outcome is rooted in the cultural metaphors of a nation that has managed to make a big mark on the world despite its small size and isolated geography.

In Commonwealth nations, sporting contests in rugby and cricket (among other sports) played between two nations are referred to as tests, not games or matches. The term test connotes the intensity of the competition among fierce rivals, the high standard of play that accompanies the selection of each side’s best competitors, and the enormous stakes involved: national bragging rights.

When it comes to tests, the past and the future matter very little. A side with a long record of success — like the All Blacks — is only as good as the players available to it on the day of competition. Its past campaigns may inspire the players and develop a sense of pride that bodes well for future competitions, but these factors matter very little when the players finally meet.

Christchurch has a great and proud sporting tradition. But the test it faces today — between the forces of nature and social will — will require something far greater than the talent and will that saw it to this point in its history.

Rugby aficionados refer to the pattern of their contest as a “game of two halves.” More often than not, past performance not only matters very little, but fails to carry over from the first to the second half of play. The physical and mental battles require continuous reorientation, adaptation and recommitment to the goal of winning.

Christchurch itself is now engaged in its own game of two halves. As one resident interviewed by TVNZ said with typical Kiwi candor, ‘September was tea party stuff, this is much worse.’ The remarkable way they responded to that event has neither prevented nor fully prepared them for what they now face.

Like their vaunted Crusaders and All Blacks rugby competitors, Christchurch residents face the challenge of confronting their situation anew at each moment. They cannot rely on past successes, they cannot place all their hope in future miracles. Their success will come through hard work, commitment to one another and a relentless focus on the present.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has written extensively about the mindset that predispose people to success. She notes that people seem to have one of two default mindsets, which may be expressed as preferences in any number of aspects of their lives. She proffers simple pairs of statements to determine which mindset people use to approach various situations in their lives.

For this situation, Dweck might ask people to agree or disagree with the following propositions:

  1. The ability to recover from a major disaster depends on the resources available to me and others after the event.
  2. The ability to recover from a major disaster depends on how I and others use the resources we have after the event.
  3. Our resource endowments — what we have managed to accumulate — determines how well we will adapt to our new circumstances.
  4. How we develop our resources, especially our human and social capital, determines how well we will adapt to our new circumstances.

Those who express a stronger preferences for statements 1 and 3, I would suggest, are more likely to approach their current situation with a fixed mindset. They will have difficulty finding the strength to move forward and they will find their progress more difficult and more limited than those with a growth mindset.

The growth mindset people will find it easier to agree with statements 2 and 4. They will find a way to take advantage of every opportunity to rebound from this tragedy. They will consider themselves bent but not broken despite their losses. They will see the challenge as an opportunity to rise above the limitations others impose upon them or they themselves might have seen in their previous situations.

Whichever mindset people greet their present circumstances with they will fare much better if they spend less time looking ahead or behind the present moment than they will by being present to themselves and for one another in each moment. Focusing on what we can control, paying attention to our reactions to the ups and downs that come our way and looking for every opportunity to work through our difficulties and accept what we cannot change will make it easier to see where we can make a difference and to greet each opportunity with the senses of creativity and optimism that make each challenge easier to overcome.

I don’t know how this test will end. But I don’t advise betting against the Kiwis. They may not soar like eagles, but they are resourceful and very well adapted to their environment.

February 22, 2011

So simple, a 2nd grader proves even 4th graders can create a preparedness plan

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Christopher Bellavita on February 22, 2011

Maybe preparedness is unnatural.

Last night I spent more time than I should have listening to traumatized New Zealander’s calling into a Christchurch news radio station to talk about the earthquake.  Eighty percent of the city has no water; half the city is without power; water treatment facilities are not working; liquefaction, flooding and slime fill the streets and ruined buildings.

I was struck by two recurring themes.

The first was the power of the text message. Callers referred to sending and receiving text messages the way people (5 years ago) spoke about making phone calls.  It’s just something you do.  [Seethis graphic and this series of links related to the earthquake and social media from FEMA.]

The second theme was preparedness.

I stopped counting the number of people who called the radio station to ask where they could get water, food, power, cash, medications and other supplies.  One person called to find out where to get goat’s milk for a one-year old baby.

I have no clue how many of the 365,000 people in Christchurch were prepared for the earthquake.

I think I have a better idea about preparedness in this country.


Last August, FEMA Director Fugate told a Red Cross Conference about a survey that found: “…only half of Americans have put together an emergency kit, and less than half – only 40 percent – have created a family emergency plan.”

A colleague looked at some of the preparedness literature last year and wrote:

The first [Citizen Corps] survey, conducted in 2003, was designed to provide a baseline on family and community preparedness.  In 2007, a follow up survey was conducted to measure movement toward a national goal of strong community and personal preparedness.  The 2007 survey results were not positive.  In 2003, 50 percent of the respondents reported having emergency supplies set aside in their home to be used only during disaster.  In 2007, the number of positive responses crept up to 53 percent.  In 2003, 58 percents of the respondents reported having a household emergency plan; in 2007, the number dropped a startling 16 percent to 42 percent.

A recent survey conducted by the American Red Cross indicates that while approximately 80% of Americans have taken some step to become better prepared, only 12% are prepared to a reasonable level.

A survey conducted by the Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response asked questions designed to determine if respondents’ preparedness actions agreed with their assumed levels of preparedness.  Approximately 50 percent of the survey respondents indicated they had an emergency preparedness kit; however, when asked what was in the kit, the number of respondents with fully stocked kits dropped to about 33 percent.

Another survey conducted at a state emergency management agency of its employees produced a similar result.  Forty-six respondents indicated they had a family emergency plan; when asked if it was written down, the number dropped to 15 percent.   Their initial statement about their level of preparedness, in this case a plan, was not supported by action.

The result of this apparent disconnect is that people may believe they are more prepared than they are.  As a result, they are even less motivated to take additional preparedness actions, viewing them as unnecessary since, “I already have a kit and a plan.”  The kit or the plan, may of course, be partially or entirely inadequate.

Why aren’t people better prepared?  It’s a tediously repetitive question.

As with previous surveys, respondents were queried about known barriers such as lack of concern, time, money or knowledge about what actions to take.  A significant number of respondents (62 percent) cite money as a reason for why they have not adequately prepared.  Less than half of the respondents (37 percent) cite lack of time as a reason for inadequate preparedness and 44 percent say lack of knowledge on what to do to prepare hinders their efforts.  Approximately one-half of the respondents simply do not think disaster is very likely and 45 percent have not thought about it much either way.

Other barriers include unwillingness to abandon pets, the belief that nothing they can do will affect the outcome, lack of confidence in government response and … the belief that their preparedness level is acceptable for perceived threat.

When emergency management workers [referred to above] were asked “Why haven’t you prepared a written family emergency plan,” … 97 percent either indicated they just had not done it (77 percent) or they did not think it was necessary (20 percent).  When asked why they had not prepared an emergency kit, [62] percent responded that they just had not done it and another 28 percent that they did not think it necessary.

This survey pool is comprised of emergency management professionals who, one could logically argue, should be among the best prepared in society.


We now switch to Costa Rica and this story from a colleague, Andrew Phelps, who works for New Mexico’s department of homeland security and emergency management (at the time Andrew told me about this program, Bill Richardson was the governor, and John Wheeler was the Agency Secretary; currently, Susana Martinez is New Mexico’s governor, and Michael Duvall is the Secretary of the Agency):

I was in Costa Rica addressing Costa Rican police senior leadership on all-hazards planning, Emergency Operations Center management, and Incident Command. During one of the meetings, they were talking about an initiative to give families emergency supply kits if they wrote a family emergency plan. When I returned to New Mexico, I floated the idea to our leadership who asked me to find a way to deliver the program to schools. I was given a budget of about $500k to order the packs and developed the materials, using publications from FEMA and Arizona as guidance.

I tested the materials out with my daughter, a second grader, and with some spelling help she was able to fill in the plan template, and that is the plan we currently use for our family.

By the end of [the 2010-2011] school year, we hope to have distributed emergency kits and the program materials (as well as a 30-minute age-appropriate emergency preparedness presentation developed for this program and delivered to each school participating in the program, typically presented by the local emergency manager) to 12,000 kids across NM (about ½ of all fourth graders). Continuation of the program is, like most things, contingent upon funding, but many of our local and tribal partners may try and secure funding locally to continue the program next year….

Here are some of the documents (click on the image to make it larger) included in the “Plans for Packs” program, designed to be filled out by 4th graders, and successfully tested by a 2nd grader:

If you’d like more information about the Plans For Packs program, you can contact Andrew Phelps at the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  His email address is Andrew.Phelps[at]state.nm.us.


Filed under: Catastrophes — by Christopher Bellavita on February 22, 2011

Monday in Christchurch, New Zealand

Tuesday in Christchurch, New Zealand

Five months and 18 days ago, the big one hit Christchurch.

Something slightly less than the big one hit Christchurch  yesterday.  This one was worse than the September 4, 2010 earthquake.  No one died in the September quake.  People died in this one.

“We may be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day,” said the country’s prime minister, John Key.

It’s 10:30, Tuesday night in Christchurch.  Rain is falling.   People don’t want to stay in their houses.  The aftershocks won’t stop. It’s cold outside, 55 degrees.

It is distressingly surrealistic to be halfway around the world listening to live radio — Newstalk ZB radio, from Christchurch  (thanks to the WunderRadio app) — as the survivors talk about their day, their worries, their fears.

One caller mentioned civil defense officials recommended people stay home for at least three days. “That’s a bit scary,” he said.  “Not sure what we’ll do.”

“Do you have enough food and water?” the announcer asked.  The caller sheepishly confessed to thinking about doing that after the September earthquake, but never quite getting around to it.

“I suppose I should have taken care of that,” he said.

“I’m just worried about my children,” says another caller, a woman named Lois, in a distinctive New Zed twang. “They were at children’s care home today. I don’t know what’s happened to them. They are 5 and 8, you know. I don’t know how to find out about them.”

The radio announcer stuttered to make a suggestion.

February 18, 2011

The other blogs – February 18, 2011

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 18, 2011
In the air

Homeland Stupidity published an opinion piece from Ron Paul (the Republican member of Congress from Texas, Ron Paul) called “On Real Respect for the Constitution.” The author asks what the nation’s new found interest in the Constitution might mean; “Will we end all unconstitutional federal departments, including [the Department of] …  Homeland Security…. [and] the Transportation Security Administration?

TSA’s Blogger Bob writes about the first airport tests of new body scanning software that eliminates “passenger-specific images and replaces them with the generic outline of a person.”   As is often the case, some of the best reading in Blogger Bob’s posts are  the comments – almost 200 of them last time I checked – and Blogger Bob’s push back.

Bruce Schneier passes along a probably apocryphal story about a UK Immigration officer who “… decided to get rid of his wife by putting her on the no-fly list, ensuring that she could not return to the UK from abroad. This worked for three years, until he put in for a promotion and — during the routine background check — someone investigated why his wife was on the no-fly list.”

On the web

The U.S. Army has a new 2011 social media handbook .  According to the blog I got this information from (a blog that may be subscription only), the update to the Army’s 2010 handbook, “provides additional tips and best practices, along with information on operations security tips, branding information, checklists, regulations and frequently asked questions.”  Tips include: Setting privacy setting options to “friends only;” not revealing schedule information and event locations; turning off the GPS function of smartphones to avoid geotagging; reviewing photos and videos before they’re posted online to make sure they don’t give away “sensitive” information; and making sure family members understand what type of information can and cannot be posted on social networks.

Oregon’s Emergency Management blog discovered an iTunes app called Disaster Readiness 2011.  For 99 cents you can get information that will help you prepare for — and deal with the consequences of – Terrorism, Fires, Wildfires; Thunderstorms; Floods, Landslides & Tsunamis; Winter Storms; Tornadoes; Hurricanes/Cyclones; Heat Waves; Earthquakes; Chemical Emergencies; and Nuclear Blasts.

idisaster 2.0 shares its entry to a FEMA preparedness challenge: peer to peer preparedness.  Kim Stephens and Scott Reuter want to involve teens in preparedness activities through “a scholarship contest to foster the development of student-produced disaster preparedness information in a multi-media format for national distribution.”

In the Homeland Security Blog, Sara Estes Cohen suggests an uber hashtag as a way to keep up with continuously emerging and changing twitter hashtags related to events and other items of interest.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Leadership Journal apparently has not posted anything new since November 9, 2010. If you don’t recall what the DHS leadership journal is about, “The Leadership Journal is a forum for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and key DHS officials, to share news and insight. It brings you closer to the people and policies working to keep our nation secure, build a culture of readiness, enforce our immigration laws, and unify our department. And it welcomes your thoughts.”

At the enemy

On Reason.com, Shikha Dalmia asks the question, “What Islamist Terrorist Threat?”  Dalmia claims the country’s 2 trillion dollar expenditure on the terrorism wars is not worth it:  “… the Islamist enemy [The U.S.]  is confronting is not some hyper-power capable of inflicting existential—or even grave—harm. It is, rather, a rag-tag band of peasants whose malevolent ambitions are far beyond the capacity of their shallow talent pool to deliver….  Security hawks—just like climate change warriors—maintain that no expenditure is too big to deter another attack. But that is utter foolishness….  Over 5,000 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan and Iraq without on balance saving any civilian lives. It is time to call off the “war” on terrorism. Al Qaeda is not worth it.”

The National Terror Alert Response Center repeats Newt Gingrich’s echo from CNN: “Any honest assessment on 9/11 this year, ten years after the attack, I think will have to conclude that we’re slowly losing the war….  We’re losing the war because there are madrassahs around the planet teaching hatred. We’re losing the war because the network of terrorists is bigger, not smaller.”

The Counterterrorism blog links to a speech delivered last month at the Homeland Security Policy Institute by Australia’s Ambassador for counterterrorism, Bill Paterson. Paterson talks about the Australian view of progress in the global terror wars and significant challenges.

Jordan Nelms talks about the three Ts of terrorism (target, tactics and technology) and finding those facts in the news, in a commentary  for Domestic Preparedness.  Nelms offers a framework people can used to make their “own fact-check assessments of a major mass-casualty event or incident, relying on … facts rather than on amateur speculations and unwarranted assumptions.”

Security Debrief points to an article in Wired about Mike McConnell’s prediction when the U.S. will take the cyber threat seriously: “When it comes to developing cyberwarfare policy, the United States will likely wait for a catastrophic event and then overreact,” Wired reporter Kim Zetter wrote, summarizing the former intelligence chief’s view.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports on a plan by Terry Jones (of “International Burn a Koran Day”) to host an “International Judge the Koran Day” on March 20th.  According to the SPLC, Jones published a video about the event: “Here’s your opportunity, all you so-called peaceful Muslims…. We are accusing the Koran of murder, rape, deception, being responsible for terrorist activities all over the world. … Present to us your defense attorney who is going to defend the Koran. Let us really see. We challenge you: do it. Let us not talk. Let us have some action and proof.”

Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) has introduced S. 341: A bill to require the rescission or termination of Federal contracts and subcontracts with enemies of the United States.

About the bucks

On the Emergency Management blog’s Homeland Protection Zone, Josh Filler provides his analysis of the proposed FY 2012 homeland security grants.  He concludes “…the FY 2012 proposed homeland security grant budget is reasonable and could have been a lot worse for States and localities.”

The Center for Investigative Reporting summarizes several security stories from February 7 through 13th, having to do with homeland security grants, the expanded use of video cameras for surveillance, and several other stories about homeland security spending and budget politics.

In other news

The Recovery Diva reports the “Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI) is presenting an online symposium on Community Recovery From Disaster, March 21-25. The symposium will bring to practitioners and public officials practical information about the latest research and lessons learned in several dimensions of recovery.  There is no charge, but registration is required.”  You can register for the seminar by following this link.

Arthur Rizer, in a Harvard National Security Journal article “explores the national security implications of energy dependence from both an environmental and a foreign threat perspective,” and  “…argues that a nuclear renaissance would greatly improve the United States’ national security.”    While you are visiting that site, you might want also to check out Daniel Geer’s remarkably powerful and straight forward analysis of cyber security and national policy.

Jason Sigger, the usually sophisticated and unflappable senior analyst at the Armchair Generalist blog,  was “shocked, shocked” to learn that Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials, was lying to those officials about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program. “I had a problem with the Saddam regime,” Curveball said. “I wanted to get rid of him and now I had this chance.”

I am sure over the weekend Jason will quickly regain his usual analytical balance.

February 17, 2011

Who is Homeland Security’s Gene Sharp?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on February 17, 2011

Today’s New York Times has an interesting article on Gene Sharp, an elderly scholar living in East Boston whose work

“most notably “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.”

His ideas are:

Based on studies of revolutionaries like Gandhi, nonviolent uprisings, civil rights struggles, economic boycotts and the like, he has concluded that advancing freedom takes careful strategy and meticulous planning, advice that Ms. Ziada said resonated among youth leaders in Egypt. Peaceful protest is best, he says — not for any moral reason, but because violence provokes autocrats to crack down. “If you fight with violence,” Mr. Sharp said, “you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.”

This man’s work has gotten attention and apparently has helped produce results:

Autocrats abhor Mr. Sharp. In 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela denounced him, and officials in Myanmar, according to diplomatic cables obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, accused him of being part of a conspiracy to set off demonstrations intended “to bring down the government.” (A year earlier, a cable from the United States Embassy in Damascus noted that Syrian dissidents had trained in nonviolence by reading Mr. Sharp’s writings.)

In 2008, Iran featured Mr. Sharp, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona and the Democratic financier George Soros, in an animated propaganda video that accused Mr. Sharp of being the C.I.A. agent “in charge of America’s infiltration into other countries,” an assertion his fellow scholars find ludicrous.

The entire article is a fascinating insight into the influence one dedicated (and insightful) person can wield.

My question: who is the Gene Sharp for the field of homeland security?  Or has that person not yet appeared (or been noticed)?

I am not implying that homeland security officials nationwide should rise up in nonviolent protest of decreasing federal grants or conflicting guidance, but instead what scholar, author, practitioner/operator, etc. has exercised influence on the field well beyond their punching weight?  Have we yet seen the exceptional in the field?

If Mr. Sharp is a little too radical for comfort, how about thinking of a Bernard Brodie or Thomas Schelling?

Some might suggest Stephen Flynn, in light of his role in introducing the idea of “resilience” into widespread usage within the homeland security field.  I hesitate to raise him to such levels, however, due to the lack of a coherent expansion of that idea which has led to the term becoming almost a buzzword (for example, go back and read the various iterations on this very blog concerning the definition and application of the term–interesting ideas all, but a variety that exhibits a continuing lack of clarity on the issue).

It would be tempting to nominate someone “present at the creation,” but when do we mark that event?  During the Bush Administration, shortly after 9/11? There were many dedicated individuals working within the White House and elsewhere who had enormous influence on what became the Department of Homeland Security, but considering the critiques of that effort and the numerous attempts at fixing the Frankenstein department, it might be too early to count a Tom Ridge, Bruce Lawlor, or Richard Falkenrath as such an influential figure.

Perhaps the Hart-Rudman Commission as a whole, as they identified much of the shape of what was to become homeland security?  Though here again, their work was clouded by the early implementation of the idea.

At this point it should be obvious I personally do not have a candidate in mind.  I am open to suggestions or defense of individuals already mentioned.

February 16, 2011

An Ownership Society

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on February 16, 2011

I have been thinking a lot lately about problems and solutions. Decision-makers find themselves confronted by both of these everyday. Unfortunately, they very rarely present themselves as nicely matched sets.

Indeed, the super-abundance of each sometimes makes me wonder whether some sort of cosmic clothes dryer is out there somewhere randomly producing odd, often unmatched sets of them much like the process occurring in my laundry room that leaves me with a pile of orphan socks overflowing the top-drawer of my dresser.

Like these lonely, mismatched socks, I am reluctant to discard either problems or solutions unless I am sure they have no mate. Others, I have found, seem to think there is a market for both and some desperate sole is out there just begging to cloth their feet with the cast-offs.

We all know many leaders who feel no need to acknowledge much less hang onto problems that present themselves unaccompanied by solutions. And surely we all know people who present problems and solutions or unmatched pairs of both to others hoping someone will rescue them from taking responsibility.

The consequences of both behaviors — favoring solutions over problems and failing to accept responsibility for either — pose many more problems for individuals, organizations and societies than the alternatives: accepting responsibility for problems and engaging one another in the search for viable solutions.

Over the years, it has become clear to me that problems find their origins in one or more of the following places:

  • Power
  • Purpose
  • Process
  • Product
  • Position

Notice that people and performance are not listed among the Ps. People experience problems but are rarely the cause of them without the intervening influence of one of the listed factors. When problems become evident, people often notice them because they are not achieving the results they desire, which of course means problems are all about performance. Performance, however, is the symptom not the cause.

Power problems originate from the desire to place one’s own needs ahead of others and often manifest themselves in the lack of clear and agreed upon priorities among a group, organization or society. (As often as not, power problems come wrapped as someone or some group’s preferred solution to another problem.) In many instances, no consensus exists about how priorities should be determined, which leaves everyone looking for leadership. Those willing to step up often mistake deciding for others rather than engaging them in the decision-making process as a means of achieving effective performance.

Purpose problems arise from a lack of agreed upon principles or the absence of shared commitment to the outcome. Cooperation and trust are not the same thing, and people often agree to go along to get along. At least that’s the case until they discover or discern that the outcome will yield unfavorable results or generate unwanted accountability.

Clear priorities and a shared sense of purpose are important, but a flawed process can prevent people from accomplishing what they want. Too often we delegate the process decisions to experts and technicians who have little stake in the outcome or who stand to lose very little from the failure to achieve results. Handing off decisions about the process to a willing expert solves very few problems if the process designer has no stake in the game and stands to gain more than they can possibly lose from the outcome and results.

Even well-designed processes produce some unfavorable or unintended results. Inevitably naysayers and critics will claim these results are evidence that the whole process is flawed rather than the natural results of applying simple production functions to complex, value-laden problems. Getting people involved in the process means getting them to accept that side-effects and waste are both unfortunate and largely if not entirely unavoidable. Minimizing and controlling these effects should be our priority rather than seeking to eliminate them.

Finally, like power, position haunts many efforts to resolve problems. Too often those with the most to gain and little to lose offer to take on problems beyond either their ken or ability simply to position themselves as leaders capable or making more decisions for others in the future. In most cases, those who really bear the brunt of the problems see little relief from such efforts beyond the momentary lapse of responsibility for dealing with them on their own. More often than not the old problems return or new ones come to take their places.

If we really want to become an ownership society, everyone has to accept some share of responsibility for the problems we face. Likewise, we should expect our leaders to involve us in solving them.

As we look over and critique the President’s proposed budget and the Republican House leadership’s counter-proposal, we would do well to ask ourselves which of the Ps define their definitions of the problems we face. If either solution or some compromise agreeable to both parties is to really produce results for our society and economy, we have to come closer to agreeing with one another about what’s really at stake. Absent this, we run the risk of becoming a nation of renters entirely beholden on others for our welfare and sense of place in the world.

February 15, 2011

There’s an app for that.

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on February 15, 2011

One day last year, Richard Price and a few co-workers from his agency’s information technology (IT) group were eating lunch at a deli. He heard a siren and briefly wondered where the emergency was.

The siren got louder and closer. In a few minutes, a fire engine pulled up and parked in front of the deli. That’s when Price — who is the fire chief for California’s San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District — learned the San Ramon engine was responding to a cardiac arrest call next door to the deli.

Price was on duty, in uniform, with a defibrillator in his car. One of the people he was eating lunch with was a paramedic. The emergency was a few feet away, but no one knew until the engine showed up. (Price carries a pager, but he’s typically not notified of medical emergencies.)

Cardiac arrest means the heart stops beating. Once that happens to you, you have about 10 minutes to live. After that, there is very little chance you’ll survive. Each year, over 300,000 people in the United States die from sudden cardiac arrest. Many of those people die needlessly. But even with all the advances in medicine, national survival rates are still less than 8%.

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) buys time to allow paramedics to arrive and provide advanced care. Survival rates can exceed 80% when CPR is performed and an automated external defibrillator (AED — a small machine that shocks the heart back into normal rhythm) is used in the first few minutes after a cardiac arrest.

Price was very bothered he had no idea there was someone just a few steps away from him who needed help. He promised this would not happen to him again, or to anyone else in his community. He spent the rest of that afternoon with his IT staff brainstorming and drawing diagrams on deli napkins

The result of that incident is an iPhone application — called Fire Department — that gives regular citizens the chance to provide life-saving assistance to victims of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. The application helps dispatch CPR trained citizens to cardiac emergencies occurring nearby.

Here’s how it works: Once you download the free iTunes app (available here),  you can be notified if you are near someone having a cardiac emergency.  Notifications are made — the same time paramedics are dispatched — to people who are CPR trained and who  indicated they are willing to assist during a sudden cardiac arrest emergency.

The notifications will only be made if the victim is in a public place and only to potential rescuers who are in the immediate vicinity of the emergency. The application also directs the citizen rescuers to the exact location of the closest public access AED.

Currently the application only works within the San Ramon Valley fire district, in California. But Chief Price eagerly wants to share the application “with other communities around the globe.”  The current version works on the iPhone. Price’s agency is developing versions for other smart phones.

You can see a short video explaining the app at the end of this post. You can also go to http://firedepartment.mobi for more information.

The first time I heard about the app, the public safety group I was with — while strongly supportive of the idea — had several questions about potential downsides and liabilities of the application. Price convinced the audience that his agency was entering this new dimension of citizen engagement with its organizational eyes open. They have considered the potential benefits against liabilities and are willing to accept the risks if it means saving more lives.

What is the connection between the Fire Department app and homeland security?

If homeland security has to do with “all hazards,” then surely there must be room within the enterprise for an idea that can help reduce some of the 300,000 deaths caused each year by sudden cardiac arrest.

As importantly, Fire Department is one more example of the importance of a surging technology that can sling angry birds into enclaves of thieving pigs, or overthrow a dictator, or save the life of a heart attack victim who did not have to die.

I wonder what else the technology can do?

Here’s the video that shows what the San Ramon Fire Department did with it.

February 14, 2011

Happy Budget Day – Quick Overview

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on February 14, 2011

The President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget has been released this morning.  The proposal provides $309 million above the 2010 enacted levels (.7 percent increase) for the Department of Homeland Security, bringing DHS’ budget to$43.2 billion.  Here is a quick assessment of the proposal:

Border Security

As expected, there is a focus on border security, with 300 more additional CBP officers proposed for passenger and cargo screening and expanding pre-screening operations at foreign airports and land ports of entry. The budget includes $132 million for E-Verify program.

On border technology, DHS wants $242 million to “acquire technologies that will complete the optimum border security technology lay down in three sectors in Arizona. This technology initiative is tailored to the unique needs of each border region—beyond the prior, one-size fits-all approach—and will result in the faster deployment of security technology, better overall coverage for situational awareness and agent protection, and ultimately a more effective and efficient deployment strategy.”  This is the agency’s post-Sbinet proposal though many details remain unknown without the more information that will likely come in the next few week in the detailed budget documents and oversight hearings.   The request also includes $55 million to support Northern Border technology systems.

Grant Programs

The budget provides $3.8 billion for state and local programs. Six grant programs are eliminated and merged into broader State and local risk-based grant programs. Among the programs cut are the Emergency Operations Center Grant Program and Inter-City Bus Security Grant Program. More details to come.


Includes an $82 million increase to support deployment of up to 1,275 Advanced Imaging Technology screening machines at airport checkpoints.   The budget also includes $273 million in funding to support explosive detection systems at airports.  The budget also  proposes $58 million for transportation security vetting and credentialing. There is also $12.4 million for an expanded watchlist vetting initiative.  In keeping with TSA Administrator Pistole’s comments recently on the need for a comprehensive approach to aviation security that includes behavioral analysis, the FY2012 budget requests $236.9 millon for 3,360 behavior detection officers, including 350 new positions.  The budget also proposes to increase the aviation passenger security fee by $1.50 per enplanement.

Coast Guard

The Coast Guard benefits significantly from the proposed budget.  The Administration proposes $358 million to construct six more Fast Response Cutters and$130 million to construct two more Maritime Patrol Aircraft.  The budget also includes$65 million for the Rescue 21 search and rescue communications system.

Administrative Cuts

More than $450 million in cuts to “consulting and professional service contracts as well as reduction in travel, printing, supplies and advisory services.”


DHS continues to focus attention on cybersecurity, with more than $459 million going to support the National Cybersecurity Division.  The request includes $233.6 million to “expedite the deployment of EINSTEIN 3 to prevent and detect intrusions on computer systems and to upgrade the National Cyber Security Protection System, building an intrusion detection capability and analysis capabilities to protect federal networks.” Interestingly, the  request includes $1.3 million to “enable DHS to coordinate national cyber security operations and interface with the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland.’

Summary  Table

Click here to see a Summary Chart of DHS Budget Proposal for FY 2012.   Most components will see some increase from FY2010, though the following see some decreases:  TSA, FLETC, NPPD, FEMA, and DNDO.

February 13, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood: a less dire outlook

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Radicalization — by Arnold Bogis on February 13, 2011

The amazing events in Egypt this past week  have, for the most part, been a feel good story. While the future of that country is unclear and will remain so for quite a while, that has not prevented various pundits, experts, talking heads, and journalists from stoking fears of an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood.

Since the vast majority of the commentary has been negative and not exactly nuanced, I thought it might be helpful to point out a few pieces that could inspire if not optimism at least such not dire pessimism.

The first comes from the New York Times that examines the past, present, and future prospects of the Brotherhood.  It also gives voice to the opinions of the mostly secular protesters who took to the streets:

The Muslim Brotherhood, a mainstream group that stands as the most venerable of the Arab world’s Islamic movements, is of course also a contender to lead a new Egypt. It has long been the most organized and credible opposition to Mr. Mubarak. But is also must prepare to enter the fray of an emerging democratic system, testing its staying power in a system ruled by elections and the law.

“This is not yesterday’s Egypt,” declared Amal Borham, a protester in Tahrir Square.

“It is their right to participate as much as it is mine, as much as it is anyone else’s in this country,” added Ms. Borham, who considers herself secular. “They are part of this society, and they have been made to stay in the shadows for a very long time.”

“The system made them work in the dark and that made them look bigger than they are,” said Ahmed Gowhary, a secular organizer of the protests. “Now it will be a real chance for them to show that they are more Egyptian than they have appeared.”

“Their real power,” he added, “will show.”

The reporter also describes the differences between the events in Iran and Egypt:

Unlike the Shiite Muslim clergy in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood is neither led by clerics nor based on a clerical organization. In many ways, it represents a lay middle class. The very dynamics are different, too: cassette tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches helped drive Iran’s revolution, whose zealots sought to export it. The Internet helped propel the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the medium’s own diffusion helping carry it from the backwater town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Perhaps most importantly, the revolutions occurred a generation apart, a note echoed in the Brotherhood stronghold of Munira, along streets of graceful balustrades of the colonial era and the utilitarian architecture of Mr. Nasser and his successors.

“The people are aware this time,” said Essam Salem, a 50-year-old resident there. “They’re not going to let them seize power. People aren’t going to be deceived again. This is a popular revolution, a revolution of the youth, not an Islamic revolution.”

A scholar provides a dose of reality in regards to the Brotherhood’s ability to deliver results:

“The ability to present a mainstream national reform agenda and mobilize and galvanize Egyptians around this agenda, this is something the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to do,” said Emad Shaheen, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. “The youth have achieved in 18 days what the Brotherhood failed to achieve in 80 years.”

In a BCSIA Power & Policy blog post, “Religious actors can be democratizers,” Harvard professor Monica Toft provides additional (generally) optimistic analysis:

The evidence is mixed, but on balance I predict the MB will be a force for democratic change. What is my evidence? I have two sorts. The first regards the MB itself and the second is the role of religious actors in politics more generally.

Even were the MB to become more integral of the political process in Egypt, the numbers indicate that its influence is already quite limited; and although the MB continues to include extremist, more fundamentalist elements (however defined), these represent a small fraction within the organization itself, and an even smaller fraction of Egyptian society.

Time will tell whether the MB continues to adopt a representative and more democratic orientation. But, if the history of democratization and the trends over the last four decades are any guide, the chances are that it will represent the interests of Egyptian society more broadly. In other words, the MB is unlikely to dominate Egyptian politics moving forward, but even if it does play a major role, that role is likely to be more democratic and constructive than many who abjure religious political groups fear.

Both pieces are well worth reading in full.

February 12, 2011

Scanning the threat environment: Skipping along the cusp of chaos

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2011

Thursday the nation’s intelligence chiefs appeared before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  Below is the line-up of those testifying. As of February 12 only the DNI’s testimony is linked on the Committee’s website (and below).   I cannot — yet — find other prepared testimony.

Media and partisan attention has, as usual, focused less on the substance of the prepared remarks and much more on two spontaneous comments by Messrs. Clapper and Panetta.

Given the dramatic events unfolding in Egypt it was inevitable — and really entirely reasonable — that the live testimony would focus mostly on making sense of the immediate crisis.  This opportunity might have been embraced as an opportunity for intellectual humility and honest examination of the innate limitations of intelligence analysis and operations.  But humility does not often make an appearance inside the beltway; nor on rare appearance is humility usually rewarded, quite the contrary.

James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence

Click immediately above for full prepared testimony. Answering a question about the Muslim Brotherhood, he characterized it as, “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.”  See more from ABC News and The Telegraph.

Leon E. Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

The CIA Director offered committee members, “I got the same information you did, that there is a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening.”  When a few hours later the Egyptian President decided to spend one more night in office, Panetta’s statement and judgment became a target.  See a thoughtful take by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center

I cannot find the February 10 testimony to the Intelligence Committee, but you can read the February 9 testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee: Understanding the Homeland Threat Landscape.

Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense

Robert S. Mueller, III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Back in September Director Mueller testified to the House Homeland Security Committee on Nine Years after 9/11 Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the United States.

Caryn A. Wagner, Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Homeland Security

In late September 2010 Ms. Wagner testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

Thomas A. Ferguson, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Department of Defense

Philip S. Goldberg, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State

If any HLSWatch readers find the missing prepared testimony — or especially good coverage of the hearing — please provide a link in the comments.  By “good coverage” I mean attention to the threat analysis, not just supposed gaffes in answering questions.  With thanks to Librarian Stephanie (see comments) you can also access video coverage of the live hearing from CSPAN.

Retrospectively, over the last year and more the best sustained intelligence and analysis on Egypt has probably been forthcoming from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and especially its Bipartisan Working Group on Egypt.  Carnegie products on Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood — developed prior to the current crisis — are available from the Carnegie Guide to Egypt’s Election.  More current analysis is available from the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Program.

February 11, 2011

Terrorists target and targets take responsibility

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 11, 2011

Wednesday Secretary Napolitano was on the Hill testifying to the House Homeland Security Committee.  I was across town working on risk readiness with a group of property owners, building managers and tenants.

The Secretary emphasized:

One of the most striking elements of today’s threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens. We are now operating under the assumption, based on the latest intelligence and recent arrests, that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist attacks and acts of violence might be in the United States, and they could carry out acts of violence with little or no warning.

Over the past two years, we have seen the rise of a number of terrorist groups inspired by al-Qaeda ideology – including (but not limited to) al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from Yemen, al-Shabaab from Somalia, and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – that are placing a growing emphasis on recruiting individuals who are either Westerners or have connections to the West, but who do not have strong links to terrorist groups, and are thus more difficult for authorities to identify. (The secretary then references several recent examples and their implications) …

This threat of homegrown violent extremism fundamentally changes who is most often in the best position to spot terrorist activity, investigate, and respond. More and more, state, local, and tribal front-line law enforcement officers are most likely to notice the first signs of terrorist activity. This has profound implications for how we go about securing our country against the terrorist threat, and requires a new kind of security architecture that complements the structure we have already built to protect America from threats coming from abroad.

While Secretary Napolitano was reporting out to the Committee’s new Republican majority,  there were seventy-plus of us considering — among other things — the January edition of Inspire. This is the fourth issue of a full-color, all-English online magazine published by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Included in recent issues are directions on how to make bombs of simple household ingredients (a recurring theme), religious guidance on whether it is allowed to “dispossess the wealth” of disbelievers (aka stealing),  and how to re-create a Mumbai-style attack in a neighborhood near the White House.   Since we were meeting in a neighborhood near the White House, this last bit was especially relevant.

The obvious and self-stated purpose of the online magazine is to inspire home-grown terrorists to take free-lance action.

A senior Metropolitan Police Department official consulting with the all private-sector crowd recommended against downloading the online magazine.  I disagree with this advice.  It won’t take you long on Google to find a copy (took me less than 2 minutes).   Otherwise I was impressed with how the MPD is using the magazine and related materials to situate the emerging threat for the public. (Is this part of the “new security architecture” referenced by the Secretary?  It should be.)

Primary sources are valuable.  Reading our adversary’s own words is a good way to better understand their motivations, intentions, and strategies.  It also helps to recognize the superficial and slip-shod character of the ideology being schlepped.  Deep thinking and profound insights do not leap off these pages.  It is quickly clear that the pieces are written by self-justifying narcissists, regular readers of blogs are especially skilled in recognizing this motivation.

The magazine does reinforce the Secretary’s testimony, especially the “threat of homegrown violent extremism fundamentally changes who is most often in the best position to spot terrorist activity, investigate, and respond.”   Terrorism and counter-terrorism are increasingly mass market enterprises.  Further, as with many modern mass markets,  terrorism and counter-terrorism  feature niche products aimed at wide array of micro-channels within the mass market.

For someone living or working in Washington, the issue of home-grown terrorism is not an abstraction.  In June 2009 a white supremacist killed a guard and clearly intended more harm during an invasion of the Holocaust Museum.  Last September in suburban Silver Spring, Maryland a radical environmentalist took hostages at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel and claimed to have bombs strapped to his body.  In recent months FBI sting operations have resulted in indictments against terrorist-wannabes in nearby Maryland and Virginia.  There are lots of other leading indicators.

No surprise, Washington is a target.  No surprise, eventually Washington will be hit again. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say we should not be surprised when Washington is hit again.  Some will, no doubt, claim to be surprised.  Shocked.

Who will hit and precisely how the hitting will be done is more difficult to know.

Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs continue to be the leading brand.  Islamic extremism continues to dominate market perceptions.  But as we have seen at the Holocaust Museum, Discovery Channel, and with the Tuscon assassinations brand dominance does not always track actual market activity.

Last week the Triangle Institute on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported that over the last year, “The number of (Muslim-American) suspects dropped by over half, from 47 in 2009 to 20 in 2010. This brings the total since 9/11 to 161 Muslim-American terrorist suspects and perpetrators.” Included in this number is Daniel Patrick Boyd. On Wednesday Boyd pleaded guilty to conspiring to assist violent jihadists and to participate in attacks in foreign countries.  He has also been indicted on conspiring to attack the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Northern Virginia.  Is Boyd a leading or lagging indicator?

Personally, I am surprised the Mexican drug cartels have been so comparatively restrained in their US operations.  A year ago I would have projected much more violence on this side of the border.

Again, who hits and how we are hit will probably surprise.  Being hit should be expected.  Having a reasonable expectation of terrorism is one of the best means to suppress the terrorist intent to shock us, deploy our fear, and cause us to over-react.

Wednesday in Washington a cabinet secretary confirmed, again, that average Americans are the targets of purposeful murder and mayhem.  Wednesday in Washington several dozen targets were meeting and — soberly, seriously — deliberating how we can recognize, deter, and preempt a threat; reduce our vulnerabilities; and wisely respond and recover from an attack.  We were also getting to know one another, enjoying each other, and building relationships that will pay multiple dividends.


“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”  (George Bernard Shaw)

February 10, 2011

“Uniquely Diabolical”

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security,Radicalization — by Arnold Bogis on February 10, 2011

That is how Peter King, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, characterized the threat of Islamic fundamentalist-connected terrorism to Ranking Minority Member Bennie Thompson in a letter.  The full quote:

While there have been extremist groups and random acts of political violence throughout our history, the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11 and the ongoing threat to our nation from Islamic jihad were uniquely diabolical and threatening to America’s security, both overseas and in our homeland.

King’s letter was a response to Thompson’s request to expand the subject of an upcoming hearing on radicalization within the Muslim-American community to a broader consideration of domestic extremism in general.  In defending his narrow focus, King goes on to compare the impacts of terrorism of different ideological stripes:

In short, the homeland has become a major front in the war with Islamic terrorism and it is our responsibility to fully examine this significant change in al Qaeda tactics and strategy. To include other groups such as neo-Nazis and extreme environmentalists in this hearing would be extraneous and diffuse its efficacy. It would also send the false message that our Committee believes there is any threat equivalency between these disparate groups and Islamist terrorism.

This seems a little short sighted to me as I think back to 1995:

It is just my opinion, but the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City seems pretty diabolical to me.  Homeland security should continue to be concerned about the present and evolving threat presented by Al Qaeda and like-minded groups.  However, too narrow of a focus will leave us vulnerable to a range of risks we choose to ignore or do not even notice exist.

I do not question the efficacy of hearings about radicalization in the U.S. Muslim community, but the reported tone of these hearings and the accusations that unidentified members of the law enforcement community have complained to King that they are not receiving cooperation from Muslim-Americans is troubling.  Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca seems to share these concerns, as reported by Politico’s Ben Smith:

Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca said Monday that there is nothing to support Rep. Peter King’s (R-N.Y.) view that American Muslims are being uncooperative with law enforcement.

“If he has evidence of non-cooperation, he should bring it forward,” said Baca at a forum held today by Muslim-American groups in advance of King’s hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community. “We have as much cooperation as we are capable of acquiring through public trust relationships.”

“I sit on the Major City chiefs association as one of three chairs,” said Baca. “I also sit on the Major County Sheriff’s Association and I’m on the national board of directors of the international association for the sheriffs departments. Here’s the thing: I don’t know what Mr. King is hearing or who he’s hearing it from.”

Community engagement across the entire spectrum of homeland security-related activities is required to build resilience (however one defines the concept).  Alienating a specific group due to unfounded fears seems not a particularly forward thinking strategy.  In the process of carrying out important and necessary investigations, I hope that proper balance can be found for current and future issues.

February 8, 2011

A chew-without-swallowing terrorism defense

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Investigation & Enforcement — by Christopher Bellavita on February 8, 2011

Today’s post was written by Nick Catrantzos.  Nick is the lead author of the All Secure blog and is the security director for a large public organization.


What’s in a lead about suspicious activity, and whence the gulf between how defenders and official lead processors react to it?

The answer says a great deal about how far our homeland security partners have advanced in gearing their efforts for preventing terrorist attacks instead of focusing top priority on prosecuting attackers. The way one answers also reveals instantly whether one is a defender or an official unburdened by direct responsibility for protecting a target of terrorist attack. Take this example and follow its course to appreciate the difference.

EVENT: A person drives up to a fenced facility whose purpose is to control electricity, water, or telecommunications serving millions of citizens. This person then takes several photographs of that facility and of the entrance to it before driving away. Staff or security cameras at the facility capture the photographer’s description and license plate number. An employee from that facility then reports these details through channels that ultimately reach the local fusion center. This center is where homeland security partners take in and presumably do something with all the information generated by their bosses’ “See something? Say something!” campaigns. What should happen next? It depends.


An analyst or duty officer calls up the license plate number and hands the details to a law enforcement officer on duty. This officer immediately calls the registered owner of the vehicle driven by the photographer, communicates official interest and concern over the actions of the photographer, and ascertains the photographer’s intent while clearly signaling that such activity is monitored, acted upon, and taken very seriously. Result? Deterrence. Even if the photographer’s actions trace to some innocent, plausible explanation, a clear message goes out that somebody is watching and that suspicious actions trigger real time response. If a terrorist was taking pictures as part of a target selection or pre-strike surveillance operation, the dividend is greater. The same message goes out disrupting the attack and in effect causing the would-be attacker to pick a softer target.

But there is an alternative reaction which misses this deterrent effect while consuming much more time and resources.


You see the situation differently. You see your job not as deterring attack but as launching investigations that take attackers down and put them behind bars. So, what happens? Well, you evaluate the lead. Let’s see, there’s not too much there to justify an investigation. There are more of these leads than investigators to handle them. Besides, you probably need a supervisor to authorize an investigation. This means more processing delay. Net result? Note and file. Thank the defender for the lead. Not enough to go on, though. Maybe next time …

What signal does the latter approach transmit? To the photographer — innocent or nefarious — it says no one will stop or question you or stand in your way. To the defender, it communicates indifference and bureaucracy that disincentivizes future participation in passive or one-sided homeland security “partnerships.”

To the public at large, the handling of such events reveals just how much our organs of homeland security have in reality taken to heart the message of the Attorney General in November 2001 when he announced that, henceforth the new priority would be prevention, not prosecution. If the second approach is crowding out the first, this is not necessarily the fault of fusion centers and lead processors. It is a failure of leadership to incentivize timely responsiveness for deterrence that is hard to measure over traditional investigative case handling that lends itself better to metrics but not to the object sought. And so we chew and chew on the very leads that a quick bite and swallow would handle better, leaving our vaunted partnerships infused with a bovine incapacity to deliver the value they were created to produce.

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