Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 31, 2012

FEMA’s Think Tank

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on January 31, 2012

Last week a friend told me about a FEMA “think tank” website (thanks, Sam).

The site, located at http://fema.ideascale.com, looks to be an open-to-the-world (once you register) version of TSA’s “idea factory.”

According to FEMA, the agency is

…reaching out to state, local, and tribal governments, and to all members of the public, including the private sector, the disability community, and volunteer community, to seek their input on how to improve the emergency management system.

No doubt you’ve heard that language before.  But this effort looks like a significant improvement over initial DHS efforts (e.g., Quadrennial Homeland  Security Review) to incorporate stakeholder ideas through wisdom-of-the-crowd-like social networking.

After you register for the FEMA think tank site, you can submit an idea, or comment and vote for or against other ideas.  According to the website, “The best ideas bubble up to the top.” The voting (agree/disagree) option helps moderate entries from the good idea fairy.

It looks as if the site has been operating since mid-November.  Starting last Thursday, FEMA hosts a monthly conference call, open to the public, to discuss some of the ideas and what to do about them.

The site is hosted by a private sector web-based product called IdeaScale. The Comments and Privacy Policy contain quasi-draconian cautions, augmented by FEMA’s reminder that IdeaScale is “a private entity whose server is not under the control of FEMA and whose collection of information is not protected by the Privacy Act of 1974” and so on.

IdeaScale claims it can use Think Tank ideas almost anyway it wants to.

For this and several other reasons, perhaps FEMA’s Think Tank can be criticised for not being perfect. Using IdeaScale’s off the shelf (or technically off the web) product is a public/private partnership for a cyber world. And there is a lot we have not discovered about those partnerships.

FEMA is taking a risk here. But increasingly the world’s complexity demands intelligent trial and error initiatives, like FEMA’s Think Tank.  It seems like a good example of what David Snowden has written about as a safe fail probe.

Reading through the ideas and the comments, it looks like FEMA may be on to something with the Think Tank.

As of January 30th, there were over 1300 registered users, 296 ideas, 1371 comments, and 5515 votes helping ideas “bubble to the top.”

The ideas and comments were almost always thoughtful and improvement oriented.  I did not see one “let’s flood the border with land mines” suggestion.  The extended discussion about PPD 8 is especially worthwhile.


Here are the top 20 ideas — and partial descriptions taken from the website — discussed on the FEMA Think Tank (as of last night):

  1. U.S. National Grid as the Response Language of Location: Through NIMS and ICS, the leadership of DHS and FEMA have directed the phased introduction of numerous operational standards designed to promote and facilitate interoperability for the Emergency Services Sector. Yet, to date, they are without voice when it comes to the single most important element of response – the ability to communicate “where”…. Long ago, the U.S. Armed Forces realized that effective delivery of mission required every part of a “response force” in an operational realm (air, land, sea) had to use the same language of location…. It’s now long past due that the executive leadership of DHS and FEMA do the same thing through a national policy directive.
  2. Incorporate Preparedness in School Curriculums: Disaster preparedness should be taught as part of the school curriculum for children of all ages.
  3. EM [Emergency Management] Coffee Break Training: … The EM Coffee Break Training could provide this platform through weekly dessimination of one page lectures that would roughly take 5-10 minutes (long enough to finish a cup of coffee) to read. Each lesson could be reviewed individually or as a group and could provide supplemental information for further research or suggestions.
  4. School issues: In an emergency everyone turns to the schools, unfortunately most are not prepared, not trained, and emergency responders run up against rules that are frustrating at the least and life threatening at the worse. It would be nice if some how FEMA could offer the training because it won’t be done at the school level, not because it isn’t needed, but because of drastic budget cuts in education.
  5. Let the locals do the thinking: I have been involved with Emer. Mgt. for 20 years. I have managed 7 Presidential disasters and many more local emergencies. My biggest problem is FEMA/Homeland Security and the State. The federal and state government has placed a mountain of paperwork on my desk that restricts my ability to complete the real work within my community. A 10 minute piece of paperwork to report an exercise 20 years ago has escalated into the HSEEP monster with days of work and for what?…. I think if FEMA would really like to know what is best for the country and the local programs they first need to consider what would help the locals by asking for our input before they issued another mandate. We know what is best for our community because we live here.
  6. Mobile Apps For FEMA Employees And The Public Utilizing GPS: An app that utilizes GPS coordinates to aid in disaster response, send relevant emergency alerts to the user, and ability to locate loved ones by last known location.
  7. EAS [Emergency Alert System: The EAS should include all cell phones.
  8. “Be Prepared” campaign: One of the things I heard from the leaders of FEMA was: the citizens need to be ready to help themselves. Not just that, but specifically stated: the federal government is not going to be there for you right away. Unfortunately, I only heard this for about a week before it was abandoned. You can spend all you want on CERTs, exercises, equipment, etc, etc. You can spend fractions of that money on an information campaign and have the citizenry help themselves.
  9. Bring Back Project Impact: Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt created Project Impact in 1997 with the goal to create “disaster resilient communities”. Overall the program was considered a resounding success; not only did it help communities become more disaster resilient, but it also was a success at “bringing people from diverse sectors of the community together to address mitigation issues”.
  10. Utilize resources already in disaster zone: During Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart gave their employees approval days in advance to do “whatever they had to help the citizens”. I think to help with disaster relief at any level, the government should partner up with larger community based retailers that are already in the areas.
  11. Utilizing 2-1-1 in Disasters: I work for an NGO in Columbus, Ohio. One of the greatest skills we can bring to a disaster is assistance in Emergency Public Informaiton via our 24/7/365 Information and Referral line, 2-1-1. 2-1-1 is an easy, three digit number for citizens to call to get assistance with rent, utilities, food, etc. (during normal operations).
  12. Corporate America Planning: As the Emergency Manager for a fortune 25 company with over 400 active facilities to manage. It’s difficult to find any formal Emergency Management training that includes office buildings, clinics, data centers, etc.
  13. Community Mapping to implement the Whole Community Concept: In addition to mapping of risk and protective factors, [community mapping] makes the whole community more resilient by…Bringing the community together to collectively plan, which increases the sense of ownership and responsibility on the disaster response and recovery activities….
  14. Preparedness and Sustainability Linkage: Many sustainable practices pay dividends in a disaster. Bicycle transportation, gardening, water catchment, canning, solar power etc are all examples of activities which make communities better places to live AND make communities more self-relient when infrastructure and critical supplies are halted.
  15. Federal Disaster Management Externship program: … a large percentage of the existing Emergency Management leaders [will] be retiring beginning in the next 5 years. The question, we the students, no matter the level of education [asked] is “How are we to gain experience in the field in the next five years while we wait our turn at the few existing emergency management positions?”
  16. Preliminary Damage Assessments by Smartphone: FEMA should produce a smart phone application that allows the capture and upload of georeferenced text and photo’s during a disaster.
  17. 24/7 Field Triage Preparedness: The recognition & adoption of a standardized national illuminated color coded system for triaging MCI patients 24/7. Today different States & organizations use different triage cards and tapes for triaging patients.
  18. Alert Systems: Many cities have or belong to an Emergency Alert system. I did not see any alerts during your testing. … Nor did I see anything on facebook or twitter until the test was over and everyone was asking if it worked.
  19. ICS / NIMS Training: Whether by DHS or FEMA or the CDP, I think all involved need to re-think the limited training opportunities for ICS and NIMS training.
  20. Hazard Reporting – All-Hazards Feedback: USGS has a website for “Did you feel it” to allow people to report on earthquakes that were felt – http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/dyfi/. A similar type of approach from other hazard partners would be helpful (NWS, USGS, NOAA, etc).


TL; DR: FEMA is soliciting ideas online about how to improve emergency management. Some of the ideas are intriguing.

January 28, 2012

Guardian exclusive: Boko Haram goals

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 28, 2012

Prior posts have given attention to the potential for widening inter-religious conflict in Nigeria.   It has been difficult to find authoritative and coherent statements in English by those taking credit for the most sustained attacks: the so-called Boko Haram.  There is an exclusive interview in Friday’s Guardian newspaper that offers some of what has been missing.

The Islamist group Boko Haram, which has killed almost 1,000 people in Nigeria, will continue its campaign of violence until the country is ruled by sharia law, a senior member has told the Guardian.

“We will consider negotiation only when we have brought the government to their knees,” the spokesman, Abu Qaqa, said in the group’s first major interview with a western newspaper. “Once we see that things are being done according to the dictates of Allah, and our members are released [from prison], we will only put aside our arms – but we will not lay them down. You don’t put down your arms in Islam, you only put them aside.”

Please access the full report at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/27/boko-haram-nigeria-sharia-law. While at The Guardian check-out several related side-bar stories.  Some of these support concerns I have previously outlined, some argue my concerns are overblown or badly targeted.

January 27, 2012

Supply chains: Innate tension between efficiency and resilience

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 27, 2012

Wednesday the White House released a new National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.   This is an issue easy to underestimate.  Like the plumbing in your house, it tends not to be at the forefront until something goes wrong: leaking, freezing, breaking, bursting, or when the well goes dry. Below is a quick take on context and potential implications.


On June 26, 1974 at a Marsh supermarket in Ohio, a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum became the first retail product sold using a scanner and Universal Product Code symbol.  Our lives would never be the same.

The use of the UPC and other “bar codes” allows the supply chain to be digitally monitored, mapped, and managed as never before. Logistics became one aspect of a supply and demand chain.

Working through a private international standards-setting process a variety of bar codes provide a framework that pulls many products, services, and information about them across the network.

In effect, this information moves the supply chain itself.

Increasingly these standards – and the rich information and management resources they make possible – ensure effective, timely, and comparatively friction-free transactions between companies and nations. The ability to share this digital information in very close to real-time has transformed the modern supply chain from supply-push to demand-pull.

Farmers, miners, and fishermen still matter. Processors, truckers, wholesalers, and retailers still play a crucial part. Ports, railways, and highways are still required. Physical stuff of all sorts still has to move from point A to B (and usually on to points C, D, and Z). But at least in the United States, Europe, Pacific Rim and increasingly around the world, the digital signals that are sent along largely determine when and where product arrives.

When this strategic capacity for generating demand-pull information persists, the supply chain is very resilient. Demand-pull is an attractor around which the system self-organizes.

But if the digital stream dries up the supply chain goes blind, deaf, and immobile. This has important – and largely unprecedented – implications for catastrophe preparedness.

Given this strategic context we are clearly beyond the typical approach to Mass Care (ESF-6) or Logistics (ESF-7). The Emergency Support Functions are just as dependent on supply chain resilience as any other aspect of modern life.

Supply chain resilience is a matter of systemic strategic capacity. If the capacity is resilient, local capability will be restored sooner rather than later. If the capacity is lost, it may be very late indeed until local capability is restored. Moreover, as the supply chain has evolved into a scale-free network – a network where relatively few hubs concentrate the preponderance of connections – the supply chain has incorporated the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of such a network.

With particular attention to the weaknesses, Ted Lewis explains:

A scale-free network containing a highly linked hub and many sparsely linked nodes is more organized than a random network… When a highly organized system reaches its critical point, insignificant incidents become significant because they can collapse the entire system… As self-organization increases, typically in the form of larger hubs or nodes with high betweeness properties, the complex system also becomes more vulnerable to targeted attacks and normal accidents. The extreme case of self-organization is SOC (self-organized criticality) – a state in which small changes are likely to create large effects… As a system nears its critical point, consequences grow exponentially in size. As SOC grows, so does the multiplier effect on the overall system. (Lewis, Ted G., Bak’s Sand Pile: Strategies for a Catastrophic World, Agile (2011), Page 340)

For the last twenty years the modern supply chain has generated extraordinary benefits. Efficiencies have multiplied across the global network. But the same networked behaviors that multiply good outcomes can – especially in an unexpected context – multiply bad outcomes.

Surprisingly, optimizations and improved efficiencies have been shown to increase self-organized criticality, making optimized networks less resilient. There are a number of reasons for this non-intuitive result, but one obvious reason is that efficiencies often mean less redundancy and less (expensive) surge capacity.

Most owners and operators of supply chains will find this claim incredible. They will point to several years of data and experience demonstrating increasing stability, effectiveness and predictability. They are right, and it is the system’s predictability that is of particular concern.

The modern supply chain – at its best – is good at predicting market patterns. It recognizes early shifts in consumer behavior, signals these subtle changes across the network, and stimulates appropriate responses in terms of production, transportation, distribution and other functions. Nearly everyone operates on tight deadlines and scramble to meet shareholder profit expectations, but the overall volume is sufficient to keep cash, credit, and goods flowing just ahead of demand. A miniscule profit margin multiplied over millions of consumers is good business.

A big part of the magic is deferring to the expertise of others. Costs – and therefore the consumers’ price – are driven down by abandoning any function where there is not a clear comparative advantage. Increasingly dense network hubs are the result. Searching for comparative advantage has created “cylinders of excellence.”

The producer is very expert in producing, and depends on another expert to transport, and another expert to process, and another expert to package and so on across the network.

No one owns the supply chain. Very few even try to visualize more than their piece of the supply chain, the piece where they have comparative advantage. The level of risk-informed engagement with each piece ranges widely. Risk-informed engagement with other hubs in the network is uncommon.

V.G. Narayanan and Ananth Raman explain,

Most companies don’t worry about the behavior of their partners while building supply chains to deliver goods and services to consumers. Engineers – not psychologists – build supply networks. Every firm behaves in ways that maximize its own interests, but companies assume, wrongly, that when they do so, they also maximize the supply chain’s interests… That finding isn’t shocking when you consider that supply chains extend across several functions and many companies, each of which has its own priorities and goals. Yet all those functions and firms must pull in the same direction to ensure that supply chains deliver goods and services quickly and cost-effectively. Executives tackle intraorganizational problems but overlook cross-company problems because the latter are difficult to detect. They also find it tedious and time-consuming to define roles, responsibilities, and accountability for a string of businesses they don’t manage directly. Besides, coordinating action across firms is tough because organizations have different cultures and companies can’t count on shared beliefs or loyalty to motivate their partners. (Narayanan, V.G. and Raman, Ananth, Aligning Incentives in Supply Chains, Harvard Business Review on Supply Chain Management (2006), Pages 174-175))

The local grocer does not own his or her source of supply. Even the large grocery company does not usually own the trucking firm that delivers product to its loading docks. The distribution center does not own the means of producing what it distributes. The food supply chain is – and most supply chains are – a disaggregated set of functional specialties in tight relationship and mutually dependent, but much more a team of rivals than a true partnership.

The ubiquitous use of outsourcing in search of comparative advantage is widely thought to transfer risk down or across the network. The assumption is suspect.

Outsourcing more likely obscures the actual level of risk. For the reasons outlined by Narayanan and Arnanth the risk is not known, but it almost certainly exists. Wall Street rewards this behavior because it keeps inventory costs low across the supply chain and creates the impression of risk distribution.

Risk distribution can be illusory, especially in scale-free networks. Rather, risk is almost certainly being concentrated in those low-end operators most vulnerable to any major shift in the risk environment.Given the nature of the modern supply chain, this supposedly transferred risk is actually accumulating and will, probably (my judgment), be unleashed across the supply chain by some future event with catastrophic consequences.

The greatest value of the new Strategy is to create a window-of-opportunity before such an event when creative and collaborative attention can be focused on these issues, especially to mitigate systemic vulnerabilities and enhance the resilience of strategic capacity.

January 26, 2012

Global Supply Chain Strategy

Filed under: Catastrophes,Cybersecurity,Port and Maritime Security,Private Sector,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 26, 2012

Yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Secretary Napolitano unveiled the new National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security (1.5 megabyte PDF).  The President signed-out the document on Monday.

The strategy offers two goals:

Goal 1: Promote the Efficient and Secure Movement of Goods – The first goal of the Strategy is topromote the timely, efficient flow of legitimate commerce while protecting and securing the supply chain from exploitation, and reducing its vulnerability to disruption. To achieve this goal we will enhance the integrity of goods as they move through the global supply chain. We will also understand and resolve threats early in the process, and strengthen the security of physical infrastructures, conveyances and information assets, while seeking to maximize trade through modernizing supply chain infrastructures and processes.

Goal 2: Foster a Resilient Supply Chain – The second goal of the Strategy is to foster a global supply chain system that is prepared for, and can withstand, evolving threats and hazards and can recover rapidly from disruptions. To achieve this we will prioritize efforts to mitigate systemic vulnerabilities and refine plans to reconstitute the flow of commerce after disruptions.

In my judgment we are much closer to achieving “efficient and secure movement” than we are to a “resilient supply chain”.  The new strategy could help with each, but the tougher task will be the effort “to mitigate systemic vulnerabilities.”

On January 11 the Wall Street Journal reported,

After a decade of streamlining their supply chains to make them less costly, the natural disasters and political upheavals that marked 2011 showed many multinational companies just how vulnerable those links have become.

A senior supply chain executive recently told me (clearly depending on me to protect his name and the name of his firm), “We have several known choke-points. I’m sure there are many more we don’t know about.  It won’t take a major disaster to disrupt supply, just a couple of unusual, probably simultaneous accidents.  I think — hope — there would be a similar impact on our competitors.  But that doesn’t help our consumers.”

“There are ways to mitigate our risk, but they’re all expensive,” another executive explains.  “And for the last decade and the foreseeable future the lower cost of US supply chain management has been our principal economic advantage.  We’re much better than the Europeans, tons more efficient than the Chinese.  Increase supply chain costs and we lose just about the only advantage the US has left on most commodity trading and even a broad range of high-end specialty goods.”

Again from the Wall Street Journal:

Justifying redundancies is one of the toughest aspects of managing a supply chain, because backstopping doesn’t pay off unless there is a disaster. When CFOs ask about the return on such investments, the answer is, “If we’re lucky, absolutely zero return,” says Sean Cumbie, vice president in charge of global supply-chain management at genetics-testing company Qiagen NV, based in Germany.

The new strategy makes a glancing reference to “appropriate redundancy” which, for most supply chain executives, is like discussing the practical difference between manslaughter and murder.   Whatever you call it, the outcome ain’t pretty.

The senior supply chain guys (and a few gals) are the pioneers of the field.  In the last twenty years they have transformed the known world.  Not just the supply chain world, but the everyday world of billions of consumers.  Today the supply chain is faster, cheaper,  delivers much higher quality with much more assurance and transparency than a quarter century ago.

On most days the supply chain is also stronger, more flexible, and better at handling a range of emergencies and disasters.

But what we saw in Northeast Japan and Thailand has exposed a parallel reality.  Like all networked systems, risk tends to pool in unexpected ways and often unexpected places.  What if the earthquake-and-tsunami had hit the economic heartland of Tokyo and Osaka, instead of the Tohoku periphery?  What’s would the outcome be if  instead of Thai flooding it was an earthquake in San Francisco and down the east side of Santa Clara County?  What happens if the Port of Long Beach is seriously disrupted for an extended period?  What if cyber-vandals — or economic or national or terrorist adversaries –seriously target the digital systems on which the modern supply chain absolutely depends?

In a report — “New Models Addressing Supply Chain and Transport Risk” (7 megabyte PDF) —  released Tuesday, the World Economic Forum found:

Supply chain and transport networks have continuously evolved to deliver capacity, speed, efficiency and customer service through organizational trends such as globalization, specialization, volume consolidation and information availability. The focus on cost optimization has highlighted the tension between cost elimination and network robustness – with the removal of traditional buffers such as safety stock and excess capacity. These developments have shifted risk distributions…(while) their effects have often included sharing risk more broadly around the world, reducing high-frequency risks and focusing risk within sectors, common technologies or nodes. Another common feature has been to disassociate risk from responsibility, misaligning incentives and creating moral hazards – the notion that a party that is insulated from risk will behave differently from how it would behave if it had full exposure to risk.

Most supply chain managers I know tend to discount low frequency, high consequence risks (see related post).  They discount this kind of risk because over the last twenty years they have become true masters of risk management.   They also discount high impact risks because their CEO’s, Boards of Directors, and shareholders reward them for squeezing every possible penny out of supply chain costs.  They discount catastrophic risk because their creation — the modern supply chain — has never experienced a fundamental systemic failure.


Many supply chain executives have become what economists sometimes call “risk preferers”, they have learned to maximize their return by skating with great style, grace, and confidence along the edge of chaos.   Each day they become more adept at mastering the chaos.   Is the experienced supply chain executive a sorcerer or  sorcerer’s apprentice?

The new National Strategy is the starting point for a collaborative process of discussion, analysis, and policy development.  It seeks to “develop a culture of mutual interest and shared responsibility” across government and the private sector.  It’s the right goal.  It’s the right way to pursue the goal.

It is a very ambitious goal.

January 25, 2012

SOTU: ‘Osama’s dead, GM’s alive’

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Events — by Mark Chubb on January 25, 2012

A short time before President Obama delivered the annual state of the union address to a joint session of Congress, a media outlet I follow Tweeted a summary attributed to Vice President Joe Biden: “Osama bin Laden is dead, GM is alive.” The president spoke for more than an hour this evening, but that just about sums it up from a homeland security perspective.

The elimination of bin Laden and the routing of al-Qaeda’s leadership since President Obama took office is arguably the singular foreign policy accomplishment of his presidency. His administration achieved much of its success on this front by all but ignoring promises it made to its political base and taking actions even his Republican predecessors seemed to shy away from in scale if not necessarily in scope.

It might not be fair to suggest that President Obama’s admiration for the military expanded with his ascendence to the office of commander-in-chief. The two most significant role models in his young life beyond his own mother were his maternal grandparents in Kansas. His grandfather, he reminds us, served in Patton’s army while his grandmother assembled bombers back home. The experiences that shaped them clearly left an indelible impression on him as a young man and inspire his sense of duty even today.

The president’s address tonight made it clear that he sees the armed forces as a model of what America can be when it tries to be its best. In many ways, I agree. The U.S. armed forces are truly a model of diversity, innovation and adaptability. But what can be said of the armed forces cannot necessarily be said of the armed services.

Of those American institutions that did not atrophy from lack of attention or loss of investment, many have become sclerotic as money, influence-peddling and political polarization have conspired to clog the arteries of our democracy. The resulting death spiral threatens the American Dream and has all but snuffed out our faith in a better future. From his opening remarks to his conclusion, the president called upon Americans to see in the can-do example of our fighting forces the inspiration to revive our democracy and the incentive to renew our nation.

As with previous addresses, the president emphasized the need to establish clear priorities and make smarter choices. He called on Congress to work with his administration to create an America “built to last.” To do this, he called for the restoration of an economy “where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”

Calls for renewed investments in education, energy innovation and infrastructure took center stage once again this year despite the president’s acceptance of the need to make further spending cuts in other areas, including entitlements. At several points, he noted how government investment had created the very opportunities our men and women under arms have fought to protect and that have benefited the wealthiest among us.

The president’s address not only displayed the rhetorical strengths for which he is rightly admired by supporters and reviled by opponents. His remarks also revealed a growing sense of pragmatism and purpose. The president made it clear that he will meet Congressional obstruction with action. One particularly clear indication of his intentions come from his emphasis on regulatory reforms that will enable some of the savings from defense cuts to be put to work on “nation-building right here at home.”

Before President Obama arrived on Capitol Hill tonight, Speaker of the House John Boehner remarked to the media that the president’s address would amount to little more than a campaign stump speech. Clearly, this president knows the campaign has already begun. And he knows too that re-election is no certainty. But he also seems more committed to reinforcing his accomplishments and taking the fight to his opponents than he did last year.

Something tells me any effort by Republicans to prematurely rewrite Biden’s pre-SOTU summary to serve as an epitaph for this administration — “Obama’s dead, America’a alive” — have another think coming.

January 24, 2012

Detaining a United States Senator to help make America safe

Filed under: Aviation Security,Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on January 24, 2012

Here is a 10 minute CNN interview with Senator Rand Paul, as he discusses his side of what happened at the Nashville airport on Monday.  Senator Paul says he was detained by TSA because he wanted to walk through the body imaging machine a second  time after the machine apparently showed he had something on his leg.  Senator Paul wanted to lift his pant leg and show there was nothing there.  TSA, apparently, insisted on patting down the United States Senator. Senator Paul declined and was not allowed to travel on that particular flight.

Here is a link to the Transportation Security Administration’s blog telling their side of the story.  One part of that post includes this explanation:

When a passenger or bag alarms in screening technology at a TSA checkpoint, the alarm has to be resolved before the passenger can enter the secure area past the checkpoint.  Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process can’t be granted access to the secure area. TSA notifies law enforcement when this happens, and law enforcement officers can escort them out of the checkpoint.  This isn’t done to punish the passenger– it’s done to ensure that every person who gets on a plane is screened appropriately.

The White House press secretary had this to say about Paul’s claim he was detained:

“Let’s just be clear… the passenger was not detained. The passenger triggered an alarm during routine airport screening, but refused to complete the screening process in order to resolve the issue. Passengers, as in this case, who refuse to comply with security procedures are denied access to the secure gate area. In this case, the passenger was escorted out of the screening area by local law enforcement. It’s my understanding he has now rebooked and passed through security without incident, and that has resolved itself.”

Senator Paul said: he certainly felt like he was detained.

“If you’re told you can’t leave, does that count as detention?” Paul asked. “I tried to leave the cubicle to speak to one of the TSA people and I was barked at: ‘Do not leave the cubicle!’ So, that, to me sounds like I’m being asked not to leave the cubicle. It sounds a little bit like I’m being detained.”


I heard TSA Administrator Pistole a few weeks ago talking about wanting to move TSA away from looking for dangerous objects and toward looking for dangerous intent.

I think that is a worthwhile objective.

To implement that idea,  Pistole (and yes, it is pronounced “pistol”) noted in a speech last month, TSA has :

… begun implementing additional risk-based security measures at numerous airports [to] expedite the screening process for travelers we know and trust the most, and travelers who are willing to voluntarily share information with us before they travel.

This initiative includes easing access for the military:

U.S. service members are entrusted to protect citizens with their lives and as such, TSA is recognizing that these members pose very little risk to security.

In the decade TSA has been in business, the agency’s employees have:

screened more than five billion passengers and detected thousands of firearms among countless prohibited items discovered and prevented those weapons from entering the cabin of an aircraft.

I have not seen or read evidence or anecdotes to suggest any – repeat – any of the TSA-screened passengers caught with prohibited items planned to commit a terrorist act.  And that includes Sergeant 1st Class Trey Scott Atwater, the man who reportedly brought C4 explosives with him in his carry on baggage last December.  (Earlier this month, Atwater was released on a 50,000 dollar unsecured bond.)

I do not have access to classified information. Maybe TSA has prevented  or displaced terrorist aviation-related attacks.  I want to grant the agency the benefit of the doubt here.  But I am willing to bet, say, $10,000 none of those possible attacks was perpetrated by a United States Senator.


People can be — and are — stupid, criminal, sneaky and forgetful when it comes to bringing things onto an aircraft.  (I am not without sin here.)  But at what point do we start actually doing risk-informed, risk-based, risk-whatever decision making with passenger screening?

Unless TSA’s continuously evolving risk-based security model seeks to achieve zero risk, why does it take so long to develop discretionary policies “for travelers we know and trust the most,” for people who a reasonable person would consider not to be a risk?

During Monday’s Republican debate in Florida, Newt Gingrich used the phrase “huge institutional barriers against doing the right thing.”  Is that what’s going on here? Is it congress, the administration, TSA, the airline industry who intends to take another decade to get this worked out?  Who is calling the timing shots here? What is the delay?

I do not ask this to be snarky.  I’d really like to know why a nation-wide trusted flyer program cannot be put into place before the summer arrives.

I would be more than happy to make space available on this blog to help clarify why this is taking so long.


Some flyers may experience a tinge of Schadenfreude at Senator Paul’s experience. But something is deeply wrong when TSA employees are not given — by law, or policy, or doctrine, or procedure, or whatever —  the discretion to treat a United States Senator with some common sense.

Senator Paul did not have “dangerous intent.”  He was not planning to bring the plane down.

If he wanted to destroy America he has access to a much more powerful device.



January 23, 2012

The problem with defining “something”

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Arnold Bogis on January 23, 2012

In a post last week, Phil brought to our attention a White House meeting where local law enforcement officials were presented with a framework for identifying “Homegrown Violent Extremists” that included four major mobilizing patterns:

Contact with individuals tied to terrorist organizations

Indicators of ideological commitment

Travel or attempted travel in pursuit of a violent agenda

Seeking weapons or weapons related training

All very sensible, though perhaps seemingly so after the fact. Perhaps at the briefing methodology was shared for determining in advance when these or similar indicators might lead to violence.  Hopefully it was more than what Phil’s brief contained:

According to my sources the law enforcement officials were, “cautioned against adopting a checklist-like mentality incountering the HVE threat. Simplistically interpreting any single indicator as a confirmation of mobilization probably will lead to ineffective and counterproductive efforts to identify and defeat Homegrown Violent Extremists.”

That quote reminded me of the following quote from a not-so-recent blog post at Security Debrief:

Ask yourself, would an artist draw what you see them sketching? Are the photos a person is taking something you would place in your vacation or family photo album? Give yourself the “reasonableness” test. Is it reasonable that the activity is likely tourist or terrorist in nature? Trust your intuition.

The author is Erroll Southers, according to his Security Debrief Blog bio a former FBI Special Agent, President Barack Obama’s first nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Transportation Security Administration, and Assistant Chief of Homeland Security and Intelligence at the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department.

Reasonable advice from a homeland security professional, right?

Perhaps only after the fact.  Not to pick on Mr. Southers, but I’m guessing he rarely if ever visits small art galleries or has participated in “open studios” (these are usually weekends when a number of artists in particular neighborhoods open up their studios–often their homes–to the public to view and perhaps purchase their work) in any of the cities in which he has lived.  I enjoy these events and could not count on my hands the number of photographers I’ve encountered who take pictures of what is considered critical infrastructure.  Dams, electrical grids, nuclear power stations, public transportation, etc.  Not something you might place in your vacation (Hoover Dam anyone?) or family photo albums perhaps, but absolutely striking physical objects that can be rendered quite beautifully by any number of artists.

I have noticed this general extension of “see something, say something” in other venues, numerous papers, and by many a speaker. The unoriginal thinking and lack of imagination is disheartening.  How will the public become true partners in homeland security if the level of engagement largely remains at this level?  Does the whole of community only count those who have the same aesthetic views as homeland security professionals?  And will JIC (just in case) be the enduring legacy of 9/11?

Maybe not, at least if noted baseball writer George Will and others have anything to say about it:

Quentin, who finds aesthetic — and occasional monetary — value in photographs of industrial scenery at night, was equally persistent when deputies ordered him to stop taking pictures, lest they put his name on a troublesome FBI list. He was on a public sidewalk, using a large camera on a tripod, photographing an oil refinery at 1 a.m. He has a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of California at Irvine, so there.

Maybe things aren’t so bad after all…

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 23, 2012

It has become conventional wisdom in national security circles (and among some of the regular commentators on this blog) that the United States is on the decline–economically, socially/culturally, and perhaps even militarily.  This is made even more stark by comparison to China’s meteoric rise over the last couple of decades.

But is it true?  Hat tip to Daniel Drezner’s blogging at Foreign Policy for highlighting the recent work of  Michael Beckley, a Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He frames the issue in the most recent issue of International Security:

Two assumptions dominate current foreign policy debates in the United States and China. First, the United States is in decline relative to China. Second, much of this decline is the result of globalization and the hegemonic burdens the United States bears to sustain globalization. Both of these assumptions are wrong. The United States is not in decline; in fact, it is now wealthier, more innovative, and more militarily powerful compared to China than it was in 1991. Moreover, globalization and hegemony do not erode U.S. power; they reinforce it. The United States derives competitive advantages from its hegemonic position, and globalization allows it to exploit these advantages, attracting economic activity and manipulating the international system to its benefit. The United States should therefore continue to prop up the global economy and maintain a robust diplomatic and military presence abroad.

You can read the entire article here: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Chinas_Century.pdf

Drezner adds some positive points of his own (fleshed out in his blog post):

1)  The United States is successfully deleveraging.

2) Manufacturing is on the mend.

3) A predicted decline in energy insecurity.

For some strange reason, I am guessing that these views haven’t been aired at any of the recent Republican primary debates….

January 21, 2012

More inter-religious violence in Nigeria

Filed under: Radicalization,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 21, 2012

Map was developed by Spiegel Online. See a collection of BBC maps of Nigeria examining wealth, health, ethnicity, literacy, and known oil deposits.


People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad), better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for another set of coordinated attacks in Northern Nigeria occurring late afternoon Friday.

According to Al-Jazeera:

A series of bombings and attacks claimed by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has left at least 120 dead and many more injured in northern Nigeria’s largest city, witnesses and the Red Cross have said.

“Many agencies are involved in the evacuation of corpses from the streets,” a Nigerian Red Cross spokesman said on Saturday, under condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly, following Friday night’s attacks.

“From our tally, we have 121 so far,” he said.

Other death tolls are higher. Maude Gwadabe, a journalist in Kano, told Al Jazeera by phone that he had seen at least 140 dead bodies.

Gwadabe said the disparity was due to confusion in the aftermath of Friday’s attacks and that victims had been taken to different hospitals, homes and treatment clinics.

“At least 140 people died. The Red Cross and Nigerian emergency services have collected the victims and brought them to one hospital [Murtala Central Hospital], and indeed, hospital officials say 140 people were killed,” Gwadabe said.

In a statement released on Friday, Boko Haram claimed responsibilty for the attacks and said the blasts were revenge for the recent arrests of its members in Kano.

(Note: The death toll reported by Al-Jazeera is much higher than that currently — 10:00AM Eastern — being reported by Reuters or AFP.  As I read reports originating in Nigeria my current assessment is that Al-Jazeera is closer to accurate. NEW: BBC is confirming at least 120 deaths. SUNDAY UPDATE: The Nation (Nigeria) newspaper is reporting 162 fatalities.  LATE SUNDAY: Reuters is reporting “at least 178 deaths.”)

On Thursday — between attacks on Wednesday and yesterday — an op-ed in the Vanguard, a leading Nigerian newspaper, argued:

Now let us take a critical look at the present scenario: Boko Haram is bombing almost everywhere in Nigeria: churches, United Nations Building, Police Headquarters, etc. Members of the sect are Muslims.

None of them is a Christian, and they make audacious statements which no sane individual should utter. Consider some of them: “Western Education is Sin”; “Christians should leave the North within three days else they will be eliminated”; “there will be no respite unless and until Nigeria becomes an Islamic state”, etc.

But as distasteful as the posture of the Boko Haram sect is, it seems not to have occurred to the Southern Christians that there is a grand agenda to extinguish the Southerners from the entity called Nigeria. It has not occurred to them that they should close ranks, forge a common front and fight the mother of all battles for their survival.

On Wednesday, according to the Anglican Church of Nigeria website, the Primate of Nigeria responded to a letter received from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

Primate Okoh stated that all hands are on deck, the National assembly is concerned, the president is having sleepless nights and the Church is already facing serious temptation even though the Church does not initiate hostility. The head of the Anglican Church said the intense attack of Boko Haram is really tempting the Christians whether to continue to maintain peace, always turning the other cheek ,or fight back to find their safety.

He therefore made a passionate appeal to leaders in the country who can reach out to Boko Haram to dissuade them from dastardly acts of killing innocent Christian’s souls, asking them to dialogue with government if they have any axe to grind with her and leave the Church alone.

He said the attempt to drag Nigerians into militancy is something Nigerians must resist.

Roughly 20 million Nigerians are in communion with the Anglican Church, out of a total population of approximately 140 million.   Most demographers indicate that 50 percent of Nigerians are Muslim, 48 percent are Christian.

As outlined previously, the emergence of — or widely-held perception of — an explicit inter-religious war in Nigeria would likely have significant ramifications well beyond Nigeria.


According to AFP: Gunmen overnight raided a northern Nigerian town with a history of sectarian violence and killed at least nine people, a traditional leader said Sunday.

“We are going round the town checking. So far we have nine people dead and 12 wounded,” Bukata Zhyadi, a traditional ruler of the mainly Christian Sayawa ethnic group, told AFP.

He blamed the attack in Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi state on the Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic group.

He said the attackers hurled home-made hand grenades into houses while people were sleeping and shot at those trying to escape.

“Some were shot while trying to escape and some died as a result of the explosives,” he told AFP by phone.

Tafawa Balewa is located along the so-called middle belt between Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.


According to Reuters: Explosions struck two churches in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi on Sunday, witnesses said, destroying one of them completely, although there were no immediate reports of casualties.

According to Vanguard: Two days after Boko Haram’s coordinated attack in Kano that left over 162 people dead, the radical Islamic sect is currently attacking Bauchi town and its environs. (See map above for location.)

According to reports, explosions were said to have rocked near IBB square, Jahun area and near a railway line in Bauchi township.

A  police station in Tafawa Balewa local government area and another military checkpoint was attacked at Marar Rabar Liman Katagun.   Vanguard cannot ascertain the number of casulties in the attacks.


January 20, 2012

Discounting risk can be costly

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 20, 2012

The chart is taken from a December edition of Fortune Magazine.  These estimated costs — almost certainly underestimated — reflect a record-setting $380 billion in global economic losses; nearly two-thirds higher than in 2005, the previous record year. (See more from Munich RE.)

This week’s leader in The Economist is entitled, “The Rising Cost of Catastrophes” (see below and for a link to a more detailed article).  In the run-up to the 2012 Davos Summit the World Economic Forum has identified key global risks and gives special attention to the implications of the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear emergency in Japan.  They warn about “seeds of dystopia” being planted worldwide.  Fortune, The Economist, and WEF… in the business world this is a thoughtleader trifecta.

The unprecedented scale and recurrence of these losses may — but I emphasize, may — have begun to influence strategic decisions by some major players.  A once-upon-a-time client lost nearly $1 billion as a result of the floods in Thailand. They are certainly learning from hard-knocks what a decade-ago I tried to communicate as a competitive opportunity as well as competitive risk.

So attention must be paid, either now through thoughtful mitigation or at some future point through even higher declared losses.

And yet, last week I was with three serious, practical business leaders who seemed unaware of the triple-header in Japan or the epic flooding in Thailand or the eventual shift in the San Andreas and New Madrid faults.   They have not personally experienced anything analogous.  Accordingly such high impact risks are only “theoretical”, which being serious, practical men they cannot allow to distract from what they know and know how to manage.

To ponder the experience of a peer from Sendai or Bangkok would require a kind of empathy, imagination and vulnerability that does not typically earn seven-figure bonuses.  Will the criteria for bonus payments shift to reflect a shifting context?  Hiring criteria?

The potentially catastrophic risks that I use as examples currently tend to be dismissed as either “ancient history” or “fanciful futures.”   It is helpful when Fortune and The Economist and the World Economic Forum begin to sing a similar tune.

Over the last year, Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, has argued, “In the past the decisive factor in success was productivity, the efficiency with which you used resources.  Today the most important success factor is to recognize risks and mitigate those risks.”  If the pace of global economic growth continues to slow, risk-mitigation will become even more critical to bottom-line success… even survival.

— +–

The following was published in The Economist on January 14

COMMERCE has long been at the mercy of the elements. The British East India Company was almost strangled at birth when it lost several of its ships in a storm. But the toll is rising. The world has been so preoccupied with the man-made catastrophes of subprime mortgages and sovereign debt that it may not have noticed how much economic mayhem nature has wreaked. With earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, floods in Thailand and Australia and tornadoes in America, last year was the costliest on record for natural disasters.

This trend is not, as is often thought, a result of climate change. There is little evidence that big hurricanes come ashore any more often than, say, a century ago. But disasters now extract a far higher price, for the simple reason that the world’s population and output are becoming concentrated in vulnerable cities near earthquake faults, on river deltas or along tropical coasts (see article). Those risks will rise as the wealth of Shanghai and Kolkata comes to rival that of London and New York. Meanwhile, interconnected supply chains guarantee that when one region is knocked out by an earthquake or flood, the reverberations are global.

This may sound grim, but the truth is more encouraging. When poor people leave the countryside for shantytowns on hillsides or river banks they are exposed to mudslides and floods, but also have access to better-paying, more productive work. Richer societies may lose more property to disaster but they are also better able to protect their people. Indeed, although the economic toll from disasters has risen, the death toll has not, despite the world’s growing population.

Preparing for the worst

The right role for government, then, is not to resist urbanisation but to minimise the consequences when disaster strikes. This means, first, getting priorities right. At present, too large a slice of disaster budgets goes on rescue and repair after a tragedy, and not enough on beefing up defences beforehand. Cyclone shelters are useless if they fall into disrepair. A World Bank study recommends using schools and other bits of normal public infrastructure in disaster-protection plans, so that the kit and buildings are properly maintained.

Second, government should be fiercer when private individuals and firms, left to pursue their own self-interest, put all of society at risk. For example, in their quest for growth, developers and local governments have eradicated sand dunes, mangrove swamps, reefs and flood plains that formed natural buffers between people and nature. Preserving or restoring more of this natural capital would make cities more resilient, much as increased financial capital does for the banking system. In the Netherlands dykes have been pushed out and flood plains restored to give rivers more room to flood.

Third, governments must eliminate the perverse incentives their own policies produce. Politicians are often under pressure to limit the premiums insurance companies can charge. The result is to underprice the risk of living in dangerous areas—which is one reason that so many expensive homes await the next hurricane on Florida’s coast. When governments rebuild homes repeatedly struck by floods and wildfires, they are subsidising people to live in hazardous places.

For their part companies need to operate on the assumption that a disaster will strike at some point. This means preparing contingency plans, reinforcing supply chains and even, costly though this might be, having reserve suppliers lined up: there is no point in having a perfectly efficient supply chain if it can be snapped whenever nature takes a turn for the worst. Disasters are inevitable; their consequences need not be.

January 19, 2012

Behavioral indicators of terrorism

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Radicalization,State and Local HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 19, 2012

Wednesday the White House hosted a meeting of 46 senior federal, state and local law enforcement officials.

According to the Associated Press, “The Obama administration is providing senior state and local police officials with its analysis of homegrown terrorism incidents, including common signs law enforcement can use to identify violent extremists… The analysis was conducted by the Homeland Security Department, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center.”

I was not at the meeting.  But following is an overview of what I am told was briefed.

An interagency team and process examined several cases of Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVEs) that emerged between 2008-2010.  I was not given the precise number of cases, but I have seen reports of  sixty-two cases being considered.  Based on this sample four major “mobilizing patterns” were identified:

Contact with individuals tied to terrorist organizations is one of two indicators that appeared most often in the case studies. This finding is consistent with earlier assessments—based on past cases of domestic and transnational terrorism—that exposure to an extremist with established ties to a terrorist group can be a useful indicator of a radicalized person moving toward violence. More than 90 percent of the subjects examined either communicated directly or had some type of contact with connected extremists as part of their mobilization to violence.

Indicators of ideological commitment also appear frequently in HVE reporting. One of these behaviors—”watching or sharing jihadist videos”—was the second of the two most prevalent indicators noted in the study. Ideological commitment behaviors were observable but at times only in a virtual environment. More than 90 percent of the cases involved HVEs who either watched or shared extremist videos or other propaganda. Just under 90 percent involved HVEs pursuing religious instruction from a person or institution associated with extremist causes.Roughly 80 percent of the cases reflected an individual’s acceptance or approval of violence or martyrdom operations or an intent to engage in them.

Travel or attempted travel in pursuit of a violent agenda was a recurring factor in the HVE cases, also supporting earlier assessments of the importance of foreign travel for violent extremists. Almost 90 percent of  subjects traveled to places with a significant extremist population or to a foreign location explicitly to pursue violence.

Seeking weapons or weapons related training was a common behavior. This more tactically focused aspect of attack planning also entailed online research to acquire technical capabilities, select targets, and plan logistics. Almost 80 percent of subjects pursued weapons training, paramilitary exercises, or the acquisition of related equipment as partof their mobilization. More than half also conducted Internet research to plan their attacks.

According to my sources the law enforcement officials were, “cautioned against adopting a checklist-like mentality incountering the HVE threat. Simplistically interpreting any single indicator as a confirmation of mobilization probably will lead to ineffective and counterproductive efforts to identify and defeat Homegrown Violent Extremists.”

About 5PM Eastern on Wednesday Eileen Sullivan filed an AP story after talking with participants: SEE IT HERE.

While the law enforcement leaders were at the White House, a House Intelligence subcommittee was hearing testimony suggesting big changes in the purpose and role of the DHS intelligence function. According to prepared testimony to me delivered by Philip Mudd,

The growth of our expectations of domestic security, and the evolution of threats away from traditional state actors toward non-state entities — drug cartels, organized crime, and terrorism are prominent examples — suggest that the DHS intelligence mission should be threat agnostic. Though the impetus for creating this new agency, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was clearly terrorism based, the kinds of tools now deployed, from border security to cyber protection, are equally critical in fights against emerging adversaries. The DHS enterprise is more complex than other agencies responsible for America’s security, and itsintelligence mission is correspondingly multifaceted. Its intelligence missions range from providing homeland security-specific intelligence at the federal level; integrating intelligence vertically through DHS elements; and working with state/local/private sector partners to draw their intelligence capabilities into a national picture and provide them with information.

The testimony, based largely on a recently completed study and set of recommendations from the Aspen Homeland Security Group , especially emphasizes the DHS comparative advantage in working with state, local, and private sector entities in the non-classified domain.

In contrast to intelligence agencies that have responsibilities for more traditional areas of national security, DHS’s mandate should allow for collection, dissemination, and analytic work that is focused on more specific homeward-focused areas. First, the intelligence mission could be directed toward areas where DHS has inherent strengths and unique value (e.g., where its personnel and data are centered) that overlap with its legislative mandate. Second, this mission direction should emphasize areas that are not served by other agencies, particularly state/local partners whose needs are not a primary focus for any other federal agency. In all these domains, public and private, DHS customers will require information with limited classification; in contrast to most other federal intelligence entities, DHS should focus on products that start at lower classification levels, especially unclassified and FOUO, and that can be disseminated by means almost unknown in the federal intelligence community (phone trees, Blackberries, etc.).

There is an obvious tension between an intelligence function that is “threat-agnostic” and one that emerges from “where its personnel and data are centered.”  This could, however, be a very healthy tension if a threat-agnostic — capabilities-based — approach to engaging the risk environment can be effectively used to decide where personnel are focused and data is gathered.

January 17, 2012

Ending America’s Energy Insecurity: How Electric Vehicles Can Drive The Solution To Energy Independence

Filed under: Futures,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 17, 2012

Today’s post was written by Fred Stein.  It is based on his recently completed homeland security master’s degree thesis.

Fred’s central conclusion — a surprising one to me — is the U.S. would basically become energy independent if we stopped using gasoline to power our automobiles.

Information about obtaining the complete thesis (including the evidence supporting his argument) can be found at the end of this post.

Fred’s analysis begins with a look at some common perceptions about this country’s dependence on foreign oil.


Common Perception Validity Explanation
America is heavily dependent on foreign countries for oil. True Net oil imports are 50% of America’s use.
America is dependent on oil because it does not produce much oil. False America is the world’s third largest producer of oil.
America’s dependence on oil is undesirable because it supports our enemies. True Military experts decry that we are actually funding both sides of the war on terror.
There is no immediate threat from America’s dependence on foreign oil. False Oil prices could triple overnight and oil supplies would be inadequate to meet the most basic needs of the U.S.
Increasing production of energy from wind, solar, hydro-electric, nuclear, coal, etc.  can end America’s energy dependence. False Only about 2% of the oil consumed in the U.S. is used for producing electricity.  Until there is a mechanism that transfers the energy produced from those sources to a form usable for transportation and the other uses of oil, increased electricity production will not affect U.S. energy dependency.
Plug-in electric vehicles use electricity generated from the above named sources. True
Electric vehicles require significant technical innovation before they are capable of providing transport equivalent to internal combustion vehicles. False The Tesla roadster has a range of about 300 miles on a single charge.  Though it is expensive, the driving experience is equivalent to an internal combustion vehicle.

Dependence on foreign oil is the Achilles heal of the United States’ security.

While the direct economic costs are staggering with an oil trade deficit of $1 billion per day, the security threat posed by that dependence is an even greater disaster waiting to happen.

Hugo Chavez has threatened to cut supplies of oil to the United States.  Al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals have identified the world oil supply as a prime target.  As Iran proceeds inexorably towards nuclear weapons, U.S. and European policy makers must temper their responses to counter this threat for fear of driving up oil prices.  Iran has the ability, and espouses rhetoric about its desire, to close the straits of Hormuz to interrupt the supply of oil in certain circumstances.

Every U.S. President since Richard Nixon has denounced America’s dependence on foreign oil.  Discussions abound regarding increasing U.S. oil production or efficiencies, but no real measures have been seriously considered that would truly end America’s dependence on foreign oil by simply eliminating the need for that oil.

Though the consequences of energy dependence are complex, the solution is simple.  The amount of oil used by the U.S. for motor gasoline, about 50% of total oil consumption, is the same as the net amount of oil imported by the U.S., about 50% of total oil consumption.

If the U.S. stopped using gasoline to power its automobiles, it would essentially become energy independent.


Adding nuclear or clean coal facilities, building wind farms, installing solar panel fields, etc., would do little to foster energy independence.  Those technologies increase the generation of electricity, but not in a manner that can currently be utilized by most of the transportation sector that depends almost exclusively on the combustion of oil.

Electric vehicles (EVs) bridge that gap. The price of EVs and the lack of a recharge infrastructure is all that stands in the way of their full integration into the automobile market.

It has been demonstrated before that as the price of gasoline increases, consumers respond in large part by purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles.  A detailed analysis of historical gasoline prices, car prices, car sales, and other factors, allows for creation of a model that predicts the EV car sales as it relates to the price of gasoline.

A model developed here, predicts the rapid growth of EV sales if an excise tax on gasoline of $2/gallon, incrementally rising to $5/gallon were to be imposed on the retail sale of gasoline, and simultaneously a $15,000 rebate on the sale of new EVs were to be introduced.  The results are illustrated graphically below.

An excise tax of that magnitude would raise sufficient funds to provide for the EV tax rebate, to mitigate the effects from the regressive nature of the tax, and to provide monetary incentive for the development of a nation wide recharge infrastructure.   The funds that would be collected under such a scenario are described in the table below.

There is a cost to achieving energy independence.  That cost is two to five dollars on each gallon of retail gasoline sold, paid by drivers continue using internal combustion vehicles.  With conviction and determination, the United States can achieve energy independence in a few short years.

For a copy of Fred Stein’s thesis providing in-depth analysis of the ideas expressed in this paper, go to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security in February 2012.  You can also contact Fred Stein at chdsstein[at]gmail.com


January 13, 2012

Nigeria and Egypt: two flashpoints, two alternate paths, two prospects for the next decade and beyond

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 13, 2012

Aftermath of Christmas Day attack on St. Theresa’s Church near Abuja, Nigeria

On December 25 an attack on a Christian church in Nigeria killed 37,  related attacks since have killed another thirty-four and potentially more. Credit has been claimed by Boko Haram, an organization calling for the expulsion of Christians and the expansion of Islamic sharia law in Northern Nigeria. (Boko Haram can be translated as “Western education is a sin.”)

On December 28 the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) released a statement including:

Having reviewed the pattern trend and frequency with which these terror crimes occur, it fits into the profile of Islamic Jihad over the years on the Christian community, which are properly contextualised. It is considered as a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria as an entity.

The Christian community has found the responses of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and other Islamic bodies on this matter to be unacceptable and an abdication of their responsibilities over their extremist members. It is on record that most religious, traditional and political leaders in the North have not come out openly to condemn the extremist activities of Boko Haram. We hold them responsible for what is happening, because they have not taken concrete steps to check the excesses of their members.

The Christian community is fast losing confidence in government’s ability to protect our rights to religious liberties and life. The consensus is that the Christian community nationwide would be left with no other option than to respond appropriately if there are any further attacks on our members, churches and properties.

Sectarian conflict is not new to Nigeria. In the past the Christian “response” has included attacks on Muslims. But Bako Haram has increased the stakes by launching what appears to be a sustained and organized anti-Christian campaign that also targets Muslims who reject  Boko Haram.

According to the BBC several Islamic leaders who have criticized previous attacks by Boko Haram have been assassinated.  Still, last week  Alhaji Muhammad Garba, a Muslim political leader from Northern Nigeria, said, “Boko Haram is not recognised by genuine Muslims… Why should such a group be asking Muslims to bomb churches and fight Christians? It is wrong for any group to wage war against other faith. Such people are not true believers of God.”

Boko Haram is seen by some as part of a much wider movement.  According to the Daily Telegraph, Boko Haram “is believed to be morphing into a new pan-African jihadist franchise, forging links with both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, which operates in the vast Sahara region north of Nigeria, and al-Shebab in Somalia.”

In September the General who leads U.S. Africa Command told the Associated Press that the three movements pose a “significant threat” not only in the areas in which they operate but also to the United States.

Those three organizations have very explicitly and publicly voiced an intent to target Westerners and the U.S. specifically,” Gen Carter Ham said. “I have questions about their ability to do so; I have no question about their intent to do so, and that to me is very worrying… So if left unaddressed, you could have a [terrorist] network that ranges from East Africa through the center” and into the Sahel, an area of north-central Africa south of the Sahara desert, Ham said. To varying degrees, these groups are affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaida’s central organization in Pakistan.

The Nigerian President has declared a State of Emergency in four northern States and mobilized military forces to take action against Boko Haram.  According to Radio France, “Hundreds of people fled their homes in Potsikum, north-east Nigeria, Saturday following all-night gun battles between Islamists and the security forces… Residents of the Dogo Tehbo and Dogo Nini areas fled their homes Saturday, telling reporters they feared that soldiers would attack their homes, as they have been accused of doing in Maidiguiri.”


An Egyptian woman joins other Muslims as “human shields” for celebration of Coptic Christmas mass

Christmas was welcomed on a different date — and with a different tone — in strife-torn Egypt.

Coptic Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 7.  According to Al-Ahram:

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. (see photo gallery) From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

According to The Guardian:

At the start of the festive celebrations in Egypt, prominent figures from across the political spectrum, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the ruling military council, attended Friday night mass at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral.

The Coptic pope, Shenouda III, commended their presence and appealed for national unity for “the sake of Egypt”.

He said: “For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt. They all agree … on the stability of this country, and in loving it and working for it, and to work with the Copts as one hand for the sake of Egypt.”

The call for unity follows an escalation in violence against the Christian minority, an estimated 10% of Egypt’s 85 million people, over the past year.

In October at least 25 Christians were killed by Egyptian military and para-military forces. Violence against Christians in Egypt has escalated since the opening of the Arab Spring.


There are advocates of violence in Egypt.  There are many voices for reconciliation in Nigeria.  Which alternative will emerge stronger is not clear.  Some level of sectarian violence will persist.

In any case, near-term prospects for Muslim-Christian conflict in Nigeria and Egypt — and in much of northeast Africa, central Asia, southern Philippines, and in many pockets of urban Europe — are trending higher.  Dozens, likely hundreds, will be killed in an effort to preserve someone’s narcissistic sense of God. So-called Muslims will specifically target Christians.  So-called Christians will specifically target Muslims.

This is a different dynamic than has marked the last decade.

Al-Qaeda has mostly been trying to reform Islam.  AQ has used “Crusaders” as an anvil against which to sharpen its sword of intra-Islamic transformation.  The Taliban are mostly religiously motivated Pashtuns who are most concerned about preserving communal values.  Wahhabis are principally concerned about purity of Islamic practice.  The Shia clerical establishment can be preoccupied with differentiation from Sunnis, a mind-set mirrored by Wahhabis.

Monday in his remarks to the Vatican diplomatic corps Pope Benedict XVI specifically called out his concern for violence against Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere.  On January 2, Open Doors — “serving persecuted Christians worldwide” — announced, “Islamic-majority countries top 2o12 watch list.” There is increasing concern, clamor and sympathy for Christians under attack.

Accusations of Christian attacks on Muslims are as abundant.  Tuesday a Muslim mosque and school in mostly-Christian southern Nigeria was attacked.  At least five were killed.


I do not have a neatly packaged policy prescription.  I doubt anything the United States government can do will have more than glancing influence. Not adding fuel to the fire would be helpful. Containing or resolving the conflict depends mostly on those people of good will standing athwart the sectarian fault lines.

As important as US policy is probably the behavior of Americans who identify with those on one side or the other of the fault lines.

This is complicated enough that I feel justified drawing on another’s complicated diagnosis.   Here’s how Martin Buber describes our embrace of self and otherness and its implications.

The It-world hangs together in space and time.

The You-world does not hang together in space and time.

The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course.

The individual It can become a You by entering into the event of relation.

These are the two basic privileges of the It-world. They induce man to consider the It-world as the world in which one has to live and also can live comfortably — and that even offers us all sorts of stimulations and excitements, activities and knowledge. In this firm and wholesome chronicle the You-moments appear as queer lyric-dramatic episodes. Their spell may be seductive, but they pull us dangerously to extremes, loosening the well-tried structure, leaving behind more doubt than satisfaction, shaking up our security — altogether uncanny, altogether indispensable. Since one must after all return into “the world,” why not stay in it in the first place? Why not call to order that which confronts us and send it home into objectivity? And when one cannot get around saying You, perhaps to one’s father, wife, companion — why not say You and mean It? After all, producing the sound “You” with one’s vocal cords does not by any means entail speaking the uncanny basic word. Even whispering an amorous You with one’s soul is hardly dangerous as long as in all seriousness one means nothing but experiencing and using.

One cannot live in the pure present: it would consume us if care were not taken that it is overcome quickly and thoroughly. But in pure past one can live; in fact, only there can a life be arranged. One only has to fill every moment with experiencing and using, and it ceases to burn.

And in all the seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.

(Martin Buber, Ich und Du, as translated by Walter Thompson)

For anything resembling our current It-world to truly hold together, Christians and Muslims (and others as well) will need to more often relate as You’s rather than It’s.

There is also a simpler — and even less likely — solution.  Another Buber quote suggests the way: “The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.”

January 12, 2012

Potentially “catastrophic wildfire season”

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on January 12, 2012


California is gearing up for what officials say could be a catastrophic wildfire season following what so far has been one of the driest winters on record.

Hundreds of wildfires have broken out in what is typically a season with few fires, forcing fire officials to add staff. An unexpectedly busy wildfire season starting in the spring could worsen California’s budget woes, with its deficit for the next fiscal year projected at $9.2 billion.  MORE

January 11, 2012


Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on January 11, 2012

I have wondered before in my posts exactly what it is we suppose we are protecting. And my mind keeps wandering back to this question, especially as the presidential primaries begin.

The Republican candidates have asserted that President Obama is an apologist or worse, and they claim he sees America as a declining or diminished power. They assert that they see America differently. They would have us believe that Americans are innately different from others and somehow special.

They do not agree so much on what it is that makes us different or special though. To some of them we are freer. Others say we have higher morals. Still others say we have a stronger work ethic. If they agree on anything, it is that their leadership — or that of any Republican for that matter — is the key to making us more of these things.

More than one candidate has gone so far as to suggest he or she is running to save the country. They have asserted strongly that President Obama has made us less free, less moral and weaker. The solution, they tell us, is not just to defeat him but to shrink government.

This blog devotes a lot of time to the discussion of what our national security and homeland security investments protect us from, but not so much about what it is that we are protecting. Is that because it doesn’t matter? Or are we of the belief that we really are different and serve something bigger than any candidate or party?

During the Cold War, it was clear to most of us that we were not only protecting the nation from nuclear annihilation but also from the threat of totalitarianism. Our nuclear deterrent capabilities were arrayed against the threat of tyranny, or so we believed.

If that’s true, we could say that we won the battle but lost the war. As communism collapsed we enslaved ourselves to a corporate military-industrial complex that now dominates us in proportion to the extent to which we have allowed it to define, if not dictate, our productive and political potentials.

As a local public safety official, I spend most of my time focused on the homeland defense frontlines. When I look out at my community, I do not see the same thing the candidates do. The people I meet do not talk in terms of the lofty ideals of liberty and free enterprise. They don’t see themselves as all that different from one another or others they do not know.

Instead, they wonder why traffic is so bad or the bus always runs late. They wonder whether their kids are acquiring the skills they need to compete for jobs in the future. They wonder whether they themselves will earn enough to pay the mortgage or tuition bills. They worry incessantly whether they will have enough resources to retire. And they hope like hell that the problem they called us to help them with will not leave them unable to keep on carrying on.

In one way or another, they know that much of what worries them and others arises from anxiety about the future and frustration with the present. They would like to do right. They know they can do better. But they also wonder whether anyone will recognize and whether it will make any difference. Many if not most of them have concluded it will not.

Most of the work done by our frontline first-responders is now about holding a badly broken system together, keeping it from getting worse rather than making it better. We have no confidence that the market will solve these problems. We have little faith that politicians understand the problems, and much less hope that they will give us the resources and support required to address them properly.

That said, many of our first-responders, like the candidates for our nation’s highest office, have a misplaced, if not exaggerated, faith in their own ability to make a difference. They may not trust politicians, but they do believe they are different and special. They have great confidence that they could do better if only they were allowed the resources and opportunity to do so.

I’m not so sure.

Rather than looking for ways to help people avoid trouble and reduce their dependence on our services, we look for ways of getting more resources to expand our services or make better arguments to defend our budgets from those we deem less worthy of public support. The past decade was a Godsend in that respect. But the days of plenty are gone.

Our brute force approach to solving problems only works well when the threat and the capability to effect consequences are tightly coupled. Our contemporary adversaries surprised us with their ability to level the playing field. We managed to counter their threat, but at a cost far out of proportion to any ability they ever had to make us pay.

When it comes to saving lives at the local level, we know that training more people to perform CPR and encouraging healthier lifestyles by promoting development that favors walking and cycling would save more people than reducing EMS response times, but we won’t support the former unless politicians commit to do the latter. The debate at the national level is no more sensible. We are not only told we have to choose between guns and butter, but also that the economic and political system that provides both of them is more essential and therefore more valuable than the people who provide the resources to procure and produce them.

It is still true that Americans as a whole are wealthier than those of most other nations. We have been better endowed with resources and opportunity than most other nations. And we have had the benefit of many great gifts, often as the result of our openness and accessibility to people and ideas from every corner of the world.

Liberty and free-enterprise have played their parts in the American success story. But so too have access to public education and libraries, enforcement of health and sanitation regulations, and investments in water, sewer, public transit and other essential infrastructure. We will only see America become stronger if we place as much or more emphasis on making these investments as we do in protecting them.

Sadly, that seems less and less likely in the near term at both the national and local levels.

January 10, 2012

Words Have Meanings

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Terrorist Threats & Attacks,WMD — by Alan Wolfe on January 10, 2012

The Christian Science Monitor noted the sentencing of 37-year old Kevin Harpham in federal court a few weeks ago.  He was charged with four counts, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, possession of an unregistered explosive device, and attempt to cause bodily injury with an explosive device because of race issues.

Harpham received a 32-year prison sentence for leaving a pipe bomb in a backpack along the intended route of a Martin Luther King Day march in Spokane, Washington, on January 17, 2011 — a year ago, next week. The pipe bomb held fishing weights coated with an anticoagulant associated with rat poison, which would have been ejected into the crowd by black powder ignited by a model rocket igniter. It didn’t work, fortunately for the march participants.

This story was of interest to me for two reasons. First of all, we have the FBI’s Seattle office describing Harpham as a “prototypical lone wolf;” the challenge being that there was no foreshadowing of a carefully planned attack. He hasn’t been named as a “homegrown terrorist” only because he was not directly or indirectly associated with a transnational terrorist group. While both Harpham and Faisal Shazad could both be appropriately identified as “domestic terrorists,” Harpham avoids the designation of “homegrown” only because he acted on his own.

It’s not that Harpham wasn’t associated with violent extremist groups. After a tour in the U.S. Army, he became an active member of the National Alliance, a white supremacy group. So it appears you get a pass from being called a “homegrown terrorist” if you’re a card-carrying member of a white supremacy group, but not if you’re an American citizen influenced by radical Muslim clerics based overseas.

Are these distinctions helpful? I’m not sure that they are. Both appear to be “lone wolves” in nature; the color of one’s skin and connections to overseas, rather than domestic, radical organizations do not appear to be useful discriminators.

I also have to notice that both Harpham and Shazad were both charged with attempting to use weapons of mass destruction, even though this was only a legal distinction  (Title 18 USC 2332a) and not a “WMD” incident in any sense of reality.

Neither the pipe bomb (Harpham) or an exploding propane tank (Shazad) could in any sense cause a mass casualty event. Neither device could be called equivalent to what the United Nations defines as a WMD – that is to say, a nuclear device or chemical or biological warfare agents.

So why does this bother me so?

In the DHS Quadrennial Homeland Security Report, Secretary Janet Napolitano calls on a “Homeland Security Enterprise” that includes the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and the intelligence community. Only one agency uses the Title 18 definition of WMD – that would be the Department of Justice. So when the Defense Department reviews its “CBRN Enterprise” for homeland security, it uses a different definition, focusing on chemical, biological, and radiological hazards and nuclear devices used within U.S. borders.  The National Guard’s 57 WMD Civil Support Teams (CSTs) and its 17 CBRNE Emergency Response Force Packages (CERFPs) don’t do explosive threats (but the 20th Support Command [CBRNE] does, under specific scenarios). The Marine Corps CBIRF doesn’t do explosive threats, but the Navy EOD does provide experts for that niche. There is no agreement across the federal government on terminology (or perhaps, they agree to disagree).

The reason why this disturbs me is this: As the National Guard fiercely defends the continued deployment and sustainment of its CSTs and CERFPs, it remains a fact that the threat of a domestic – or transnational – terrorist group successfully using CBRN hazards to cause mass casualties is remarkably insignificant, for all practical purposes, zero.

There is no “WMD” threat out there.

There may be limited incidents involving industrial chemicals, attempts to derive ricin from castor beans, dreams of exploding heavy metal radioactive isotopes, but nothing that can be appropriately called a “mass casualty” capability. Nothing that the locals can’t handle.

But as long as the National Guard Bureau can point to the FBI’s documented list of “attempted WMD” cases, someone will claim that this justifies having this huge federal response force around, spending literally hundreds of millions of dollars every year just to sit and wait for the firehouse bell to ring. Because hey, it’s not as if the U.S. government had any real budget concerns.

I know that Congress will never let the U.S. military get rid of these costly luxuries. They’re show-pieces, political promises that if a WMD incident ever happens, well, by golly, won’t you be glad when the CSTs and CERFPs show up – hours after the state and local emergency responders have done the heavy lifting.

It’s a strategy, I suppose. Just not one I’m willing to endorse.

But at the least, the fact that the U.S. government cannot agree on the definition of “weapons of mass destruction” (or for that matter, consequence management) is glaringly apparent. We ought to at least be able to agree – and codify – one definition that defines a WMD as an incident involving nuclear, biological, or chemical munitions in a situation resulting in a mass casualty event – and then define what a mass casualty event is.

Little things like this keep me up at night.


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