Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 17, 2011

Constitution Day and homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 17, 2011

On September 17, 1787 the US Constitution — without the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments — was adopted and signed by the Philadelphia Convention.  By July 1788 eleven of the states had adopted the new constitution.

North Carolina adopted the Constitution in late 1789 and Rhode Island joined the system, by a narrow vote, in May 1790. Each had waited for adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Unlike many national constitutions, the US document is short, sets out a basic structure, a few simple rules, and is silent on most details.  As such American constitutional principles have been an effective attractor of meaning for a complex adaptive system.

In another setting I have  recommended a homeland security oath that gives primacy to the Constitution:

I resolve to fulfill according to my ability and judgment this public commitment:

I will preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States of America.

I will apply all that I know to preserve and protect the people of the United States; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will increase my knowledge of threat, vulnerability, and consequence; seeking to deal responsibly and realistically with risk.

I will increase my knowledge of collaboration, deliberation, decision, and action; seeking to prevent harm and strengthen resilience.

I will honor the relationships that emerge from shared learning and doing.

I will embrace change and variability as susceptible to understanding, imagination, and creativity.

I will avoid mistaking personal preference for considered judgment and will daily endeavor to strengthen the humility, knowledge, awareness, and discipline whereby I may contribute, along with others, to a true and reasoned capacity to act with regard to what is good or bad for humankind.

The homeland we seek to secure has emerged from the Constitution. The homeland’s physical aspects have changed dramatically over time. What has largely persisted is the set of principles, simple rules, and relationships set out in the Constitution. The founders put in place effective processes for a certain sort of coming-to-be.

The profession of homeland security should not impede the ability of the people to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Fundamental to being a homeland security professional in the United States should be to do no harm to the Constitution.

September 16, 2011

Resilience: The promise and the platitude

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 16, 2011

Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center, President Obama said,

These past 10 years underscores the bonds between all Americans.  We have not succumbed to suspicion, nor have we succumbed to mistrust.  After 9/11, to his great credit, President Bush made clear what we reaffirm today:  The United States will never wage war against Islam or any other religion.  Immigrants come here from all parts of the globe.  And in the biggest cities and the smallest towns, in schools and workplaces, you still see people of every conceivable race and religion and ethnicity -– all of them pledging allegiance to the flag, all of them reaching for the same American dream –- e pluribus unum, out of many, we are one.

These past 10 years tell a story of our resilience. The Pentagon is repaired, and filled with patriots working in common purpose.  Shanksville is the scene of friendships forged between residents of that town, and families who lost loved ones there.  New York — New York remains the most vibrant of capitals of arts and industry and fashion and commerce.  Where the World Trade Center once stood, the sun glistens off a new tower that reaches towards the sky.

Our people still work in skyscrapers.  Our stadiums are still filled with fans, and our parks full of children playing ball.  Our airports hum with travel, and our buses and subways take millions where they need to go.  And families sit down to Sunday dinner, and students prepare for school.  This land pulses with the optimism of those who set out for distant shores, and the courage of those who died for human freedom.

Saturday in his weekly radio address, speaking of the continuing threat of terrorism, the President said, “no matter what comes our way, as a resilient nation, we will carry on.”


We may be a resilient people, but after huge wildfires in Texas,  killer tornadoes in Joplin and Tuscaloosa, extraordinary flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and much more, the Disaster Relief Fund is just about depleted.  The worst of hurricane season is probably still ahead.  California’s wildfire season is just ramping up.  I wonder when the San Andreas, New Madrid, or another past-due fault will shift.

While we may be resilient, so — we are told — is our adversary.  Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Matt Olsen, the new Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center said,

Al-Qaida, its affiliates and adherents around the world, as well as other terrorist organizations, continue to pose a significant threat to our country. This threat is resilient and adaptive and will persist for the foreseeable future. America‘s campaign against terrorism did not end with the mission at Bin Ladin‘s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May. A decade after the September 11th attacks, we remain at war with al-Qaida and face an evolving threat from its affiliates and adherents.

A variety of reports tell us there has been no resolution of the “credible” threat to Washington DC and New York announced in the days just before 9/11.   But on Sunday we did evidently kill Abu Hafs al-Shahri, a Saudi Arabian national who was chief of operations for al-Qaeda inside Pakistan.


According to Wednesday’s Report Regarding the Causes of the April 20, 2010 Macondo Well Blowout, resiliency was not readily found in the design, operations, or response to last years explosion, fire, and oil spill.

The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last minute changes to plans, failure to observe andrespond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon.

Well… at least the BP stock price has been resilient.  Transocean and Haliburton too.


Resilience was once a radical reframing of homeland security strategy. Less than five years ago, a colleague passionately critiqued resilience as a dangerous, defeatist concept.  I argued resilience is how we productively work with uncertainty.

Arguments over definition (and implications) can still be heard, but resilience is — already — making the transition from provocation to platitude.    In too many speeches, editorials, memos, and blogs resilience has joined freedom, equality, love, and courage as meaning whatever the author wishes it to mean, especially if the author is advocating rigid, inflexible, and non-resilient notions.

I am reminded of Orwell’s essay on political language, “In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”

When authors of platitudes are allowed to persist, their audience shares responsibility. Meaningful principles devolve into platitudes through unquestioning, self-indulgent, unthinking consumption. Orwell again, “Our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

As an antidote for foolish thinking about resilience, please give careful and critical attention to three recent considerations of resilience.  Each includes its own platitudes or worse, but when thoughtfully consumed each promises greater precision in how we think about and practice resilience.

Community Resilience Task Force Recommendations (2011), Homeland Security Advisory Council, Department of Homeland Security. “The  Task Force identified an urgent need for clear articulation of the relationships and dependencies between resilience and other homeland security  efforts—particularly preparedness and risk reduction.   Clarification of these relationships is crucial both to build shared understanding across diverse stakeholder communities and to motivate action throughout the Nation.”

Building Community Resilience to Disasters (2011) RAND and the US Department of Health and Human Services. “Community resilience entails the ongoing and developing capacity of the community to account for its vulnerabilities and develop capabilities that aid that community in (1) preventing, withstanding, and mitigating the stress of a health incident; (2) recovering in a way that restores the community to a state of self-sufficiency and at least the same level of health and social functioning after a health incident; and (3) using knowledge from a past response to strengthen the community’s ability to withstand the next health incident.”

Key Trends Driving Global Business Resilience and Risk (2011) IBM Global Technology Services. “Business resilience refers to the ability of enterprises to adapt to a continuously changing business environment. Resilient organizations are able to maintain continuous operations and protect their market share in the face of disruptions such as natural or man-made disasters. Business resilience planning is distinguished from enterprise risk management (ERM) in that it is more likely to build capacity to seize opportunities created by unexpected events. Another difference is that while ERM can be implemented as a management capability, an integrated business resilience strategy requires the engagement of everyone in the organization, and often means a change in corporate culture to instill awareness of risk.”

Bureaucratic writing is innately banal.  Authors — including yours truly — try to gin up with length or style an authority not achieved in substance.  Often we are busy trying to paper over unresolved conflicts and complexities.   This results, Orwell explains, in two recurring faults: “First, staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.”

The three documents listed above are not the worst examples of bureaucratic writing, but they share the sins of their species.  To nurture your critical reading with rich imagery and exacting precision, I suggest, You Think That’s Bad, a recent collection of Jim Shepard’s fiction.  Between each of the bureaucratic reports read at least one of the ten short stories.  Many in this collection struggle with issues of resilience.  I especially recommend, The Netherlands Lives with Water.

September 15, 2011

What Next? A Path Forward for Homeland Security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 15, 2011

Much has been written, debated, blogged, and discussed this week on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and whether the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was a success. Many have observed this time as a somber occasion to remember the atrocities of that day.  Some have touted the successes that have kept the nation from being attacked on such a scale in the last ten years.  Others have noted deficiencies and failures in our homeland security efforts  – gaps that leave us vulnerable. Still others have called for the dismantling of the Department of Homeland Security, viewing its creation as a mistake.

While DHS may not be the perfect agency (though I would challenge anyone to find the perfect agency or company), it has grown significantly from its early days.  As an agency that had to set itself up during crisis, establish protocols and operate during its creation, and chart new territory under duress and uncertainty, DHS should be given credit for its efforts.  That’s not to excuse its failures and gaffes along the way, but I think most of those individuals who chose to go to the agency during its first several years deserve credit for taking on an impossible task.

So where does DHS go from here?  In the calmness of ten years after 9/11 (and 16 years after the Oklahoma City bombing), the agency and our nation’s homeland security efforts are at a crossroads. Threats remain but the Al Qaeda that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks is a shell of its former self,  with Osama Bin Laden and other leaders dead.   The fear of terrorist threat that caused stress and uneasiness in the American populace has been replaced with stress and uneasiness of unemployment, economic crisis, and debt ceilings.   Seemingly unlimited funding and resources dedicated to protecting our homeland are dwindling and tough choices have to be made.

To make those choices requires recognition of some basic facts:

  • Wherever one may be on the DHS-like spectrum, it has a mission we cannot ignore. Threats may not seem as vibrant as they did on September 12, 2011, but it would be foolish to think they are nonexistent.   To quote Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
  • The threat(s) are evolving and ever-changing, requiring our security efforts and requirements to evolve.  Nimbleness and flexibility, coupled with non-bureaucratic imagination, are key to our future homeland security efforts. Very few people would have believed that terrorists would fly planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/10/11, even when the intelligence suggested otherwise.
  • Security demands sacrifice, trust, and a bit of a thick-skinned as inevitably it will require us to change our perceptions and practices. The sacrifices we have had to make to fly are evidence of this necessity.
  • New generations and thinkers are key to future efforts.  We cannot let the policymakers and thinkers rely on those wedded to the past homeland security efforts to lead our efforts.  History and experience must be at the table, but should innovative and imaginative ways for addressing our homeland security efforts.
  • So long as the U.S. is a global leader, there will always be a need for homeland security.
  • Reactive responses only address yesterday’s threats and doesn’t prepare us for tomorrow’s.

Recognizing these facts and that priorities may and should change based on a risk-based threat-driven approach to homeland security,  where should our homeland security focus be in the coming years?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Cybersecurity.   While many people treat this as a new threat, it is one that has existed for decades.  It just seems to be more prolific now that our entire lives are wired and online.   There is no way to make cyberthreats, cybercrimes, and  cyberattacks disappear completely, but efforts to mitigate and at least secure our most sensitive systems has to be a priority.
  • National Unified Interoperability.   This is probably the biggest failure of our homeland security efforts.  We lack a system, should our nation be attacked, for our first responders and preventers to communicate with one another. Politics has played the largest role in delaying this effort, which is unfortunate given its importance.
  • Leaner, Dedicated Grants.   The grant process is one that has always been under scrutiny while also preserved because of political interest.   There is a need for a robust grant system to ensure that communities have the assets and resources to respond, especially as they will be the first on the scene in crisis.  Expect the grant system to shrink and, hopefully, be more targeted to addressing specific  threats and needs.  Hopefully, as it does so, policymakers will not ignore important threats to our rail, transportation, and port systems.   Expect more accountability to ensure that fraud and abuse isn’t rampant.
  • Congressional reform.  The need for Congress to reform its own efforts on homeland security, remains a priority.  The fact that the two homeland security committees must take a piecemeal approach to legislative efforts prevents effective comprehensive oversight.  While some Committees may always have an interest and need to be involved in some legislation, the current jurisdiction of the authorizing Committees leave DHS with adequate unified supervision.
  • Border Security.   Border security has turned into an issue that crosses homeland security and law enforcement efforts.  Anecdotes of attempted terrorist crossings are pulled out to explain the need for border security, but much of the debate has focused on illegal immigration and violence along the Southern Border.  Decisions will need to be made as to whether border security is a criminal law enforcement issue or a homeland/national security issue.   Driving that determination will be a need to define terrorist threats.  Is it based on ideology? Do drug gangs perpetrating violence and threats against American citizens count as terrorism?
  • Recovery. Should recovery be within DHS’ mission?  Is disaster relief a homeland security issue or is there reason to take those efforts and separate them? Expect that debate, along with the debate of where FEMA belongs, to continue.
  • Lone Wolf.    With Al Qaeda less organized than the past, the potential for a lone wolf attack is great.  Driven by ideology and/or hate, lone wolves do not necessarily give us much warning.   This threat, while maybe not able to replicate the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks,  can severely harm the U.S.
  • Assessing Who is a Threat.   With the Department’s announcement recently of a trusted traveler program, we are seeing movement away from treating everyone with skepticism to trying to focus our efforts on those who pose the greatest threat.   The emergence of more risk-based approaches can be expected, especially in areas where the public interacts with DHS and other security entities.
  • Unpredictability.   If terrorists know us and our security practices, they know our vulnerabilities. Expect more discussion on unpredictable activity by DHS and the government to prevent this from happening.

These are only a few items that will, in my opinion, be a part of our path forward on homeland security.   Whether the government embraces flexibility in security and focuses on improving our efforts will largely define how, when, and/or if we are attacked again.



September 13, 2011

Contagion of Fear

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Alan Wolfe on September 13, 2011

So we successfully made it through the tenth anniversary of 9/11  without “anything coming in over the water, chemical, biological, radiological.”

Better safe than sorry? Perhaps, but the degree of over-preparation cost time and resources that aren’t as plentiful as before. There are continued questions as to the adequacy of our nation’s preparedness to biological terrorism, fueled on ever more by the latest Hollywood thriller, “Contagion,” where a new deadly, contagious virus that infects a billion people and kills million before the end of the movie.

There’s been a lot of conjecture as to how “real” this movie plot was, whether a virus today could cause a global pandemic of that scale. From scanning the news articles on the net, it seems that many public health officials are quite willing to suggest that this is a realistic concept, in as much as there are viruses that can be highly infectious, that there are viruses that jump species, and that human contact and sneezing can be a source of transmission from person to person.

However, they don’t seem to confirm the idea that a virus that has all of the worst possible characteristics could break out tomorrow and infect a billion people within a few months. As one example, the movie’s virus (MEV-1) had a 20 percent mortality rate; the so-called “Spanish flu” had a 2.5 percent mortality rate.

But hey, it’s just Hollywood, right? You need to move the plot along, and what could cause more stress than an airborne virus that is highly infectious, has a high mortality rate, and doesn’t burn out like other viruses?

What’s perhaps more despicable are the people who might take advantage of the public’s fear of biological diseases,  like the authors of the “World at Risk” report:

“Hoping to capitalize on the movie, Talent and former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., the chair of the WMD commission, plan to release a new report that reiterates the threat of biological attack and grades the nation on its preparations to withstand it. Previewing the report, the former senators said they worried especially about cuts in security spending, cuts felt already by states and localities that would be on the front lines of responding.

Talent has been warning former colleagues in Congress not to let down the nation’s guard. His message: The capacity to withstand attack is a form of deterrence because terrorists would choose only targets where they could inflict maximum damage.

Talent worries he’s not getting through. “On the Hill, they’re putting an enormous amount of energy into denying reality,” he said. “To a great extent, we’re just hoping it doesn’t happen.”

Graham, who headed the Intelligence Committee during an 18-year Senate career, said the WMD report was likely to reflect success in securing nuclear weapons and radioactive materials around the world.

“I don’t think we’ve made that progress on the biological side,” he said. “Some of the most powerful pathogens are available in nature. There are others that can be manufactured in the lab, and there are thousands of people around the world who know how to weaponize them.”

This article also features Dr. Tara O’Toole, director of DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate, lamenting the deep cuts in research that the House of Representatives is proposing.

“It’s really difficult before somebody’s had their heart attack to get them to think about their cholesterol or go on a diet,” said O’Toole, a physician. “It’s really difficult before we see what a genuine bioattack would be like to continuously focus on biodefense.”

Of course, one could make the same argument about preparing for a Texas-sized asteroid from impacting the Earth, preventing terrorists from taking control of a Russian submarine and nuking the United States, or responding to a band of disgruntled American soldiers who have stolen nerve agent-filled rockets and are holding a US city ransom.

There are estimates that the US government has spent up to $60 billion on biodefense efforts, depending on how you count the federal funding. That sounds like a lot of money, but as homeland security analyst Randall Larsen notes, “The question is whether it has been spent properly.”

I don’t question how the funds were spent as much as the lack of strategic thinking and unrealistic expectations of what the biodefense efforts should accomplish. The federal government is unwilling to fully fund Project BioWatch to populate every major city with biological sensors and to fully fund Project BioShield to develop vaccines and other countermeasures for every dangerous biological disease and potential emerging disease. So why are we attempting half measures today? There are just too many other health concerns out there, such as the annual influenza season, while medical care costs continue to soar.

The good news behind the “Contagion” story could be the boost to the reputation (and hopefully, the budget) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whose professionals were the real heroes of the film. It wasn’t an Army colonel from Fort Detrick (“Outbreak”), it wasn’t a single brilliant researcher in an isolated lab (“Legend”), and it wasn’t a spiritual old woman in a Nebraska farm (“The Stand”). People don’t generally become infected by contagious diseases without direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact. And the Army isn’t going to quarantine cities and shoot people who are streaming out of the “hot zones” in panic.

Along that line of thought, Very Serious People shouldn’t be using Hollywood films to promote fear and to generate more funds for bioterrorism efforts without offering a strategic plan, metrics to determine how well the money is spent, and without consideration of all the other challenges our nation has to face.

As Winston Churchill noted, “Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we have to think.”


September 12, 2011

Contagion the new Top Gun?

Filed under: Biosecurity,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 12, 2011

The 1986 film “Top Gun” about the Navy’s elite fighter pilots proved to be a huge boon to Navy recruitment.  In fact, recruiters set up tables in the lobbies of movie theaters to sign up people while they were still reeling from the Tom Cruise-induced (helped in no small party by Kelly McGillis) adrenaline rush.  In  addition to reaping the benefits, the military was heavily involved in the production of the film itself.

This past weekend “Contagion” opened up at the box office.  It includes an array of Hollywood stars dealing with an outbreak of a deadly flu strain.  In the past, movies based on bio-hazards rarely were fact-based and almost never invoked a serious response from the public health community.  According to the CDC, this one is different:

"On September 9, Warner Brothers will be releasing the movie Contagion, a fictional drama that portrays CDC and other U.S. and international partners responding to an emerging infectious disease outbreak. We are reaching out to you in an effort to take advantage of this opportunity to provide accurate and potentially life-saving information to the public about how to prepare for a public health emergency.

When asked to respond to the inevitable question about the plot of the movie, “Could this really happen?” CDC is compelled to say,"Not only could it happen, CDC scientists are working 24/7 to find out if it’s happening right now.”

CDC scientists were involved in the film’s production and they are reaching out to promote flu preparedness and educate the public about the CDC’s vital missions.

Wouldn’t it be great if the public health profession received a boost(er) because of a popular film?  While recruiting for public health programs may not reach the Navy’s Top Gun-fueled peak, increased awareness of not only the CDC but also state and local efforts could help persuade decision makers not to balance budgets on the backs of these vital programs.

(h/t to Bill Cummings for the CDC quote, delivered through Eric Holdeman’s “Disaster Zone” blog.)


Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 12, 2011

Is it over yet?

A steadily increasing crescendo of 9/11-related retrospectives reached a closing act yesterday. While the power of “10” obviously carries powerful meaning when used to measure anniversaries, I can’t help but think that much of the focus on the specifics of that day and the unfolding of events thereafter should have taken place years earlier so as to begin thinking of the future.

Fellow bloggers on HLS Watch have done an admirable job highlighting the deficiencies in popular coverage of this anniversary, as well as reflecting on and tracking the solemn ceremonies marking the occasion.  At some point, perhaps beginning today, it may be appropriate to consider the questions: so what and what comes next?

So what?

Or put more delicately, did life really fundamentally change for everyone ten years ago?  Should we and are we ready to move on?

I do not wish to insult those who lost their lives on 9/11 or in the wars that followed, nor the memories cherished by their loved ones. Yet this massive outpouring of attention for one particular event that happened 10 years ago stands in stark contrast to other national traumas.  For instance, according to the Washington Post’s George Will, 10 years after Pearl Harbor there was comparatively little national attention paid to the anniversary of the attack that brought the United States into a world-spanning conflict that required the full mobilization of the nation and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

This is not to suggest the loss of that day should not be honored.  The trauma was all too real, and scars on the national psyche will remain for some time to come.  Those living in New York City and Washington, DC in particular live under the constant dark clouds of the threat of additional attacks.

Yet outside of those personally touched by the attacks and a very narrow slice of our society that works and lives in the military, intelligence, law enforcement, and other security-related fields, how much did life change because of 9/11?  A few additional inconvenient security measures at airports and borders aside, the daily lives of most citizens would be similar today if the attacks had never occurred.

So was 9/11 an inflection point in U.S. history or simply an event large enough to focus the entire nation’s attention on a threat that had existed for years?  The World Trade Center was attacked in 1993 with the intent of toppling one tower into the other.  U.S. embassies were bombed and a warship almost sunk.  A small group of self-radicalized American citizens attacked a symbol of the federal government in Oklahoma City.  Until 9/11, the threat of terrorism was persistent but not deemed large enough to reorient our entire strategic outlook.  Were we under-reacting eleven years ago or overreacting this past decade? Can we find the sweet spot?

What comes next?

The predominate memes since 9/11 have fluctuated with time: the worst is yet to come, most likely in the form of WMDs…obviously Iraq had a hand in this attack…a worldwide jihadist movement is arrayed against the U.S….it is only a matter of time before IEDs become a staple of the homeland threat……planes, planes, planes…the Mumbai active shooter attack is the wave of the future… “homegrown” terrorists, self-radicalized individuals, and lone gunmen are the primary threat….

It seems at time that the government is unable to play a game of multi-dimensional chess.  Attention must be focused on the risk du jour and not spread among simultaneous possibilities.  Homegrown terrorism and complex plots originating overseas involving the use of especially destructive technologies cannot exist at the same time. Or at least so it seems listening to security officials pontificate about what keeps them up at night (does anyone in Washington sleep?).

Hurricane Katrina reminded us that we also live under the specter of catastrophic natural disasters.  Homeland security came to rhetorically embrace the concept of “all hazards.” This added another level to the already complex chess board.  It is easy to separate a terrorist threat from a hurricane projected to impact the U.S., but practically how does society realistically prepare for intentional man-made, technological, and natural threats?  Is this a question that cuts to the idea of resilience?  Are we already much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for? New Yorkers do not run screaming from terrorist threats anymore than Floridians panic about tropical storms.  Perhaps we are trying to solve problems that do not exist while ignoring the issues that deserve attention.  Or maybe we have been lucky and the fragile nature of modern society has yet to be really stressed.

These questions are not new and have been asked in various forums across multiple disciplines.  Now that we have given past events due consideration, is it time to seriously think about the future?

September 11, 2011

TSA Blog: Moment of Silence for Those Lost on United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 11, 2011

TSA Blog:  Moment of Silence for Those Lost on United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa



TSA Blog: Moment of Silence for Those Lost on American Airlines Flight 77 and at the Pentagon

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 11, 2011

TSA Blog: Moment of Silence for Those Lost on American Airlines Flight 77 and at the Pentagon

TSA Blog: Moment of Silence for Those Lost on United Airlines Flight 175 and at the World Trade Center

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 11, 2011

TSA Blog:  Moment of Silence for Those Lost on United Airlines Flight 175 and at the World Trade Center


TSA Blog: Moment of Silence for Those Lost on American Airlines Flight 11 and at the World Trade Center

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 11, 2011

TSA Blog:  Moment of Silence for Those Lost on American Airlines Flight 11 and at the World Trade Center



Sunday memorial service schedule

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 11, 2011

Following is the anticipated schedule for today’s commemoration services in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Times are approximate:

8:40 AM   National September 11 Memorial, New York, New York.

12:00 PM  National Flight 93 Memorial, Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

3:30 PM  National 911 Pentagon Memorial, Arlington, Virginia.

8:00 PM  Concert for Hope, John F. Kennedy Center, Washington D.C.

At the New York commemoration, the President was assigned to read Psalm Forty-Six.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear,
even though the earth be removed,
and though the mountains be carried
into the midst of the sea.
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
though the mountains shake
with its swelling,
there’s a river
whose streams shall make glad
the City of God,
the holy place of the Tabernacle
of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her.
She shall not be moved.
God shall help her
just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged,
the kingdoms were moved.
He uttered his voice.
The earth melted.
The Lord of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come behold the works of the Lord
who has made desolations in the Earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the Earth.
He breaks the bough
and cuts the spear in two.
He burns the chariot in fire.
Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the Earths.
The Lord of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

September 9, 2011

Change alone is unchanging

Filed under: Futures,General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 9, 2011

The north reflecting pool, photograph by Michael Arad.

The tall towers have been replaced by deep voids.

Framed by the rush of falling water, the shallow pools are meant to reflect their surroundings.

At the edge of each void the names of the dead are inscribed in bronze.

In his original proposal the memorial’s architect, Michael Arad, wrote,  “A cascade of water that describes the perimeter of each square feeds the pools with a continuous stream. They are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence.”

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man. (Heraclitus)

Surrounding the void is a grove of swamp white oaks.  Fast growing yet long lived, the trees could flourish for the next three centuries.  The species is native to New York and well-adapted to extremes of climate and urban life.

More than four hundred American oaks will be joined by an exotic other.  A single Callery Pear tree survived the collapse of the towers. Originally one of several ornamentals lining the plaza it was found, according to New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, “soldered, twisted and gnarled and blackened.”

The Callery Pear is native to East Asia and is considered by many an invasive species, tending to crowd out less prolific flora.   They also have “a nasty habit of crashing just as they reach their glory at 15 to 20 years old… Often large limbs are lost in wind and ice storms, but can also fail on a calm day.”

Last December when the Callery Pear was replanted, Mayor Bloomberg commented, “The presence of the Survivor Tree on the Memorial Plaza will symbolize New York City’s and this nation’s resilience after the attacks.”  Perhaps it also symbolizes our openness to diversity even in adversity.

The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony. (Heraclitus)

Tonight at 8:30 a choir with orchestra will perform at Trinity Church, a quick walk from the memorial site. The two hour performance will include elements of the Faure RequiemAmazing Grace, and three movements of the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem. This is the culmination of a day-long series of concerts alternating between the Trinity sanctuary and St. Paul’s Chapel.

If you have visited Ground Zero you have almost certainly passed St. Paul’s.  This is a colonial-era church just across the street from where the towers once stood.  Amazingly the church survived without even a broken window.  A giant sycamore gave its life shielding the chapel from falling debris.

In the hours, days, weeks and months after the attack St. Paul’s served the needs of those involved in response and recovery.   Lyndon Harris, who was there, wrote, “More than 5,000 people used their special gifts to transform St. Paul’s into a place of rest and refuge. Musicians, clergy, podiatrists, lawyers, soccer moms, and folks of every imaginable type poured coffee, swept floors, took out the trash, and served more than half a million meals. Emerging at St. Paul’s was a dynamic I think of as a reciprocity of gratitude, a circle of thanksgiving—in which volunteers and rescue and recovery workers tried to outdo each other with acts of kindness and love, leaving both giver and receiver changed.”

The final performance tonight is Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace) from the Bach B Minor Mass, considered by many the consummation of Western choral music.

Discussing the purpose of the memorial, the architect explained the design’s intention as, “stoic, defiant and compassionate.” These three characteristics do not always travel comfortably together.   But you can hear each in Bach’s closing chorus.

I am told that in the months after the attack the mood at St. Paul’s was persistently stoic, defiant, and compassionate. In that particular place where the very worst was so painfully present, firefighters and cops, physicians and iron-workers, believers and unbelievers, the wide range of humanity responded as one.

Again Lyndon Harris writes, “We just got up, day after day, dressed accordingly, and went about the monumental task of trying to make sense out of absurdity, bring order out of chaos, and reclaim humanity from the violence that sought to make human life less human. This was also a season of remembrance as we mourned the loss of loved ones. It was a season of improvisation as we tried, often at our wit’s end, to respond to the needs emerging from these never before experienced acts of terrorism.”

We can still be at our wit’s end.  Defiance often seems our default when either stoic restraint or unrestrained compassion would do better.   But it is not one or the other. We are to embrace opposites.   Bach was master of counterpoint, the musical expression of eternal paradox: love abides with hate, good abides with evil, life abides with death.  This is our perpetual reality.

All things are in flux; the flux is subject to a unifying measure or rational principle. This principle — logos, the hidden harmony behind all change — binds opposites in a unified tension, which is like that of a lyre, where a stable harmonious sound emerges from the tension of opposing forces that arise from the bow bound together by the string. (Heraclitus)

September 7, 2011

Reflecting on 9/11: P’d-off for Peace

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Mark Chubb on September 7, 2011

This week just about every journalist, blogger, pundit, and anyone else with a pulpit or point-of-view is offering either a remembrance of 9/11, an analysis of the decade since then or more likely some of both. I’d like to say it’s nice to have company, since this blog has occupied that space for much of the time since the attacks, but I honestly can’t say I’ve found the company all that illuminating and rarely all that insightful.

This observation is not, however, offered as a critique. Anyone who lived through the terrible events of a decade ago has every right, if not a solemn duty, to pause and reflect if not now at least every once in awhile about the significance of these events.

I am less concerned with the content and tone of the pieces I have been reading than I am with what they say about my own feelings and observations. For starters, I will admit more than a little ambivalence about the whole idea of recognizing and responding to these events and those who perpetrated them. I prefer instead to pause and reflect not on the attacks but on those who lost their lives trying to prevent more people from dying.

I would like to believe that reflecting on their sacrifices and those of the civilians taken from us under such horrible circumstances would cause us to reconsider our commitment not to punishment but to peace. But that’s a pretty tall order and maybe not all the realistic in light of what happened.

Most of the words that have come to mind as I have reflected on the emotions of the past decade seemed to start with the letter “p.” This probably says more about the quirky way my mind works than the event, but it struck me that I was not the only one who was truly P’d off when the scope and scale of the attacks became evident, so I’m going with the flow of those thoughts and following the thread wherever it leads me …

In the midst of all the pain we felt as we looked on from near or far, it seems only natural that the most powerful responses would take the form of either pride or prejudice and sometimes more than a little of both. I would love to look back now and say that prudence has overtaken patriotism in guiding our approach to extremism, but that would be taking things a bit far. Indeed, one might argue that patriotism, at least a misplaced and ill-informed take on it, poses one of the bigger threats to our republic on 9/10/11 just as it did on 9/10/01.

Instead of hunting down and killing the principals responsible for organized extremist groups at an enormous cost in terms of blood and treasure, we could be investing our efforts in promoting principles consistent with our heritage and highest ideals. But that would require us to get our priorities straight at home as well as abroad. When we consider politicians’ preoccupations with payback as opposed to paying forward, it becomes clear just how implausible this seems.

As a purely practical matter, we still have not resolved how to reconcile competing conceptions of privacy with the imperative of protection. In part, this reflects a community that values persistence over patience.

Notwithstanding this pessimistic assessment, I do see some positive signs. First, our foreign policy shows signs of slow but steady progress away from a position of paternalism toward something that looks more like parenting. And second, I see signs that we are becoming less obsessed with preparedness as an end and more inclined so see it as a means of engaging communities in the work of resilience: presence, participation and partnerships.

I’d like to think that by the time we pause again in another ten years we will recognize that the most significant thing that happened on 9/11 and the thing that should define us most as a nation is not how we responded to the attackers but how we overcame our fears and frustrations to become better people. The passion of our first responders — and I include among them all of the bystanders who sprung into action alongside the public safety professionals — is the one indelible impression of that day that just will not leave me. Their actions were undertaken not only without hope of recognition or reward but, in fact, against hope itself.

This alone should inspire us to work harder for peace, if only to prove their efforts and sacrifices were not in vain.

September 6, 2011

The hidden budget costs of CCTV security cameras

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on September 6, 2011

Today’s post was written by Lynda A. Peters.  Ms. Peters is the City Prosecutor in the Chicago Corporation Counsel’s Office.  As is often the case when Homeland Security Watch has a guest author, the usual caveats apply: the opinions expressed in this post are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views — in this instance — of the City of Chicago, the Corporation Counsel’s Office or any other organization.


The number of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras used by security professionals in the law enforcement community has dramatically increased since the attacks on America’s homeland on September 11, 2001.[1] Recognizing the need to leverage technology to improve public safety, increasing numbers of state and local law enforcement agencies have employed cameras.[2] Since that time, CCTV cameras have been used in a wide variety of public safety efforts, including to combat terrorists, secure downtown commercial areas, secure critical infrastructure locations, prevent crime in high-crime areas, manage traffic flow and enforce traffic laws, and provide guidance to first responders during emergency response.[3]

The City of Chicago has an extensive network of homeland security, crime prevention and private cameras, and the footage is available through its Police Department and Office of Emergency Management & Communications.

There are several legal requirements that increase the lifetime budget of a camera program because they necessitate the retention (i.e., storage) of footage.  There are consequences of failing to budget for footage retention, including monetary penalties.  These legal requirements should be considered before the decision is made whether to implement or expand the use of CCTV cameras as a public safety tool.

Trying to gain support for additional expenditure during the course of a CCTV camera program, as opposed to at its onset, is often difficult.[4]

Typical Budgetary Considerations

In my experience, the capital investment associated with a CCTV camera program occurs at the start of the program.  Expenditures include the initial purchase, installation and maintenance of cameras, and upgrades to existing technology equipment, such as monitors, so the footage can be viewed.  The capital investment also should include a salary component to cover the cost of employees who are needed to monitor the captured images.[5]

Electronic records management, retention and preservation of footage are not typically factored into the budget equation, though they should be.[6]

Legal Considerations that Impact the Budget

Financial expenditure to cover the retention of camera footage is mandated by several legal requirements when the footage is in the possession of, or under the control of, the unit of government running the CCTV camera program.

The first requirement, and one which impacts all states in the country, is open records laws.[7] These laws are patterned after the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Illinois’ FOIA statute, for example, mandates that, with few exceptions, “all records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying.”[8]

The definition of “public record” is very broad and covers all materials “pertaining to the transaction of public business, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been prepared by or for, or having been or being used by, received by, in the possession of, or under the control of any public body.”[9] The language of Illinois’ statute clearly includes camera footage since it applies to, among other things, “recorded information.”[10]

The purpose behind FOIA laws is grounded in public policy.  For example, the legislature in Illinois decreed

[p]ursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act.[11]

The conclusion reached by the Illinois legislature is similar to that reached by other state legislatures: access to public records promotes the transparency and accountability of government.[12]

Retaining Records Affects Budgets

Record retention laws impose an additional legal requirement on many state and local units of government, necessitating the expenditure of monies to retain camera footage.  Not every state has a record retention requirement based in statute, though it may exist through policy.[13] Illinois is one of the states which has a statutory retention requirement and a review of the law’s language is helpful to understanding the concept of record retention.

Illinois’ Local Records Act decrees that all

public records made or received by, or under the authority of, or coming into the custody, control or possession of any officer or agency shall not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part, except as provided by law.[14]

The definition of a public record in this statute, similar to the one found in open records laws, is very broad and includes those things

made, produced, executed or received by any agency or officer pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation … as evidence of the organization, function, policies, decisions, procedures, or other activities thereof, or because of the informational data contained therein.[15]

The obligation to preserve camera footage under Illinois’ Local Records Act is absolute.  The statute states in no uncertain terms that no public record can be disposed of except pursuant to a formal retention policy which has received prior written approval of the appropriate Local Records Commission.[16]

Preserving Evidence Also Has an Impact on Budgets

The third legal requirement that imposes a financial burden upon state and local units of government for the retention of camera footage is known as preservation of evidence.  A duty to preserve evidence will be owed if a reasonable person should have foreseen that the item of evidence was material to a potential civil action.[17]

Spoliation is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence, or the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.[18]

The duty to preserve applies not just to parties to litigation.  The duty applies to anyone, including an employee of a state or local unit of government, who is in possession of or exerts control over an item of evidence that a party may want to use in litigation.  The duty to preserve has even been extended in one jurisdiction to cover the scenario where a party to litigation cannot fulfill the duty to preserve because he or she does not own or control the evidence:

the party still has an obligation to give the opposing party notice of access to the evidence or of the possible destruction of the evidence if the party anticipates litigation involving that evidence.[19]

Ignoring Legal Obligations Can be Costly

The consequence of failure to abide by the legal duty to preserve can result in a wide range of penalties.  When the person who or entity that failed to preserve an item of evidence is a party to the litigation, the penalty can result in or increase the likelihood of a finding of liability.[20]

Alternatively, the penalty can include dismissal of the case, an order by the court restricting the defenses that can be claimed or an order by the court restricting the evidence and testimony that can be presented during trial.[21]

The penalty can also include an instruction to the jury that the party’s intentional destruction of evidence relevant to an issue at trial supports an inference that the evidence “would have been unfavorable to the party responsible for its destruction.”[22]

Whether or not the person who or entity that failed to preserve an item of evidence is a party to the litigation, the result can be the imposition of a monetary penalty, including a fine and attorneys fees and court costs associated with bringing the issue to the court’s attention.[23]


NASCIO, a national organization representing state Chief Information Officers, likewise recommends including the cost of retention and preservation in the overall budget for a technology project:

The better approach is to examine requirements for digital preservation at the time a business need is identified, management initiatives are planned, and systems for supporting those initiatives are designed and developed.  In other words, digital preservation as well as electronic records management issues need to be planned and budgeted part and parcel with any initiative that will create data, information or knowledge.  When information will be created by an enterprise, the lifecycle of that information must be determined.  Further, it must be valued at each phase of that lifecycle.  Those economics along with regulatory requirements determine how long information will be retained by the enterprise.[24]

What impact does the added cost associated with retention and preservation have on a state or local unit of government’s decision to embark upon or expand a CCTV camera program?

While I cannot provide an answer to that question, I can point out the obvious.  In light of the limited budgetary resources presently available to most, if not all, state and local governments due to the current economic climate, consideration of the total costs associated with CCTV cameras is a duty that is clearly owed to the citizens law enforcement strives to protect.


[1] CCTV: Constant Cameras Track Violators, NIJ Journal (July 2003), No. 249, p. 16.

[2] Nestel, III, Thomas J., Using Surveillance Camera Systems to Monitor Public Domains: Can Abuse be Prevented, March 2006. p. 5.

[3] Id.; Zoufal, Donald,  ‘Someone to Watch Over Me?’ Privacy and Governance Strategies for CCTV and Emerging Surveillance Technologies, May 15, 2008. pp. 1-2.

[4] NASCIO, Electronic Records Management and Digital Preservation: Protecting the Knowledge Assets of the State Government Enterprise, 2007. p.2.

[5] Id.

[6] See generally: NASCIO (2007).

[7] Open Government Guide, http://www.rcfp.org/ogg/index.php, retrieved July 3, 2011

[8] 5 ILCS 140/1.2.

[9] 5 ILCS 140/2(c).

[10] Id.

[11] 5 ILCS 140/1.

[12] Id.

[13] NASCIO (2007). p.3.

[14] 50 ILCS 205/4.

[15] 50 ILCS 205/3.

[16] 50 ILCS 205/7.

[17] Boyd v. Travelers Insurance Company, 166 Il.2d 188, 652 N.E.2d 267, 271 (1995).

[18] West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2nd Cir.1999), quoting generally from Black’s Law Dictionary.

[19] Silvestri v. General Motors Corporation, 271 F.3d 583, 591 (4th Cir. 2001)..

[20] Hirsch v. General Motors Corporation, et al., 266 N.J.Super. 222, 260 (1993).

[21] Id.

[22] Kronisch v. United States of America, et al., 150 F.3d 112, 126 (2nd Cir. 1998).

[23] Mosaid Technologies Incorporated v. Samsung Electronics Co., LTD., 348 F.Supp2d 332, 339 (2004).

[24] NASCIO (2007), p.2.



September 3, 2011

Visualizing history’s deadliest pandemics

Filed under: Biosecurity,Catastrophes — by Christopher Bellavita on September 3, 2011

This graphic comes from a site called Visual News (thanks WRC).  You can click on the picture for a larger, full screen, easier-to-read-the-details image.

If we were to look up into the branches of our ancient family tree, many of us would see limbs from our past that ended prematurely in the huge pandemics which have swept the world. In my tree for example, two relatives on oposite American coasts died of Spanish Flu in the same year. Created in a collaboration between GOOD and Column Five, this graphic details the ten deadliest pandemics both past and present, with a key explaining normal symptoms, estimated death tolls and the years they ravaged the world. If that sounds bleak, just make sure you notice how many of these global crisis’ have been cured in just the last century. What cures will the future hold?


The Deadliest Disease Outbreaks Visualized

September 2, 2011

First Draft: National Preparedness Goal

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 2, 2011

Midnight tonight is the deadline for your comments on the current draft of the National Preparedness Goal.  The downloaded document provides instructions on how to make your comments.

At the end of March Presidential Policy Decision 8 included the following:

I hereby direct the development of a national preparedness goal that identifies the core capabilities necessary for preparedness and a national preparedness system to guide activities that will enable the Nation to achieve the goal… The national preparedness goal shall be informed by the risk of specific threats and vulnerabilities – taking into account regional variations – and include concrete, measurable, and prioritized objectives to mitigate that risk. The national preparedness goal shall define the core capabilities necessary to prepare for the specific types of incidents that pose the greatest risk to the security of the Nation, and shall emphasize actions aimed at achieving an integrated, layered, and all-of-Nation preparedness approach that optimizes the use of available resources. The national preparedness goal shall reflect the policy direction outlined in the National Security Strategy (May 2010), applicable Presidential Policy Directives, Homeland Security Presidential Directives, National Security Presidential Directives, and national strategies, as well as guidance from the Interagency Policy Committee process. The goal shall be reviewed regularly to evaluate consistency with these policies, evolving conditions, and the National Incident Management System.

The draft document offers a succinct statement of the goal:

Our National Preparedness Goal is a secure and resilient Nation that has created the capacity for the organized commitment of the whole community, in the shortest possible time and under all conditions, to successfully prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, or recover from the threats that pose the greatest risk to the Nation.

A secure nation is not a new goal.  A resilient nation, while not a new goal, has seldom (ever?) been accorded strategic equivalency with security.  The emphasis on the whole community is also not precisely new, but it is given heightened priority in this statement.  Focusing on the capacity of the organized commitment of the whole community to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, and recover is a potentially helpful strategic differentiation.  (The “capacity of organized commitment” is, however, something worth unpacking a bit more. I have a sense the attention to speed and condition also has more meaning embedded than is immediately apparent.)

Consistent with the President’s instructions, the draft National Preparedness Goal gives attention to core capabilities.  The definition offered by the draft is:

A “capability” is the ability to provide the means to accomplish one or more tasks under specific conditions and to specific performance standards. A capability may be achieved with any combination of properly planned, organized, equipped, trained, and exercised personnel that  achieves the intended outcome. “Core capabilities” are those that are central to the Nation’s  ability to achieve our National Preparedness Goal. Their availability is essential and  indispensable for the execution of the mission, and therefore, they are subject to continuous  monitoring and management at all levels.

The draft offers forty-two core capabilities, as outlined in this graphic (a larger version will open if you click on the graphic):

The draft document provides considerable detail on each of the core capabilities.  There is a particular effort to identify meaningful performance measures for each capability.

Three critiques intended to be constructive:

1. Despite the draft regularly invoking an all-hazards perspective, do the prevent and protect focus areas strike you as tilting heavily to counter-terrorism? They do to me.  When I look at the individual core capabilities “prevent” might be better entitled “preempt”.   Looks like these core capabilities are mostly practiced when bad guys/gals have a clear intention to cause harm.  There’s not much (any?) attention to forestalling bad intentions.

2. Taken together the proposed preparedness architecture seems mostly a matter of preparing-to-respond.  The protect collection strikes me as focused on potential terrorist threats and a kind of strategic agility similar to the Great Wall of China or the Maginot Line.   Mitigate  provides a few proactive, positive steps to increase actual strength and resilience.  We might be able to conceive a couple of recover’s core capabilities as offering constructive opportunities.   But the overall approach seems, at least to me, quite defensive in stance.  I want to be prepared to engage opportunities, as well as deal with problems.

3.  The draft National Preparedness Goal gives considerable attention to security.  In this the NPG is consistent with previous priorities.  The new draft goal gives equal priority to resilience. I regret that I do not see how the core capabilities and performance measures as currently articulated substantially advance resilience.  This new goal seeks to more fully involve the whole community.  I do not see how the core capabilities and performance measures as currently articulated would substantially enhance the commitment of the whole community to the preparedness mission.

First drafts are usually more expansive — and unwieldy — than subsequent drafts. Producing a reasonable first draft in a timely fashion is helpful to public consideration and comment. In final draft effective goal-setting will probably involve a tightened focus, clarification, and crystallization.  It will be interesting to see what is sent to the President on September 25.

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