Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 6, 2012

“Dare Mighty Things”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 6, 2012

Yesterday began with the horrible news of yet another mass shooting incident, this time at a Sikh temple in a Milwaukee suburb. Yet it ended (late) with the amazing news that the newest Mars probe landed successfully. I am not trying to demean the lives of the victims of this latest tragedy, just attempting to focus on the amazing positive outcome of the latest space science success.

Yes, I know this has nothing to do with homeland security.  But it is still a reason to celebrate and congratulate NASA employees and the all the other people involved with this amazing project:

With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s “habitability.”

Why is it a big deal?  It’s the largest and most sophisticated rover ever to land on the Martian surface.  And the first since the seventies where the express mission is to search for potential signs of life. And getting it there and on the surface in one piece was never expected to be easy.  How would you deal with the “7 Minutes of Terror?”


Despite all the daunting challenges, it got there.  Don’t believe me?  Well, the rover has a Twitter account, so you can follow it yourself…

August 2, 2012

Core characteristics of resilience

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 2, 2012

Resilience is often accused of being a homeland security “buzzword,” something regularly referenced and rarely understood.

In ecology and engineering resilience is well-researched, widely understood, even measurable.

In psychology there is substantial consensus regarding the reality of resilience and non-resilience.  There is increasing agreement on those human traits that  correlate with resilience.  There is less agreement on the nature-nurture origins of resilience and whether adults can learn to be more resilient.  But the case for adult learning has been sufficient to produce a US Army program aimed at enhancing soldier/family/community resilience.

There is a growing set of empirical findings related to social resilience (I especially recommend the Digital Library of the Commons).  But the sociology of resilience is less mature than the psychology of resilience.  For the purposes of homeland security we might learn from the psychological findings and try to test them in our more psycho-social domain.

In 2004 Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson at the University of Michigan co-authored the 800 page Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.  According to the American Psychological Association (co-publisher with Oxford University Press) the text is the:

… first progress report from a prestigious group of researchers in the Values in Action Classification Project, which has undertaken a systematic classification and measurement of universal strengths and virtues. This landmark work makes possible for the first time a science of human strengths that goes beyond armchair philosophy and political science. The handbook begins with the background of the VIA classification scheme and defines terms before describing in thorough detail the current state of knowledge with respect to each of the 24 character strengths in the classification.

Here are the twenty-four human characteristics which some clinical studies suggest are correlated with resilience (taken from the table of contents).

Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge

  • Creativity [Originality, Ingenuity]
  • Curiosity [Interest, Novelty-Seeking, Openness to Experience]
  • Open-Mindedness [Judgment, Critical Thinking]
  • Love of Learning
  • Perspective [Wisdom]

Strengths of Courage

  • Bravery [Valor]
  • Persistence [Perseverance, Industriousness]
  • Integrity [Authenticity, Honesty]
  • Vitality [Zest, Enthusiasm, Vigor, Energy]

Strengths of Humanity

  • Love
  • Kindness [Generosity, Nurturance, Care, Compassion, Altruistic Love, “Niceness”]
  • Social Intelligence [Emotional Intelligence, Personal Intelligence]

Strengths of Justice

  • Citizenship [Social Responsibility, Loyalty, Teamwork]
  • Fairness
  • Leadership

Strengths of Temperance

  • Forgiveness and Mercy
  • Humility and Modesty
  • Prudence
  • Self-Regulation [Self-Control]

Strengths of Transcendence

  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence [Awe, Wonder, Elevation]
  • Gratitude
  • Hope [Optimism, Future-Mindedness, Future Orientation]
  • Humor [Playfulness]
  • Spirituality [Religiousness, Faith, Purpose]

These are framed — and claimed — as preliminary, but meaningful scientific findings.  According to field and clinical results the more an individual demonstrates these strengths, the more resilient the personality.  Research is continuing to refine tests for each trait and better understand co-variances.  But more than a prima facie case has been established for key characteristics of psychological resilience.

The more  a community demonstrates these strengths, the more resilient the community?  The organization?  The nation?

Just for the sake of discussion, what if Seligman and Peterson are at least 80 percent correct in their inventory?  Seligman, in particular, is a strong advocate for resilience “training” (ala the Army program).  What if it is indeed possible to enhance resilience among adults and groups of adults?

How might homeland security (the enterprise) and/or Homeland Security (the government function) meaningfully and appropriately work to advance these characteristics?



Last week we had an extended discussion of “Boydian” concepts.   At the core of John Boyd’s framework is our own orientation and the orientation of our adversaries. Orientation consists of genetic, cultural, and other inputs.  Seligman and Peterson offer evidence and argument that the characteristics listed above are “universal” across the human population.   In other words, these are core elements in the Orientation of resilient individuals.  I wonder what Boyd would do with this claim?  While I’m not sure what Boyd might say, it occurs to me that the Seligman/Peterson characteristics are at least as unfriendly to command-and-control as Boyd.


The National Academy of Sciences has released an online pre-publication copy of its forthcoming Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. I appreciate Claire Rubin bringing it to my attention.  Following is an introductory paragraph.

One way to reduce the impacts of disasters on the nation and its communities is to invest in enhancing resilience–the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events. Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative addresses the broad issue of increasing the nation’s resilience to disasters. This book defines “national resilience”, describes the state of knowledge about resilience to hazards and disasters, and frames the main issues related to increasing resilience in the United States. It also provide goals, baseline conditions, or performance metrics for national resilience and outlines additional information, data, gaps, and/or obstacles that need to be addressed to increase the nation’s resilience to disasters. Additionally, the book’s authoring committee makes recommendations about the necessary approaches to elevate national resilience to disasters in the United States.

NYT editorial and op-ed on cybersecurity

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Cybersecurity,General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 2, 2012

The issue certainly deserves sustained and serious attention.   It is not, however, where I spend most of my time.  So… without further comment and just to be sure you did not miss: two recent pieces from the New York Times editorial page. To read the commentary in full please click on the link.

Cybersecurity at Risk

Published: July 31, 2012

Relentless assaults on America’s computer networks by China and other foreign governments, hackers and criminals have created an urgent need for safeguards to protect these vital systems. The question now is whether the Senate will provide them. Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, and the Chamber of Commerce have already exacted compromises from sponsors of a reasonably strong bill, and are asking for more. Their demands should be resisted and the original bill approved by the Senate.


A Law to Strengthen Our Cyberdefense

Published: August 1, 2012

OVER the last decade, the United States has built a sophisticated security system to protect the nation’s seaports against terrorists and criminals. But our nation’s critical infrastructure is not similarly secured from cyberattack. Although we have made progress in recent years, Congressional action is needed to ensure that our laws keep pace with the electronically connected world we live in. The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012, currently before the Senate, offers a way forward.


August 1, 2012

State Department Terrorism Report

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 1, 2012

Yesterday — July 31 — the Department of State released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism.  In a media briefing at which the report was publicly released Daniel Benjamin,  State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, noted that despite the killing of bin-Laden and other successful operations against al-Qaeda:

…Terrorists could still cause to significant disruptions for states undergoing very challenging democratic transitions. The report’s narrative notes, among other things, the continued weakening of the al-Qaida core in Pakistan, but it also demonstrates that the al-Qaida affiliates, while also suffering losses, increased their overall operational ability. And this is particularly true of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. So for all the counterterrorism successes that we’ve seen against al-Qaida and its affiliates, the group and violent extremist ideology and rhetoric continue to spread in some parts of the world.

The report also notes that al-Qaida and its affiliates are not the only terrorist threat that the United States faces. We are increasingly concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism and Hezbollah’s activities as they’ve both stepped up their level of terrorist plotting over the past year and engaging in – and are engaging in their most active and aggressive campaigns since the 1990s. Iran’s use of terrorism as an instrument of policy was exemplified, as you’re all aware, by the involvement of elements of the Iranian Government in the 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington.

Download the full report.

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