Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 22, 2012

Seven someday posts

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 22, 2012

Writing for this blog lets me use cognitive surplus to explore different facets of homeland security.

Clay Shirky coined the term cognitive surplus to mark his recognition that “the time Americans once spent watching television has been redirected toward activities that are less about consuming and more about engaging [in blogs, for example]….  And these efforts aren’t fueled by external rewards but by intrinsic motivation—the joy of doing something for its own sake.”

I think that accurately describes why people write for Homeland Security Watch — whether writing a post or a comment.  It is intrinsically satisfying for us to think out loud about homeland security issues.

I’ve been doing work related travel for the past 5 weeks. As I sit in a hotel room on my last night before heading home to a plot of Oregon grass that hasn’t been cut in weeks, I realize my cognitive surplus is currently down to stems and seeds. (To mix several metaphors.)

I cannot complain.  I heard and talked and thought about lots of intriguing ideas over the past 34 days, many of which I put on my “why don’t you write about this someday” list.

Here are seven items on that list, in no particular order, and expressed more through speculation than research.

1. The 2012 National Preparedness Report may be homeland security’s first post-modern document.

I understand “modern” in this context to mean a time of a single dominant narrative. I use “post-modern” to refer to a time of multiple narratives, multiple points of view about the world.  Modernity requires a single narrative; post-modernity requires recognizing there will not be and cannot be one story.  The Preparedness Report  – and whole community — is about making room for many stories. (But then isn’t that a dominant narrative? I want to think more about this.)

2. As far as I can tell, no one in the homeland security enterprise (Big E or little e) has responded publicly to the risk assessment critique John Mueller and Mark Stewart make in their book Terror, Security and Money.

They claim homeland security money used to prevent terrorism has been spent with little regard for benefits. They assert homeland security’s terrorism risk assessment has been characterized — among other things — by “probability neglect.”  Probability neglect means ignoring the statistical evidence about the likelihood of a significant terrorist attack. Strategies that support probability neglect include emphasizing worst-case scenarios, overestimating terrorist capabilities, amplifying target importance, and calculating risk elements incorrectly. There’s much more to their criticism. Basically they argue the risk based emperor — mostly the terrorism emperor — has no clothes. They even provide evidence to support their assertions. I’m surprised the emperor has not responded. (Or maybe the emperor has, and I wasn’t paying attention.)

3. The common wisdom seems to support the idea that the Arab Spring was helped significantly by social media, facebook and twitter in particular.

I heard a second hand report about someone in an Egyptian revolutionary leadership position who says the common wisdom is wrong.  People who expressed their outrage online over the Mubarak government were called “couch activists” by people who took to the streets.  But when the government shutdown the Egyptian internet, the couch activists got angry they couldn’t tweet or Facebook anymore. That got them off their couches and into the streets. Interesting, if correct. (As I said, it was a second hand report.)

4. Appendix II.1 of the U.S Coast Guard’s Deepwater Horizon Incident Specific Preparedness Review is titled “Characteristics And Qualifications Of An Effective Crisis Leader.”

It’s worth a read.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Many Government Agencies and private corporations ‘grow’ leaders from within. They also often bring in proven leaders from outside to provide new leadership and direction for the organization; however, the skills of organization and the ability to manage and lead are only baseline competencies when a crisis arises. The outcome of a crisis or the success of a response to the crisis is directly related to effective crisis leadership. Some leaders are naturally suited for such a role, but often are not the ones who find themselves confronting a crisis or are not the ones placed in the position of leadership when the crisis occurs. Leaders involved in crisis management may find themselves on national television, with little or no media training or experience for their leadership position. Crisis managers are required to make critical and binding decisions without the benefit of lengthy study or peer-reviewed advice. The crisis dictates the pace, tempo, and duration that drives the decision making process. Leaders not trained and prepared to function effectively in a crisis can create an image of incompetence, chaos, or disorganization, even if the incident is being managed competently and effectively. In most cases, the leader in a crisis is the “face” of the organization he or she represents; in some cases it may be virtually the only time the public is aware of the organization. The reputation of that organization will largely be determined by the performance of the crisis leader.”

The report then identifies 10 attributes of an effective crisis leader. In my opinion, Appendix II.1 is not your usual government appendix.

5. What’s the story with private sector fusion centers?

I know some private sector organizations — usually large corporations — have representatives in some fusion centers. Companies can be good sources of information, and they can benefit from receiving appropriate information.  Recently I’ve heard that some global corporations have started developing their own fusion centers — not just corporate intelligence units, but actual fusion centers.  I wonder if there’s any truth to that.

6. Where do good homeland security ideas come from?

The answer can be as simple as a bunch of guys – gender neutral meaning of guys — sitting around drinking coffee or beer. That’s the claim Steve Johnson makes in a TED video, here. (I added the homeland security part.) That’s also what happens in a good homeland security seminar discussion. (Except for the drinking part.)

7. What did Hitler think about the security vulnerabilities of cloud computing?

According to this four minute video, he apparently placed too much trust in his Information Technology folks.

I have a friend who says when “Hitler” comes up in a conversation, it’s time to stop talking.

No one’s listening anymore.

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5 Comments »

Comment by Philippe Duhart

May 22, 2012 @ 4:13 am

Responding to #2: This is not surprising, given that in general there’s little attention paid within the counterterrorism industry to the historical record and the messiness of reality. In large part, this may have something to do with the nature of actual research into terrorism, which has become increasingly dominated by game theory and statistics. The average game theoretical paper tends to be heavy on models, but very poor in terms of application to historical cases. Two-thirds of an article might be devoted to the complexity of a model (giving it that “sciencey” allure), and a few pages will look a specific case study drawing on media reports rather than actual field research.

Large-n studies are also problematic. In order to build a more impressive universe of cases, little attention is nuance, which is of course an occupational hazard of all statistical work. The most egregious offenders in this regard are those databases which simply collapse a plethora of groups — regardless of size, military capacity, and strategic orientation — into the category of “terrorist groups.”

More importantly, there may be institutional interests in eschewing empirical reality in order to gain material benefits. The security industry seems to be unaffected by the austerity imperatives, so there’s little need to bother with evidence, statistical or otherwise. And since research institutions are part of this game, they’ve little interest in changing the rules. There are grants to be won.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 22, 2012 @ 8:45 am

Well Chris an interesting post. ON item #2 largely agree with Phil Duhart but I would reinforce the notion that cultures already in existence adapt very slowly. Thus, the LE [law enforcement] culture used terrorism largely to advance their LE goals and fill their outstanding wish list. Few LE organizations decided to invest their new funds [and perhaps they were not allowed to do so]into improving language and cultural training for their workforce. Result, terrorism is largely labeled as Islamic terrorism, and with over 60 sects in Islam the largest being Sunni, then Shia, that is clearly just being a bull in the china shop.

Yet the HOMELAND DEFENSE and miltary side of organizational response was even more skewed with few who actually understand ISLAM or the cultures of MENA [middle east and north africa] having any clue as to what they [the US political and military leadership] were up to doing. Should HS funding diminish [which I predict will happen very soon] then most of the funds spent will be untraceable in their impacts down the road. Certainly by the 2028 Presidential election [only 5 off] the HS issues facing the nation will largely be internally generated as we watch a repeat of the 30′s where only the example of Hitler and Pearl Harbor forced the American people to join arms against an external enemy. Thus, the next two decades will require even more brains for effective government. Too bad that the American electorate is so underwhelmed by the two 2012 candidates. As to their subordinates, wondering if loyalty will be enough to save the USA from major decline. Perhaps. Perhaps not!

DHS will be gone by the 2020 election as an existing org.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 22, 2012 @ 8:47 am

I would also argue that HS is a “rebuttable presumption”!

Largely rebutted already by real world events.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 22, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

I would be interested to learn why the credentials of frequent poster and commentator Alan Wolfe are not made available to readers and commentators on this site?

His posts so a remarkable consistency that radiological issues are NOT a problem under any scenario and are and will be accommodated by the current plans and preparedness regime. He is fully entitled to his opinion as I am to mine. Since I was an active participant in two $12B cases, one involving the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station, and as a fact witness at the Seabrook Nuclear Power station, as well as being a former nuclear weapons officer, designated NAICO, and also head of litigation for a dozen years for FEMA, including REPP litigation, I believe I have some expertise although perhaps not current. I also was deposed under oath for several days by the liscense applicants and intervenors at Seabrook and examined and cross-examined under oath at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station by a ASLB panel, a record still available in NRC archives. I am neither pro nor anti nuclear since I understand that it is a fact of science and the modern world since 1945. But I do think readers of this blog are entitled to know the bias and credentials of all those who blog on this site. Perhaps the owners disagree!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 22, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

Apologies! Meant to post the last comment on another post on this site.

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