Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 13, 2012

Syria on Monday

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

Earlier today the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights made a report to the General Assembly regarding the situation in Syria.  Below is a small bit from the start of the report.  Please access the link for her full comments.

The violent Government crackdown on peaceful protests demanding freedom, dignity and social justice in Syria has continued unabated for eleven months now. While no exact figures can be provided due to our lack of access to the country, credible reports indicate that Syrian security forces killed well above 5,400 people last year, including civilians as well as military personnel who refused to shoot civilians.

Due to extreme difficulties in substantiating the events on the ground, it has become almost impossible for my Office to update the death toll in the past two months. However, we are certain that the number of dead and injured continues to rise every day. Tens of thousands, including children, have been arrested, with more than 18,000 reportedly still arbitrarily held in detention. Thousands more are reported missing. 25,000 people are estimated to have sought refuge in neighbouring and other countries. And more than 70,000 are estimated to have been internally displaced.

While the protests have remained largely peaceful, reports of armed attacks by anti-government fighters against Syrian forces have increased, also with consequences on civilians. According to the Government, some 2000 military and security personnel have been killed.

I am particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs. Since 3 February, in further escalation of its assault, the Government has used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel the city of Homs. According to credible accounts, the Syrian army has shelled densely populated neighborhoods of Homs in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas. More than 300 people have reportedly been killed in the city since the start of this assault ten days ago. The majority of them were victims of the shelling.

The full report is available from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

–+–

Even as Syrian artillery continued to fire into residential areas of Homs and other cities, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for the Arab League’s proposal to deploy UN peacekeepers.   Initial reactions by the United States, United Kingdom and Russia all noted that “peacekeepers” require peace as a precondition.

February 12, 2012

Syria on Sunday

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2012

Emerging from consultations in Cairo on Sunday, the Arab League is calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to end the 11-month conflict in Syria.

In a resolution seen by the BBC but not yet officially released, the Arab League scrapped its observer team, suspended last month, and said it was ending all diplomatic co-operation with Syria.

Damascus “categorically rejected” the resolution, a Syrian envoy said.

The League’s moves come a week after a UN Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed by Russia and China.

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in Cairo says the resolution contains the toughest language on Syria by the Arab League so far and makes it much more likely that the issue will return to the Security Council.

Continue reading the BBC story

UPDATE (1435 Eastern):

An English text of the resolution is available at the Arab League website, but the site is unstable and pages are not fully loading.  I expect this is due to significant demand.  Worth checking later this evening.

MONDAY UPDATE:

The English text has disappeared.  The original Arabic text is available at: http://arableagueonline.org/wps/wcm/connect/dbd065804a2433d984769c526698d42c/7446.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

Following is the best English language summary  I have found of the Arab League resolution:

At the conclusion of its meeting in Cairo, the Council issued Resolution No. 7446 on the “follow-up developments of the situation in Syria,” which  rejected and condemned the continued killings and violence in Syria and the continued retention of the military option, which is contrary to the obligations set forth in the resolutions of the Council of the League of Arab States and the Arab Plan of Action. (Palin note: The reference to the “military option”  is ambiguous and I don’t have the Arabic to confidently clarify.)

The Council of the League of Arab States calls on the United Nations Security Council for a resolution to form an Arab peace-keeping forces jointly with the UN to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire. It was also decided to stop all forms of cooperation with the diplomatic representatives of the Syrian regime in each member state and in international bodies and conferences.

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs agreed to end the monitoring mission of the Arab League, due to problems under the protocol signed between the Syrian government and the Secretariat of the League, and drew the call to the Secretary-General to name a special envoy to pursue the political process proposed in the framework of the Arab initiative.

The Council welcomed the offer of the Tunisian Republic to host the Conference of Friends of Syria to be held on 24.02.2012, and decided to open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and provide all forms of political and material support to it. The Council also call on the Syrian opposition to unite and engage in serious dialogue to advance its coherence and effectiveness prior to the Tunis conference.

The resolution emphasized the validity of the economic boycott with the Syrian regime, except those directly affecting the Syrian citizens in accordance with the decisions of the Council of the League on this issue.

February 11, 2012

Syria on Saturday

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 11, 2012

Robert Ford, the US Ambassador to Syria has posted to the embassy’s Facebook page satellite photos of Syrian armor and artillery.  The Ambassador claims, “the regime is using it to pound civilian apartment buildings and homes from a distance.”  (The US embassy in Syria has evacuated Damascus.)

According to The Guardian: ”The indiscriminate shelling is killing mostly civilians,” said Fawaz Tello, an Egyptian-based member of the opposition Syrian National Council. ”Assad cannot push his troops into street fighting … so he is content with shelling Homs to bits until civilian losses pressure the Free Syrian Army to withdraw and regime troops can enter these neighbourhoods without taking any serious losses,” Tello added.

Al Jazeera has launched a live blog featuring several videos claiming to show events unfolding inside Syria.

According to The Daily Star (Lebanon), “Shock waves from the Syrian uprising reached new levels in Lebanon Friday as armed clashes rocked the northern city of Tripoli and rattled the country. Gunfire and rocket propelled-grenades were exchanged between the pre-dominantly Alawite Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and mainly Sunni district Bab al-Tabbaneh.”

Monday the United Nations General Assembly will receive a report on the situation in Syria.  This weekend Saudi Arabia is pushing a resolution for General Assembly consideration.  According to the BBC, the draft “ ”fully supports” the Arab League peace plan published last month, which called on Mr Assad to hand over power to his vice-president, and make way for the rapid formation of a national unity government including the opposition. While calling for an end to the violence by all sides, it lays blame primarily on the Syrian authorities, which are strongly condemned for “continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

In a speech at George Washington University (Washington DC) on Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Minister insisted, “Will we wait and see after [last week’s] Russian and Chinese veto [on a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria]? No, never. As Turkey, we will not simply watch a massacre taking place in our region even if everybody remains silent and indifferent.”

Nihat Ali Özcan explains in the Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey),  “The way to decrease civilian casualties and establish lasting peace is through accelerating regime change. But this does not seem possible without military support “from outside.” Even though there are some desertions from the military at the moment, instigating a disciplined and effective struggle and achieving success in a short time does not seem possible. In that case, who would provide help and how? The U.S. does not want to engage in this. The U.K. and France are not keen. The Arab League seems a little unsure and rocky. It is true that Turkey is in everybody’s mind. So here is the question: How and under what conditions could Turkey intervene in Syria?

“It seems the Turkish government’s position regarding intervention in Syria “has come to a specific maturity” thanks to the hard work of the U.S., U.K. and some Arab countries. Erdoan, Gül, Davutolu and Arnç keep signaling this. Thoughts like “Muslims [Sunni, of course] are being killed” or “the al-Assad regime is cooperating with the PKK” are useful arguments for preparing the Turkish public for an intervention. Despite all those efforts, the Turkish public still does not seem entirely ready for the intervention idea.”

The Syrian situation is principally a matter of US foreign policy.  But the perceived role of the United States vis-a-vis Syria could — almost certainly will — morph into a homeland security issue.

February 10, 2012

Supply chain leaders: You are invited, the courtesy of a response is requested.

Filed under: Private Sector,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on February 10, 2012

Last week a former client — I had not heard from him in over three years — called me in a (typically) titanic rage.

With expletives deleted, he said something similar to: “@$%& can they be serious about supply chain security without involving me?  And @##$%! is this about increased redundancy, do they have any ##$%^ idea how much that could cost?”  And so on.

“Surprised to hear from you Gary,” I replied (not his real name).  ”Been a long time.”

One of the reasons I retired was bombastic, reality-distorting,  self-serving, narrow-minded, tactically-driven, context-challenged so-called leaders like Gary.   When an American business implodes, it’s usually got more than one Gary scattered among its executive ranks.  They are a minority, but sadly very active.

Since he evidently reads this blog, I guess that bridge has been effectively burned and pushed into the chasm for better or worse.

Considerably more frustrating was an email received yesterday.   A national organization closely related to the supply chain industry had just completed a meeting of its government affairs committee.  At the meeting they reviewed the new National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.  The note distributed indicates they will take “a wait and see position until they can  determine whether  this is in fact a priority initiative for the Administration.”

Eleven months ago the squishy soft underbelly of the global supply chain was nakedly exposed by a hard-hit to an economically peripheral area of Japan.  In the fourth quarter of 2011 the same sort of expensive embarrassment was produced by Thai flooding.    These events seriously affected the bottom-lines of some top global brands. Billions of dollars in value and productivity evaporated.  Other examples could be offered, fortunately none — yet — involving crucial agricultural, industrial or financial keystones.

In the context of these real-world challenges the President personally signs-out a new National Strategy.  He sends a cabinet secretary to the World Economic Forum to unveil the new strategy.  He orders follow-on work to be done.

Many are arguing this is a top-tier national security concern.  The President sets out a fairly narrow time-frame in which to come back with an implementation plan.

To which at least some in  private sector respond with, “Well, let’s wait and see”.  I almost feel the need to join my former client in yelling !@#$%?

The United States has the most advanced domestic supply chain in the world.  It is fundamental to our economic competitiveness and our way of life.   We are a key player in a global supply chain that is increasingly complex and on which we more and more depend.  This is a national priority.  It is also — mostly — a private sector responsibility.

The National Strategy is explicit regarding its goal to “engage government, private sector, and international stakeholders. The purpose of this engagement is to seek specific recommendations to inform and guide our collaborative implementation of the Strategy.”

The President of the United States is asking for your help.  He is giving the supply chain community the opportunity to get ahead of this problem and shape the solution-space.  This is a fantastic moment for a good dose of enlightened self-interest.

Gary is a bomb-thrower, but at least he wants to be involved.  I hope some of his more constructive peers accept the invitation.

February 8, 2012

The fragility of the electrical grid

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Infrastructure Protection — by Arnold Bogis on February 8, 2012

This past weekend, the Boston Globe ran a great article by Neil Swidey that begins with a narrative about the late fall snowstorm that caused massive power outages in the Northeast and pivots into an investigative piece examining the fragility of the entire electrical grid.

First, however, comes the personalization:

While most of that northwest-of-Boston community – like much of the region – remained in the dark, the Sargent Memorial Library had been welcoming the biggest crowds of Strapko’s decade-long tenure. That’s mainly because restoring power to key town facilities like the fire and police departments had also turned it back on at the nearby library.

When they returned to the library to retrieve her car, it was about 10 o’clock. Strapko was astonished to see that there were still half a dozen cars, sport utility vehicles and Priuses alike, idling in the parking lot, the drivers’ faces lit by the bluish glow of their laptop and smartphone screens. She later learned that all week long, people had been lingering in the parking lot into the early hours of the morning, unwilling to disconnect from the library’s 24-hour Wi-Fi lifeline. A dozen years into the new century, this is how hopelessly reliant we’ve all become on power.

Swidey builds the case that major disruptions in electricity delivery have been few and far between in the recent American experience:

Yet here in this country, we’ve come to expect that whenever we flip the switch or plug in to the outlet, the juice will be there. The power grid has been so reliable over the years that most of us can count on one hand the number of times in our lives when we’ve been without electricity for any significant stretch.

However, the last large non-storm related blackout in 2003 can be seen as a harbinger of future fragility.

If our society is more reliant on power than at any time in history – without it, we’ve got no commerce, no communications, no clean water – and if power becomes less reliable in the future, the big question is: Will we be able to hack it?

He divides particular threats to the grid into three buckets:

Bucket No. 1 involves what the insurance-policy fine print calls “Acts of God.’’ Here we’re talking about all those “storms of the century’’ that seem to be arriving with unsettling frequency.

And as the Halloween storm showed, even people in neighborhoods with underground power lines won’t necessarily escape outages, because those lines are fed somewhere along the route by aboveground equipment. What’s more, Mother Nature can hit us with a lot more than just high winds and heavy snow. Consider the solar storm.

Let’s call Bucket No. 2 “Acts of Terrorists.’’ Among these, there’s the old-fashioned physical attack on the bulk power system, either at its source of generation or somewhere along its transmission route. There’s the newfangled cyber attack on the computers controlling our interconnected grid. And then there’s the otherworldly-sounding attack by an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, weapon.

Yeah, he went there: EMP.  Luckily, he expends some ink on painting some of the stalwarts of that threat genre as a little extreme and mentions the arguments that paint this as an unlikely event. As a solar storm impacting the Earth is a “when, not if” event, taking the steps to harden the grid that many EMP enthusiasts suggest would seem prudent to me. Trying to build a fanciful missile defense system that would stop any attack conceivable…not so much. Getting back to man-made threats:

But the chairman of the task force, Granger Morgan, says that what continues to worry him the most is the havoc that bad guys could cause with relatively little technological savvy. “If I’m a terrorist, I can shut down the power system in a lot simpler ways than using a valuable nuclear device,’’ says Morgan, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a noted authority on the grid.

Natural and intentional man-made threats to the electrical grid are fairly well known in homeland security circles, but the article brings up several structural facets of the system that at least I hadn’t considered before:

Finally, Bucket No. 3 is the “Ailing Grid’’ itself. In many places, the infrastructure is as old and stooped as a pensioner. As it is upgraded and its capacity is expanded, our rapacious need for more electrical power races to max it out once again.

As our electrical thirst grows, the choices we make today about how to quench it will have lasting consequences.  Not simply some combination of environmental and national security concerns, decisions about fuel type and infrastructure capacity will have unforeseen impacts.

A decade ago, 22 percent of New England’s electrical power came from oil-fired plants and 15 percent came from natural gas-fired ones. Today, about half of our electrical power comes from natural gas, while a fraction of 1 percent comes from oil. And our reliance on natural gas promises to grow even more significantly in coming years.

Second, the natural gas pipelines feeding this region were built to serve our heating – not our electrical – needs. Most of the year, there’s sufficient room in the pipeline to supply both. The danger zone, however, comes when the temperature plummets. During stretches of brutal cold, the pipeline capacity can be quickly used up by the natural gas needed to heat our homes and businesses. And unlike oil and coal, natural gas supplies cannot be easily stored in large quantities.

Yet, some important limitations tend to get lost when people rhapsodize about renewables. Although wind and solar power represent a wonderfully clean source of electricity, in energy parlance, they are not particularly “dispatchable.’’ If the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can’t meet increased demand by simply turning up the power spigot and having renewable energy flow out the tap.

As the price of natural gas continues to either hold steady or decrease due to increasing supplies, new oil and to a lesser extent coal (which releases more pollutants into the air than natural gas) burning plants are not likely to get built.  Older plants will  be decommissioned, renewables may not be dependable, and the nuclear renaissance may run aground on the shore of economics (and a bit of safety post-Fukushima–but impacted to a greater degree by the comparative costs of building a new natural gas vs. nuclear plant). Infrastructure concerns will vary with conditions across the regions of this nation, but so will the long term impacts of deciding what sort of system to build.

With current political pressure to cut government spending, the issue of whether it will get built is just as important as what to build. If that isn’t daunting enough, the provision of electricity is a complicated public-private partnership. The issues raised by Phil’s recent posts on supply chain issues apply to the grid as well.

The answer?

Some will choose to get off the grid, or at least decrease their reliance:

FOR A MORE ENCOURAGING GLIMPSE into the future, head up to East Dummerston in southeastern Vermont. There, on 27 acres, Juliet Cuming and David Shaw live with their two children in a beautiful 2,400-square-foot house and run a photo-archive business in a building next door. Here’s a partial list of what you’ll find inside: flat-screen plasma TV, three laptop and two desktop computers, an Xbox, scanner, washer and dryer, dishwasher, toaster, and vacuum. Here’s what you won’t find: a bill from the electric company.

They have lived fully off the grid for 16 years now, producing all the energy they consume, relying largely on a wind turbine and a bunch of solar panels. They estimate that it cost them an extra $20,000 to have their home built so it could be a self-sufficient island of energy, and figure they have already recouped that investment.

The entire article is well worth reading:

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2012/02/05/what_if_the_lights_go_out/?page=full

Postscript:For good resilience measure, the article includes the standard list of items one should have on hand for blackouts and other types of emergencies.  Strike while the iron is hot, or at least when the reader is concerned.

Post-postscript: For those interested in getting into the weeds of electricity policy, the “Harvard Electricity Policy Group” has been examining these issues since 1993 and allows public access to their extensive research library.

Real-time coverage of Syrian situation

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 8, 2012

Map is reposted from BBC

Emboldened by Saturday’s non-decision by the United Nation’s Security Council some perceive the Syrian government is ready to do “whatever it takes” to shut-down further protests, especially in the hot-house of Homs.

The question now being asked in many world capitals is whether intervention is prudent or even possible if the Syrian government undertakes an all-out massacre.

Just in case you want to know more, both The Telegraph and The Guardian are blogging real time coverage.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9064047/Syria-uprising-live.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/feb/08/syria-assad-siege-homs-live

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE

The Telegraph’s Alex Spillius has spoken to a US State Department official who warns the international community may be forced to “militarise” the crisis. (The story is near the top of Thursday’s “Most Viewed.”)

He writes:

The official from the State Department told The Daily Telegraph that while the White House wants to exhaust all its diplomatic options, the debate in Washington has shifted away from diplomacy and towards more robust action since Russia and China blocked a United Nations resolution condemning Syria.

While I don’t know what Mr. Spillius was told in the hallway, here’s what the State Department spokesman said at Wednesday’s regular State Department briefing:

QUESTION: Are you able to tell us whether or not the Pentagon is part of this conversation on the U.S. side?

MS. NULAND: We often have asked the Pentagon to use its assets in certain circumstances, both consensual circumstances and more difficult circumstances, but I really don’t want to speculate on exactly how this might be moved. But as we’ve said repeatedly, we are not looking for military options, if that’s what you’re getting at, in Syria.

For further background on why military intervention is unlikely see a post by Scott Clement in The Cable:

Don’t Count on a Syria Intervention: In the end, Americans just aren’t interested in getting involved in promoting democracy overseas.”

Supply chain testimony

Yesterday several DHS officials and others were on the Hill giving testimony related to the new National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.  Please see: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-hearing-balancing-maritime-security-and-trade-facilitation-protecting-our-ports

Three quick impressions:

1. Constructive example of “stovepipes” being brought together around a supposedly stovepipe-busting strategy.

2. The tension between security and resilience is real, persistent, and difficult to effectively engage.   Security is tough enough.  Resilience requires even more creativity.

3. It is striking to have a hearing on this topic without hearing directly from the private sector as well.

This is an early step in rolling-out the new strategy.  Much more to come.

February 7, 2012

One day in February: Natural, accidental, and intentional threats

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 7, 2012

On February 7, 1812 President Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson:

“The re-iterations of the Earthquakes continue to be reported from various quarters. They have slightly reached the State of N. Y. and been severely felt W. & S. Westwardly. There was one here [Washington, D. C.] this morning at 5 or 6 minutes after 4 OC. It was rather stronger than any preceding one, & lasted several minutes, with sensible tho very slight repetitions throughout the succeeding hour.”

According to a good piece recently published in the Washington Post,

The New Madrid quakes started nine days before Christmas in 1811 and culminated in a massive shock on Feb. 7, 1812, which some experts believe was one of the largest quakes ever to strike the center of a continent.

In the then thinly populated mid-Mississippi Valley it seemed the end-of-the-world had arrived.  The ground split open, geysers of sand covered forests, the Mississippi river reversed course.  After-shocks continued for months.

A few years ago a friend was named head of strategic planning for a major healthcare system with most of its hospitals in St. Louis and nearby.  After he had been there awhile I asked about the status of their earthquake plans.  He was not from the region and had never heard about the New Madrid fault.  After my question, he asked about pre-existing plans.  There were none.

On this day in 1904 a great fire engulfed Baltimore, then the sixth largest American city.  It started at mid-morning on a Sunday. The cause has never been confirmed, but is assumed to have been accidental.  Over the next thirty hours the fire consumed over 1500 buildings and most of the central business district. There are several online resources, I especially recommend: The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

Three of many lessons learned:

Interoperability – Since at least the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 many had encouraged standardization of fire equipment, and especially hose couplings.  Despite the recognized vulnerability very little progress had been made.  As a result, when firefighters and their equipment arrived in Baltimore from Washington, Philadelphia, Wilmington, New York and elsewhere their effectiveness was seriously undermined.  For more see: Major U.S. Cities Using National Standard Fire Hydrants, One Century After the Great Baltimore Fire (National Institute of Standards and Technology)

Mutual Aid –  Twenty-one cities and over 1000 firefighters provided mutual aid as Baltimore burned, most arriving Sunday afternoon.   The speed of this response was made possible by the B&O railway providing special trains at no cost.  The first reinforcements arrived from Washington D.C. only 38 minutes after the request was made (!). The U.S. Navy, Maryland State Militia, and police from several cities, especially Philadelphia and New York, also responded.   But the mutual aid — both private and public — so generously and quickly extended was often under-utilized through lack of technical and strategic preparedness.

Recovery –  A few years after the fire a survivor wrote, “The boldness with which Baltimore in the very moment of its devastation, planned and put into execution a great scheme of public improvements, seemed to act as a charm to dissolve the spell of ultra-conservatism, and to inspire the people with confidence in themselves and in the future of the city.”  Throughout the late 19th Century there had been many efforts to re-conceive the old port as a modern metropolis.  The fire opened the space that provided the opportunity to implement those plans. (An early example of Advance Recovery Planning.) Within two years Baltimore newspapers were claiming the city had been reborn much better than before.

The Facebook motto — “Done is better than perfect” — may be a fair summary of how Baltimore was rebuilt so quickly.   From this distance it’s tough to say what may have been lost along the way, but for the first time a sewer system was laid, parks were created, streets were substantially widened, and electrical and telephone lines were put underground.  Personally, I’m infatuated with much of the post-fire architecture that still graces Baltimore.

The survivor quoted above, longtime insurance executive C.C. Hall, also wrote, “A splendid audacity, resting upon a basis of intelligent comprehension, replaced the old-time hesitancy with which large projects had been received. To create rather than be created became the dominant impulse of the community.”

On February 7, 1995 Pakistani and U.S. authorities captured Ramzi Yousef. He was later found guilty for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  During his U.S. trial Yousef told the court, “Yes, I am a terrorist, and proud of it as long as it is against the U.S. government and against Israel, because you are more than terrorists; you are the one who invented terrorism and using it every day. You are butchers, liars and hypocrites.”  When arrested in Islamabad Youself was in possession of Delta and United airline tickets and was in the process of converting children’s toys into bombs.  He is currently serving a 240 year term in a federal penitentiary.

“What’s past is prologue,” is from Act 2, Scene 1 of The Tempest.  Shakespeare continues, “what to come, in yours and my discharge.”

February 6, 2012

Disaster Tourism

Filed under: Catastrophes,Education,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Arnold Bogis on February 6, 2012

The Boston Globe recently ran a very interesting, if short, editorial on the benefits of disaster tourism:

The residents of Joplin, Missouri suffered unspeakable tragedy when the May, 2011, tornado left the small city in ruins and 161 people dead. Today, Joplin is in the midst of a new crisis as city leaders, under fire, backed down from proposals to market the devastation and recovery as “tornado tourism.’’ While every effort should be made to respect the solemn nature of Joplin’s history, the city should reconsider: Disaster tourism is a natural part of any tragedy that engages, and sometimes enrages, a nation.

An interesting perspective I hadn’t thought of before.  Usually, such activities are easily cast as predatory or manipulative.  However, the editors of the Globe make the good point that disasters are learning experiences, not just for those directly impacted but for society in general.  For every person who goes and tours a former disaster site, a few might go home and perhaps not only prepare for the unthinkable themselves, but share that message with others.

Oh dear…Iranian Female Ninjas!

Filed under: Humor — by Arnold Bogis on February 6, 2012

As if a potential nuclear capability, ballistic missile development, and threats to close the Strait of Hormuz weren’t enough…now this.

I almost wish I was kidding about what Wired’s Danger Room blog ominously warns “It’s official — the Iranian government is in cahoots with COBRA from G.I. Joe:” (apologies for the link to YouTube; I’m still not a blogging ninja able to embed video)

Iranian Female Ninjas

February 5, 2012

Evil is as evil does

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 5, 2012

The photo was taken southwest of Homs, the center of Syrian anti-government protests, by Alessio Romenzi for AFP/Getty.

We are told at least 200 — and perhaps more than 300 — have been killed in Syria this weekend.   According to the United Nations, more than 5000 have been killed since protests began last March.

Saturday Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that “Condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and in this regard demands that all parties in Syria, including armed groups, immediately stop all violence or reprisals, including attacks against State institutions.”

Passage of the resolution would not have stopped the violence, but it would have, at least, acknowledged it as exceeding acceptable limits, threatening wider violence, and as being incoherent with international values.

Instead the violence has been defended and encouraged.

The Teutonic roots of the word “evil” suggest overreaching, exceeding acceptable limits, seeking what is beyond a legitimate boundary.

I have contributed to evil when I have over-reached in judging the innocence of my motivation and the evil of others’ motivation.

There are several Hebrew words translated as evil.  One of the more common is ra’a meaning to break into pieces, shatter, divide.

I have contributed to evil when I have decided to exclude and condemn another, rejecting my relationship with the other.

Classical Greek uses kako or caco.  While admittedly ambivalent, there is the implication that evil emerges from inconsistency or incoherence with essential purpose.

I have contributed to evil — become evil — when I have failed to love, to honor, and respect another.

In view of my own capacity for evil, I am reluctant to call out another.

But perhaps it takes one to know one.

At the very least I should not look away.  Whether the source is myself or another, I ought not avoid acknowledging reality and naming it as clearly as possible.   In confronting the evil of another, my own capacity for the same may well be a source of strength, even wisdom.

MONDAY UPDATE:

According to The Telegraph:

Up to 50 people have died this morning during the attacks, a senior member of the Syrian National Council said…

“What is happening is horrible, it’s beyond belief,” said Omar Shaker, an activist in Homs. The sound of gunfire and loud explosions could be heard in the background as he spoke.

“There is a large number of martyrs,” he said. “It is the first time we are undergoing attacks of such intensity.”

Shaker said activists were transporting the wounded to the city’s mosques. Some reports said medical centres were being shelled.

“There is nowhere to take shelter, nowhere to hide,” he said. “We are running short of medical supplies and we are only able to provide basic treatment to the injured.”

Arab satellite television stations broadcast live footage from Homs this morning as the bombs went off during the call to prayer.

The BBC has gotten a reporter into Homs.   He writes:

It was a quiet night until just after dawn, when we started hearing mortars falling – about one every 30 seconds. Some heavy artillery has also been used.

Some people have now got out onto their balconies to shout, “God is great!” We also had quite a lot of small-arms fire from rebels fighters. That is a pretty futile gesture. It is Kalashnikovs against big guns.

Most people have been getting inside, hiding in the stairwells to put as much concrete between them and the street as possible.

There are several Syria-related stories at Deutsche Welle.   Most DW attention is focusing on policy options rather than the situation on the ground.

The most extensive English-language coverage of the situation in Syria is by Al-Jazeera.   It is, however, worth remembering that the royal family of Qatar is the principal sponsor of the network and is a vocal opponent of the Assad regime in Syria.

If you want, the Syrian Arab News Agency will give you the regime’s angle on reality (or the opposite).

February 3, 2012

Risk is often in the eye of the beholder

Filed under: Catastrophes,Infrastructure Protection,Port and Maritime Security,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on February 3, 2012

Although we can say with near certainty that new outbreaks of disease and catastrophic natural disasters will occur during the next several years, we cannot predict their timing, locations, causes, or severity.  We assess the international community needs to improve surveillance, early warning, and response capabilities for these events, and, by doing so, will enhance its ability to respond to manmade disasters.

James R. Clapper
Director National Intelligence
Testimony, January 31, 2012

The intelligence chief’s comments regarding the Iranian threat were considerably more circumspect, “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.  We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”

Yet Senators, the media, and perhaps General Clapper himself gave much more attention to the possible Iranian threat than the probable threat of natural catastrophe and pandemic.  The front page headline in the Washington Post was “U.S. spy agencies see new Iran risk.”

The same day the DNI was testifying on Capitol Hill, Mike Dunaway was making a presentation to a FEMA-hosted audience in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.   In late 2008 and early 2009 a reasonable sample of  respondents answered a series of questions regarding their perceptions of relative threats to continuity of private sector operations, profitability or survival.

A couple of the survey findings stood out for me: Among 19 threats identified, the lowest perceived threat was “geologic disaster (earthquake, mudslide, volcanic action)”.  The survey was conducted prior to the earthquake-and-tsunami in Japan and none of the respondents were in California.   Perceptions will vary by time and place.

Also low on the list of threats was “interruption in supply or delivery chain.”   Several firms reeling from the loss of Japanese and Thai suppliers might answer differently.  But I don’t doubt the survey findings reflect general attitudes.  (Dr. Dunaway’s dissertation is chock-full of interesting findings.)

As addressed in two posts last Thursday and Friday, the President has signed-out a National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.  I appreciate Alan Wolfe and Bill Cumming commenting here on the posts.  Most friends, colleagues, and perhaps an adversary or two, decided to communicate more privately.  Below are a sample of the comments received.

“Just words on paper, very unlikely to really influence supply chain policy.”

“Despite a bow to resilience, this is a security strategy.”

“Lots of cargo and logistics talk, not much recognition of how the supply chain is really something new and different.”

“Though better than the earlier draft, it still seems to be mostly focused on security and less on resilience. However, I know from direct experience it is not easy to write about resiliency, and perhaps being secure is one of the first parts of being resilient.”

“Stalking horse for new (costly) regulations.”

“While it is a national strategy, it feels quite federal/global to me. I’m not sure if many state and/or local folks could conceive how they could contribute to helping realize the goals outlined. It is my belief that a resilient supply chain, like many things, starts and ends in localities around the world.

“C-suites will ignore and deploy their minions to be sure “efficiency” always trumps “resilience,” no matter how inefficient it may be to have a catastrophic collapse of supply chains.”

“The private sector is paramount. It seems to me that much, though certainly not all, of the role of government will be to encourage, support, oversee and in some instances force the private sector to do things. Left to themselves, I think other forces will drive the private sector to not do some of what has to be done to reduce risk and enhance resiliency.”

“To give this the status of a presidential strategy is sort of amazing. It’s made me stop to think. But I feel a bit like a Catholic must feel when it’s announced the Pope has convened a major meeting on an aspect of doctrine I had really never thought of before.”

“What am I supposed to do? I don’t know enough about supply chains to even start a conversation with private sector peers. Besides which private sector peers? These are not the security and EM guys I usually work with.”

“(The strategy is) better than I would have bet. But while behind closed-doors the operators agree it is a real issue, how do you convince CEOs, CFOs, and Boards of Directors? Japan didn’t persuade. Thailand didn’t persuade. White House stationary is easy to ignore. The only things these masters-of-the-universe understand is a swift kick in you know where… and by then it will be too late.”

Perceptions will vary by time and place.  But there is a strong tendency to give more attention to external threats than internal vulnerabilities.  There is more concern regarding possible evil intent elsewhere than accident, neglect, and denial close at hand. We see the splinter in the eye of the other much more quickly than we recognize the log in our own eye.

St. George, a damsel, and the dragon

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 3, 2012

Between Capitol Hill events I sometimes escape to the National Gallery of Art.    The alabaster sculpture shown above is surrounded by much more dramatic Virgins of the late Medieval-early Renaissance.  But this week  St. George caught my attention.

His lance has already pierced the dragon’s breast.  Angry jaws and claws are tearing just above the spear-point.  The arm which thrust the lance is missing.  So is his sword.

My subconscious immediately identified this St. George with homeland security.  Brave, knows his duty, has done a great deal, even while key capabilities are broken. The dragon still lives.  What does this analogy say about this week’s meetings or, for that matter, my subconscious?

But what really stopped me in my tracks is the headless damsel.

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