Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 9, 2012

Anniversary of a nuclear security paradigm shift

Filed under: Catastrophes,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on January 9, 2012

Last Wednesday, January 4 marked the five year anniversary of the landmark Wall Street Journal op-ed, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons:”

Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage. The effort could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations. Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.

We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal, beginning with the measures outlined above.

The bi-partisan authors of these words, referred to in arms control circles as “The Four Horsemen,” are not traditional peace activists or long-time nuclear abolitionists.  Instead, their identity as realists, hawks, and Cold War warriors is what lent such weight to the argument for nuclear zero:

Mr. Shultz, a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989. Mr. Perry was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. Mr. Kissinger, chairman of Kissinger Associates, was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977. Mr. Nunn is former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The desire to rid the world of nuclear bombs is nearly as old as the weapons themselves. What was new about this particular call was not simply the sketch of concrete steps that could be taken at the beginning of such a journey, but the gravitas of the messengers.  In the abstract it seems almost silly to think that such ideas cannot inhabit a respected space in the relevant conversation without a blessing from above, but at the same time these “wise men” provided the rhetorical room for such a conversation to expand from a minority view to a wide-ranging debate across the foreign policy, international security, and defense worlds.

What does this have to do with homeland security?  There is the obvious impact that comes with a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons that includes a reduced risk of nuclear terrorism, accidental launch, and war with all it’s worldwide implications.  However, reference to this particular anniversary in other venues made me both appreciate the potential coercive power of such an opinion piece and made me wonder if there had been anythings similar in the homeland security sphere. If not, as I suspect, what could have a comparable effect?

Stephen Flynn and the idea of “resilience” is the only candidate that springs to mind.  Yet it introduced a new concept, one which in my opinion has been twisted into various shapes to fit various needs and definitions.  The Four Horsemen did not conjure a “world without nuclear weapons” out of nothingness, but instead by lending their voices to a relatively marginalized idea shifted the terms of conversation and analysis on which nuclear policy is grounded. Perhaps a true paradigm shift.

Are there possible candidates, authors and topics, in what is considered “homeland security” that could result in such a radical shift?

January 7, 2012

Sorry, I must have made a wrong turn.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 7, 2012

Some votes were taken, a document was signed.  Nothing really happened.  Nothing actually changed.  Did it?

The indefinite detention of citizens by the military, authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act, is perceived by most of those who voted for it — and that small proportion of citizens who have noticed — as a narrowly targeted expediency to be used in extraordinary cases against very bad guys.

Besides the President has stated,

I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

Nothing has changed, the President assures us.  Just words on paper and his words protect us from their words.

What about the next administration?  Or the one after that?

Did you notice the arrest of an Ottumwa Iowa sixteen-year-old just before Christmas?  She’s been charged with terrorist conspiracy.  The charge conforms with the letter-of-the-law.  I expect most of those who originally crafted the law did not anticipate it would be applied in this sort of circumstance.

Have you noticed meaning tends to morph over time?

Three days after the arrest of the Ottumwa teenager, Congressman Ron Paul told supporters in a teleconference:

The founders wanted to set a high bar for the government to overcome in order to deprive an individual of life or liberty. To lower that bar is to endanger everyone. When the bar is low enough to include political enemies, our descent into totalitarianism is virtually assured. The Patriot Act, as bad as its violations against the Fourth Amendment was, was just one step down the slippery slope. The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act continues that slip into tyranny, and in fact, accelerates it significantly.

Tuesday night, Congressman Paul did very well at the Wapello County Republican Caucus.   The caucus was held at the high school in which the alleged terrorist is enrolled.

I wonder if the caucus goers noticed any connection between the local arrest and what the Congressman had to say.

Did you notice the January 2 death of Gordon Hirabayahsi?  Here are a few paragraphs from the NYT obit:

In February 1942, two months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the name of protecting the nation against espionage and sabotage, authorized the designation of areas from which anyone could be excluded. One month later, a curfew was imposed along the West Coast on people of Japanese ancestry, and in May 1942, the West Coast military command ordered their removal to inland camps in harsh and isolated terrain.

Mr. Hirabayashi, a son of Japanese immigrants, was a senior at the University of Washington when the United States entered World War II. He adhered to the pacifist principles of his parents, who had once belonged to a Japanese religious sect similar to the Quakers.

When the West Coast curfew was imposed, ordering people of Japanese background to be home by 8 p.m., Mr. Hirabayashi ignored it. When the internment directive was put in place, he refused to register at a processing center and was jailed.

Contending that the government’s actions were racially discriminatory, Mr. Hirabayashi proved unyielding. He refused to post $500 bail because he would have been transferred to an internment camp while awaiting trial. He remained in jail from May 1942 until October of that year, when his case was heard before a federal jury in Seattle.

Found guilty of violating both the curfew and internment orders, he was sentenced to concurrent three-month prison terms. While his appeal was pending, he remained at the local jail for an additional four months, then was released and sent to Spokane, Wash., to work on plans to relocate internees when they were finally released.

His appeal, along with one by Mr. Yasui, a lawyer from Hood River, Ore., who had been jailed for nine months for curfew defiance, made its way to the Supreme Court. In 1943, ruling unanimously, the court upheld the curfew as a constitutional exercise of the government’s war powers. Mr. Hirabayashi served out his three-month prison term at a work camp near Tucson.

The Supreme Court declined to rule at the time on Mr. Hirabayashi’s challenge to internment as well. (Mr. Yasui had contested only the curfew.) But in December 1944, in a case brought by Mr. Korematsu, a welder from Oakland, Calif., the court upheld the constitutionality of internment in a 6-to-3 vote.

Mr. Hirabayashi later spent a year in federal prison for refusing induction into the armed forces, contending that a questionnaire sent to Japanese-Americans by draft officials demanding a renunciation of any allegiance to the emperor of Japan was racially discriminatory because other ethnic groups were not asked about adherence to foreign leaders.

The Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu cases were revisited in the 1980s after Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, found documents indicating that the federal government, in coming before the Supreme Court, had suppressed its own finding that Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were not, in fact, threats to national security.

In September 1987, a three-member panel of a federal appeals court in San Francisco unanimously overturned Mr. Hirabayashi’s conviction for failing to register for evacuation to an internment camp and for ignoring a curfew. The convictions of Mr. Korematsu and Mr. Yasui had been overturned earlier.

Have you noticed that individuals, neighborhoods, and nations can react to surprise and stress in unexpected ways?  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.

The President is not a tyrant.  The members of Congress who crafted and voted for the NDAA were motivated to protect citizens, not oppress citizens.

Have you noticed the best intentions do not always deflect bad consequences?

The language and structure of the NDAA in regard to military detention of citizens is dangerously ambiguous.

In this ambiguity we have chosen to leave a path on which we have been progressing for a considerable period.  This new path may be a brief diversion that soon rejoins the old path.  Our choice might also be taking us in a very different direction.  We don’t know yet.  It probably depends on something ahead that we cannot yet see… something that will either cause the paths to cross or further diverge.

I regret this departure from the old path.  But what concerns me even more is the sense that most of those on the path don’t seem to notice there was a fork in the road and we made a choice.

January 6, 2012

2012 Predictions

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 6, 2012

Major flooding in the ______________ watershed has displaced ____ people.

Explosions at the facility have killed ___ and prompted the evacuation of approximately ____.

The shooter killed ___ before apparently killing himself.

The wildfire jumped containment lines and destroyed roughly $_____________ in property.

Officials say there is no evidence of a radioactive release.

The coordinated attacks killed at least ____.

Three aftershocks each measuring above 6.8 on the Richter scale have threatened survivors.

The chemicals released are each highly toxic.  Experts are uncertain of their combined effect on the environment and long-term impact on human health.

According to intelligence sources speaking off-the-record, the apparent sale of ____________ to ____________ significantly increases the terrorist threat to ______________.

_______ Corporation has announced losses of $___ billion due to extraordinary flooding in ________.  Disruption in the supply chain is expected to continue for ___ months.  In response to the announcement investors sold-off over $ ________ in stock market value.

The unprecedented failure has confounded safety experts.

The spokesman promised retaliation against the “enemies of ________.”

The hurricane is expected to produce sustained winds of ___ mile per hour as it slams into the coast near ______________. The storm surge will be felt between ____________ and ___________.

According to ______________ at the University of ___________ this is the worst such accident since ____ when ___ were killed and property damage exceeded $_________ in a similar tragedy at the __________ in ____________.

“This is a significant new development in terrorist tactics,” he told the Senate committee.

“I’ve never seen it this bad before,” the life-time resident reported.

Recovery has been slow, some say non-existent. “We are sliding backward, not moving forward,” according to the Mayor.

“We don’t know yet if the loss of data was intentional or accidental, but in either case for the system to be compromised in this way is cause for serious concern.”

“Budget available for this purpose has been cut each year for five years running and has been zeroed-out in several categories.  This undoubtedly has had some impact on our readiness for an event of this magnitude.”

“This was entirely foreseeable and we will hold accountable those who failed to do their job,” the Congressman said.

The unusually heavy snow, ice, and wind has resulted in widespread power outages between ________ and ________.

“These outcomes far exceed any reasonable expectations based on the historical record.”

“There have been some very tough days.  But this is a stronger, safer, and more beautiful community than before.”

There is increasing concern that humans are now susceptible to the previously unknown virus.

While Homeland Security has not been a top tier issue in the Presidential campaign, the recent series of attacks in _______ has increased concern regarding an “October Surprise.”

Dear Jeff: Network Like Crazy

Filed under: Education,Futures — by Philip J. Palin on January 6, 2012

In his Tuesday post Chris Bellavita introduced us to Jeffrey M. Cottam a twenty-something homeland security professional who is not contributing as much as he perceives he could contribute.  Jeff told Chris that after earning good grades at respected undergraduate and graduate programs, “(I did) expect that after 18 months or so I’d be an agent somewhere.”

Mr. Cottam’s circumstance seems to crystalize many recurring hopes, doubts, and dreams of homeland security.  Here’s my unsolicited advice.


Dear Jeff:

You have earned helpful educational credentials. (May your student loans be modest.)  You are in your late twenties.  You have a job. You are dissatisfied.

Count yourself lucky.

Bureaucracies are bad places for entry level people; even — perhaps especially — bureaucracies that call their employees “agents.”

Compliance is typically the easy and rewarded path in most bureaucracies.  Compliance is the enemy of creativity.  Creativity is the most valuable long-term skill.

Avoid bureaucracies until you have creative skills sufficiently strong to resist the soul-devouring maw of bureaucracies.  With that strength secured bureaucracies can be conducive to soul-growing, but mostly as a source of resistance training.

Claim and craft opportunities to be creative.  Fail more than a few times and learn from your failures.  Succeed and give particular attention to the most ephemeral elements essential to your success.

Any time before you die is a great time to be dissatisfied.  Be especially suspicious of self-satisfaction.

Responding to your letter sent to Homeland Security Today the editor David Silverberg advised, “Network like crazy.”

Yes.  Absolutely.

Attend the meeting no one else wants to attend. Volunteer.  Take a title and role for a dollar-a-day (in addition to your current employment).  Put yourself in the most difficult circumstances possible.   Contact the Red Cross — or a dozen other agencies — and get yourself the training and launch-pad to be deployed for the next Katrina, Haiti, Tohoku…

Network for others.  It will benefit you too.

Network to recognize and engage reality.  What’s really going on?  Network to recognize needs.  Network to recognize solutions to needs.  Network to apply solutions to needs (that’s the toughest networking).   What kind of networking works?  What kind of networking fails?  When? Where? With who?  Why?

What skills do you have in networking?  What deficiencies do you have in networking?  With whom can you network that will balance your deficiencies?  Who needs you?  Who do you need?

The social network has been the principal human experience for several millenia.  Our networks are increasingly dense, complicated, complex and evolving with increasing speed.  Never before has malevolent networking been more a threat. Never before has gratuitous self-involved networking been such a waste of time.  Never before has wise and effective networking been more valuable.

Especially in homeland security.

In my judgment the traditional public safety professions — firefighting, law enforcement, emergency management, public health, and others — are and will be fundamental to the homeland security mission.   The same is true of related private and civic functions.

If homeland security has any comparative advantage it is networking proactive prevention, mitigation, and preparedness across public, private, civic, jurisdictional and disciplinary boundaries.  Homeland security is about the big picture or it is redundant… or even worse.

This is much more than a job.  It is a calling to be creative when most others are satisfied to comply.

May you be in a constant state of creative dissatisfaction.  May you always be weaving webs of relationships.  May you walk, even dance the cusp of chaos.

January 5, 2012

Defense strategy and homeland security

Earlier today the President signed out and the Secretary of Defense released new strategic guidance for the Department of Defense. Following are my quick-takes on those aspects of the document  most closely related to homeland security.

Page 1:

The demise of Osama bin Laden and the capturing or killing of many other senior al-Qa?’ida  leaders have rendered the group far less capable. However, al-Qa?’ida and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. More broadly,violent extremists will continue to threaten U.S. interests, allies, partners, and the homeland.The primary loci of these threats are South Asia and the Middle East. With the diffusion of destructive technology, these extremists have the potential to pose catastrophic threats thatcould directly affect our security and prosperity. For the foreseeable future, the UnitedStates will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring theactivities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establishcontrol over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary.

Page 2:

In the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure toreform, introduce uncertainty for the future. But they also may result in governments that,over the long term, are more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people, and aremore stable and reliable partners of the United States.Our defense efforts in the Middle East will be aimed at countering violent extremists anddestabilizing threats, as well as upholding our commitment to allies and partner states.

Page 3:

To enable economic growth and commerce, America, working in conjunction with allies and partners around the world, will seek to protect freedom of access throughout the globalcommons ?– those areas beyond national jurisdiction that constitute the vital connective tissue of the international system. Global security and prosperity are increasingly dependent on the free flow of goods shipped by air or sea. State and non-state actors pose potential threats to access in the global commons, whether through opposition to existing norms orother anti-access approaches. Both state and non-state actors possess the capability and intent to conduct cyber espionage and, potentially, cyber attacks on the United States, with possible severe effects on both our military operations and our homeland. Growth in the number of space-faring nations is also leading to an increasingly congested and contested space environment, threatening safety and security. The United States will continue to lead global efforts with capable allies and partners to assure access to and use of the global commons, both by strengthening international norms of responsible behavior and by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities.

Page 4:

Acting in concert with other means of national power, U.S. military forces must continue to hold al-Qa?’ida and its affiliates and adherents under constant pressure, wherever they may be. Achieving our core goal of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qa?’ida and preventing Afghanistan from everbeing a safe haven again will be central to this effort. As U.S. forces draw down in Afghanistan, our global counter terrorism efforts will become more widely distributedand will be characterized by a mix of direct action and security force assistance. Reflecting lessons learned of the past decade, we will continue to build and sustain tailored capabilities appropriate for counter terrorism and irregular warfare. We will also remain vigilant to threats posed by other designated terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah.

Page 5:

Accordingly, DoD will continue to work with domestic and international allies and partners and invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability, and resiliency in cyberspace and space….

U.S. forces willcontinue to defend U.S. territory from direct attack by state and non-state actors. We willalso come to the assistance of domestic civil authorities in the event such defense fails or in case of natural disasters, potentially in response to a very significant or even catastrophic event. Homeland defense and support to civil authorities require strong,steady?–state force readiness, to include a robust missile defense capability. Threats to the homeland may be highest when U.S. forces are engaged in conflict with an adversary abroad.

Page 6:

The nation has frequently called upon its Armed Forces to respond to a range of situations that threaten the safety and well-being of its citizens and those of other countries. U.S. forces possess rapidly deployable capabilities, including airlift and sealift, surveillance, medical evacuation and care, and communications that can be invaluable in supplementing lead relief agencies, by extending aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters, both at home and abroad. DoD will continue to develop joint doctrine and military response options to prevent and, if necessary, respond to mass atrocities. U.S. forces will also remain capable of conducting non-combatant evacuation operations for American citizens overseas on an emergency basis.

You may see more.   The document includes considerable attention to WMD and cyber threats not excerpted above.

January 3, 2012

Finding a job in homeland security

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on January 3, 2012

Jeff Cottam was 16 in September, 2001. Today he holds an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in the same field, with a homeland security emphasis. He also has “a deep desire to serve in the homeland security field.”

Last month Jeff wrote a letter to Homeland Security Today describing how and why he is “losing faith in my education.”

He has a job, and he realizes he is fortunate to have job in this economy. But it’s not a homeland security job.


“Seeing as DHS was established in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack our nation has ever faced, I thought that pursuing an education which focuses primarily on this field would be more desirable; especially as it is such a rarity on the graduate level. To my dismay, this is apparently not the case.”

Jeff has applied to over 100 federal and other agencies. “I have not had one phone call informing me I passed the first phase in the application process.”

In addition to filling out applications and sending resumes, Jeff has also done face-to-face, friend-of-a-friend networking.

“The federal application process is mind numbing,” he told me in a phone call on Monday. “And I keep getting the same advice from the people I talk to: put your time in; your time will come.”

Jeff wasn’t whining when we spoke; and he wanted to make sure I understood that. He knows his limited experience — even including an internship with ATF — and the economy don’t make it easy to find the job he wants. But as he was finishing his graduate program, he did “expect that after 18 months or so I’d be an agent somewhere.”

That hasn’t happened.

“They don’t tell you that when you’re in grad school,” he said.

Jeff’s letter to Homeland Security Today referenced the many schools that offer homeland security degrees and specializations:

“I thought it should be brought to your attention that despite the fact that these respectable programs exist, they offer little hope to students graduating with little to no experience in the field who seek to contribute their skills immediately….I feel that this [homeland security education] is not as effective as it should be for such a relatively new field.”


I agree with the first part of Jeff’s assessment: a degree does not translate into a job.

People with a homeland security related degree and little relevant work experience have to compete in an economy that has (among other features):

– a decreasing number of state and local homeland security-related jobs,

– fewer than 100,000 projected federal jobs in DHS and other federal agencies that have something to do with homeland security,

– and a “bleak glut” of unemployed veterans: 850,000 veterans can’t find work now, including 250,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars.

David Silverberg, the Homeland Security Today editor, disagrees with the second part of Jeff’s assessment about the effectiveness of a homeland security degree. Silverberg believes a person has a better chance finding a job within the enterprise — and being promoted — “with a homeland security education than without one.”


I think it can also be helpful to think about homeland security as a field where you have as good a chance creating your own job as you do finding a homeland security job you’ll fit into.

It’s still an open question (at least to me) what homeland security is. I continue to think that openness is a good thing because it keeps conversation (and job possibilities) open for what is to come in homeland security, rather than focusing exclusively on what it has been during its first decade.

In my experience a good post-secondary education (as opposed to graduate training) is largely about learning – or rediscovering –  how to be curious, think critically, communicate effectively and work collaboratively with other people. There are a lot of ways to gain that knowledge – whether it involves discussing great ideas or getting your hands dirty – but the payoff is a set of skills for a “field” where the half life of knowledge is months, if not weeks.

Duqu anyone?


Silverberg’s response to Jeff Cottam’s letter noted that homeland security has an especially acute need for people who understand cybersecurity.

Cyber is not the only need for Homeland Security 2.0, but it’s one that can serve a point I want to make.

I am struck by the number of homeland security executives I run into who remain clueless about the nature and scope of cyber security issues. During seminars I’m involved in, it’s the one topic everyone takes notes on.  I think it is  because few executives believe they really understand what cyber security issues are or how important they could be to homeland security.

When I spoke with Jeff, he mentioned he spent about 30% of his job working with data bases. From that perspective, one might argue that Jeff already has a homeland security job. But I’m not sure he realizes it.

No it’s not his dream job. But it is a foot in the door, or at least a door, leading into the wider world of homeland security.

Working on data bases is not being a cyber warrior. But what else is going on in his city and his state that is related to cyber security? How can he connect with that world?

Everywhere I’ve looked, small groups of overworked men and women have responsibility for the continuously metamorphosing cyber domain that may or may not be a big part of homeland security’s future.  I’m not sure how many job openings there are for “cyber security agent.”  But I believe this is a terrain ripe for creating a homeland security job.

I wonder what other openings there are to create homeland security jobs that do not already exist.


The Wall Street Journal reported on a study of 10,000 people. People in that study between 18 and 42 years of age had, on average, 11 jobs.  That’s a new job — in a new organization or not — every two years or so.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people like Jeff who have desire, education, skills and a job to take advantage of those significant opportunities to create – rather than find – a homeland security job worth having.

I hope homeland security educational programs are teaching that idea as a part of their programs.

I also hope those programs talk straight with prospective students — including veterans returning to school — about the real job opportunities in homeland security and what it takes to exploit those opportunities.

Defending the TSA?!?

Filed under: Aviation Security,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on January 3, 2012

I feel somewhat uncomfortable defending the actions of a group that seemingly brings so much discomfort to so many, but a recent Vanity Fair article on airport security not only regurgitates the obvious and well known, but lacks little strategic point of view.  First, the well-known:

Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.

From an airplane-hijacking point of view, Schneier said, al-Qaeda had used up its luck. Passengers on the first three 9/11 flights didn’t resist their captors, because in the past the typical consequence of a plane seizure had been “a week in Havana.” When the people on the fourth hijacked plane learned by cell phone that the previous flights had been turned into airborne bombs, they attacked their attackers. The hijackers were forced to crash Flight 93 into a field. “No big plane will ever be taken that way again, because the passengers will fight back,” Schneier said.

Buried within the article is, in my opinion anyway, a very nice articulation of the problem of looking at the issue of terrorism risk simply by crunching the numbers:

Has the nation simply wasted a trillion dollars protecting itself against terror? Mostly, but perhaps not entirely. “Most of the time we assess risk through gut feelings,” says Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon who is also the president of Decision Research, a nonprofit R&D organization. “We’re not robots just looking at the numbers.” Confronted with a risk, people ask questions: Is this a risk that I benefit from taking, as when I get in a car? Is it forced on me by someone else, as when I am exposed to radiation? Are the potential consequences catastrophic? Is the impact immediate and observable, or will I not know the consequences until much later, as with cancer? Such questions, Slovic says, “reflect values that are sometimes left out of the experts’ calculations.”

Security theater, from this perspective, is an attempt to convey a message: “We are doing everything possible to protect you.” When 9/11 shattered the public’s confidence in flying, Slovic says, the handful of anti-terror measures that actually work—hardening the cockpit door, positive baggage matching, more-effective intelligence—would not have addressed the public’s dread, because the measures can’t really be seen. Relying on them would have been the equivalent of saying, “Have confidence in Uncle Sam,” when the problem was the very loss of confidence. So a certain amount of theater made sense. Over time, though, the value of the message changes. At first the policeman in the train station reassures you. Later, the uniform sends a message: train travel is dangerous. “The show gets less effective, and sometimes it becomes counterproductive.”

Eventually, Bruce Schneier overreaches and follows his generally reasonable assertions with analysis that only serves to buttress his own arguments while ignoring a bit of reality:

Terrorists will try to hit the United States again, Schneier says. One has to assume this. Terrorists can so easily switch from target to target and weapon to weapon that focusing on preventing any one type of attack is foolish. Even if the T.S.A. were somehow to make airports impregnable, this would simply divert terrorists to other, less heavily defended targets—shopping malls, movie theaters, churches, stadiums, museums. The terrorist’s goal isn’t to attack an airplane specifically; it’s to sow terror generally. “You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier says. “Congratulations!”

This simplifies the issue in ways that are counterproductive.  Two points:

1. Air travel remains an attractive target due to the cost benefit ratio: it takes very little explosive to bring down a plane and kill hundreds, while at the same time creating a spectacular event that instantaneously affects a large industry in the short and long term. The shoe or underwear bombers would have caused relatively little damage at a shopping mall or casino, but could have easily killed hundreds in an instance and caused enormous economic damage if successful on their original mission.  The liquid bombing plot seemed to be aiming for thousands of deaths and a truly strategic impact, one not attainable by the same number of operatives killing themselves in other public spaces (before it is brought up, I do know of the line of reasoning that a wave of attacks against American malls would have a huge impact…but I guess that I have greater faith in citizen resilience in that we as a nation would not hide at home following such an event).

There is a lot of security theater at airports, but much of it began in response to a rash of hijackings decades ago.  When there was no security it was simple to bring a gun or bomb aboard a flight, take it hostage, and gain attention for one’s political demands.  Steps were taken to make this more difficult.  Reasonable steps should be taken now when instead of simply attention the goals include death on a grand scale.

2. Terrorists do not simply “switch from target to target and weapon to weapon.” Groups consider their goals, determine their resources, and plan for what is then attainable.  The IRA was a sophisticated group capable of inflicting a great number of civilian casualties, yet they were restrained by their political goals.  Al Qaeda has different goals and therefore utilizes different methods.  The same will be true of other current and future groups.  If killing hundreds is a goal but resources are limited to a few poorly trained agents, targeting an airliner would seem more attractive than attempting an operation similar to the assault on Mumbai. Terror is a goal when traditional military victory is out of reach, however it should not be thought that all groups and individuals would generalize this goal into a least common denominator and aim for the easiest target.  That is partly what got us into trouble the last time…(Pre-9/11: What?  Worry about a group of actors with no state backing?!?  Preposterous…now about those Chinese….).

Mr. Schneier has performed an invaluable service over the years bringing to light deficiencies in our homeland security thinking, and Mr. Mann (the author of the article in question) accomplishes the same by exposing it to a wider audience.  Yet I can’t help but think that by not considering the issues a few steps beyond shouts of “security theater,” the conversation we should have about homeland security as a nation will not take place.

January 2, 2012

Starting out the New Year with hopes of peace

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 2, 2012

Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, poses a great question for the start of the New Year:

“Is the word “peace’’ disappearing from our national conversation?”

To explain:

Armies of talking heads, bloggers, and op-ed opinionators assault us daily on every subject . . . but rarely on peace. When was the last time we heard a national leader of either party, especially one running for president, put the goal of peace at the center of a political platform or place it among our highest national aspirations?

Lamenting the absence of discussion about peace by current candidates for the Republican nomination and the lack of focus by President Obama, Burns shares what he considers among the best of presidential calls for peace:

In perhaps the most eloquent evocation of peace by an American president, John F. Kennedy described it this way to students at American University in 1963: “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children . . . not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.’’

Taking a step back, our reaction to 9/11 and the meaning of the term “homeland security” itself can be a bit jarring:

Contrast FDR and Truman’s sheer optimism in launching the United Nations and Marshall Plan after World War II with the principal monuments we have built since 9/11: the Department of Homeland Security and its legions of security personnel at airports. We now deploy the words “defense,’’ “protect,’’ and “security’’ to illustrate the national purpose. Is this sufficient? Peace is often unattainable, but has the 9/11 decade made us so fearful that we no longer believe it can be the guiding star that makes us a better nation.”

That last question is likely the most important. It is popular in homeland security-related fields to throw around terms such as “resilience,” “need to share,” and “whole of _________ (insert term-of-the-moment here).” These speak to concepts of inclusion and confidence.  However, the policy and funding choices tell a different story–Citizen Corps and other related concepts are underfunded and likely soon to lose all support, while a pilot project involving radiation detectors ringing the New York City metropolitan area is likely to continue. The vaguest of reports are stamped “For Official Use Only” while private citizens, like those in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami, are left to determine the best source of information in the aftermath of a disaster themselves.  Basing post-disaster planning on the fact that the affected community may actually do something instead of simply waiting for instructions from authorities is an important recognition of reality, but the lack of threat information or after-action reports from previous government exercises available to the general public leads one to believe that ingrained culture and SOPs will be very hard to change.

I am hopeful yet pessimistic.  The lack of engagement with homeland security issues by the candidates is likely a negative, yet could positively allow the enterprise to mature unimpeded by political posturing.  The cuts in funding at all levels of government will lead to a degradation of capacity and capability, but could also spur creative thinking and true engagement of communities out of necessity.  But anyway one looks at it if peace is not deemed an appropriate alternative to the use of force, this year may be worse than the last.


NDAA is law: President’s statement

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Legal Issues,Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on January 2, 2012

In prior posts I have argued against several provisions of the the National Defense Authorization Act.  On New Year’s Eve, the President signed the legislation.  It is now law.

I am not concerned — have never been concerned — about the immediate implications of the law.  I am deeply concerned regarding how it may be applied at some future date.  I am saddened by what overwhelming, bipartisan passage of the law seems to say regarding Congressional commitment to the foundations of freedom extending at least to the Magna Carta.  That the executive has chosen to accept the gift of additional power is not surprising, this is the innate tendency of the executive.  That the legislature has enthusiastically authorized such extraordinary power is profoundly troubling.  The current executive promises to exercise restraint. In a future crisis, how may a less reluctant executive choose to exercise this power?

Following is a statement by the President on his decision.


Today I have signed into law H.R. 1540, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.” I have signed the Act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed. In hundreds of separate sections totaling over 500 pages, the Act also contains critical Administration initiatives to control the spiraling health care costs of the Department of Defense (DoD), to develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, to build the security capacity of key partners, to modernize the force, and to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide.

The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it. In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists. Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists that allows us to maximize both our ability to collect intelligence and to incapacitate dangerous individuals in rapidly developing situations, and the results we have achieved are undeniable. Our success against al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents has derived in significant measure from providing our counterterrorism professionals with the clarity and flexibility they need to adapt to changing circumstances and to utilize whichever authorities best protect the American people, and our accomplishments have respected the values that make our country an example for the world.

Against that record of success, some in Congress continue to insist upon restricting the options available to our counterterrorism professionals and interfering with the very operations that have kept us safe. My Administration has consistently opposed such measures. Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people. Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded.

Section 1021 affirms the executive branch’s authority to detain persons covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note). This section breaks no new ground and is unnecessary. The authority it describes was included in the 2001 AUMF, as recognized by the Supreme Court and confirmed through lower court decisions since then. Two critical limitations in section 1021 confirm that it solely codifies established authorities. First, under section 1021(d), the bill does not “limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Second, under section 1021(e), the bill may not be construed to affect any “existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” My Administration strongly supported the inclusion of these limitations in order to make clear beyond doubt that the legislation does nothing more than confirm authorities that the Federal courts have recognized as lawful under the 2001 AUMF. Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

Section 1022 seeks to require military custody for a narrow category of non-citizen detainees who are “captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” This section is ill-conceived and will do nothing to improve the security of the United States. The executive branch already has the authority to detain in military custody those members of al-Qa’ida who are captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the AUMF, and as Commander in Chief I have directed the military to do so where appropriate. I reject any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat. While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations.

I have concluded that section 1022 provides the minimally acceptable amount of flexibility to protect national security. Specifically, I have signed this bill on the understanding that section 1022 provides the executive branch with broad authority to determine how best to implement it, and with the full and unencumbered ability to waive any military custody requirement, including the option of waiving appropriate categories of cases when doing so is in the national security interests of the United States. As my Administration has made clear, the only responsible way to combat the threat al-Qa’ida poses is to remain relentlessly practical, guided by the factual and legal complexities of each case and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each system. Otherwise, investigations could be compromised, our authorities to hold dangerous individuals could be jeopardized, and intelligence could be lost. I will not tolerate that result, and under no circumstances will my Administration accept or adhere to a rigid across-the-board requirement for military detention. I will therefore interpret and implement section 1022 in the manner that best preserves the same flexible approach that has served us so well for the past 3 years and that protects the ability of law enforcement professionals to obtain the evidence and cooperation they need to protect the Nation.

My Administration will design the implementation procedures authorized by section 1022(c) to provide the maximum measure of flexibility and clarity to our counterterrorism professionals permissible under law. And I will exercise all of my constitutional authorities as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief if those procedures fall short, including but not limited to seeking the revision or repeal of provisions should they prove to be unworkable.

Sections 1023-1025 needlessly interfere with the executive branch’s processes for reviewing the status of detainees. Going forward, consistent with congressional intent as detailed in the Conference Report, my Administration will interpret section 1024 as granting the Secretary of Defense broad discretion to determine what detainee status determinations in Afghanistan are subject to the requirements of this section.

Sections 1026-1028 continue unwise funding restrictions that curtail options available to the executive branch. Section 1027 renews the bar against using appropriated funds for fiscal year 2012 to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States for any purpose. I continue to oppose this provision, which intrudes upon critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests. For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in Federal court. Those prosecutions are a legitimate, effective, and powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation. Removing that tool from the executive branch does not serve our national security. Moreover, this intrusion would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles.

Section 1028 modifies but fundamentally maintains unwarranted restrictions on the executive branch’s authority to transfer detainees to a foreign country. This hinders the executive’s ability to carry out its military, national security, and foreign relations activities and like section 1027, would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles. The executive branch must have the flexibility to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers. In the event that the statutory restrictions in sections 1027 and 1028 operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict.

Section 1029 requires that the Attorney General consult with the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense prior to filing criminal charges against or seeking an indictment of certain individuals. I sign this based on the understanding that apart from detainees held by the military outside of the United States under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the provision applies only to those individuals who have been determined to be covered persons under section 1022 before the Justice Department files charges or seeks an indictment. Notwithstanding that limitation, this provision represents an intrusion into the functions and prerogatives of the Department of Justice and offends the longstanding legal tradition that decisions regarding criminal prosecutions should be vested with the Attorney General free from outside interference. Moreover, section 1029 could impede flexibility and hinder exigent operational judgments in a manner that damages our security. My Administration will interpret and implement section 1029 in a manner that preserves the operational flexibility of our counterterrorism and law enforcement professionals, limits delays in the investigative process, ensures that critical executive branch functions are not inhibited, and preserves the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice.

Other provisions in this bill above could interfere with my constitutional foreign affairs powers. Section 1244 requires the President to submit a report to the Congress 60 days prior to sharing any U.S. classified ballistic missile defense information with Russia. Section 1244 further specifies that this report include a detailed description of the classified information to be provided. While my Administration intends to keep the Congress fully informed of the status of U.S. efforts to cooperate with the Russian Federation on ballistic missile defense, my Administration will also interpret and implement section 1244 in a manner that does not interfere with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and avoids the undue disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications. Other sections pose similar problems. Sections 1231, 1240, 1241, and 1242 could be read to require the disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications and national security secrets; and sections 1235, 1242, and 1245 would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.

My Administration has worked tirelessly to reform or remove the provisions described above in order to facilitate the enactment of this vital legislation, but certain provisions remain concerning. My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future, and will seek the repeal of any provisions that undermine the policies and values that have guided my Administration throughout my time in office.

December 31, 2011.


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