Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 29, 2011

Scott Olsen: Personifying the turbulence and flux we face

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 29, 2011

The Tuesday night injury of a Marine veteran of two tours in Iraq while peacefully protesting in Oakland marks a major shift in my attitude toward the Occupy Movement.

Scott Olsen, age 24, was apparently struck by a tear gas canister as Oakland police attempted to clear “occupiers”  from the intersection of 14th and Broadway.   Mr. Olsen’s skull was fractured and he has been unable to speak since the injury.  See more details from the San Francisco Chronicle.  Additional information is also available at the Occupy Oakland website.

Occupy Nashville has been camping at Legislative Plaza in front of the state capitol.  After the Tennessee Governor declared a curfew, State police conducted a Friday pre-dawn raid that ended in twenty-nine arrests. Even more occupiers were back on Saturday. There were further arrests Saturday afternoon.  But a Nashville judge has released them finding the Governor has no legal authority to declare a curfew for the Capitol grounds.  See more news from The Tennessean and a relevant analysis by one of the newspaper’s columnists.

As I write this (6:30 PM Mountain Time) Denver police remain engaged in a day-long struggle with Occupy Denver on the steps of the Colorado state capitol and nearby.  See more at the Denver Post. This was the first day for a new police chief in Denver.

In all of these cases, according to the media reports I have read and a few emails and phone-calls from locals, the conflict has been prompted and/or seriously escalated by aggressive police activity.   My personal sources are public safety or retired public safety personnel.  This is in contrast with the so-far much more restrained police response in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Chris Bellavita was the first to write about Occupy Wall Street here at Homeland Security Watch.  When Chris made this choice I was not convinced the movement was a homeland security issue.  Mark Chubb has given the movement considerable attention.

While I understand — and usually support — the role of all-crimes, all hazards, and intelligence fusion as contributions to homeland security, that does not mean I always think homeland security has anything to contribute to the particular crime, specific hazard, or fusing of intelligence.   In the case of the Occupy Movement I did not even recognize a crime, hazard or legitimate intelligence target being involved.  I still don’t.

I am, however, an advocate for the homeland security discipline’s potential role in assisting our more command-and-control oriented colleagues to recognize when a complex adaptive system needs to be given enough space to resolve itself and, if possible, prevent the complex adaptive system from blowing up in our faces and injuring too many innocents along the way.


Many of the links embedded in the post above include updates on the situation in each city.

Denver strikes me as the most treacherous.  Trying to piece together several reports from Denver suggest there have been a series of tactical missteps that have contributed to the violence.  In particular, it sounds to me (and some of my sources) that too few police officers have been assigned to undertake clearing actions. This has tended to increase the force applied by the officers involved… and Newton’s third law of motion has been socially confirmed (again).

Early Sunday morning thirty-seven were arrested in Austin, but without significant violence.  The Austin city government has requested that Occupy Austin appoint leaders to meet Monday to discuss new rules for the occupation of the City Hall plaza.  There was a General Assembly of the Occupiers on Sunday night, but I cannot find a report of their decisions.  It is an interesting request to make of the resolutely leaderless movement.

Not included in yesterday’s post was a potentially important tactical shift by the Occupiers in Portland, Oregon.  There the protesters have begun to target the affluent  mostly residential Pearl District.  Jamison Square, a city park serving the Pearl District,  has a long-established midnight curfew which police enforced Saturday night.  There were thirty arrests, no significant violence was reported. (Also see Occupy Portland website.)

In Oakland and Nashville there was clearly an effort on all sides to avoid further confrontations on Saturday night.

According to a Sunday report in the San Jose Mercury-News, Scott Olsen is recovering. “Olsen was listed in critical condition at first, suffering damage to the speech center of his brain, according to Olson’s roommate, Keith Shannon. But though Olsen remained hospitalized Sunday and was not able to speak, doctors expect a full recovery, Shannon added. His condition Sunday was listed as fair.”

OCTOBER 31 UPDATE: The Occupy Together site has begun providing a round-ups of outcomes across the nation.

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Comment by John Comiskey

October 30, 2011 @ 7:29 am


I too have been struggling with the distinction of police-matter only or a homeland security issue.
One homeland security issue is intelligence and specifically domestic intelligence. IMHO, most other occupy-wherever homeland security issues are mostly peripheral.
Points to consider:
1. The core constitutional issues: Rights to peacefully assemble, speech, & grieve.
2. Fundamental tension inherent to US governance: provide public order and balancing individual rights.
3. Many Americans are profoundly worried, displeased with the “way things are,” and angry.
4. While the protestors at both the national and local level mass together and have some common cause, IMHO they have not asserted a common message nor have they offered feasible over-arching alternatives to the status quo.

As a 46 year US citizen, son of Irish immigrants, father, brother, US military veteran, retired police officer, and current college professor, I am worried for my country and selfishly for my son and daughter.
I am a student of the thought that things have to get really bad before people try to fix them.
Things are bad and while some are trying to fix things others seem to delude themselves with the thought that someone other than themselves will fix things.
For the record, I support people’s right to peacefully protest.
I believe in equity and the following:
1. The efficacy of leadership. We need a 21st century Teddy Roosevelt
2. Prayer
3. Self-reliance
4. Real-education for the real-world
5. Flat tax across the board for everyone every time.
6. Government accountability:
* Campaign finance disclosure: you can accept any amount of money from anyone, but you must disclose it.
**Limited prohibitions might include: foreign governments.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2011 @ 10:06 am

This may well be repeated info on this blog and certainly repeats several postings of mine on my Vacation Lane Blog. But find perhaps responsive to the post!

FEMA has no delegated or vested by statute role in matters of civil disobedience or riot or civil disorder. At one time FEMA had a riot reinsurance program now mothballed under the Urban Property Protection Act of 1968, a title of that years housing act.

In 1992 during the LA riots I was asked by the then Director and General Counsel to brief on the history of disaster declarations for riot and civil disorder. Unknown to many is that the Department of Justice often sets disaster policy as does OMB and the US Treasury Department. Most in FEMA are oblivious to this fact. Including several past directors.

DOJ always took the position that to declare riots or civil disorders [these are highly technical terms defined in the US Code and common law] would be to encourage those participating. DOJ was given its normal review for LA but was bypassed by FEMA and the WH when the LA riots were declared as a disaster for FIRE. Also that was the last Federalization under Title 10 of the National Guard for a disaster [actually law enforcement indirectly] and DoD was furious when it found out FEMA would not pay for the NG ops since they had been federalized but the ops money had to come from DoD itself. Remember Dick Cheney. One of many reasons he probably would have led to an abolition of FEMA if Bush had won the 1992 election. He also would have had significant HILL backing to do so.

So as a retiree from FEMA I wrote a personal letter to AG Ascroft after the formation of DHS concerning the new DHS role, not FEMA, in riots and civil disorders. I really expected no answer and got none.

So now wondering what DoD, DoJ, the WH and DHS itself think the roll of DHS, if any, in riots and civil disorders? And as always has the President been briefed.

As to the injured Marine I hope he recovers and also apparently a person coming to his aid was the target of a rubber bullet after the Marine injured that was designed to keep aid from being given.

As I have mentioned elsewhere in blogs and comments NO repeat NO US Armed Forces are up to date on riot and civil disorder deployments or ops, NOR the National Guard, NOR any large Metropolitan Police Department.

President Reagan as Governor of California was so concerned by the threat of riots and civil disorders that he created the California Specialized Training Institute which still operates doing other training. When he became President he made Louis O. Guiffrida the Director of FEMA (confirmed by the Senate)who served from March/April 1981 until relieved in September 1985. LOG had been the first and only head of the California Specialized Training Institute since its formation and location at San Luis Ospisbo (sic) on the CA coast, near the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Reactor, a nuclear power reactor that LOG had opposed before he became head of FEMA.

When LOG asked in writing the GC of FEMA then George Jett to describe FEMA’s legal role in riots and civil disorders he was told in writing that there was NO role. LOG was quite disappointed and when he appealed to his reporting chain, Counselor to the President Ed Meese [who checked with DOJ] and Mr. Jett’s opinonl was informally concurred in by DOJ/OLC he backed off from dealing with that issue and instead began his focus on terrorism.

Hoping some who read this blog find this informative and of course would be interested to know if FEMA OCC or DHS OGC have opined on any of these matters.

I have long advocated that the President’s discretion for declaring law enforcement emergencies and disasters be statutorily excluded from coverage under the STAFFORD ACT. This line drawing would help bound Law Enforcement and Homeland Security.

Of course a more radical course could be suggested. No operation of the ARMED FORCES of the USA domestically in riots and civil disorders without the written approval of not just the AG [required now] but also the written approval of the DHS Secretary.

After all with over 100 references to “terrorism” in the US Code DOJ, DHS and DoD should be in synch. Maybe they are but I only deal with open source material and although I have long argued that domestic riot and civil disorder policy should not be classified who knows? In the past it was not classified. But recent President’s do love secrets. Makes them feel important I guess. And DoD’s unclassified GARDEN PLOT plan now superceded by a totally new plan. That plan’s classification unknown to me but would guess given some successor designation to Official Use Only.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2011 @ 10:15 am

“Law Enforcement Emergencies” was a term that became law under the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1984 in part a DOJ supported law after then AG William French Smith and others in DOJ became concerned about LOG [FEMA Director} attempts to direct STATE and LOCAL law enforcement in the 1984 Summer Olympics in LA!

The term is defined I believe in 28 CFR Part 65. To my knowledge, however, DOJ has never sought line item or revolving funds for LAW ENFORCEMENT EMERGENCIES! Thus, FEMA several times including the 1995 Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City funded most of the FBI operations including establishment of the crime scene, criminal investigation ops, communications and feeding of FBI personnel, etc. Directors of the FBI and FEMA had a close relationship under Directors Freeh and Witt. Quite an unusal deviation from the norm and one that angered MAIN JUSTICE.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

October 30, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

This is a response to all your thoughts. There is a convergence of many previously unrelated activities. This is also the unintended byproduct of instant reporting, response flash mob and leaderless resistance. Or maybe not.

Finally, the elephant in the room for me; are we seeing the relevance of law enforcement, seen for a long time as protectors of the people being either trapped by circumstance or mission protecting the dying machine instead of the people?

I hope my comment isn’t easily dismissed. Law enforcement has radically changed and their bellicose presence is a transition from their initial communal responsibility.
Many will throw down their sword and shield to defend their “brothers” but a situation is or has been created that potentially creates great inner conflict. I make this comment not merely as an observer but someone who has served in law enforcement and the military along with my family for nearly 100 years. I still have people on the job, as the saying goes.

Governments will do all they can do to maintain status quo before trying to repair…have we not seen this across the world?

So the real question is what next? Every time this movement, activity, rally or whatever it is shows some destabilization and fatigue, law enforcement, via tactical missteps or simply ignorance re ignites the flame. The pepper spray in NY, the activity in Oakland, Denver hostilities etc all have led to a galvanizing or repurposing of the organized activity.
Perhaps that’s an overstatement or too broad a generalization. Perhaps not.

The precipice we move toward now is what if the people realize they have all the power. What if some are willing to die and begin overt, hostile activity and move on law enforcement and government?

What if the Occupy groups move more furtively and look for outlets?

Before anyone dismisses that thought, one should review July, 1963 in NYC.

Extended unemployment, marginalization of people, an unpopular draft, oppression, and a host of activity caused a brutal draft, than class, than race riot in NYC.

We have had a variety of other civil disturbances as well that show the capability of groups. And the spark for activity is injustice or hostile action, perceived or actual exacted by the government or their appointed representation.

Is that likely? I don’t know. I do know that lots of people concentrated into increasing hostile environs require energy to continue. What provides the impetus for action or dissipation remains to be seen.

What also remains to be seen is how this “activity” shapes, polishes, or changes the definition and activity of homeland security planners and policy writers this will have. I do not have the erudite background of Phil and Bill and try to see things with as clear a set of glasses as I can find.
I don’t think it will matter at all that the NYPD supervisor who sprayed the pepper spray lost some vacation time.

I also don’t think any administrative action against Oakland Cops or whoever is next will matter. Those responses are not going to quell the angst.
Leadership 101 is complete the mission and care for the welfare of your subordinates. The Occupy mission is change and the Governments mission is or appears to be the antithesis of that. The immovable object meets the irresistible force.

If we are to heal as a Nation and move effectively into the rest of the century, some real leadership will need to be exercised. I often wonder when the last time we as citizens have had that and the last time the government has exhibited that.

Comment by Terry O'Sullivan

October 30, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

I’m with Dan O’Connor on this. This is not a “homeland security” issue, per se, unless and until violence breaks out on a large scale. Up to now, almost exclusively, this has been peaceful — beyond the bellicose (yes, the right word for many of these situations) paramilitary responses by law enforcement in several cities. One of the many anti-democratic trends since 9/11 has been the militarization of policing, ostensibly to be ready for terrorism, but inevitably mostly manifest as oppressive response to exercise of free speech. The old “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” idea.

It is a dangerous syndrome, and reminds me of the use of police, military, and the private Pinkerton thugs during the Gilded Age of the early 20th century, to try to put down the early labor- and women’s rights movements. I think we need to recognize that domestic civilian security is about more than force capabilities and exercise: It’s also about protecting and defending the Constitution.

Otherwise, once again, we’ve got that pesky Ben Franklin security vs. liberty problem.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 31, 2011 @ 12:24 am

At least in public comments this President has sided with the protestors. Very unusual in the USA! Could the OWS movement become not just an open campaign issue but the deciding one?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 31, 2011 @ 6:56 am

Above John Comiskey writes, “I am a student of the thought that things have to get really bad before people try to fix them.” There is truth in that. But I perceive it is the role of homeland security to do what we can to prevent, mitigate, and cultivate resilience.

Bill Cumming and Dan O’Connor can be read — whether this was their intention, I am not sure — as making a distinction between law enforcement and homeland security. It is, I think, an important distinction.

Terry O’Sullivan highlights the threat of “if you have a hammer, everything looks like nail.” In my judgment it is precisely the role of homeland security to assist our operational and tactical colleagues avoid this tendency.

In Monday’s USA Today, Kevin Johnson writes:

In the colorful tent community that nearly covers McPherson Square in downtown Washington, there is minimal police presence. And some are crediting local authorities with giving demonstrators ample room to express themselves.

When agitated protesters attempted to show their solidarity for their colleagues involved in the Oakland clash by planting a peace flag on the statue of the park’s namesake, Maj. Gen. James McPherson, Occupy protester James Land, 38, said police calmly approached with a ladder and removed it.

“They didn’t arrest anybody,” Land said. “They grabbed the flag. End of story. They showed great restraint.”

I know some of the DC decision-makers. They are consciously complementing their best tactical judgment with an understanding of complexity, as embedded in homeland security policy and strategy. A big part of respecting complexity is in understanding our task — the homeland security task — is not to resist change, but to actively engage the process of change in a way that minimizes human hazard. This is not all that homeland security is and does, but I perceive it is a crucial comparative advantage that is relevant to the Occupy Movement.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 31, 2011 @ 8:53 am

Yes Phil was distinguishing between law enforcement and HS and civil security.

Strangely perhaps some of our major metropolitan areas have far less police to citizen ratio than say NYC or LA yet are quite peaceful. Any open source analysis of that fact?

Comment by Michael Brady

October 31, 2011 @ 10:57 am

@ Terry O’Sullivan (152829)

“This is not a “homeland security” issue, per se, unless and until violence breaks out on a large scale.”

Federalization of local law enforcement in support of the GWOT notwithstanding, how can peaceful protest, civil disobedience, public disorder, or even riot be anything but a matter for civil law enforcement at the city, county, or state level? If anything, the only offenses worthy of federal intervention so far may be violations of the protestors’ civil rights as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Comment by Terry O'Sullivan

October 31, 2011 @ 11:55 am

@Michael Brady: I think we’re in agreement. I was referring to something that might approach a national emergency, and we’re certainly not even close. Absolutely agreed about the last sentence, too.

And good to hear about the cases of LEO restraint in DC, among others. That should be the model for the nation, versus the violent, ham-handed Oakland and Denver (and yes, NYC) responses. Free speech is a “key resource” to be cherished.

Comment by Michael Brady

October 31, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

@ Philip J. Palin (152850)

“I understand homeland security to be a professional discipline that includes the whole community (private, public, civic), operates at the local, state, regional, and national level, and involves integration and coordination of strategy/policy across these seams.”

Homeland security as you describe it used to be called emergency preparedness (or services or management) and was administered at the state, county, and (large) city level. The primary players were firefighters, public works, and civil engineers. Soldiers – in the form of men and women serving their communities in the National Guard – only showed up if we needed a convoy of duece and halfs, a tent city, or a field kitchen. Along comes 9/11 and the GWOT and now we face the militarization of federal law enforcement and the federalization of state, county, and local law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency management agencies. Those “seams” you hope to render seamless once represented the limits of local responsibility and statutory authority as well as sources of funding. These days it takes dueling attorneys and accountants to tell where the feds stop and the states start…

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 31, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

Michael Brady, Thanks for the clarification. I actually share your concern regarding militarization and federalization of state, county, and local capabilities. In my experience one of the best ways for the non-Feds to maximize their considerable capabilities is to enhance their own strategic capacities. Homeland security as professional discipline — as opposed to a federal function — can help in this process… if the local and state folks take strategic ownership of homeland security.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 1, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

Do others find it strange that when STATES are adopting new criminal statutes and when the Congress is adopting new criminal statutes neither as a matter of practice look at what the other is doing or has done. The federalization of the crime of terrorism is a leading example and perhaps not so strangely over 100 express or implied versions of that crime in the US Code. Surprised some criminal defense attorneys have not atttacked the language of these laws for lacking specificity and therefore no possible MENS REA! I.e. Criminal intent!

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