Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 30, 2011

Fukushima: soteigai or zatzusei

Monday the independent panel appointed to investigate the Fukushima nuclear accident released a 507 page interim report.  Most of the document focuses on specific operational decisions and tactical choices.

Several specific failures are highlighted: insufficient planning, poor regulation and oversight, inadequate training and exercising, a breakdown in communications within the government and between the government and the operator of the nuclear power plant.

The previous paragraph could be quickly edited to apply to nearly every serious industrial accident: Bhopal, TMI, Deepwater Horizon, various large-scale blackouts and others.   The same failures are referenced in most after-actions for events large and small.

Also typical has been most of the media coverage focusing on personal failures by political, regulatory and corporate leaders.

But toward the end of the report — and the 22 page English-language executive summary — are several atypical bits of analysis worth much more attention than given so far.

It is not easy to admit an absolute safety never exists and to learn to live with risks.  But it is necessary to make effort toward realizing a society where risk information is shared and people are allowed to make reasonable choices.

A quarter century ago I made some extra Yen editing Japanese-to-English translations.  This time I will mostly leave the first draft as it is. There is a kind of clarity in the slightly awkward but more literal rendering.

Even for an accident of low probabilities so long as extremely large scale damages are anticipated once it occurs… due consideration should be given to the risks involved and precautionary measures should be taken.

It was a major shortcoming for the safety of both nuclear power plants and surrounding communities that a nuclear accident had not been assumed to occur as a complex disaster.  Disaster prevention programs should be formulated by assuming complex disasters, which will be the major point in reviewing nuclear power plant safety for the future.

It cannot be denied that the viewpoint of looking at a whole picture of an accident was not adequately reflected in nuclear disaster prevention programs in the past.

The nuclear disaster prevention program had serious shortfalls. It cannot be excused that nuclear accidents could not be managed because of an extraordinary situation that… exceeded the assumption.

The Investigation Committee is convinced of the need of paradigm shift in the basic principles of disaster prevention programs for such a huge system, which may result in serious damage once it has an accident.

Whatever to plan, design and execute, nothing can be done without setting assumptions. At the same time, however, it must be recognized that things beyond assumptions may take place. The accidents this time present us crucial lessons on how we should be prepared for such incidents beyond assumptions.

Low probability, high consequence events deserve our sustained attention.

Reasonable assumptions will be exceeded.

The chairman of the investigation panel, Yotaro Hatamura, has been especially critical of the tendency to blame the crisis on soteigai. This is often translated as “unforseeable events,” but is probably closer to “unimaginable events.”  (Echoes of a “failure of imagination” in the 911 Commission report.)

Hatamura is an engineer.  His best known work is probably Learning from Design Failures in which he examines more than 100 cases to “uncover the root cause, reveal the scenario that led to the unwanted event, describe what happened so readers can clearly repeat the steps in their mind, and propose ways to avoid those mistakes in the future.”   It is a very detailed, case-by-case, engineering oriented approach to disciplined thinking.  He is a solution-oriented guy.

But Hatamura  has also become an advocate for clearly distinguishing between complexity and non-complexity and what can — and, even more important, cannot — be done to manage complexity.  With a little effort we can foresee complex events.  We have a much more difficult time imagining how our strategy for the complex must differ from our strategy for the merely complicated or novel or known.

The Japanese for complexity (see above) includes kanji a classically minded literalist might read as “a surprising recurrence of miscellaneous elephants.”  If you can imagine how you would manage that, you are on your way to being able to manage the cascade of a complex event.

The final report is expected in June.

December 28, 2011

Accountability in the Information Age

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Media,Technology for HLS — by Mark Chubb on December 28, 2011

Yesterday, our friends and fellow bloggers at Wired magazine’s Threat Level recapped the debate between New Yorker writer and prolific author Malcolm Gladwell and NYU academic and social media evangelist Clay Shirky regarding the role of social media in mobilizing and promoting street protests in support of democratic movements around the world. Shirky, predictably, suggests the movements would not have achieved critical mass without social media. Gladwell takes a far more skeptical view, preferring to see in these movements evidence of the democratic impulse as the message of freedom rather than just another medium for it.

Bill Wasik argues that both perspectives have considerable merit. It’s hard to argue that social media had no influence over the scope or scale of the protests, especially their rapid extension across international borders. At the same time, suggesting that social media should receive at least some of the credit for inspiring democratic uprisings overstates their capacity to encourage virtuous behavior. In the end, Wasik seems to side with Gladwell, arguing that social media enable rather than inspire mass movements.

Given the growing zeal among emergency managers to adopt social media this argument is worth noting. Social media have changed the way emergency managers do their jobs. But the way the public responds to disasters has not changed nearly as much despite social media’s widespread use.

Too many emergency managers think of the public as apathetic and uniformed about disasters. This assumption about the public extends to nearly every aspect of their behavior before, during and after disasters. Social media have helped put paid to such notions largely because they make much more readily apparent the actions of people before, during and after disasters.

For starters, social media have made it clear that people in general crave attention and attraction. We need to be known for what we know and what we can do, and we want to share our time and talents with others whose interests affirm or complement our own. We all possess an atavistic, if not innate, need to connect with others that only becomes more acute as the ways we define ourselves becomes ever more specialized and atomized.

Ambiguity makes us anxious. Seeking and sharing information even with those we do not know helps us alleviate stress. This is true even when such sharing does little to improve our circumstances or clarify a desired course of action.

In the absence of altruism, the introduction of social media into this mix should be expected to do little more than provide people with a platform for talking about disasters. But that’s not what we have seen happening. People inevitably do things when confronted with disaster. Being right takes a backseat to doing right.

Social media have changed the emergency management landscape in large part because they enable people far removed from the direct effects of the disaster to affect its outcome. They do this by giving people immersed in an event the instant ability to connect with the resources of a global audience and share more than just their stories.

Social media have made this process easier and faster. But they are not alone responsible for its emergence.

The one thing that may have changed most with the emergence of social media is the balance between the three competing priorities in emergency management: speed, relevance and accuracy.

In the past, emergency managers carefully parsed the flow of information out of fear that incorrect or conflicting information would undermine their credibility, which in turn would compromise efforts to advance response and recovery. Social media have made it much more apparent that people require very little direction from us when it comes to helping each other cope with the after-effects of disaster. Similarly, they are much more forgiving of errors and helpful about correcting them than we tend to imagine in advance.

People clearly see an important place for emergency managers and government officials as honest brokers, which demands of them an authentic voice characterized by empathy, ethics and equity. These three attributes define accountability in the Information Age, and highlight the importance of social media in emergency management.

Waiting to get the message right is no longer an option. Responding quickly is about riding the wave not generating its momentum. And errors of commission are less likely to be judged harshly than errors of omission, especially when they display relevance, which is to say they reflect a reasonable effort to mobilize or manage collective action to make things better.

Like the street protests and insurgent democracy movements around the world, the past year’s disasters and emergencies have demonstrated the important but not central role of social media in enabling humane action. This impulse arises not from the media but rather from the message. Any fears that social media would combine with Americans’ couch-potato culture to render public responses ever more passive have proven unfounded.

December 27, 2011

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 27, 2011

I saw the following letter in the paper yesterday:

Dear Diary:

At the American Museum of Natural History, I was charmed to see how even the youngest visitors were happy to cooperate with new, tightened procedures at security checkpoints.

Waiting in line to be cleared at the pavilion entrance was a very serious young lady of perhaps 3 or 4 years old, all dressed up for a day of visiting the butterflies and the dinosaurs.

Accompanied by her nanny, she carried by its chain a shiny little pocketbook about the size of a playing card.

When her turn came, she stepped up and solemnly handed this to the security guard. He hesitated, and then bent down and opened the tiny bag. Making a show of searching it, he handed it back, thanked her and told her she was cleared to come in.

The sight of her, walking off down the corridor with the pocketbook in her hand, put a very human face on how quickly we [Americans] adapt and move on in our new world.

December 23, 2011

Shaking the Tree

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 23, 2011

“That certainly shook the tree,” she pronounced brightly.

“What do you mean?” said I.

“The apple hit his head,” she said.

“Who? What?” I laughed.

“Newton,” she smiled.

We had just finished presenting the results of a minor study to a Board of Directors.  I found their response impenetrable, much more a non-response.

But within nine months nearly everything we proposed had been implemented.  The firm thrived from the changes.

I was an outsider.  She was very much inside.  She needed me to say aloud what she already knew.  She needed me to shake the tree.


In the Quran’s story of Jesus’ nativity, Mary shakes a tree (19:22-26):

The pain is real. The isolation is real. The anxious suffering has good cause.

The cool stream is also real, but unseen. The ripe dates are as real, but neglected.

Our needs can be fulfilled. Opportunities are within reach. To claim them we must notice and be willing to shake the tree.

The Quran continues: “So eat and drink and be contented.” (19:27)

Listen. Look. Rejoice.


Most do not argue that as the Roman Republic collapsed into the Empire a Jewish baby was born and came to be called Jesus.

There is considerable disagreement regarding nearly every other aspect of the boy’s life and death.

Over the centuries these disagreements have been used to justify horrible violence.  It will happen again today.

Sunday hundreds of millions will celebrate the Jewish boy’s birth.  Another 300 million will wait until January 7.  Two billion Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, but honor Jesus and most anticipate he will return in the last days to reconcile the earth to God’s intention.

No matter what else, perhaps we can agree this man knew how to shake a tree.

And most of us are blind to the ripe fruit his shaking has scattered all about us.

May these next days help us to see and even to taste.

Merry Christmas.

December 20, 2011

A new perspective on homeland security?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 20, 2011

Jane Holl Lute is the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.  On December 2, she spoke to the American Bar Association’s 21st Annual Review of the Field of National Security. Her presentation included a perspective about homeland security I had not heard before.

According to Secretary Lute, “National security is strategic… Homeland security is operational….”

From a social construction perspective, this is another claim in a crowded semantic field asserting what homeland security is.  I think it’s an innovative construction that deserves discussion.

For that view to persist in the homeland security ecosystem, there needs to be more evidence and more acolytes to support and nurture Secretary Lute’s claim. One also needs to demonstrate what value the perspective contributes to making the nation more secure.

An mp3 podcast of the 30 minute speech can be found here.  I do not know if there is an official transcript of her remarks.

A colleage who provided information about the speech shared an unofficial transcript of the relevant portion of the speech, reprinted below. (Thank you for the tip.)

[Starting at the 13:45 mark]

I told you I would give you my reflections on how homeland security differs from national security, and I’ve been doing national security for a long time.

National security is strategic, it’s centralized, it’s top-driven. Homeland security is operational, it’s transactional, it’s decentralized, it’s bottom-driven. It’s driven by the grassroots of this country, by the states, by the municipalities, by the cities and towns that experience these issues first-hand, day to day. It’s driven by the nearly two million people that pass through the TSA systems every day – every day pass through these systems.

We have global connections in this country, and we manage them in a transactional way, in an operational way, in homeland security. So unlike national security – strategic, centralized, top-driven; it’s about all of us – homeland security is operational, decentralized, bottom-driven; it’s about each of us.

The national security culture has very strong influences from the military and the intelligence community. Homeland security, it’s law enforcement, emergency management, and the political environment that is the vibrancy of this country.

In national security there is a culture of confidentiality, the need to protect the nation’s most sensitive information.

In homeland security there’s an expectation of transparency: it’s not a need to know, it’s a duty to share, it’s an expectation to share.

In national security there’s unity of command. In homeland security, it’s a unity of effort.

It’s a different model. It’s a different model. And we need to understand the things that we deal with from the differences that that model represents.

Homeland security of course is a part of national security, but it’s different.

[ Excerpt concluded at the 15:27 mark]


December 15, 2011

National Defense Authorization Act FY2012: An obscure and likely danger

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 15, 2011

On Monday a House-Senate conference reported out compromise language for the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act.  Last night, Wednesday, the House passed the conference-approved version.  The vote was 283 to 186, with Republican libertarians and Democratic liberals sharing the minority.

As previously posted at Homeland Security Watch, the separate House and Senate versions of the legislation included provisions that had caused the President to threaten a veto.  As I write this on Wednesday night, the White House has, according to CNN, decided not to veto what emerged from the conference.

I have not yet been able to secure a copy of the conference language.  It’s certainly out there and I have just not had time to look in the right place. (It’s been a tough week.)  Following is the language adopted by the Senate that causes me the greatest concern:

(a) IN GENERAL. — Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate  force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

(b) COVERED PERSONS.—A covered person under this section is any person as follows:(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks. (2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

(c) DISPOSITION UNDER LAW OF WAR.—The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following: (1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force. (2) Trial under chapter 47A of title 10, United States Code (as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (title XVIII of Public Law 111–25 84)).428† S 1867 ES1 (3) Transfer for trial by an alternative court or competent tribunal having lawful jurisdiction. (4) Transfer to the custody or control of the person’s country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity.

This executive authority is evidently extended even to citizens.  Again, I have not seen the conference language.  I hope there has been a substantive change.

But if not, and news reports suggest this section was not substantively changed, a citizen whom the Executive — on its own authority — determines has “substantially supported” a group that the executive has determined — on its own authority — is “associated” with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, can be held without trial until the end of hostilities.  No judicial review limits this power.  Nothing  but the Executive’s good faith and wisdom stands between a person and unlimited detention… until the end of hostilities.

There are other provisions of the Act worth active concern.  But I have read and re-read this language and thought and re-thought the last ten years (3000 years) and I cannot fathom why any Congress would give any President this kind of authority.

If the President does not veto — and from a purely political perspective he should not veto — I find it hard to imagine the detention of a citizen under the Act being allowed to stand by the Supreme Court.   It was, after all, Justice Scalia who wrote in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, “The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.”

But then a few years ago I would not have imagined such a measure ever moving beyond a quick burial by Congressional committee.

I see no clear and present danger suddenly springing from the law’s passage.  But that the House and Senate in Congress assembled adopted this legislation — overwhelmingly — and a President will apparently sign it,  ought be noted by future historians with keen interest.  I hope those future scholars will have cause to claim the body-politic soon recovered its courage and sense of constitutional integrity.


I am posting this quickly — perhaps too quickly — as a matter of keen personal interest.  I have not had the time to research this as fully as I would like and my schedule for the next several days may not allow me to participate in discussion.  It is a good time to tear me to shreds.  I will not be around to defend myself. But especially because I will not be in a position to post, I welcome your informed corrections.



Please see comments for link to conference language.

Please also see commentary by Glenn Greenwald providing substantive analysis of the actual legislation, another contribution from a reader.

December 14, 2011

Doing Right, Being Right

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on December 14, 2011

Which is more important or valuable to you: being right or doing right? Take care, your answer may say more than you think.

This has been an interesting week for science news. On Tuesday, particle physicists revealed tantalizing evidence that suggests their search for the mysterious Higgs boson is bringing them ever closer to discovering direct evidence of the so-called God particle. Over the weekend, a few media carried news from the other end of the scientific spectrum about an article in the journal Science reporting evidence of altruistic behavior in rats.

The existence (or not) of the Higgs boson has little or nothing to do with theology. You can believe it exists without following the tenets any particular faith tradition. But the finding that altruism is not confined to higher primates, much less humans, calls into question a cornerstone of much of what passes for dogma in both religious and secular society.

Faith and reason alike have been used to justify arguments about the central role of altruism in defining what makes us distinctly human. Any news that this may not be the case begs at least a moment of pause for philosophic reflection.

Altruism is important to emergency managers in much the same way its absence is to homeland security practitioners. On one hand, altruism helps emergency managers understand and explain why people do better than expected in coping with the effects of devastating events. On the other hand, the absence of altruism, call it evil or what have you, is often used to explain the motivations of those who would do harm to others whom they do not know.

Thinking of these two things as polar opposites suggests a sort of binary symmetry exists between them. Some might even be tempted to assume a sort of randomness to the emergence of one behavior as opposed to the other, which ends up evening out the score over the long run. But this new research seems to suggest something else entirely.

Instead of seeing altruism as a hallmark of human-ness, we might now have to accept just the opposite. If rats can demonstrate altruistic behavior toward one another, then it might be hardwired into mammalian brains as a default mechanism for alleviating pain. This in turn, would make the contrary behavior–willfully evoking pain in others, especially when it involves calculation, forethought and planning, the far more exceptional class of conduct.

Rats hardly have a good reputation in polite society. We apply the “rat” label to conduct considered venal, self-serving, conniving and anything but altruistic. At the same time, we consider evidence of altruism the virtuous epitome of humane behavior. The evidence, however, suggests just the opposite may be true.

Rats it should be said in their defense do not conspire with one another to spread disease. Something tells me they would say, “sorry,” if they could, for passing the plague. But humans, especially those willing and able to coöpt and conspire with one another to do harm, often display in such deeds either an inability to distinguish the wrongness of their actions or at the every least a wanton disregard for notions or right and wrong. The sophisticated nature of such rationalizations, whether they rely on faith or reason, strike me as more distinctively human than anything we now know even rats to be capable of.

As physicists continue the hunt for the Higgs boson and proof of the Standard Model, we would do well to consider anew our model of human behavior and how important altruism and the lack of it are to our understanding of what makes us who we are. If acting in a humane fashion toward one another is at once less distinctive of our human-ness and more common to the condition of simply being alive than we previously imagined, we might want to reconsider how we treat the rats among us.

As the assiduous and incredibly expensive search for the God particle aptly illustrates, concerted, intentional human effort reveals a powerful need we have, as humans, to acquire knowledge not for its sake but rather for our own. It’s not that we need to know, but that we need to know we are right, to confirm our hunches or faith is justified. Rats, it seems, are happy simply doing right for its own sake. I wonder which is happier?

December 13, 2011

Education as a homeland security concern: what the military can teach us

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on December 13, 2011

In May 2010, the National Security Strategy identified the need to strengthen the US educational system as an integral part of our national security interests:

The United States has lost ground in education, even as our competitiveness depends on educating our children to succeed in a global economy based on knowledge and innovation. We are working to provide a complete and competitive education for all Americans, to include supporting high standards for early learning, [and] reforming public schools….

The National Strategic Narrative considered education one of the nation’s three primary investment priorities:

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans – the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow – we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future.

A few months ago, my colleague Sam Clovis also argued that “public education reform must be part of any serious discussion about national or homeland security.”

He outlined the abysmal state of American schools and some of its consequences:

  • …Forty years ago, the United States was number one in academic performance in the world. Today, the US ranks twenty-fourth is math and twenty-fifth in science.
  • Fewer than 35 percent of students achieve basic proficiency at grade level.
  • The overall high school graduation rate for the country is around 70 percent. Some 1.2 million children drop out of school during each academic year. Dropout rates among minorities is alarming, with Native Americans’ dropout rate at 49 percent, African Americans’ at 45 percent, and Hispanics’ at 44 percent.
  • Of all individuals incarcerated in the country, 68 percent lack a high school education.
  • No major city in the nation has a graduation rate above 64 percent. Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Antonio have graduation rates of 38 percent, 44 percent, and 47 percent, respectively.
  • Current unemployment rates for individuals with less than a high school education is 16 percent, nearly twice the national rate.
  • Closing the performance gap between the US and other developed nations – between minorities and between similar schools – would add $2.31 trillion to the gross domestic product of the nation. This would mean an additional $415 billion in revenue at the national level and $138 billion at the state and local level.

Clovis’ wants to

…call the attention of my homeland security colleagues to the idea that public education reform must be part of any serious discussion about national or homeland security. A better-educated citizenry will be less dependent on government and more independent in times of crisis. A better-educated citizenry will be more attentive to issues and challenges at the state and local level and more engaged at the national level. A better-educated citizenry will cost less in public funding and will contribute more to the public coffers. Ultimately, a better-educated citizenry will be the guarantor of security for the nation and liberty for the individual.


So, what to do about this?

The Bush Administration championed No Child Left Behind.  The Obama Administration created the Race to the Top.  Both programs rely on standardized testing and government (sometimes federal, sometimes state) micro-oversight of schools and curriculum.

The results of No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top are mixed. Both initiatives have detractors and supporters, with anecdotes and studies to support their varied claims of success and failure.


I came across a story by Michael Winerip about the 2011 the National Assessment of Educational Progress federal testing program results.

“…once again, schools on the nation’s military bases have outperformed public schools on both reading and math tests for fourth and eighth graders.”….

At the military base schools, 39 percent of fourth graders were scored as proficient in reading, compared with 32 percent of all public school students.

Even more impressive, the achievement gap between black and white students continues to be much smaller at military base schools and is shrinking faster than at public schools….

In fact, the black fourth graders at the military base schools scored better in reading than public school students as a whole….

…In the last decade, the gap in reading between black and white fourth graders at base schools has decreased to 11 points this year (233 compared with 222), down from a 16-point difference in 2003 (230 compared with 214), a 31 percent reduction. In public schools, there has been a much smaller decrease, to a 26-point gap this year (231 compared with 205) from 30 points in 2002 (227 compared with 197), a 13 percent reduction.

People trying to explains the comparative success of the military education program

…would find that the schools on base are not subject to … No Child Left Behind, or … Race to the Top. They would find that standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools.

In the military base schools, standardized tests are used as originally intended, to identify a child’s academic weaknesses and assess the effectiveness of the curriculum.

One military base school principal believes that military base schools are more nurturing than public schools. “We don’t have to be so regimented, since we’re not worried about a child’s ability to bubble on a test,” [the principal] said.

Military children are not put through test prep drills. “For us,” [the principal] said, “children are children; they’re not little Marines.”

There are other factors in play; it’s not just about the schools:

Helping children succeed academically is about a lot more than what goes on inside the schools. Military parents do not have to worry about securing health care coverage for their children or adequate housing. At least one parent in the family has a job.

… A family’s economic well-being has considerable impact on how students score on standardized tests, and it is hard to make exact comparisons between military and public school families. But by one indicator, families at military base schools and public schools have similar earnings: the percentage of students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches is virtually identical at both, about 46 percent….

The military command also puts a priority on education. [One person], a petty officer who is stationed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., is given time off from work to serve as president of the base’s school board and coach middle school basketball and track teams.

Parents with children at the civilian schools … have not received that kind of support from their employers. “If Dad works in a factory, he gets three absences and he’s fired,” [a principal] said.

One data point does not a panacea make.  (For other perspectives, see this link, and this link.) I don’t know enough about the education policy domain to understand any dark side to the military school approach.  But the data in Winerip’s story hints at an alternative to the current mechanistic models of school improvement: i.e., hire motivated teachers and principals; let them do their job as they think best; monitor and publish the results; modify activities as needed; repeat.


Is improving public schools a homeland security issue?

I think it is.

As the National Preparedness Goal makes clear, “National preparedness is the shared responsibility of our whole community.”

I do not think it is a Department of Homeland Security issue.

But not everything homeland security belongs to DHS.


The National Preparedness Goal defines success as

A secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.

A dilapidated public education system is as much a threat to our national interests as other crumbling infrastructure.

We achieve the Preparedness Goal, in part, by

Protecting our citizens … against the greatest threats and hazards in a manner that allows our interests, aspirations, and way of life to thrive.

Terrorism, disasters, and the usual threat suspects cannot be ignored. But focusing exclusively on past evils will not open the path to a future worth creating.

A resilient nation requires a resilient education system.

Maybe we learn something about how to get there by listening to what the K-12 schools on military bases have to teach.






December 12, 2011

Locking up terrorists…but not in Guantánamo

Filed under: Legal Issues — by Arnold Bogis on December 12, 2011

This past weekend the New York Times published reporter Scott Shane’s investigation into the domestic system of detention for those convicted of terrorism.  It turns out Guantanamo, and military tribunals, are far from the full story when it comes to locking up terrorists:

In recent weeks, Congress has reignited an old debate, with some arguing that only military justice is appropriate for terrorist suspects. But military tribunals have proved excruciatingly slow and imprisonment at Guantánamo hugely costly — $800,000 per inmate a year, compared with $25,000 in federal prison.

The criminal justice system, meanwhile, has absorbed the surge of terrorism cases since 2001 without calamity, and without the international criticism that Guantánamo has attracted for holding prisoners without trial.

The numbers involved are eye-opening, even considering what I consider the generally inflated reporting on every far-fetched plot broken up in the planning stages (not to say there haven’t been serious threats, but to point out that groups that ask for boots from their FBI informant are likely not an imminent threat to blow up the Sears Tower):

Big numbers. Today, 171 prisoners remain at Guantánamo. As of Oct. 1, the federal Bureau of Prisons reported that it was holding 362 people convicted in terrorism-related cases, 269 with what the bureau calls a connection to international terrorism — up from just 50 in 2000. An additional 93 inmates have a connection to domestic terrorism.

Lengthy sentences. Terrorists who plotted to massacre Americans are likely to die in prison. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010, is serving a sentence of life without parole at the Supermax, as are Zacarias Moussaoui, a Qaeda operative arrested in 2001, and Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, among others. But many inmates whose conduct fell far short of outright terrorism are serving sentences of a decade or more, the result of a calculated prevention strategy to sideline radicals well before they could initiate deadly plots.

The conduct of those responsible for operating these detention centers is also called into question (for a summary of the issues involved, see this HSPI/CIAG joint report “Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization”:

Special units. Since 2006, the Bureau of Prisons has moved many of those convicted in terrorism cases to two special units that severely restrict visits and phone calls. But in creating what are Muslim-dominated units, prison officials have inadvertently fostered a sense of solidarity and defiance, and set off a long-running legal dispute over limits on group prayer. Officials have warned in court filings about the danger of radicalization, but the Bureau of Prisons has nothing comparable to the deradicalization programs instituted in many countries.

Both the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress often cite the threat of homegrown terrorism. But the Bureau of Prisons has proven remarkably resistant to outside scrutiny of the inmates it houses, who might offer a unique window on the problem.

In 2009, a group of scholars proposed interviewing people imprisoned in terrorism cases about how they took that path. The Department of Homeland Security approved the proposal and offered financing. But the Bureau of Prisons refused to grant access, saying the project would require too much staff time.

“There’s a huge national debate about how dangerous these people are,” said Gary LaFree, director of a national terrorism study center at the University of Maryland, who was lead author of the proposal. “I just think, as a citizen, somebody ought to be studying this.”

The article addresses the basic issue of the tradeoff between security and justice, and in my mind clearly comes out on the side of justice.  The reporter gives his story several faces in his exploration of a few cases.  The convicted, as well as their family and friends, can be read as arguing that sentences were too heavy for the infractions involved.  However there does not seem to be any true miscarriages of justice.  No innocent individual convicted on terrorism-related charges that in some way were not connected with the activities of which they were accused.  I do not believe that true justice has been carried out in every domestic terrorism case, history of the wrongly convicted in other criminal areas is too overwhelming.  Considering law enforcement’s focus on terrorism, perhaps the term near-hysteria could be applied for that period following shortly after 9/11 where a sleeper cell was suspected in every town, that the scales of justice do not appear dangerously unbalanced is of some relief.

The other important that emerges from this story is that our existing justice system appears up to the task of dealing with the issue of terrorism.  Compared against the costs and success of military tribunals and incarceration at Guantanamo, it should be a no-brainer to depend on domestic prisons and existing civilian judicial instruments.  Unfortunately, that is not happening.

December 9, 2011

Summary of the Strategic National Risk Assessment

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on December 9, 2011

The Strategic National Risk Assessment was written to support the National Preparedness Goal.  You can download an unclassified summary of the National Risk Assessment at this link. (Thank you to the person who sent me the link.)

The seven page summary includes these sections:

  1. Overview
  2. Strategic National Risk Assessment Scope
  3. Overarching Themes to an All-Hazards Approach
  4. Analytic Approach
  5. Limitations
  6. Impacts and Future Uses
  7. Conclusion

Here is an excerpt from the Overview:

The Strategic National Risk Assessment (SNRA) was executed in support of Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8), which calls for creation of a National Preparedness Goal, a National Preparedness System, and a National Preparedness Report.

Specifically, national preparedness is to be based on core capabilities that support “strengthening the security and resilience of the United States through systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the Nation, including acts of terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters.”

… The assessment was used:

  • To identify high risk factors that supported development of the core capabilities and capability targets in the National Preparedness Goal;
  • To support the development of collaborative thinking about strategic needs across prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery requirements, and;
  • To promote the ability for all levels of Government to share common understanding and awareness of National threats and hazards and resulting risks so that they are ready to act and can do so independently but collaboratively.

The subsequent pages provide an overview of the unclassified findings and the analytic approach used to conduct the SNRA. It should be emphasized, however, that although the initial version of the SNRA is a significant step toward the establishment of a new homeland security risk baseline, it contains data limitations and assumptions that will require additional study, review, and revision as the National Preparedness System is developed. These limitations are discussed below, and future iterations of the assessment are expected to reflect an enhanced methodology and improved data sets.

Below is a chart (taken from the Assessment) that summarizes:

… a series of national-level events with the potential to test the Nation’s preparedness….

For the purposes of the assessment, DHS identified thresholds of consequence necessary to create a national-level event. These thresholds were informed by subject matter expertise and available data. For some events, economic consequences were used as thresholds, while for others, fatalities or injuries/illnesses were deemed more appropriate as the threshold to determine a national-level incident.  In no case, however, were economic and casualty thresholds treated as equivalent to one another (i.e., dollar values were not assigned to fatalities). Event descriptions in [the table below] that do not explicitly identify a threshold signify that no minimum consequence threshold was employed. This allows the assessment to include events for which the psychological impact of an event could cause it to become a national-level event even though it may result in a low number of casualties or a small economic loss. Only events that have a distinct beginning and end and those with an explicit nexus to homeland security missions were included.

This approach excluded:

  • Chronic societal concerns, such as immigration and border violations, and those that are generally not related to homeland security national preparedness, such as cancer or car accidents, and;
  • Political, economic, environmental, and societal trends that may contribute to a changing risk environment but are not explicitly homeland security national-level events (e.g., demographic shifts, economic trends).

These trends will be important to include in future iterations of a national risk assessment, however.

If you have questions or comments about this initial effort to share the results of the national risk assessments, please let me know (in the comments section of this post) and I will ask around for answers.

December 8, 2011

Deterrence: Retrieving the full spectrum

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 8, 2011

Wednesday’s joint House-Senate hearing on homegrown terrorism was interesting, enlightening, painful, embarrassing, and infuriating… sometimes in the course of a single minute or two.  If you were not in the hearing room or missed the C-SPAN broadcast (available in archived entirety), individual videos and prepared testimonies are available at the House Homeland Security Committee website.

One of those testifying was LT. COL. Reid Sawyer, Director, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.  In his prepared testimony LT. COL. Sawyer noted,

The emergence of homegrown terrorism and the targeting of U.S. military forces requires a renewed examination of the nature of radicalization and the changing nature of autonomous radicalization—a process that today occurs largely in isolation from direct connection with external networks, creating new challenges for law enforcement and intelligence communities to detect, prevent and deter homegrown terrorism.

Most of Wednesday’s testimony, questions, answers, and occasional pontificating focused on detecting and preventing.  The lack of attention to deterring is unfortunate.  Especially in regard to homegrown terrorism there is a significant opportunity for deterrence… especially if deterrence is well-understood.

The Latin origin of deter, deterrent, and deterrence is deterrere.   During the classical era deterrere was much closer to our understanding of discourage or hinder than the Mutual Assured Destruction of Cold War deterrence.  There is even a positive aspect to the concept.

In Cicero’s Impeachment of Verres we read, “… testis praesertim , timidos homines et adflictos, non solum auctoritate deterrere, sed etiam consulari metu, et duorum praetorum potestate.”  A reasonable translation: “… witness in particular, timid and oppressed men, hindered not only by your own private influence, but fear of the consul, and the power of two praetors.”  The explicit distinction between deterrere (hindered) and metu (fear) is meaningful.  Moreover they are hindered by influence, while they fear power.

Deter entered English in the 1570s.  An early use is found in Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667):

Rather your dauntless virtue, whom the pain
Of death denounced, whatever thing Death be,
Deterred not from achieving what might lead
To happier life, knowledge of Good and Evil?
Of good, how just! Of evil-if what is evil
Be real, why not known, since easier shunned?

John Milton, Paradise Lost (l. Bk. IX, l)

Early English usage reflected the classical meaning.  In the passage above, dauntless virtue being not discouraged or not hindered seems more coherent with the tone than “not terrorized.”

In 1764  Cesare Beccaria published Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crime and Punishments) in which he argued for a systematic approach to what we would now call deterrence.

It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them. This is the fundamental principle of good legislation, which is the art of conducting men to the maximum of happiness, and to the minimum of misery, if we may apply this mathematical expression to the good and evil of life. But the means hitherto employed for that purpose are generally inadequate, or contrary to the end proposed. It is impossible to reduce the tumultuous activity of mankind to absolute regularity; for, amidst the various and opposite attractions of pleasure and pain, human laws are not sufficient entirely to prevent disorders in society.

To effectively prevent crime Beccaria recommended swift, consistent, and just punishment of proven wrongs combined with education, rewards, and application of science to encourage desired behavior.

The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham built on Beccaria’s foundation, gave considerable attention to the efficacy of punishment to prevent unwanted behavior, and called it a “deterrent” (introducing the word in 1829). But Bentham notes a distinction between a longer-term and nearer-term deterrent:

All punishment has a certain tendency to deter from the commission of offences; but if the delinquent, after he has been punished, is only deterred by fear from the repetition of his offence, he is not reformed. Reformation implies a change of character and moral dispositions.

The ultimate deterrent is change of disposition or what moderns might call motivation. Bentham certainly perceived we could be influenced by fear of detection, detention, and punishment.   But a more permanent form of prevention would, he argued at length, emerge from engaging the prospect of pleasure.  By understanding the fear of pain and the prospect of pleasure, Bentham perceived society can be constructively shaped:

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it.

From 1861, when “deterrence” first appeared in the English language, until the mid-Twentieth century the most common usage of the word related to issues of criminology.  Following World War II, however, deterrence was increasingly associated with military strategy and, particularly, the nuclear doctrine of Mutual Assurance Destruction.

In a January 1954 speech Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared,

We need allies and collective security. Our purpose is to make these relations more effective, less costly. This can be done by placing more reliance on deterrent power and less dependence on local defensive power.

This is accepted practice so far as local communities are concerned. We keep locks on our doors, but we do not have an armed guard in every home. We rely principally on a community security system so well equipped to punish any who break in and steal that, in fact, would-be aggressors are generally deterred. That is the modern way of getting maximum protection at a bearable cost. What the Eisenhower administration seeks is a similar international security system. We want, for ourselves and the other free nations, a maximum deterrent at a bearable cost.

Local defense will always be important. But there is no local defense which alone will contain the mighty landpower of the Communist world. Local defenses must be reinforced by the further deterrent of massive retaliatory power.

Rather than carrot and stick, after Dulles deterrence was understood as the prospect of a very big stick pounding as hard as possible.

This Cold War definition was so deeply ingrained in our political culture that in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks President Bush asserted, “Deterrence—the promise of massive retaliation against nations—means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.”

Deterrence is being retrieved.  In defense policy there is considerable talk of a “new deterrence.”  In homeland security and counter-terrorism important work has been done by Matthew Kroenig, Brian Jenkins and Paul Davis. But we still tend to operate under the shadow of Dulles and his terrible swift sword.  For optimal deterrence we also need some beauty of the lilies, wisdom to the mighty, and succor to the brave.

December 7, 2011

Knowing, Believing, Learning

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on December 7, 2011

Not knowing whether Homeland Security Watch’s domain would come back to life in time for my weekly rant had a soporific effect on my thinking about what to write. Then I read Chris Bellavita’s reflection on complexity and came back to life — a little.

One commenter called Chris’s post a fugue. I rather liken it to a comic opera though. That is to say: not depressing or morose. I found it entertaining in the sense that it shed light on foibles we all share.

Chris’s effort follows the common thread of complexity as weaves its way through our lives and unravels them in unexpected ways. His analysis suggests, as Carl Sagan put it, that our ignorance of science or at least scientific principles renders us vulnerable to disaster.

For years now, I have been intrigued by a very different argument about the root causes of the dilemmas Chris’s examples illustrated so aptly and which now confront us in abundance. That view, put forward by Canadian economist and political philosopher John Ralston Saul, argues it is not ignorance of science but a misplaced faith in science or the scientific method that has led us to the brink of environmental, economic, and political catastrophe. Saul is less concerned with knowing (or not) than with believing.

I am sympathetic to both arguments for different reasons. As Chris notes, those who don’t understand science can satisfy themselves that someone else does. Those who do understand science, or think they do, are all too willing to assure us they know more than they really do. So, which is more dangerous, not knowing or trusting too much?

Several months ago, I posted a link to New Zealand political scientist Bronwyn Hayward’s brief video on resilient citizenship, which argued something I think bridges the apparent gap between Sagan’s argument (the one articulated by Chris) and Saul’s. Hayward argues among other things that resilient citizens have a strong sense of and a connection to the natural world.

This connection may or may not include a detailed understanding of plant biology, cosmology, quantum mechanics or physical chemistry, but it must allow for a innate understanding of the cycles of life and death, ebb and flow, accretion and decay, chaos and order. Awareness and acceptance of these dichotomies requires a very different mindset than the one that sees the world in terms of  black and white, good and evil, pass and fail, profit and loss.

Natural dichotomies make us aware that most of our time is spent somewhere in between the extremes, making our way from one point to another and back again. The lucky and happy among us learn to enjoy the journey.

Too many of us though become fixated on one destination or the other at one time or another. The most desperate among us live this reality all the time, enjoying each brief respite at their preferred destination less and less as time passes, yet nevertheless clinging to the hope that something better and more complete awaits them at the end of their next journey.

A few of us are confused enough to believe it would be better to stop anywhere rather than continuing the journey regardless of where we end up. Stasis, or at least the longing for it, is to them anything but a fate worse than death.

The complexity of our world, as Chris pointed out, lies not so much in the reality of the world we live in but the way we choose to embrace it. If we are willing to accept this complexity neither at face value nor as something unknowable, but rather as something worthy of our attention, if not intellection, then we can find solace if not agency in our engagement with that world and those with whom we share it.

As 2011 comes to a close, the world faces many challenges and opportunities. Individuals with different mindsets will see in the same situations very different circumstances. As we wonder what it all means, we would do well to ask ourselves not what we can do about it, but rather what we can learn from it.

December 6, 2011

“The future is a communist chocolate hellhole and I’m here to stop it ever happening”

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on December 6, 2011

When I tried to visit Homeland Security Watch on December 3rd, I saw a colorful but impersonal web page from the largest ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) accredited registrar in the world yelling, like a Depression-era sheriff’s deputy at the front door of the farmhouse,

“NOTICE: This domain name expired on 12/02/2011 and is pending renewal or deletion.”

I do not pretend to understand how this whole domain name registration business works, or why one company can be worth 2 billion dollars registering domain names. I think I could find out. There’s lots of information on the internet, so the explanation is there somewhere. But I’m resigned to just letting that bit of knowledge go.

Turns out the credit card used to pay for this domain expired. Once that oversight was corrected, something or someone somewhere did something “technical” and Homeland Security Watch got out of  internet purgatory to be given yet another opportunity to provide “News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security.”


In 2010 the the United Kingdom version of CNET reported

“A would-be saboteur [who was] arrested … at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland made the bizarre claim that he was from the future. Eloi Cole, a strangely dressed young man, said that he had travelled back in time to prevent the [Large Hadron Collider] from destroying the world.

The future “is a communist chocolate hellhole and I’m here to stop it ever happening,” the obviously deluded man told police.

I do not pretend to understand how the Large Hadron Collider works or how, even in theory, its efforts to demonstrate the reality of the Higgs boson particle have any chance of succeeding.  I could learn. But I have to leave this to someone else to figure out.


Trevor Eckhart is someone who took it upon himself to figure out something that bothered him.

A few days ago, this Eagle Scout, rock/roller, system administrator from Connecticut posted a video about something called Carrier IQ.

Carrier IQ — depending on who and what you read — is either a way for phone companies to help you get better cell phone service, or a way for a third party to monitor just about anything you do on a smart phone.

Trevor Eckhart wanted to know what the Carrier IQ software – “installed by default on many mobile devices, unbeknownst to most consumers” – did. He conducted some research and published his results on a website called Android Security Test .

The Carrier IQ company sent him a nasty letter, threatening that lots of very bad and expensive things would happen to him if he didn’t immediately get rid of his research, acknowledge it was all lies, and basically just go away. Here’s a copy of that letter:  eckhart_cease_desist_demand_redacted.

Trevor contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation who sent a scholarly WTF letter back to Carrier IQ. Here’s a copy of that letter: eckhart_c&d_response.

Carrier IQ read the letter then hit the delete button on their threat.  They “withdrew” the cease and desist order and have been doing damage control ever since.

I do not pretend to understand how rootkit software works, whether Carrier IQ is rootkit, whether their software simply helps improve performance or eavesdrops on smart phones; whether it’s the phone companies snooping, the smart phone manufacturers, or — “the gov’ment.” Or maybe it’s just the technologically paranoid or illiterate overblowing the threat. I could learn, I suppose. But I’m just going to have to leave that to someone else — like Trevor — to figure out.


In his book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” Carl Sagan wrote something I’ve used before on this website:

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements … profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

I think Sagan is correct.  Absent a maoist reeducation initiative, I wonder what can be done to improve national understanding of science and technology.

Some people believe it’s too late for us to do much of anything about it.

Ignorance generated by the complexity of everything is a ground truth growing like kudzu.


One morning last [May], to the surprise of many denizens of the Internet, when they rose from their beds and padded to their PCs in their pajamas many of their favorite online haunts simply weren’t there. From Reddit to patient-monitoring systems, every website running on one section of Amazon’s Cloud Services had vanished.”

Amazon responded with its message 65648:

We now understand the amount of capacity needed for large recovery events and will be modifying our capacity planning and alarming so that we carry the additional safety capacity that is needed for large scale failures.

Peter Bright at Arstechnica puts his explanation of the outage — essentially Amazon initiated a denial of service attack against itself — under the headline “Amazon’s lengthy cloud outage shows the danger of complexity.”

He also noted the larger problem with complex phenomena:

“[The] company won’t know for certain if the problem is solved unless it suffers a similar failure in the future, and even if this particular problem is solved there may well be similar issues lying latent.”

Or, as someone named Petrarch summarizes,

“…not only does Amazon not know if they’ve properly fixed things, they cannot know it. Their cloud is just too complex.”

Petrarch could also have been describing the complexity of homeland security – writ in its globalized majesty:

Even in the early technological era, the reach of any one disaster wasn’t too great. A railway bridge collapse could cut off a town for a few weeks, or a failed telegraph cable disconnect Europe and America from instant communications, but there were other ways around. Famines were purely local and were made less severe with improved transportation and better farming technology.

Today, however, “the world is flat” and everything is interconnected. The American housing bubble spread economic havoc over the entire world. Nobody knows why it happened, so there’s no guarantee that the recent changes in laws and regulations will do any good at all.

… when food runs short due to bad weather in Russia or Americans turning too much corn into gasoline, food prices rise everywhere. All the world’s poor are priced out of eating at the same time.

… New England stood still for days in the Northeast Blackout of 2003; a century ago this wouldn’t have been possible since the various city grids weren’t connected. Good news: plans are in place to tie the national grid closer together, so we can take down the whole country all at once.

Grids and interconnected networks appear all over the place where you’d never expect them. The recent Japanese earthquake disasters wreaked havoc on Toyota and Honda’s manufacturing supply chain. No surprise there; they’re Japanese companies.

Time for American car makers to rake in the dough, right? Nope: GM had to shut down American plants because they buy parts from Japan, and GM can’t make American cars without Japanese parts.

As the world ties closer and closer together, we become more vulnerable to failures on the other side of the globe that we can’t control or even see.

In past times, there were potential disasters that could destroy an individual, town, or country, but at least people knew what they were and could pray to their God for protection from famine, pestilence, or whatever. Now, totally unimagined technological failures can foul up or, conceivably, take down our entire global society. Our technology is so complicated, so interconnected, and so hidden that we don’t even know what to pray for protection from.

We’ll have to upgrade the traditional Scottish prayer:

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go glitch in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

And, Lord, while you’re at it, please help Homeland Security Watch remember when its credit card expires.


Nuclear Apples to Citizen Oranges?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Arnold Bogis on December 6, 2011

While certainly not surprising, the juxtaposition of the following stories concerning the issue of federal funding of particular national/homeland security issues puts into context (for me at least) where the notion of “resilience” lies in our national security hierarchy.

Nuclear apples first: apparently there has been some consternation regarding a Ploughshares report that estimated “$700 billion in spending “on nuclear weapons and related programs during the next ten years.”” The kerfuffle led to opinions from the Washington Post and bloggers (on a side note, one of the commentators on the blog is science historian Alex Wellerstein, who not only makes the great point that the yearly average for maintaining our nuclear arsenal is roughly equivalent to the budget of the Manhattan Project, but posts some incredibly wonky/historically fascinating nuclear tidbits on his own blog: http://nuclearsecrecy.com/blog/). Whether the exact address is closer to $200 billion or $700 billion is not of great importance for my point, rather note the general neighborhood.

Citizen oranges: on a recent “Disaster Zone” post, Eric Holdeman shares an email written by an emergency manager from Alabama who expressed some concern about funding levels for Citizen Corps and related programs.This individual’s comments came after hearing FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino speak at a conference:

The Honorable Richard Serino pointed out that 33 billion was spent to improve infrastructure for search and rescue and communications over the last 10 years.

I do not accept the current financial environment as an excuse to cut Citizens Corps funding; not when FEMA and DHS are adamant about citizen preparedness.

This is a great opportunity for FEMA and DHS to put the money where their mouth is. I can assure each of you citizen preparedness is significantly cheaper than communications infrastructure or search & rescue training, mobilization and equipment.

The argument concerning nuclear weapons is in the neighborhood of hundreds of billions over ten years.  Communication equipment for first responders received tens of billions over ten years (including the flush years following 9/11). For FY 2011, Citizen Corps was allocated just about $10 million dollars.

Is resilience truly considered a priority by the federal government? If so, does the current operating definition include private citizens or is it limited to government programs, critical infrastructure, and other easily quantifiable categories?

December 2, 2011

525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

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

Can homeland security be measured? Consider a couple of possibilities:

One current project is concerned with supply chain resilience.  What is a resilient supply chain?  How does it behave?  How does it deal with threats and vulnerabilities?  According to interviews with senior supply chain owners, operators, and various experts no one has visibility over any single supply chain, much less the entire Supply Chain (like God, capitalized).  A supply chain seems to work best when it is widely distributed among several sometimes-competing, sometimes-collaborating players  who may or may not share what they know.  The Supply Chain is a complex adaptive system beyond measuring or managing in anything like a traditional understanding of these terms.

A second project is concerned with deterrence.  Is deterrence a short-term or long-term outcome? How is it achieved?  It seems to be the outcome of how positive and negative sanctions are applied to a well-defined audience for a specific purpose, often at a particular time-and-place.   Is there any way to accurately predict what mix of positive-and-negative, time-and-place will be most effective?  How do you measure absence? Isn’t this what deterrence means, the absence of something unwanted?  Almost everyone agrees that deterrence is an affective outcome, it is most effective when it influences motivations and unconscious tendencies.  How do you measure progress toward such a goal?  What does success look like?

It is reasonably clear and widely accepted that supply chain resilience and deterrence are each sub-elements of homeland security. Yet I am not at all sure how any of the three,  including homeland security, are to be defined — to be made finite — and thereby measurable (as traditionally understood).

I believe homeland security (as a practice, perhaps even a weird sort of verb), if effective, produces a public good called homeland security (a noun).  How do we assess such effectiveness?

Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economics writes,

The task of measuring performance in the production of public goods will not yield to simple calculations.  Performance measurement depends instead on estimates in which indicators or proxy measure are used as estimates of performance.  By utilizing multiple indicators, weak measures of performance can be developed even though direct measures of output are not feasible. Private goods are easier to measure, account for, and relate to cost-accounting procedures and management controls.

Private goods are easier to measure because we can exclude potential users from consumption.  The private good of shelter is measured by, in part, the number of homeless… those excluded from shelter.  How would we exclude consumption of effective deterrence? How would we exclude free-riding on effective supply chain resilience?  How would we exclude effective homeland security? Why would we exclude?

Despite the complications, Congress wants better performance measures. GAO is a principled and persistent advocate of performance measures.   Any senior official with the temerity to quote Dr. Ostrom would, I expect, be received rather skeptically in most Hill hearing rooms. Most “masters of disaster” would, in any case, welcome meaningful measures.  So we keep looking.

Recently a senior FEMA official pointed to a possible relationship between mid-term sales-tax revenues, long-term recovery, and resilience.   This made some intuitive sense. We were encouraged.

After a disaster sales-tax revenue almost always shows an immediate spike. For example,  according to the Tuscaloosa News in the month following the April 27 tornado, local sales tax revenue of $2.5 million was about $160,000 higher than the same period in 2010 and about $300,000 more than in 2009.

What about one year or more later?  Sales tax revenue is a leading indicator, the FEMA official argued, for a whole host of other indicators: population, recovery of the retail sector, sustainable government services, overall economic activity, and more.  If following the immediate spike there is a long-term slide in sales-tax receipts this is almost always evidence of non-resilience. The reverse is also true he suggested: stable or higher sales tax revenues signals a range of resilience.

According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, “City of New Orleans sales tax collections for the first six months of 2011 are at $78.5 million — higher than any other six–month period post–Katrina, and only 2 percent lower than the same months in 2005.”  Taken alone this could seem a sign of extraordinary resilience, especially for a city with a considerably reduced population and in the midst of a deep national recession.

Other indicators are mixed:  New Orleans school enrollment is 63 percent pre-Katrina numbers and the rate of violent crime is 80 percent higher than the national average.  New Orleans has not seen the collapse in employment of other places in the nation, but the biggest employment sectors — energy, tourism, and shipping — are all in decline.

Is New Orleans struggling or strong?  Resilient or just hanging on until the next big one?

Greensburg, Kansas is widely celebrated as a premier example of resilience in its creative, courageous response to the May 2007 tornado that devastated the community.  Between 2009 and 2010 Kiowa County — Greensburg is the county seat — saw sales tax revenue grow about 3 percent.   Does this quantity fairly capture the resilience of Greensburg?

How do we measure homeland security?  As input or output, might be the next question.

There is a Hebrew word — transliterated as ‘esher — that is usually translated as happy or blessed. This is the noun form of a verb — transliterated as ‘asher — that means to advance, go straight, make progress.

Do we achieve the noun by experiencing the verb or is experiencing the noun what motivates the action?

“How blessed (‘esher) is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. “(Proverbs 3:13-14)

Gold and silver can be precisely measured, valued, and excluded.  Wisdom is worth even more,  but resists unambiguous measurement.  I don’t think wisdom can be excluded (in the economic sense of the term), but it can certainly be elusive.

December 1, 2011

Against Al-Qaeda: Where bipartisanship finds an uneasy home

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 1, 2011

The following is quoted verbatim from page A-22 of the New York edition of the November 30 New York Times.  I do not have time for further comment, but felt it was too easy to miss and too important not to call out.  See more at the Times.

By a vote of 61 to 37, the Senate turned back an effort to strip a major military bill of a set of disputed provisions affecting the handling of terrorism cases. While the legislation still has several steps to go, the vote makes it likely that Congress will eventually send to President Obama’s desk a bill that contains detainee-related provisions his national-security team has said are unacceptable.

The most disputed provision would require the government to place into military custody any suspected member of Al Qaeda or one of its allies connected to a plot against the United States or its allies. The provision would exempt American citizens, but would otherwise extend to arrests on United States soil. The executive branch could issue a waiver and keep such a prisoner in the civilian system.

A related provision would create a federal statute saying the government has the legal authority to keep people suspected of terrorism in military custody, indefinitely and without trial. It contains no exception for American citizens. It is intended to bolster the authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which lawmakers enacted a decade ago…

Among Republican senators, there was nearly unanimous support for keeping the detainee provisions in the bill: 44 Republicans voted for them, while two — Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rand Paul of Kentucky — voted to remove them. By contrast, members of the Democratic caucus were deeply divided: 35 wanted to strip the detainee provisions from the bill, but 17 voted to keep them in it.

A previous post on the issue is available here.