According to Time Magazine, CIA Director Leon Panetta (soon to be Defense Secretary) told them:
What if you go down and you’re in a firefight and the Pakistanis show up and start firing?” Panetta says some worried. “How do you fight your way out?” But Panetta concluded that the evidence was strong enough to risk the raid, despite the fact that his aides were only 60%-80% confident that bin Laden was there, and decided to make his case to the President. At the key Thursday meeting in which President Obama heard the arguments from his top aides on whether or not to go into Pakistan to kill or capture bin Laden, Panetta admitted that the evidence of bin Laden’s presence at the compound was circumstantial. But “when you put it all together,” Panetta says he told the room, “we have the best evidence since [the 2001 battle of] Tora Bora [where bin Laden was last seen], and that then makes it clear that we have an obligation to act. (We know now how it turned out.)
Over the next few weeks the Mississippi and Ohio River watersheds will likely exceed their historic flood-crests. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took the next steps Saturday (April 30) to prepare for blowing up a Missouri levee to ease near-record flooding on the Mississippi River, hours after a federal appeals court rejected a request from the Missouri attorney general to stop the process. “We are seeing water in places we’ve never seen it before,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission and a top Corps official, who said he had flown over much of the Lower Mississippi and Ohio River systems earlier in the day. He stressed that he had not made his final decision and that he would try to give 24 hours notice between the decision and the actual blowing of the levee. Residents in the area were ordered to evacuate a few days ago. (The levees have since been blown up.)
In the midst of plenty of other news, you may have missed the emergency shut downs of Texas City refineries operated by BP Plc, Marathon Oil and Valero Energy Corp accounting for a combined 765,000 barrels of oil a day. According to Reuters:
A BP spokesman said no injuries had been reported due to the power outage, which also knocked out electricity at BP’s adjoining chemical plant. The cause of the outage was unknown. BP “immediately called the city and declared a level 3 emergency,” said BP spokesman Michael Marr in a statement. “The city declared a shelter-in-place for its residents.” “I can confirm that we’ve had issues with power at Texas City,” said Valero spokesman Bill Day of his company’s refinery. “To what extent we don’t know yet.” (Refinery operations were restarted on May 3.)
A March 2005 explosion at the BP refinery killed 15. The April 1947 explosion at Texas City of two ships carrying ammonium nitrate killed 581, injured 5000 and is still considered by many the worst industrial accident in the United States.
What our intentional, natural, and accidental threats share is profound and persistent uncertainty. We seek to prevent or mitigate or prepare to effectively respond or recover from what may not happen in this time and space: not in our life-times or in our neck-of-the-woods. Interesting job.
When a threat does begin to emerge we are willing to curtail the freedom of some, destroy the property of some, and kill if necessary in order — we hope and say — to save other freedoms, preserve other property, and protect other lives.
In a letter to President Obama — which the White House would have received on the eve of the decision to send Seal Team Six to Abbottabad — the local Missouri Congresswoman and two Senators wrote,
Besides the predictable long-term destruction of property and the environment within the 130,000 acres that would be deliberately flooded, a secondary risk is the uncertainty associated with the Set Back Levee which, if inadequate, will unleash the flood water across (six) Missouri counties of the Missouri Bootheel area with a population over 75,000 in addition to as many as 10 Arkansas counties.The known and unknown risks of blowing the levee and releasing over one-half million cubic feet per second are sufficient to demand the highest level of attention and accountability. The human evacuation alone would be a critical challenge to public officials as well as the extraordinary cost of post-disaster mitigation and repair and productive economic opportunity cost.
There are always known and unknown risks, the more significant a risk probably the more that is unknown… and often the greater need to decide and act wisely, courageously, and quickly in the midst of deep uncertainty.
The men and women of homeland security, national security, emergency management, and public safety are our guardians, but would clearly benefit from the attributes of philosopher kings. (I once attended a wedding heavy with members of Seal Team Six and if not philosopher kings they were, at least on that occasion, thoughtful princes whom Plato would honor.)
Two weeks ago I quoted from the work of a rather obscure, now dead, Air Force colonel named John Boyd. For reasons tied to his obscurity, Boyd is a principal progenitor of a revolution in the way we fight and increasingly how we compete in many non-military domains. Boyd, a fighter pilot whose final academic degree was a bachelors in industrial engineering, was also a great reader of Immanuel Kant.
Human reason has a peculiar fate… it is troubled by questions it cannot dismiss, because they are posed to it by the nature of reason itself, but that it also cannot answer, because they surpass human reason’s every ability. Our reason falls into this perplexity through no fault of its own. Reason starts from principles that it cannot avoid using in the course of experience and that this experience at the same time sufficiently justifies it in using. By means of these principles our reason (as indeed it nature requires it to do) ascends ever higher, to more remote conditions. But it becomes aware that in this way, since the questions never cease, its task must remain forever uncompleted. Thus it finds itself compelled to resort to principles that go beyond all possible use in experience, and that nonetheless seem so little suspect that even common human reason agrees with them. By doing this, however human reason plunges into darkness and contradictions; and although it can indeed gather from these that they must be based on errors lying hidden somewhere, it is unable to discover these errors. (Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the First Edition, Immanuel Kant translated by Werner S. Pluhar)
I understand it seems pretentious and/or pedantic to apply a late 18th Century philosopher to our contemporary choices. Would it help in any real way for Kant to appear on the reading list for students at the Emergency Management Institute?
But considering the life and death choices made by this profession (and even more the choices we fail to mindfully make) what does Kant’s absence mean? Even more troublesome is the absence of those issues with which Kant struggled. Given what we decide and do, might we find — somewhere between the ICS 200 course, the debris management course and the mortuary affairs course — a moment when our preoccupation with imposing order can make way for considering the nature of order itself?