Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 30, 2011

Utøya and us: Analogy and policy

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 30, 2011

On the same day the bombing and shooting in Norway killed 77 at least eleven Syrian protesters were killed by security forces, bringing the total for the week to over 50 and the number of Syrian civilians killed since mid-March to 1419. (Sunday Update: At least eighty Syrians were killed in pre-dawn raids today).

On the same day that Breivik was killing his fellow Norwegians,  political violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, killed 19.  Earlier in July another clash between adherents of one political party and a recent splinter group killed 100. (Sunday Update:  Ten more were killed overnight in Karachi.)

Each month an average of 38 children are killed by Mexican drug-related violence.  Since sustained anti-cartel operations began in 2008 over 40,000 Mexican civilians have lost their lives in the crossfire… sometime literally.

I could, of course, keep going.  Last week and since there have been significant civilian casualties in Malawi, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.   In Somalia the death toll from famine — estimated at more than 30,000 and climbing quickly — has been supplemented by battles between African Union and Al-Shabab forces and by inter-clan violence.   Many of those killed are women and children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I have not given nearly the attention to these other deaths that I have given to the Utøya massacre and related Oslo bombing.   By attention I don’t just mean coverage in HLSWatch.  I mean time committed to research.  I also mean emotional investment.  Monday morning I missed a scheduled teleconference because I was distracted by this — sadly not-so-unusual — event. That is not something I do.  But over the last week it has been a personal and professional preoccupation, despite my best efforts to objectify the event and reduce it to analysis.

A weekend indulgence in some public self-analysis — as if you care — but there may be some policy implications:

I cut my professional teeth on post-Tito Yugoslavia.  I began my analysis well before Tito’s passing.   My worst case projections never included the implosion of ethnic violence that unfolded.   Fortunately for my career I had left Yugoslavia far behind by the time the wily Marshall died in 1980.   I was amazed what a few monstrously banal leaders could do when amplified by the hate and violence of a few others and the complicity of many, many more.  It took less than a decade for a peaceful, prosperous, and tolerant nation to descend into genocide.

While some will find this scandalous, I perceive the potential for a banal and/or evil response to Breivik’s actions is — or was — as significant in Norway as it was in the very early 1980s in Yugoslavia, before Milosevic and his circle succeeded in dominating the political culture.  Instead we have all benefited from statesmanlike, inclusive, generous — even redemptive — acts and words across the political spectrum.   While the current Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, certainly deserves a great deal of credit, he has been joined by his principal political rivals, the royal family, every media outlet I can find,  religious leaders of every sort, and by the parents and other survivors of those killed.

Several years ago the then Norwegian Prime Minister caused a few eyebrows to arch when he said, “It is naturally Norwegian to be good.”   I would argue he mistook a socially effective ethic for a natural predilection.  It is wrong — even dangerous — to take this for granted as some sort of   “natural” exceptionalism.   It is crucial that Norwegians — and all of us — recognize the shared habits of empathy, solidarity, forgiveness, and a realistic commitment to justice and accountability are crafted through a million individual choices and all too easy to lose.

I have been preoccupied with “this little country” (as the Norwegians have described themselves this week), not because of its all-too-ordinary experience with deadly violence, but due to its atypically courageous and constructive response.

July 29, 2011

Faces and voices of resilience

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 29, 2011

Since last Friday’s blast and shootings:

Over 250,000 residents of Oslo and thousands more up and down Norway (population 4.9 million) gathered on Monday evening to share their grief and, in the words of Crown Prince Haakon, “We have chosen to meet hatred with unity.”  In many smaller communities up to half the population participated personally in the summer evening Rosetog (rose train) to commemorate those killed on Friday.  In Lillesand more than 4000 of the city’s 9800 residents turned up with flowers and torches.

At Oslo city hall Labour Party youth leader Eskil Pedersen, a survivor of the attack, spoke about the youth of Utøya, what they fought for and believed in and the strength of standing together. According to NRK,  Pedersen said that together they would make Norway and the world a better place. They stood together for justice, for solidarity, for equality and against racism. “He tried to take this from us, but we have never been more together than we are today… He took some of our most beautiful roses, but he can not stop the spring,” ended Pedersen.

During a memorial mass at Oslo Cathedral Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said, “Amidst all this tragedy, I am proud to live in a country that has managed to hold its head up high at a critical time. I have been impressed by the dignity, compassion and resolve I have met. We are a small country, but a proud people. We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values. Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naivete.”

The Crown Prince, the Lutheran Bishop of Oslo, the Mayor of Oslo, two government ministers, and many others packed a memorial service at the World Islamic Mission, a mosque directly across the street from the central Oslo jail where the self-confessed mass murderer is being held.  The Muslim population of Norway is estimated at 120-170 thousand.  According to NRK those attending were welcomed by Imam Najeeb Naz saying, “Today, a whole people, across all the lines of a modern society –geography, generation, politics, religion — come together. We do not have easy answers, but we can draw strength from one another.”

Three survivors of the Utøya shootings participated in a web-based public Q&A hosted by the VG newspaper. One of the text questions asked, “What do you think should be done with Anders (the gunman)?”  Daniel Braathen (above right) answered, “I do not support him being put to death, or tortured, or something; only that he will be put away for always.  I have little desire to talk with him although he almost took my life.”  All three indicated a desire to return to Utøya.  Gard Strand (above left) texted, “I feel it is important to get out to the island again to overcome fear.” The Norwegian Labour Party has insisted that Utoya will be reopened as a site for youth conferences.

Another survivor of the mass murder on Utøya spoke at the funeral of her mother, shot while her daughter was elsewhere on the island.  According to the VG newspaper, Helene Bosei Olsen said, “In this situation it is very easy to feel hatred for the terrorist who in those two long hours destroyed so many lives. My wish is that instead of hating the terrorist, I want you to show love to those you love, and provide warmth and good thoughts to the families of those who died.”

The Norwegian government announced the establishment of an independent commission to investigate all facets of July 22.  Every party represented in the Norwegian parliament was present for the announcement, including the conservative and generally anti-immigrant Progress Party.  With 41 of 169 seats in the current parliament the Progress Party or FrP is the second-largest behind the Labour Party’s 64 seats.

Siv Jensen, head of the Progress Party, said, “The Progress Party is embarrassed, disgusted and truly sad that the accused terrorist was once a member of the party… His actions and beliefs are totally contrary to our policies, beliefs and value-system. The Progress Party is a classical liberal party, which cherishes democracy and humanitarian values. We strongly oppose all messages and acts of hatred, violence, bigotry and close-mindedness. The terrorist attacks were not only directed against the government and the Labour Party, but against Norwegian core values and democracy. All political parties together agree that such terrible crimes must be met with even more democracy and openness.” (See related NYT story: Shift in Europe seen in debate on immigrants)

Norwegian private donations for Somali hunger and drought relief have soared over the last week.  The Norwegian Red Cross started a fundraising campaign on July 15.  By July 22 only 100,000 krone ($18,500) had been collected.  Between the blasts on Friday and the end of the day on Saturday 1 million krone had been collected.  An additional 2 million krone has been donated in the days since.

Norwegian police have — gradually and carefully — released the names, ages, and places of residence for the seventy-six killed on July 22.  The VG newspaper is attempting to provide photographs of each of those killed.

While Anders Behring Breivik has confessed to the bombing and shooting, he has entered a legal plea of not guilty.  The Norwegian Attorney-General does not expect the actual trial to begin until early 2012.

As I write this at 0730 Eastern Time on Friday, many memorials are underway in Norway.  The crowds are stupendous for such a small nation.  In each one there is a recurring refrain of coming together in sorrow and working together in hope.   Sorrow grounds us. Hope inspires us.  Rooted in sorrow and reaching in hope can be a very productive place.

Earlier this week the Prime Minister encouraged his neighbors, “I have a simple request to make of you. Get involved. Care. Join an organisation. Take part in debates. Use your vote.  Free elections are the jewel in the crown of democracy.  By taking part, you are saying a resounding yes to democracy.”

Participation, collaboration, deliberation.

July 28, 2011

U.S., Japan to jointly study new technology to decontaminate large areas

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on July 28, 2011

The Mainichi Daily News report on the President’s Science Adviser John Holdren’s trip to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant includes this interesting nugget:

The United States and Japan will work together in researching new technology to remove radioactive materials from large areas around the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a visiting senior U.S. official said Sunday.

As thousands of square kilometers require decontamination before evacuated people can return home, an “extremely expensive” task, research is needed to do so efficiently, effectively and economically, John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology, said in an interview with Kyodo News.

Holdren, who visited the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant on Saturday, the highest U.S. official to have done so since the crisis erupted in March, said he discussed the matter as “one of the areas of further cooperative research” with Japanese officials during his visit to the country.

What makes this interesting (at least to me) is that there has been comparatively little research into technologies that can decontaminate various environments following a radiological incident.  The most widely used techniques usually involve a brute-force approach of carting away topsoil, covering over contaminated areas, or demolition.  All useful in terms of cleaning up shuttered nuclear weapons facilities or decommissioned nuclear reactor sites, but less useful in terms of urban (or even suburban) areas that are likely to be contaminated following a large release from a nuclear power plant or dirty bomb.

Instead of investing money every year in the operation of detector systems of varying usefulness, could a better investment be in technologies and techniques to clean-up an urban environment following a radiological incident (regardless of cause)?

This is essentially deterrence through denial–convincing would be radiological terrorists that there is no reason to attempt a dirty bomb or nuclear power plant attack because the goal of large scale radioactive contamination and resulting fear/economic damage would fail.


Al-Qaeda Claims U.S. Mass Transportation Infrastructure Must Drastically Improve Before Any Terrorist Attacks

Filed under: Humor — by Arnold Bogis on July 28, 2011

I hope that DHS is recruiting analysts from the staff at The Onion (h/t Security Debrief):

In a 30-minute video released Thursday, al- Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri criticized the mass transportation infrastructure of the United States, claiming significant repairs and upgrades would need to be implemented before the militant group would consider destroying any roads, bridges, or railways with terrorist attacks.

Reading from a prepared statement, al-Zawahiri blasted the U.S. government for its lack of foresight and admonished its leaders for failing to provide Americans with efficient and reliable modes of public transport to reduce traffic congestion, lower carbon emissions, improve air quality, and supply suitable targets for terrorists.


The al-Qaeda commander confirmed his organization initially hoped to cripple travel in the United States by destroying its nationwide high-speed rail system, but had been shocked to discover no such thing exists. Calling it a cost-efficient, modern way of travel that would serve as a boon to small businesses and the national economy, al-Zawahiri implored U.S. officials to invest in not just one high-speed passenger train network, but many of them, so they could all be blown up simultaneously in a signature al-Qaeda attack upon the nation’s major population centers.


Al-Qaeda sources confirmed that members of terror cells living in America regularly complain about the extreme difficulty of traveling around the country and say it has prevented them from doing their jobs effectively. A plot to destroy O’Hare International Airport was reportedly abandoned after constant flight delays made coordinating an attack nearly impossible.

Read the whole thing here.

New Study on Aum Shinriko’s Bio and Chem Programs

Filed under: Biosecurity,Chemical Security,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks,WMD — by Arnold Bogis on July 28, 2011

Ten years of Al Qaeda-focused concern about terrorism may have faded the memory of a group that in the 1990s had significant programs aimed at developing biological and chemical weapons and successfully used Sarin nerve gas in an attack on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 and injuring thousands. Reminding us of those efforts and seeking to cull insights from their work, The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has released a report, “Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons.” According to their website, this report

“culminates a multi-year project led by Richard Danzig, former Secretary of the Navy and Chairman of the CNAS Board of Directors; with Marc Sageman, Advisor to the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army on the Insider Threat; Terrance Leighton, Senior Staff Scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and Chief Scientist at Science Applications International Corporation; Lloyd Hough, Senior Research Scientist at Battelle in International Technology Assessments; Zachary Hosford, Research Associate at CNAS; and two Japanese colleagues investigating these issues.  Through personal interviews and correspondence with former members of Aum Shinrikyo’s leadership, the report provides never-before documented information on the terrorist group and its operations.”

It is an interesting document that provides a great deal of detail about the cult’s evolution, members, and technical background on their efforts to produce and deploy biological and chemical weapons.  From this narrative the authors have pulled out ten points that they feel can be useful in understanding future terrorist groups who may attempt to go down a similar path.  Here are the points, though I would strongly recommend reading the report itself for explanation and in-depth analysis of each observation:

1. Aum’s biological program was a failure, while its chemical program was even more capable than would have been evident from its successful release of sarin in the Tokyo subway system in 1995.

2. Effectively disseminating biological and chemical agents was challenging for Aum.

3. Accidents recurred in Aum’s chemical and biological programs but did not deter pursuit of these weapons.

4. When Aum’s top members transitioned to using violence, they readily brought other leaders down this path and effectively persuaded, isolated or killed dissidents.

5. Though police pursuit of Aum was remarkably lax, even intermittent or anticipated enforcement actions highly disrupted the cult’s efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons.

6. The key work on Aum’s biological and chemical programs was conducted largely by the leadership group.

7. Aum’s hierarchical structure facilitated initiating and resourcing biological and chemical programs.

8. Even a retrospective assessment of biological and chemical weapons programs like this one is difficult and burdened with gaps and uncertainties.

9. Aum displayed impressive persistence and produced successes despite its commitment to many bizarre ideas, its misallocation of resources and its numerous operational failures.

10. Significant failures preceded or accompanied Aum successes.

Guns and bombs will continue to be the most likely weapon utilized by terrorists, and as Anders Breivik demonstrated, they can be horrendously destructive.  Yet it has been more than 15 years since Aum used Sarin in the Tokyo subway and technological trends are not moving in a direction that will make it more difficult for future groups to attempt something similar.  A balanced counter-terrorism approach is necessary to prevent the most likely types of attacks while not closing our eyes to the possible, if more remote, threats.

Or as the authors put it:

“Groups such as Aum expose us to risks uncomfortably analogous to playing Russian roulette. Many chambers in the gun prove to be harmless, but some chambers are loaded. The blank chambers belie the destructive power that the gun can produce when held to the head of a society.”


July 27, 2011

Sanity, Substance

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Mark Chubb on July 27, 2011

This past weekend, the world witnessed three very different events in three places very distant from one another that produced three very different public responses. Each has something to tell us.

In the first instance, Norwegians’ demonstrated that no matter how powerful the pull of emotion, humans are capable of engaging the most senseless acts of violence in very sensible ways. On the other side of the planet, New Zealanders greeted an icy blast of Antarctic weather that dumped 30cm of snow on their tattered landscape with sighs not screams. “The icing on the quake,” was greeted with as much relief as resignation despite the disruption it caused. Meanwhile, back here in the United States, our leaders in Washington demonstrated that neither the tug of emotion nor the power of reason is strong enough to dislodge our leaders and their supporters from the entrenched positions fueling their partisan brinksmanship.

Norwegian leaders and citizens alike made it clear that Anders Behring Breivik’s rampage will not undermine their continued commitment to maintaining an inclusive, tolerant society guided by respect for human dignity and the rule of law. No one has minimized the challenges facing societies like Norway’s that struggle to embrace multiculturalism on a continent organized around and indeed defined by national distinctions rather than assimilation. If anything, the massacre has rekindled interest in redoubling efforts to accommodate cultural differences without sacrificing quality of life or equal protection of the law.

In Christchurch, people have learned repeatedly to find pleasure in the simplest things. In other cities, including their own in days past, a snowstorm of this magnitude would have been greeted very differently. People would have wondered whether the inability of municipal authorities to keep transportation and economic activities going were some dark sign of their inability to do anything. People have come to expect both more and less of those in government in the after last September’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake and more than 7,300 aftershocks left their city in ruins. They expect more information, more involvement and more empathy from government officials. At the same time, they are more forgiving of errors, uncertainty, and delays, especially when they see public officials confronting many of the same personal and professional challenges they themselves must face.

Our leaders in Washington, however, seem capable of doing little more than what suits their own peculiar political interests. Not long ago a political impasse like the present one would have been resolved by recourse to party loyalty and party discipline. These distinctions pale in comparison to the ideological differences driving the present debate (or lack thereof). Rather than accepting and addressing the urgency of the present situation, both sides seem more committed to leveraging it for ends that enhance their future prospects at the polls at the expense of someone else’s. The principles of inclusiveness, equity, and shared sacrifice have no more to do with either side’s proposals than compromise or collaboration have to do with the way they have engaged the problem or one another.

In Norway, a country that enjoys one of Europe’s highest standards of living, lowest unemployment rates, and strongest social safety nets, the disturbing actions of an individual or small group of extremists in their society have opened both eyes and minds to the need to work harder. In New Zealand, a disruptive snow storm demonstrated that even the most urgent, necessary, and difficult work can wait when conditions require it. The peaceful beauty of the snow can even serve as a brief respite and reminder to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, especially the company of one another.

This leaves me wondering, what will it take to not just get the attention of our leaders and a broad cross-section of American society, but to get then to engage the dilemmas facing our country without resorting to simplistic, self-serving soundbites? What will it take to restore sanity and substance to our politics?

July 26, 2011

Implementing the 9/11 Commission’s Recommendations: Bio, Rad, and Nuke Threats

Filed under: Biosecurity,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,WMD — by Alan Wolfe on July 26, 2011

As reported in this blog, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released its 2011 progress report against the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations (released in July 2004). Of particular interest was the section on page 31 titled “Strengthening Efforts to Detect and Report Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Threats.” This section directly addressed the Commission’s recommendation to “strengthen counterproliferation efforts” related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), notably nuclear weapons.

(The military term “counterproliferation” is misused in the commission’s report.  The proposed recommendations actually address nonproliferation and antiterrorism activities as measures to prevent a terrorist WMD incident. But I digress.)

DHS identifies its progress in countering radiological and nuclear threats by citing the deployment of thousands of radiological monitors at border crossings and to state and federal agents to “scan cars, trucks, and other items and conveyances for the presence of radiological and nuclear materials,” in addition to training on these devices. It cites the “Securing the Cities” initiative that has actually secured only one city – New York City – by the similar deployment of nearly 6000 pieces of radiological detection equipment and large scale exercises.

However, the progress report did not elaborate on DHS plans to spend more than $300 million on Advanced Spectroscopic Portal monitors, a plan that the Government Accountability Office says has not been assessed by an independent review panel. Such a review was suggested after DHS was accused of underestimating the cost of the monitors, overstating their benefits, and providing misleading information to Congress.

As for the troubled “Securing the Cities” initiative, perhaps the less said, the better. This 2006 initiative was originally intended as a pilot project to evaluate how law enforcement agencies might use radiological detection equipment within a major metropolitan city to detect, track, and interdict the movement of radiological or nuclear material.

New York City has required (demanded?) constant federal funding to continue this project because of the expense of sustaining this equipment and particular concept of operations, leading to a proposal that the federal government should permanently fund the New York City project and examine possibilities of replicating it in other cities. Of course, other cities will never see a similar project because of its high costs and the need to fund other, more conventional emergency response requests.

On the biological threat side, DHS has not yet expanded its Project BioWatch effort from the initial 30+ sites that were established over five years ago. More than 270 cities have populations over 100,000 people, which means there are a lot of major cities without any biological samplers.

DHS seems to be putting all of its chips on the development of a “Gen 3” detector that will significantly reduce operational costs by doing some level of automatic detection and analysis and reporting to officials. The current system only samples the air, requiring manual collection and analysis. However, the traditional wisdom has been that confirmatory identification in a laboratory is still required prior to alerting the state (and nation) as to a possible biological terrorist incident, because the severe consequences of announcing a “false positive” as real is something the federal government wants to avoid.

The cost and operation of an expanded detector array, addressing the majority of the nation’s major cities, will still be considerable, considering that DHS spends about $84 million a year to maintain the current system at 30 cities. I doubt that DHS will ever deploy and sustain a true nation-wide Project BioWatch effort.

This fixation on deploying biological and radiological monitors disturbs me for reasons other than cost and coverage. First, there is an obvious and deliberate lack of metrics in any discussion of the DHS projects described here. It’s easy to announce progress when there’s no ultimate objective in sight – you can avoid addressing those nasty details such as effectiveness of coverage and what limited range of hazards one is in fact addressing.

Second, when one actually reads the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations on addressing the proliferation of WMD (pp. 380-81), it becomes clear that the commission never called for such a detection array or even envisioned such a system. The commission focused on nonproliferation and law enforcement activities. That is because it recognized that “a complex terrorist operation aimed at launching a catastrophic attack cannot be mounted by just anyone in any place” (p. 365). It would require a large staff, opportunity and time to recruit operatives, a logistics network, access to special material, reliable communications, and ability to test the workability of the plan. In short, the larger the desired incident, the more visible the terrorist organization becomes.

The administration’s recently released “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” calls the danger of nuclear terrorism “the greatest threat to global security.” The nonproliferation community has jumped onto the alleged expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and potential vulnerability to al Qaeda attacks as evidence for the need for more nuclear nonproliferation and threat reduction programs, despite assurances by Admiral Mike Mullen and other security experts that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is in fact secure.

That doesn’t assure others that there could still be the potential leakage of nuclear weapons or material in the future. However, if the real concern is sourced at Pakistan’s nuclear program, then the strategy needs to be improving relations between India and Pakistan and continuing nonproliferation efforts, not in developing a “Global Nuclear Detection Architecture” that mirrors the Maginot Line in its effectiveness.

DHS developed its operational concepts for countering biological, radiological and nuclear threats based on the Defense Department’s operational concepts for nuclear and biological warfare between states. It is the wrong approach for countering transnational terrorists seeking to use WMD against the United States. What remains unexplained is the failure of the homeland security enterprise to assess or acknowledge the inadequacies of the current approach to meet the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations on countering the possibility of a terrorist WMD incident.


July 24, 2011

[Repost] Security Theater Lessons From Utøya

Filed under: Events — by Christopher Bellavita on July 24, 2011

I saw the following commentary on a Swedish blog called Falkvinge & Co. on Infopolicy.  The author is Rick Falkvinge.

I thought his ideas were worth republishing since the implications of his argument extend beyond Utøya.  What would happen if a multi-event like Oslo and Utøya happened in the United States, and if the person or people who committed the act were not affiliated with our usual ideological suspects?  Does our political genetic code allow us to see through the ideologies that mask terrorism’s explicit goal: to create fear.  Fear, and a profoundly deep sadness that lures us to abandon who we are as a nation.

Falkvinge’s post has been lightly edited; the original, along with links, can be found here.


As the shock passes into reflection of the Utøya massacre — could anything have been different? — and the grief for and honoring of  the missed and wounded, people will start asking questions as to how this could possibly happen.

Having gone through the methodology used … we can examine one step after another of Breivik’s plan.

I frequently say that power in society is about information advantage. If you know more about your opponent than your opponent knows about you, then you will have the advantage. In this case, Breivik knew how to not look like the nutjob he was.

It’s not even particularly hard. As long as you do whatever horrible deed you plan to do alone, you will evade all wiretapping and data retention. The largest civilian spy program in history is useless against people like Breivik.

It’s a matter of knowing what sets off red flags in the system, and taking active steps to not have them pop up.

Breivik had guns. Three of them: a Glock handgun, a scoped hunter rifle and a shotgun.

Well, yes. So maybe you should have gun controls and strict background checks.

Except Norway has that already. Strictest on the planet, even; same as Sweden. You need to be a flawless, regular and standing member of a licensed shooting club for a full year to get a 9mm handgun license, with a spotless criminal record (Breivik had just a ten-year-old traffic ticket). A hunting license is separate, with extensive and different tests, and apparently Breivik had that too. This doesn’t redflag in itself.

Nobody would imagine that the handgun was planned to be used for point-blank executions with the scoped hunter rifle being planned for teenagers who tried to swim to safety. No program would catch it. Doing so would require mind reading.

Breivik could make tons of explosives. Metric tons.

Well, yes. The nutjob literally bought an entire farm to stay under the radar on this one. Nobody is surprised that farms buy tons of fertilizer; ammonium nitrate, specifically. Nor is anybody surprised that farms need diesel fuel. This was all that was needed, and with a minimum of 8th grade chemistry.

If you are going to prevent either one of these, where do you want your food to come from in the future? Or should we ban the knowledge of chemistry, or perhaps license it? Remove the books on basic chemistry from libraries and censor web pages that mention that knowledge?

Again, it is a matter of information advantage. If you know how to blend in, you will survive in an environment hostile to your intentions.

Which brings us to the last part:

Breivik intended to kill — no, execute — people.


As despicable as that is, how would you like to catch it, the key word being “intend”? He didn’t speak to anybody about it. Even his parents were caught completely off guard. He planned it alone; for nine full years, according to some sources. We have neither mindreading nor precrime technology.

And yet.

We now have wanton en-masse ubiquitous wiretapping in Europe (specifically Sweden), explicitly for national security purposes, which would pick up a lot of what is said and spoken in Norway as well. We have individual location tracking of all citizens. Still, for all this surveillance which is the most extensive in human history, it was utterly and totally useless.

If we cannot prevent an event like Utøya, the worst killing spree ever in world history and the worst terrorist act in entire Europe in two decades, by any means conceivable — why are we playing this security theater and giving up hard-won civil liberties one after another?

The only thing that would have caught Breivik would have been frequent police raids turning his farm inside out, leaving no room to hide his experiments in chemistry. Turning all industries and homes inside out with sharp regularity might have prevented this. Even still, a person as determined as Breivik would likely have been able to blend in even under such circumstances.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, that “a people who gives up its freedom to gain a little security will lose both and deserve neither”.  But now that it has been shown in the most gruesome, in-your-face way that we don’t even gain a little security by giving up these freedoms, then why are we doing so?

Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg is absolutely right when he says we must fight antidemocratic lunacy with more democracy and more humanity. His quote from one of the young on Utøya, “if one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we all can show together,” is one of the most statesmanworthy I have seen in my entire life. Both when it came from the young surviving lady right off the island, and from Stoltenberg on repeating it in his official capacity.

It brings me to tears, and to something more important: hope.


July 23, 2011

Norwegian terrorist: Blond, nationalist, libertarian, Christian, farmer

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 23, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik, age 32, has been arrested for the Oslo bombing that killed seven and the Utoya shooting of at least 84.  The BBC has a more complete profile. Breivik evidently admits to his role without remorse (see early Friday morning post).

It is being reported that Breivik had over an hour before police arrived to shoot the mostly teenagers attending the Labour Party summer camp on the island of Utoya.  The current Prime Minister of Norway is a member of the Labour Party, generally seen as part of the mainstream of the European social democratic left.

The Norwegian newspaper VG provided the following report (I have edited the computer-generated translation):

Anders Behring Breivik is well read with strong opinions about Norwegian politics. He promotes very conservative opinions, which he also called nationalist. He expressed strong opposition to multiculturalism – that cultural differences can live together in a community.

Breivik has had many posts on the site Document.no, an Islam-critical site that publishes news and commentary. In one of the posts he states that today’ politics no longer revolves around socialism versus capitalism, but that the fight is between nationalism and internationalism. He expressed clear support for the nationalist mindset. Anders Behring Breivik has also commented on Swedish news articles, where he makes it clear that he believes the media have failed by not being Islam-critical.

Six days ago he put out his first and only message on the social networking site Twitter, where he laid out a famous quote by British philosopher and libertarian John Stuart Mill,“One person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.”

On Facebook  Breivik claims to be the director of his own company Geofarm. (Note by Palin: The farm allowed him to purchase at least three tons of fertilizer earlier this year.  This was apparently used in the bomb(s).) He also claims he has an education in finance and religion, but does not disclose the universities attended… The only school he gives is Oslo Handel.

The 32-year-old is among other things, registered as a member of Oslo gun club and the Masonic Lodge. Among other interests he expresses his admiration for Winston Churcill, classical music and Max Manus (a member of the Norwegian resistance in WWII). The 32-year-old man has been active in computer games and has been engaged in the online game World of Warcraft.

Main stream media are now giving this detailed attention.  Unless something emerges with significant strategy or policy implications, I doubt further updates by HLSwatch are necessary.

The local reporting that I have found most helpful is from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporations (www.nrk.no) and the VG newspaper out of Olso (www.vg.no).


A confession and comment: I was in a fairly important meeting when the news from Oslo made my smartphone vibrate non-stop.  I had plenty of time — and space, an ocean away — to be professionally objective.

Even as I attempted to complete my immediate agenda, I considered a wide range of possibilities: natural gas, volcanic venting, several terrorist options including AQ, Taliban,  and neo-Nazis.   The December 2010 Stockholm attack was at the forefront of my mind… and I was troubled by my inability to remember many salient details.  I thought about the Stieg Larsson series and his wide array of bad actors.  I did not think of Gaddafi until I read speculation by others.

It was nearly two hours before I had a sufficient break in meetings to access a full-size computer… and to post to HLSWatch.  While reading (bad) translations of the local Norwegian reports one of the first blurbs on a shooting at Utoya appeared.  My immediate reaction was how in the aftermath of something like the Oslo bombing every other event is blown out of proportion.  I assumed there had been a hunting accident or something similar.  Even later when I understood Utoya was a summer camp for youth associated with the ruling Labour party I assumed, at worst, an awful coincidence.

It is now clear the Oslo bombing was both a significant attack and a dramatic distraction.  The rising generation of the ruling party was, perhaps, Breivik’s principal target.  The gunman — dressed as a  paramilitary — used the bombing as justification to access the island.    Because police were so consumed by the bomb’s consequence their response to the Utoya shootings was significantly delayed and the massacre continued unchallenged for over an hour.

It is a tragic reminder that terrorists (of every stripe) are keen to use our predictable responses as key elements in their planning.  Both strategically and tactically, they regularly depend on our own choices to amplify the effectiveness of their attack.

July 22, 2011

Oslo blast and Utoya shooting

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 22, 2011

Picture provided by the BBC

As of noon eastern time it is too early to be certain of a homeland security link, but it is widely supposed the huge blast in Oslo is a terrorist action.

The blast was centered on a structure housing several government and commercial offices.  Initial reports suggest offices of the Oil and Gas Ministry have also been hit, which may suggest more than one detonation.

The first rash of rumors is focused more on Gaddafi than al-Qaeda.  Norway has supported NATO operations in Libya.

Norway has, however, also been on the al-Qaeda hit list.  For example, in May 2003 Ayman Zawahiri, recently chosen as Osama bin-Laden’s successor, called for reprisals against Norway.  “O Muslims, take matters firmly against the embassies of America, England, Australia, and Norway and their interests, companies, and employees… Wreak havoc on them. ”

Norwegian air force operations on behalf of NATO in December 2001 were implicated in the death of Zawahiri’s wife and three children in a bomb attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  For more see the July 2010 piece in The Atlantic titled, “Why does al-Qaeda have a problem with Norway?”

A few hours after the blast in the Norwegian capital there was a report of a person dressed as a police officer firing several shots at a youth summer camp at Utøya, Norway.  Sponsored by the Labour Party of Norway, the senior party in the current coalition government, about 560 young social democrats in their mid-teens are reported to be at the camp.  Twitter and other messages from the camp report five campers have been shot.  Other reports claim up to twenty have been shot.  There is at least one report of 30 having been killed and more wounded.

A police spokesman is quoted by NRK, “It’s a political summer camp held there, and with what has happened in Oslo today, it is reasonable to believe that there is a connection.

A suspected shooter has been arrested at Utoya and it is reported the same person was seen at the site of the bomb blasts in Oslo, less than twenty miles from the island on Lake Tyrifjorden.  The suspect is reported to be tall, blond, and in his late twenties or early thirties.

The Norwegian State Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) is providing extensive coverage.  Please access: www.nrk.no

The VG newspaper, whose offices were hit during the Oslo bombing, is also a good source: Please access: www.vg.no/

These are both breaking stories and, as we all know, reports can be confused in the immediate aftermath of such an event.  I will be mostly offline for several hours after 1330 Eastern.  If you see important updates please use the comment function to share.

UPDATE: 1524 Eastern Time

The Telegraph (London) is doing a great job feeding information as it happens.  Please see:


UPDATE: 1539 Eastern Time

According to the New York Times:

A terror group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or the Helpers of the Global Jihad, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, according to Will McCants, a terrorism analyst at C.N.A., a research institute that studies terrorism. The message said the attack was a response to Norwegian forces’ presence in Afghanistan and to unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad. “We have warned since the Stockholm raid of more operations,” the group said, according to Mr. McCants’ translation, apparently referring to a bombing in Sweden in December 2010. “What you see is only the beginning, and there is more to come.” The claim could not be confirmed. It is not uncommon for terrorist groups to advance claims of responsibility for high-profile attacks, only to have the claims prove to be spurious.

UPDATE: 1622 Eastern Time (last update for awhile)

Arnold Bogis reports in the comments:

Will McCants reports that the “Helpers” have retracted their statement. To follow McCants’ updates, he blogs at “jihadica.com” and you can follow his updates there:


And on his twitter account:


The Guardian (London) reports at 2107 British Time:

On Twitter runehak, who works for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, says:

News agency NTB says police do NOT think this is international terrorism. #osloexpl #oslobomb #whys

and then

Nationen also writes police think its a local variant directed at the current political system. http://j.mp/o6QQSP #osloexpl #oslobomb #whys

UPDATE: 1937 Eastern Time

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting speculation by local experts that the bombing and mass shooting may be the work of a right-wing extremist and potentially a lone-wolf operation.

Both the Prime Minister and the National Police Chief have declined to speculate on the motivation of the alleged gunman arrested on Utoya island.  The Justice Minister did confirm the suspect is Norwegian.

Professor Tore Bjørgo at the Police College said earlier tonight that these bloody attacks can come from other communities than Islamist… “I have consistently kept the possibility open that this might be the extreme-right.”…Bjørgo says that the action is reminiscent of a bomb attack in Oklahoma City in 1995, where the right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people by a powerful car bomb.

In its 2011 Threat Assessment the Norwegian Police Security Service reported:

Far-right extremists in Norway have only been slightly active in recent years. However, the trend that saw an increased level of activity in  2010 is expected to continue in 2011. Several players would like to revive the far-right extremist communities. However, the lack of strong leaders limits the growth of these groups.

There are indications of contact between Norwegian far-right extremists and organised criminal groups. This could give the far-right extremist groups easier access to weapons and thereby increase the potential for violence. While the need for a sense of belonging and the fascination with violence are often strong reasons why many young persons are recruited to  far-right extremist groups, the ideology appears to be a secondary factor.

Norwegian far-right extremists are in contact with Swedish far-right extremists, as well as with other far-right extremist groups in Europe. Contact also takes place between Norwegian and Russian far-right extremists. The Russian groups are much more violent than other European groups  and commit several scores of killings annually, mainly of ethnic minorities.  They therefore have a high status within these extremist groups. Contact with Russian far-right extremists can contribute to an increased radicalisation and reduce the threshold for the use of violence by the Norwegian groups.

We continue in the deathly hallows

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 22, 2011

Earlier this month Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the sixth edition of Inspire magazine, a colorful web publication written in English designed to recruit Al Qaeda volunteers.  I got my copy last weekend.   The link immediately above takes you to the Public Intelligence website’s slightly censored copy.

This is a memorial issue, considerably more somber than previous versions, marking the death of Osama bin-Laden.  The cover is above.  Notice the headline: Sadness, Contentment and Aspiration.  Six others killed in action are also profiled.

I have a hypothesis about bin-Laden:  What I have seen and heard suggests he was — as much as possible given our intense search — an ego maniacal micro-manager.  This would be consistent with the characteristics of many other confirmed sources of evil.

I speculate bin-Laden was so consumed to out-do the 9/11 attacks that he became an impediment to many other less spectacular plans.  Bin-Laden no longer had sufficient command-and-control to effectively launch an attack that matched his ambitions, but he had enough authority to veto other more likely-to-succeed efforts. Bin-Laden was working hard to stay involved and — paradoxically — his ego was a big help to our counter-terrorism effort.

I don’t have enough evidence to prove or disprove this hypothesis.  But Inspire encourages my hypothesis.  In the same issue marking the death of the al-Qaeda founder and — very briefly — affirming Ayman al-Zawahiri as the new head of al-Qaeda, there is a long article on individual jihad by Abu Mu’sab al-Suri. Also known as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, this long-time strategist of terrorist violence has been a sophisticated critic of the 9/11 attacks and the more centralized strategic approach of bin-Laden.

Following are two paragraphs from al-Suri’s piece in this month’s Inspire magazine.  Al-Suri is answering, why is individual jihad necessary? (Compare to what Marc Sageman has called leaderless jihad.)

1. The failure of the operational methods of the secret, hierarchical organizations, in light of the international security campaign and the international and regional [counter-terrorism] co-ordination, which we have referred to above. Furthermore, the need for an operational method, which makes it impossible for those security agencies to abort the Resistance cells by arresting [some of] their members, based on [information extracted through] torture and interrogation [of other members].

2. Inability of the secret organizations to incorporate all of the Islamic ummah’s youth who want to perform the duty of jihad and Resistance by contributing with some kind of activity, without being required to commit themselves to membership responsibilities of a centralized organization.

The king is dead (and he was, by the way, wrong). Long live the (kingless) Resistance!  Which could result in an increasing scope and frequency of deadly — but less than apocalyptic — attacks.

I received Inspire on the same weekend that the final Harry Potter movie was opening. The temptation to analogy is too great.

Ten years ago, just weeks after 9/11, still hurting and much more innocent than now, I took my tween children to see the first Harry Potter movie. In subsequent years any pretense to innocence was lost, hurt multiplied many times, and evil became increasingly explicit. The personification of evil was finally surprised and killed. That ended the decade-long fictional tale. The death of bin-Laden does not end the real world’s narrative nor the emergent threat.

At the core of the Harry Potter series — and in the narrative of terrorist martyrs — is the power of self-sacrifice. The Inspire magazine profile of six lesser known martyrs invokes this power. For love of God, neighbor, and family Muslim youth are called to self-sacrifice.

But there is a difference between these visions of self-sacrifice, potentially a crucial difference. From near the end of the current movie:

Harry Potter: “… But before you try and kill me, I’d advise you to think about what you’ve done…. Think, and try for some remorse….”
Voldemort: “What is this?”
Harry Potter: “It’s your one last chance, it’s all you’ve got left…. I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise…. Be a man…. try…. Try for some remorse….”

Innocence cannot be retrieved. Our own self-sacrifice is still needed.  Our adversary also depends on and glorifies self-sacrifice. Each of us claim to sacrifice ourselves — or too often others — for a cause beyond ourselves.

But with luck or faith or courage we may be able to preserve our sense of remorse.  In remorse we recognize our own pride and failure.  In remorse we grieve, even over the death of our enemy. In remorse we mourn that violence is sometimes the tool of love.  By embracing such remorse and learning from it, we may transcend remorse and even be redeemed by it.


The finished man among his enemies? –
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
If honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men…

I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.

W.B. Yeats, The Winding Stair

July 21, 2011

New Report: Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on July 21, 2011

At the following link please find a DHS “progress report” on implementing-9-11-commission-report-progress-2011 (3.6 MB PDF).

The report gives particular attention to:

  • Expanding information sharing,
  • Developing and implementing risk-based transportation security strategies,
  • Strengthening airline passenger pre-screening and targeting terrorist travel,
  • Enhancing screening for explosives,
  • Protecting cyber networks and critical physical infrastructure,
  • Bolstering the security of US borders and identification documents, and
  • Ensuring robust privacy and civil rights and civil liberties safeguards.

I have not had time to give the report a fair reading.  Will be interested in what you think.

July 20, 2011

The Homeland Security Digital Library commemorates the 10th anniversary

Filed under: Scholarship — by Christopher Bellavita on July 20, 2011

As part of the Naval Postgraduate School’s commemoration of the ten year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Homeland Security Digital Library is featuring ten special posts on its blog, On The Homefront:

The series started on July 5th.

Once a week, On The Homefront will present information (mostly links to significant documents and contextual descriptions) related to “different facets of our shared American experience that have changed significantly or been affected deeply” by the attacks.

Here is the schedule, topics, and links to the posts that have already been published:

July 5 – Terrorism, Terrorists and Threats

July 12 – The Department of Homeland Security

July 19 – The 9/11 Commission Recommendations

July 26 – Emergency Preparedness

August 2 – Border Security and Immigration

August 9 – Transportation and Travel

August 16 – Freedoms and Rights

August 23 – Protecting Critical Infrastructure

August 30 – Communication

September 6 – Commemorating 9/11

The Library notes: Some documents linked to the Homeland Security Digital Library may require a login. They provide information about how eligible people can sign up for a [free} account.

This is who the library means by “eligible people”:

…U.S. citizens who are: federal, state, tribal, and local U.S. government officials; members of the U.S. military; homeland security researchers and academics; security staff protecting organizations vital to U.S. infrastructure.”

But many documents are available to anyone who visits the site:

Access to the following resources is open and does not require authentication:

* Limited HSDL Collection: contains over 50100 U.S. Federal Government documents as well as academic theses from federal government institutions.

* Policy & Strategy Section: direct access to key U.S. policy documents, presidential directives, national strategy documents, major legislation, and executive orders.

* HSDL Blog: On the Homefront: a synopsis of the most recent reports and issues in homeland security. The blog also includes a calendar of upcoming conferences and events.

* Blog Search: a single search across the best homeland security-related blogs and bloggers.

* Homeland Security Grants: where to find homeland security grants and grant-writing assistance.

* Books and Journals: pointers to commercial sources of homeland security-related research.

The Homeland Security Digital Library is a national treasure for academics, practitioners, citizens and others who work to “honor those who died that day.”


July 19, 2011

America Rising – one community at a time

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on July 19, 2011

I am fortunate to work with creative and committed public servants.  Today’s post was written by one such person, John L. Farrell, Deputy Managing Director, City of Philadelphia.

In this essay, John links prevention, de-radicalization and community development in a way I have not seen done before.

The usual caveat: The views are John’s and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.


US counterterrorism, military, and police forces are focused on executing tactics to disrupt activities that pose a threat to public safety.  These strategies have become increasingly effective and efficient, but they have a common shortcoming – they are all reactive.  The US lacks a strategy aimed at prevention – one that seeks to stop individuals from choosing an extremist path before they are fully committed.  However, the need for such efforts is recognized in the National Strategy for Counterterrorism (2011).

The Cities of Philadelphia and Chicago have developed engagement strategies that aim to empower residents to make their communities safer.  I believe that these strategies can be applied to the larger homeland security (HS) enterprise, and that HS systems can operate more effectively by involving underrepresented communities in their processes.

The Rising System

To improve HS, the US should develop a domestic coordination and engagement system (“Rising System”) to link federal, state, and local governments (collectively, “government”).  The process would begin with the identification of communities that pose potential threats to public safety.  Local government officials would then begin dialogue to gain a deeper understanding of the targeted community, led by a single point of contact (“coordinator”).  The coordinator would lead the development of strategies through which the government and the group could work together to address issues identified by the community.

Though a simple idea, this runs counter to the traditional theory of government as a service provider.  Instead of “big brother” knowing what is best for a community, the community would prioritize its needs, and the coordinator would facilitate the delivery of resources.  The goal of this process would be to build trust with the targeted community.  By listening to community members and delivering on promises, government representatives may be able to develop relationships that help these communities identify themselves as partners rather than adversaries.

This strategy would not demand a large amount of new funding, an important aspect for two reasons.  First, significant financial investments are not practical or feasible for cash-strapped governments across the US.  Second, directing money to specific groups could reward negative behaviors (i.e. if a group wants money from the government, they should threaten public safety).  Instead, coordinators would be responsible for identifying existing organizations and programs (both inside and outside of government) that provide the services necessary to address the community’s needs.  Focusing existing resources and implementing policy changes could prove to be small investments with a large return on improved security.

Local governments are the logical choice to lead dialogue because in many cases they already have ties to either the targeted groups, or second level connections through credible sources that could provide introductions.  To support local efforts, the federal government would need to develop structures to organize the resources of various agencies involved.  In Robert Deardorff’s thesis Countering Violent Extremism: the Challenge and the Opportunity, he suggests the federal government develop Regional Outreach and Operational Coordination Centers (ROOCC) to help coordinate engagement activities.  Essentially, Deardorff envisions ROOCC as housing a wide variety of specialists to conduct outreach missions within the US.  The ROOCC could serve as the overarching mechanism to unite local outreach representatives with federal support in Rising Systems.

Defining the Problem

The Rising System would be geared toward developing a true prevention element for the HS enterprise.  Current US HS practices are primarily focused on disruption, not prevention – intelligence analysts and investigators seek connections to learn about terror plots and stop them before implementation.  True prevention, however, occurs long before this stage.  True prevention involves stopping individuals from becoming extremists in the first place.

Nolan, Conti, and McDevitt suggest there is a direct correlation between the level of crime in a community and the degree to which members of that community are organized.  They place neighborhoods in one of four types – Strong (low crime and high organization), Vulnerable (low crime and low organization), Anomic (high crime and low organization) or Responsive (high crime and high organization).  The primary goal of the Rising System, then, would be twofold:  to help Anomic neighborhoods become Responsive, if not Strong; and for government to gain access to Strong and Responsive communities that may not trust them.

Conducted properly, the Rising System can also help the US address the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to counter the terrorist narrative.  By bringing communities such as American Muslims into a partnership with the government, the US will have subject matter experts to help refine how its message is conveyed.  As is the case with deradicalization strategies, the use of respected members of targeted groups to convey a message will be critical to this program’s success. These practices should ultimately lead to closer ties between US Muslims and the government, which will eventually work to debunk myths that the government is anti-Muslim.  Countering extremist ideology may help eliminate the flow of recruits to extremist organizations, which will contribute to their demise.

An engagement strategy that builds relationships can also help to reduce the impact of several of the antinomies that Philip Bobbitt describes in Terror and Consent, namely “the separation between the domestic and the international,” “the different rules we apply to law enforcement and intelligence operations,” and “the different reliance we place on secret as opposed to open sources.” Relationships with leaders in local communities can build trust, which may encourage them to volunteer sensitive information.  This may help to eliminate, or at least reduce, the need for more invasive monitoring methods.  In cases where more invasive monitoring is necessary, the volunteered information may provide the probable cause needed to justify such actions in a criminal or FISA court, alleviating a concern associated with intelligence collection  standards usually applied to foreign agents.

The Rising System will also help to inform government about how to best deploy resources in a difficult fiscal environment.  By conducting the proper analysis of where grievances exist, government can provide opportunities where citizens leverage existing resources to improve their standing, and contribute to American society.  Implementation of the Rising System may thus aid in the shift to what Bobbitt describes as a government in a “market state” rather than a “nation state.” As community members use these resources and contribute to their neighborhood, they may also take ownership of their neighborhood, hopefully making them less likely to shield threats to security.

Whom Would the Rising System Benefit?

Those who stand to gain the most from such a program are the members of the targeted communities.  They will see an improved level of service in areas that may be described as underserved, poor, or forgotten.  Local elected officials will benefit, as their knowledge of the community will play an important role in lending legitimacy to the program.  A Rising System’s success will in turn lend local elected officials political capital as they bring improved quality of life to their community.

The HS enterprise in general will benefit, but certain organizations may oppose the idea.  In theory, everyone in the public safety and HS realms benefits from anything that reduces the number of threats.  However, the proposal itself could be intimidating to some agencies, as it will force them to either evolve their missions, or reduce the need for their services.  There will always be a need for enforcement, intelligence sharing, and most other aspects of the HS enterprise.  However, the reduced demand for service may also result in reduced levels of funding, a proposition that few agencies appreciate.  This may also be true for those receiving funding from the federal government that is not community-based, as a change in strategy may interfere with their funding streams.

A strong opposition for this process could come from civil libertarians.  They may be able to argue that the Rising System could lead communities to conduct witch-hunts for suspects, especially those who they may want to ostracize for reasons other than public safety.  The judiciary would need to be properly briefed on the process, and help create safeguards to prevent relationships from being exploited in this manner.

The Next Steps to Implement the Rising System

Versions of the Rising System are already being implemented at a local level in Philadelphia and Chicago, but without the connection to the federal government.  Philadelphia’s PhillyRising Collaborative is a geographically-based system for coordinating the services of the City government and outside organizations. Similarly, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) has conducted local coordination and outreach since 1993. PhillyRising and CAPS both rely on engagement and citizen participation to drive change in troubled neighborhoods, and have demonstrated success in their respective jurisdictions.

Assuming Philadelphia and/or Chicago were used as a pilot, the next immediate steps would be for the federal government to develop a formal support mechanism.  This could be done through the establishment of Deardorff’s ROOCC, but could also be less formal.  It could simply involve a high-level executive from the federal government conducting regular meetings with local representatives from PhillyRising and CAPS to gather information and coordinate resources.

There is a great need for this program to have support from the highest levels.  Though the operations are predicated on a bottom-up approach for determining strategies for each targeted community, support from the top is necessary to make implementation successful.

Outcomes of a Successful Implementation

In a successful implementation, governments at all levels would establish new relationships in communities where they previously had little access.  These relationships would inform civil servants and elected officials in a way that would make government more responsive to citizens’ needs.  While data analysis can provide a baseline for certain factors in a community, it cannot always determine which issues are the most significant to the everyday lives of residents.

If the Rising System were implemented correctly: government at all levels would be more responsive; communities would build capacity for assuring internal public safety; partnerships would develop sustainable solutions to local problems that produce opportunities for residents; governments would enhance intelligence capabilities; and governments would utilize resources more efficiently by gaining a better understanding of where funding is needed most.  The Rising System could lead governments to operate smarter, faster, and better:

Smarter Government – The Rising System would encourage agency representatives to meet regularly to identify overlapping problems and develop and deliver collaborative solutions to long-term, complex issues.  As officials adapt to serving residents in this manner, the Rising System would create a means for right-sizing resources as well as agency structures.

Faster Government – By improving front-line coordination among officials, service delivery would become more efficient.  As the system progresses, integration of technology systems would facilitate information-sharing, joint planning, and delivery of services.

Better Government – The Rising System would shift the determination for success from strictly agency-based measures to actual outcomes seen in targeted communities.  The Rising System would create a mechanism for regional accountability for public safety, and help define the public safety role of organizations outside of the traditional HS field.  On an external level, the Rising System would reform the governments’ relationship with targeted communities by fostering involvement by local groups to help continue progress.

While a successful implementation would bring many positive aspects, the relationship developed between the government and the community should also involve a degree of debate.  Discussion surrounding strategies, perceptions, and messaging is a healthy exercise that can lead to the improvement of government operations.  This is particularly true in the case of the “narrative” that the 9/11 Commission suggested is needed to counter recruitment efforts by terrorist organizations.

Measuring Success

There are many statistics that could be used to determine the success or failure of such an endeavor, and each stakeholder would likely have their own metrics to determine success.  Agencies such as the FBI, for instance, may evaluate success by the number of tips received from the targeted community, or the number of plots they are able to disrupt due to such information.  The local police department could measure success by the change in crime rate for the targeted community, as is the case for the Philadelphia Police Department’s evaluation of PhillyRising. Residents or members of the community may determine success by their perception of their quality of life, something that may need to be determined in a survey.

There are some factors that may be useful to evaluate for all stakeholders involved.  The first is the number of potential recruits who are dissuaded from taking an extremist path.  The number of people stopped shows that the program is credible and effective, and benefits every group involved.  It is a statistic that will also impact almost all of the others mentioned – if FBI does not have to disrupt a plot, no crime was committed, and the community can feel safer having that person as a productive member of society, rather than a fringe element determined to attack it.  A principal difficulty may come in measuring this number beyond those affected by direct intervention.

The Rising System would also track changes to the relationship between community members and agencies.  This may be measured by factors such as increases in the community’s faith that their requests will not only be heard, but completed to the greatest extent possible.  These responses, though difficult to quantify, will determine an initial acceptance of the Rising System by the local community.  Their acceptance is absolutely necessary for the positive changes in the targeted area to occur and continue.

Ultimately, a successful neighborhood will be one where the Rising System’s coordinated approach is no longer needed – the community members will have taken over the process themselves, and developed relationships with the government that no longer require a central coordinator.

We already know that existing US HS measures to disrupt terrorist/public safety activities are not always successful.  While our tactics for operations have become outstanding, they rely on the premise of detecting a threat before it is executed.  Because knowledge is inherently limited, this strategy cannot always be successful.  However, by developing a strategy that prevents at least some plots from reaching the point of execution, public safety officials may become more effective by focusing resources on a smaller number of threats.  Violent crime and terrorist activities in the US may never end, but by bringing more people into the government’s decision making process, and by providing more opportunities to those who may otherwise slip between the cracks, the US can develop more friends than enemies.


July 17, 2011

The High Priesthood of WMD Analysts

Filed under: WMD — by Alan Wolfe on July 17, 2011

I was attracted to this recent Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article that discussed the establishment of a Master of Science in Strategic Studies in Weapons of Mass Destruction at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. This course, established in the Department of Criminology, will teach Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, but not anyone else, at least at the moment.

With help from government threat analysts and federal law enforcement, IUP criminologist Dennis Giever created the Master of Science in Strategic Studies in Weapons of Mass Destruction. The 30-credit, multi-year course focuses on worst-case scenarios: radiological “dirty” bombs, power grid disruptions, crippling biological attacks on food and water supplies.

“It’s not going to be open enrollment (or) traditional students,” Giever said. “You worry about whether you might be teaching the wrong person this stuff.”

At first, the FBI will select students from within its ranks, though Giever wants to open it to other law enforcement agencies. Rather than traditional tuition, agencies will contract with the school, paying about $300,000 a year for groups of 15 to 20 full-time students, according to documents submitted to the board of governors of the State System of Higher Education.

Now on one hand, I think it’s great that a public university would have the interest in developing a program of study about WMD. It’s difficult to evaluate the goodness of such an effort without seeing the curricula or reference material, but one can only encourage the desire to educate any group about this topic. And if I were offered $300,000 a year to teach a small number of students about WMDs, oh, I’d have to jump at that opportunity.

On the other hand, I have to wonder about the appropriateness and sustainability of establishing a master’s program instead of a few courses that might be inserted into a criminology or a national security studies program.

It’s my observation that the U.S. government has this tendency to segregate WMD issues away from the general mainstream of homeland security and national security agendas. Because of the unconventional nature of the weapons involved (nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons) and the technical nature of the response to any use of these weapons, it’s as if the traditional homeland security/national security professional doesn’t want to address them. These are “special” topics that only the High Anointed can understand and address. In no small part, one can see this in the discussion about nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism.

We see arms control experts and people who design nuclear weapons talking about the threat of nuclear war instead of those military officers and government civilians who deal with conventional warfare issues every day. We hear from nuclear physicists and (again) the arms control experts about the threat of nuclear terrorism rather than those people responsible for combating terrorism every day. Well, that’s not entirely true. Every now and then you hear from military leaders and counter-terrorism directors about the “deadly threat” of WMD, but it’s largely relegated to rhetoric for speeches. The discussion and agenda is controlled by the High Priesthood of WMD.

This is not a good thing.

We do need to discuss the possible (if not improbable) military use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons on future battlefields, if only to understand the potential outcome of state conflicts. We do need to discuss the possible (if not improbable) terrorist use of chemical, biological, or radiological hazards, if only to understand how local and state first responders can avoid being overwhelmed and unprepared by such an event.

But the key is context.

How we address “WMD” in a domestic setting is quite different than how we address “WMD” on a battlefield, but the key is how we integrate the response to that threat within the context of homeland defense/civil support and major combat operations. It’s not to say, “oh, hey, there’s a unique threat, call Sam the CBRN guy to tell us what to do.”

We probably don’t need a Master of Science program of study on WMD. We certainly should not be overly concerned about “teaching the wrong person this stuff.” The information is out there. We do need every college or university offering a national security or homeland security program to include a few mandatory courses (not electives) on how their community addresses the threat of WMD. Understanding that it’s just another hazard within the context of a larger discipline is more important than controlling information (that cannot be controlled anyway).

But I’m really disappointed with the professor’s closing comments.

The goal of the degree program, Giever said, is obscurity. The best plan results in nothing happening.

How ridiculous. The goal of education is to inform, to enlighten, to spread knowledge. Obscurity only limits our ability to understand, especially about this issue. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” No amount of education will prevent states from developing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, or prevent terrorists from considering the use of chemical, biological or radiological hazards. But maybe we can, through some continuing education, reduce the hype and rhetoric around “WMDs” and actually bring some sanity into the discussion.


July 15, 2011

Text, subtext, and terrorism

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 15, 2011

The purpose of strategy — sez me — is to generate comparative advantage to deal with uncertainty.  The source of uncertainty — enemy, adversary, competitor, lover, child, weather, markets, or the innate complexity of the universe — is one influence on choosing a strategy.  But in many cases strategy is less about a specific source of uncertainty and much more a matter of capacity and opportunity.  We choose to do what we can do.

As of June 29 the United States has a new National Strategy for Counterterrorism.  This document replaces — or perhaps builds upon or clarifies or updates — the 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.  There is considerable continuity.

The 2006 document states:

Today, the principal terrorist enemy confronting the United States is a transnational movement of extremist organizations, networks, and individuals – and their state and non-state supporters – which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends. This transnational movement is not monolithic.  Although al-Qaida functions as the movement’s vanguard and remains, along with its affiliate groups and those inspired by them, the most dangerous present manifestation of the enemy, the movement is not controlled by any single individual, group, or state.  What unites the movement is a common vision, a common set of ideas about the nature and destiny of the world, and a common goal of ushering in totalitarian rule.  What unites the movement is the ideology of oppression, violence, and hate. Although its brutal tactics and mass murder of Muslims have undermined its appeal, al-Qa‘ida has had some success in rallying individuals and other militant groups to its cause. Where its ideology does resonate, the United States faces an evolving threat from groups and individuals that accept al-Qa‘ida’s agenda, whether through formal alliance, loose affiliation, or mere inspiration.

The new document states:

The preeminent security threat to the United States continues to be from al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and adherents… In addition to plotting and carrying out specific attacks, al-Qa‘ida seeks to inspire a broader conflict against the United States and many of our allies and partners. To rally individuals and groups to its cause, al-Qa‘ida preys on local grievances and propagates a self-serving historical and political account. It draws on a distorted interpretation of Islam to justify the murder of Muslim and non-Muslim innocents. Countering this ideology—which has been rejected repeatedly and unequivocally by people of all faiths around the world—is an essential element of our strategy…  Adherence to al-Qa‘ida’s ideology may not require allegiance to al-Qa‘ida, the organization. Individuals who sympathize with or actively support al-Qa‘ida may be inspired to violence and can pose an ongoing threat, even if they have little or no formal contact with al-Qa‘ida.

There is a source of uncertainty, tension, and conflict that we call al-Qa’ida.  We also acknowledge important aspects of uncertainty beyond al-Qa’ida.  These relate to historical, ideological, economic, political and religious complexities that al-Qa’ida, its affiliates and adherents draw upon and can exploit.

Neither the 2006 strategy nor the new strategy give much detailed attention to these deeper sources of uncertainty.   This reflects, I perceive, both a lack of consensus as to the nature of the deeper uncertainties and a lack of confidence in the ability of the government of the United States to positively engage these profound complexities.

So we do what we can do — or hope we can do — including:

  • Protect the American People, Homeland, and American Interests,
  • Disrupt, Degrade, Dismantle, and Defeat al-Qa’ida and Its Affiliates and Adherents,
  • Prevent Terrorist Development, Acquisition, and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction,
  • Eliminate Safehavens,
  • Build Enduring Counterterrorism Partnerships and Capabilities,
  • Degrade Links between al-Qa’ida and its Affiliates and Adherents, and
  • Deprive Terrorists of their Enabling Means.

Each of these bullets are subtitles within the new strategy and each receive a long paragraph’s explanation. These are ambitious, difficult, but practical and measurable goals.  Choices are made.  Priorities established.  These each and all strike me as reasonable.  Elsewhere in the document there is a shout-out to resilience in case these efforts fail.

In the midst of the prior seven is the following goal with its own long paragraph.

Counter al-Qa‘ida Ideology and Its Resonance and Diminish the Specific Drivers of Violence that al-Qa‘ida Exploits. This Strategy prioritizes U.S. and partner efforts to undercut al-Qa‘ida’s fabricated legitimization of violence and its efforts to spread its ideology. As we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa, al-Qa‘ida’s calls for perpetual violence to address longstanding grievances have met a devastating rebuke in the face of nonviolent mass movements that seek solutions through expanded individual rights. Along with the majority of people across all religious and cultural traditions, we aim for a world in which al-Qa‘ida is openly and widely rejected by all audiences as irrelevant to their aspirations and concerns, a world where al-Qa‘ida’s ideology does not shape perceptions of world and local events, inspire violence, or serve as a recruiting tool for the group or its adherents. Although achieving this objective is likely to require a concerted long-term effort, we must retain a focus on addressing the near-term challenge of preventing those individuals already on the brink from embracing al-Qa‘ida ideology and resorting to violence. We will work closely with local and global partners, inside and outside governments, to discredit al-Qa‘ida ideology and reduce its resonance. We will put forward a positive vision of engagement with foreign publics and support for universal rights that demonstrates that the United States aims to build while al-Qa‘ida would only destroy. We will apply focused foreign and development assistance abroad. At the same time, we will continue to assist, engage, and connect communities to increase their collective resilience abroad and at home. These efforts strengthen bulwarks against radicalization, recruitment, and mobilization to violence in the name of al-Qa‘ida and will focus in particular on those drivers that we know al-Qa‘ida exploits.

The intent of this paragraph is to move beyond treating symptoms and get to the heart of the problem.  With the possible exception of the sentence underlined (my underline), does this policy stance strike you as much more defensive than offensive?  Is this the sort of problem we mostly have to defend against and wait out?

Maybe the offense is being handled outside of CT per se. In explaining the new strategy John Brennan cautioned, “Our strategy recognizes that our counterterrorism efforts clearly benefit from—and at times depend on—broader foreign policy efforts, even as our CT strategy focuses more narrowly on preventing terrorist attacks against our interests, at home and abroad.”

Today Hillary Clinton begins an eleven-day round-the-world tour.  She will visit Turkey, Greece, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and China and engage in plenty of multilateral meetings along the way.  Writing in The Guardian Simon Tisdall offers, “But paradoxically, this diplomatic tour de force may unintentionally highlight the apparently inexorable decline of American power and influence.”

In this context, it is relevant that Public Diplomacy is on the GAO list of High Risks and Challenges.   This means, in my dictionary, its a tough and important job with a very uneven track record of success.

In the Department of State’s Congressional Budget Justification for Public Diplomacy we read:

The FY 2012 request includes a $6.2 million dollar investment for the creation of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication (CSCC) which is tasked with leading a U. S. Government wide rapid guidance and communication effort to counter violent extremism.  As stated in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the CSCC will coordinate, orient, and inform whole-of-government communications activities targeted against violent extremism to audiences abroad.  The QDDR also acknowledges that the Center will work closely with the Secretary‘s Coordinator for Counterterrorism or its proposed successor Bureau of Counterterrorism, as well as the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice‘s National Security Division, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies responsible for information programs related to counterterrorism.

Clearly the CSCC is only one small part of how we might put forward a “positive vision of engagement”.  But I will note the last time I heard, one predator drone cost $4.5 million.  The new reaper drones cost about $13 million each. Perhaps even in these tough times the CSCC might be worth an investment equivalent to two predators or even one reaper?  Apples and oranges some will complain.  Apple seeds and dragon’s teeth I am inclined to reply.

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