Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 31, 2012

Sandy Google Crisis Response Map

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on October 31, 2012

A new Google Crisis Response Map has been posted for Sandy here: http://google.org/crisismap/2012-sandy

According to Google:

On the map, you’ll find the following emergency preparedness information:

There is also a New York City specific map:

We’ve also launched a map specific to New York City, featuring evacuation zone information from NYC Open Data, open shelters, weather information and live webcams.

A big hat tip to Eric Holdeman of the Disaster Zone blog for bringing this to my attention and providing a bit of extrapolation:

What you might not know is that there is only a small team of Google employees dedicated to having a system in place for a disaster response like what they did/are doing for Hurricane Sandy.  The rest of the work is being “crowd sourced” from the field and from their fellow Google employees who donate time to work on the response adding their skills to the mix.

This is the future of work and disaster response.  Teams of individuals coming together for a common cause and combining their individual talents to produce a meaningful product that is not directed by government or a higher echelon of business management.

Function and form in emergency management

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 31, 2012

HLSWatch was founded as a non-partisan source and forum.  The current stable of posters has endeavored to maintain this tradition, perhaps this rigor…

Still, I hope regular readers know I am a self-declared conservative with libertarian tendencies and a life-long Republican who nonetheless actively worked for candidate Obama in 2008.   I have previously exposed this background to allow you to filter my worldview.  I want you to understand my predispositions and challenge my analysis when you perceive my bias is getting in the way of accurately engaging reality.

It can be difficult to recognize reality.  It is important to try our best and depend on the help of our friends (and others) to do better.

Below is yesterday’s much discussed New York Times’ lead editorial.  I am obliged to enter it into the Homeland Security Watch archives.   The analysis is timely, accurate in its details, and — it seems to me — could contribute to confusion regarding distinctions of form and function.

It is my judgment that the Obama campaign, Obama administration, current FEMA leadership, extant statutes, long-time tradition, and practical priorities of strategy, operations, and tactics all defer to state and local leadership of emergency management: preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.   On this functional foundation there is no substantive difference. (Prevention is a complicated matter that would require much more time and attention to accurately analyze.)

Form matters.  How functions are defined, organized and directed will have consequences.  Substantive differences exist between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, between Democrats and Republicans, and between various corners of the EM community on many important issues of form. (See RecoveryDiva for a good aggregation of recent attention to these formal distinctions.) But I perceive in this instance the NYT editorial board is using a formal strawman to argue a functional difference that does not exist.

(The embedded links in the NYT editorial below were in the original online version.)


A Big Storm Requires Big Government

Most Americans have never heard of the National Response Coordination Center, but they’re lucky it exists on days of lethal winds and flood tides. The center is the war room of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where officials gather to decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water should be shipped, and how to assist hospitals that have to evacuate.

Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of “big government,” which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it. At a Republican primary debate last year, Mr. Romney was asked whether emergency management was a function that should be returned to the states. He not only agreed, he went further.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

The agency was put back in working order by President Obama, but ideology still blinds Republicans to its value. Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages. After Mr. Romney’s 2011 remarks recirculated on Monday, his nervous campaign announced that he does not want to abolish FEMA, though he still believes states should be in charge of emergency management. Those in Hurricane Sandy’s path are fortunate that, for now, that ideology has not replaced sound policy.

October 30, 2012

“Weather events are not orthogonal to politics.”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 30, 2012

“The massive storm swamping the East Coast this week has reminded us that we’ve got to act quickly to make our nation and world safe from the ravages of global climate change.

That’s what Rex Nutting writes in a MarketWatch post you can find here.

… we can’t ignore the increased and intensified storms, droughts, cold snaps, heat waves, wild fires and disease that inevitably follow from the disruption of our climate.

Hiding our heads in the sand is not a viable strategy when the storm surge is 10 feet over our heads.

This has been a banner year for extreme weather events around the world, just as 2011 was. In 2012, federal agencies have declared a weather-related disaster in every state except one: Maine. And Sandy is heading that way as we speak.

On the other hand,

“Hurricane Sandy is just the latest example of the futility and foolishness of thinking that humans can do anything about a hurricane or similar demonstration of who is really in charge. It is the planet. Not us.”

That’s the message Alan Caruba believes Sandy’s sending to America.

Not surprisingly, the environmental organizations such as Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club are already beating the drums about “climate change,” asserting “unpredictable, extreme weather.” The planet is always in a state of climate change if for no other reason that it is subject to the seasons. Blaming extreme weather on “climate change” is just a code for keeping the “global warming” hoax alive. …

This is [part of ] a deliberate policy to weaken the nation’s capacity to function at every level and yet we are days away from an election where millions of Americans will vote to reelect Obama and send his Democratic Party minions to Congress.

It is in line with the Obama administration’s deliberate policy of reducing our military capacity on land, sea and air.


Assuming the 2012 election is not postponed, what will the voters say about all this?

Josh Voorhees reports on a 2011 paper published in the American Journal of Political Science called “Make It Rain? Retrospection and the Attentive Electorate in the Context of Natural Disasters.” The authors claim “…electorates punish presidents and governors for severe weather damage.”

The good news, according to the authors, is governors and the president can overcome the negative effects of being blamed for the disasters.


The governors have to request federal assistance.

Then the president has to approve the requests.

Or, in the authors’ own words,

Weather events are not orthogonal to politics. Even though these events are randomly determined, they have dramatic effects on the lives of individuals and present a test for the politician. We find that the electorate is able to separate random events from governmental responses and attribute actions based on the defined roles of the governor and president. As voters encounter hurricanes, tornados, and other severe weather events, they look to these two politicians. Some will blame [sic] for the state of the world without regard for the roles of the politicians in shaping those outcomes. Despite some arbitrary sanctioning, we find that in the aggregate the electorate is attentive, and electoral outcomes are more contingent on the actions that politicians take when faced with an unexpected crisis.

Mr. Caruba is even more succinct:

“The bad news for Obama is that he is likely be blamed for whatever occurs in the wake of the hurricane because that’s what we do.”


Back to Mr. Nutting.

After pointing readers to Andrew Revkin’s review of current scientific thinking about climate change, Nutting describes a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/United Kingdom study that concluded “we can attribute an increased probability of some extreme weather events to man-made global warming.”

That doesn’t mean we can blame Sandy on global warming. But it does mean we can figure out how more likely an event such as Sandy is, or how much more intense it is likely to be than it would be in an alternative universe in which humans do not burn carbon or deforest the topics.

The study uses an analogy to make its point: Consider an athlete who begins to use performance-enhancing drugs. He might be expected to hit more home runs, (or win more bike races). By comparing performances with and without drugs, we could say, for example, that steroid use increases the likelihood of a home run by 10%. But we couldn’t point to any particular home run and say that steroid use caused that one.

Nutting faults Romney and Obama for ignoring climate issue during the presidential campaign: “The topic of climate change didn’t come up during any of the debates this year, the first time that’s happened in a generation. ….”

Obama won’t talk about climate change to a general audience. That’s bad enough. What’s worse is the about-face by Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

In 2008, Romney and the party agreed that climate change was real. But now the Republicans insist that it’s a hoax. Paul Ryan says scientists are using statistical tricks to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.”

There are Republicans who object to a bunch of climate scientists making assumptions about how the climate will change if we keep dumping carbon into the atmosphere. We shouldn’t destroy our economy based on someone’s simplified model of the way the world works, they say.

But they don’t object to a bunch of economists making similarly sketchy assumptions about the dire consequences if we don’t balance the federal budget right away.

In one case, the model is perfectly sound; in the other, it’s just a hoax.


Mr Caruba, who sees Sandy as an opportunity to remind people that it’s “time to rid ourselves of the nation’s first Marxist President,” argues

The only silver lining in the distress and disruption of Hurricane Sandy may be the awakening of voters to the critical need for more, not less, production of electricity, for improvements to the national grid, for more oil production for our transportation needs, and concurrent with this, the hundreds of thousands of jobs that such efforts would produce and billions it would generate to begin to reduce the national debt, now in excess of $16 trillion….

The enemy, I would suggest, is President Barack Hussein Obama, his many shadowy, unaccountable “czars” influencing energy policies, his Cabinet Secretaries of Energy and the Interior, and the rogue Environmental Protection Agency that is set to unleash regulations that will destroy the economy, aided and abetted by the nation’s environmental organizations.


And in other news, the always informative Farnam Street blog (“Mastering the best of what other people have figured out”) reminds readers about five critical thinking skills Paul Wyckoff wants his students — and possibly people who write about climate and politics — to learn:

1. The ability to think empirically, not theoretically.
2. The ability to think in terms of multiple, rather than single, causes.
3. The ability to think in terms of the sizes of things, rather than only in terms of their direction.
4. The ability to think like foxes, not hedgehogs.
5. The ability to understand one’s own biases.


Here is how Specialist Brett Hyde spent his Monday:  a gray reminder of what allows us to shout deafly at each other while a storm rages.

October 29, 2012

Sandy and the kindness of strangers

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on October 29, 2012


I expect Christine was busy all weekend.  Her firm is the principal supplier of food to New England and the mid-Atlantic. When a big storm is predicted they have a system of “emergency orders” to surge water, bread, batteries, diapers, etc.  The distribution centers and trucks were  operating even on Sunday.  She’s trying to think ahead to recovery, but that’s tough…  What she can do is keep the phones and emails humming, untangling bottle-necks, expediting solutions, recognizing early where the automatic systems are going dark and throwing herself into the darkness.

This morning the Daily Telegraph (London) is headlining, “The Worst Storm in US History” and, somehow, that is meaningful validation of what the wind is already doing to trees on my mountaintop.   The Brits are live blogging from Brooklyn with the same urgency they have reported from Cairo or Athens or other crisis centers.  When the NYSE and NASDAQ shut down electronic trading, even some Masters of the Universe begin to take notice.

John has been on the phone all weekend trying to pre-deploy mutual aid to the communities his electrical utility serves.  Given Sandy’s range he has had to reach out farther than usual.  Mutual aid is a formal agreement-in-principal, but actually showing up depends on local conditions and personal relationships and persuasion.  John has the connections and the  personality to be very persuasive.   He keeps threatening retirement, but he has not yet found a next generation ready to invest in the relationship-building.

I was supposed to see John this Friday.   We were to participate in a regional planning conference for electricity restoration after a potentially catastrophic event.  John and his peers will be doing the real deal instead, the conference was canceled a week ahead.  At our last meeting John was really the only private sector guy there (I’m betwixt and between and bedeviled).  The others were on the phone (no doubt using mute to veil their multi-tasking).  I’m guessing they agreed to be on the phone mostly to avoid disappointing John.   After that first meeting, I told John, “It really depends mostly on you.  You’re the servant leader the rest of us depend on (and are, too often,  taking for granted).”

Angela and Ted and Patrice and David and many more are in their Emergency Operations Centers doing what they can as Sandy’s eye turns left and approaches the Jersey shore.  I’m thinking especially of David and his neighbors on the ocean facing mountains of West Virginia.  Twelve inches and more of snow and forty mile-per-hour winds are projected for the ridges.  Electricity is likely to be out for much more than a week.  Restoration won’t even begin until Sandy passes and she evidently plans to stay until late Tuesday or Wednesday.

By now —  8:30 Monday morning — most of Chris’ trucks have made their deliveries or are almost ready to unload their pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies.    His giant distribution center is likely to lose electrical power, but has back-up for seventy-two hours, longer if the generators can be refueled.  He serves a market from Delaware to South Carolina.  DC to Philly looks awfully iffy for Tuesday morning delivery.  He’s likely to get the orders, but will anyone be there on Tuesday morning (or afternoon or even Wednesday morning) to unload the trucks?

Back in June the Derecho resulted in 40 percent of one supply chain’s deliveries being turned-away.  No power meant no place to put the stuff and, often, no one to unlock the door.  But no one let the suppliers know until the trucks were already loaded.  Because one delivery could not be made — and other deliveries depend on unloading the first — an entire supply chain choked up.  Remember to call.  Recognize your dependence on others and their dependence on you.

Jock and Kathy will be constantly on their phones and email the whole week.  They serve a voluntary network of private sector suppliers who want to know how to help when disaster strikes.  Like Christine, when it goes dark they throw themselves into the darkness… with water, food, pharma and sometime even light.

I’m supposed to be in New York this weekend and New London on Monday.   Maybe not.  I might not have a roof tomorrow morning, probably won’t have power.  But if I can continue to make my contribution, it will be because Christine and John and Chris and Angela and Ted and thousands of others are doing their job under significant duress.   Blanche DuBois is not alone in depending on the kindness of strangers.

Thank you and best wishes.

October 26, 2012

What is the problem to which the answer is “Let’s have a homeland security partnership council?”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 26, 2012

The policy work of homeland security never ends.

It’s Friday afternoon in Washington D.C. Hurricane Sandy on its way. There’s a national election in 10 days. The Obama Administration releases an executive order establishing the White House Homeland Security Partnership Council.

There may be a message here.


A colleague who told me about the order wrote:

Odd both with respect to timing and perceived need…. In reading Section 3 (Mission and Function) …, my initial thought entails why this entity is needed. Wasn’t the “partnering” mission one of the primary reasons for creating the DHS? I guess this can be looked at in at least two ways. If I am the Secretary of DHS now I have a lot more people looking over my shoulder and asking “why haven’t you done this” type questions. Conversely, maybe this Executive Order was pursued by the DHS to have a formal mechanism in place to put other agencies on notice that more needs to be done to support the non-federal government homeland security partnering mission?

Another friend wrote:

Lots of odd possibilities and possible rationales. Among others, … do all the groups partnering with DHS and its components move to this office under White House? Is it a slap to DHS? Or a demonstration that DHS has convinced the white house of the importance of local relationships?

The order is brief, so I posted a copy below.

It looks like the job of the Homeland Security Partnership Council (HSPC?) is to talk about partnerships, have an annual meeting, and produce an annual report.

I wonder how long it took for this executive order to move from idea inception to getting the president’s signature, and who the winners and losers were.

I wonder what measures of success the Council might aspire to.

I wonder why the nation needs a Homeland SecurityPartnership Council.


EXECUTIVE ORDER (my emphasis in bold in the text that follows)

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to advance the Federal Government’s use of local partnerships to address homeland security challenges, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy.

The purpose of this order is to maximize the Federal Government’s ability to develop local partnerships in the United States to support homeland security priorities. Partnerships are collaborative working relationships in which the goals, structure, and roles and responsibilities of the relationships are mutually determined. Collaboration enables the Federal Government and its partners to use resources more efficiently, build on one another’s expertise, drive innovation, engage in collective action, broaden investments to achieve shared goals, and improve performance. Partnerships enhance our ability to address homeland security priorities, from responding to natural disasters to preventing terrorism, by utilizing diverse perspectives, skills, tools, and resources.

The National Security Strategy emphasizes the importance of partnerships, underscoring that to keep our Nation safe “we must tap the ingenuity outside government through strategic partnerships with the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and community-based organizations. Such partnerships are critical to U.S. success at home and abroad, and we will support them through enhanced opportunities for engagement, coordination, transparency, and information sharing.” This approach recognizes that, given the complexities and range of challenges, we must institutionalize an all-of-Nation effort to address the evolving threats to the United States.

Sec. 2. White House Homeland Security Partnership Council and Steering Committee.

(a) White House Homeland Security Partnership Council. There is established a White House Homeland Security Partnership Council (Council) to foster local partnerships — between the Federal Government and the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, community-based organizations, and State, local, tribal, and territorial government and law enforcement — to address homeland security challenges. The Council shall be chaired by the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (Chair), or a designee from the National Security Staff.

(b) Council Membership.

(i) Pursuant to the nomination process established in subsection (b)(ii) of this section, the Council shall be composed of Federal officials who are from field offices of the executive departments, agencies, and bureaus (agencies) that are members of the Steering Committee established in subsection (c) of this section, and who have demonstrated an ability to develop, sustain, and institutionalize local partnerships to address policy priorities.

(ii) The nomination process and selection criteria for members of the Council shall be established by the Steering Committee. Based on those criteria, agency heads may select and present to the Steering Committee their nominee or nominees to represent them on the Council. The Steering Committee shall consider all of the nominees and decide by consensus which of the nominees shall participate on the Council. Each member agency on the Steering Committee, with the exception of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, may have at least one representative on the Council.

(c) Steering Committee. There is also established a Steering Committee, chaired by the Chair of the Council, to provide guidance to the Council and perform other functions as set forth in this order. The Steering Committee shall include a representative at the Deputy agency head level, or that representative’s designee, from the following agencies:

(i) Department of State;

(ii) Department of the Treasury;

(iii) Department of Defense;

(iv) Department of Justice;

(v) Department of the Interior;

(vi) Department of Agriculture;

(vii) Department of Commerce;

(viii) Department of Labor;

(ix) Department of Health and Human Services;

(x) Department of Housing and Urban Development;

(xi) Department of Transportation;

(xii) Department of Energy;

(xiii) Department of Education;

(xiv) Department of Veterans Affairs;

(xv) Department of Homeland Security;

(xvi) Office of the Director of National Intelligence;

(xvii) Environmental Protection Agency;

(xviii) Small Business Administration; and

(xix) Federal Bureau of Investigation.

At the invitation of the Chair, representatives of agencies not listed in subsection (c) of this section or other executive branch entities may attend and participate in Steering Committee meetings as appropriate.

(d) Administration. The Chair or a designee shall convene meetings of the Council and Steering Committee, determine their agendas, and coordinate their work. The Council may establish subgroups consisting exclusively of Council members or their designees, as appropriate.

Sec. 3. Mission and Function of the Council and Steering Committee.

(a) The Council shall, consistent with guidance from the Steering Committee:

(i) advise the Chair and Steering Committee members on priorities, challenges, and opportunities for local partnerships to support homeland security priorities, as well as regularly report to the Steering Committee on the Council’s efforts;

(ii) promote homeland security priorities and opportunities for collaboration between Federal Government field offices and State, local, tribal, and territorial stakeholders;

(iii) advise and confer with State, local, tribal, and territorial stakeholders and agencies interested in expanding or building local homeland security partnerships;

(iv) raise awareness of local partnership best practices that can support homeland security priorities;

(v) as appropriate, conduct outreach to representatives of the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, community-based organizations, and State, local, tribal, and territorial government and law enforcement entities with relevant expertise for local homeland security partnerships, and collaborate with other Federal Government bodies; and

(vi) convene an annual meeting to exchange key findings, progress, and best practices.

(b) The Steering Committee shall:

(i) determine the scope of issue areas the Council will address and its operating protocols, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget;

(ii) establish the nomination process and selection criteria for members of the Council as set forth in section 2(b)(ii) of this order;

(iii) provide guidance to the Council on the activities set forth in subsection (a) of this section; and

(iv) within 1 year of the selection of the Council members, and annually thereafter, provide a report on the work of the Council to the President through the Chair.

Sec. 4. General Provisions.

(a) The heads of agencies participating in the Steering Committee shall assist and provide information to the Council, consistent with applicable law, as may be necessary to implement this order. Each agency shall bear its own expense for participating in the Council.

(b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof;

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals; or

(iii) the functions of the Overseas Security Advisory Council.

(c) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and appropriate protections for privacy and civil liberties, and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(d) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.


October 26, 2012.

October 25, 2012

The Presidential Debates: Substantial agreement on homeland security

The word “homeland” was used once,  the term “homeland security” not at all  in the three presidential debates.  But a close-reading of the transcripts does expose HS-related discussion.

Below are direct excerpts from the debate transcripts.  I have purposefully not identified who said what.  Where the candidates seem to mostly agree, I have only quoted one of them.  Occasionally a candidate asserted a difference that — at least to me — seemed either non-substantive or illusory.  I have not included these assertions.  There are subtle distinctions.  I have chosen excerpts that I hope bring these forward.

To me the distinctions — on these issues —  often run counter to each candidate’s stereotype. President Obama comes off tougher than the other side wants to admit, Governor Romney more reasonable than he is portrayed.  Debate posturing?  Meaningful insight?  My own eccentric tendency to see what is shared more than what divides?


The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe. That’s its most basic function…

The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents. First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people…



First of all, this is a nation of immigrants. We welcome people coming to this country as immigrants… I want our legal system to work better. I want it to be streamlined. I want it to be clearer. I don’t think you have to — shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer to figure out how to get into this country legally. I also think that we should give visas to people — green cards, rather — to  people who graduate with skills that we need. People around the world with accredited degrees in science and math get a green card stapled to their diploma, come to the U.S. of A. We should make sure our legal system works.

Number two, we’re going to have to stop illegal immigration. There are 4 million people who are waiting in line to get here legally. Those who’ve come here illegally take their place… What I will do is I’ll put in place an employment verification system and make sure that employers that hire people who have come here illegally are sanctioned for doing so. I won’t put in place magnets for people coming here illegally. The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident…

If we’re going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that’s what we’ve done. And what I’ve also said is for young people who come here, brought here often times by their parents. Had gone to school here, pledged allegiance to the flag. Think of this as their country. Understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers. And we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship…

Domestic Counterterrorism (or Whole Community or gun control)

So my belief is that, (A), we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement…

Weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets. And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally… Part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence… And so what can we do to intervene, to make sure that young people have opportunity; that our schools are working; that if there’s violence on the streets, that working with faith groups and law enforcement, we can catch it before it gets out of control…

And so what I want is a — is a comprehensive strategy. Part of it is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But part of it is also going deeper and seeing if we can get into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur.

Resilience (?)

I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded.


International Counterterrorism

But we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the — the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is — it’s certainly not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America, long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism…

A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the — the world reject these — these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we — we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies…

The other thing that we have to do is recognize that we can’t continue to do nation building in these regions. Part of American leadership is making sure that we’re doing nation building here at home. That will help us maintain the kind of American leadership that we need…

We make decisions today… that will confront challenges we can’t imagine. In the 2000 debates, there was no mention of terrorism, for instance. And a year later, 9/11 happened. So, we have to make decisions based upon uncertainty…


We need to be thinking about cyber security. We need to be talking about space…

International Counterterrorism (Again)

Pakistan is important to the region, to the world and to us, because Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads and they’re rushing to build a lot more. They’ll have more than Great Britain sometime in the — in the relatively near future. They also have the Haqqani Network and the Taliban existent within their country. And so a Pakistan that falls apart, becomes a failed state, would be of extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and to us. And so we’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild the relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met…


We should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.

International Counterterrorism (Again)

There’s no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed. But there are always going to be elements in these countries that potentially threaten the United States. And we want to shrink those groups and those networks and we can do that.  But we’re always also going to have to maintain vigilance when it comes to terrorist activities. The truth, though, is that Al Qaeda is much weaker than it was…and they don’t have the same capacities to attack the U.S. homeland and our allies as they did four years ago.

I expect partisans of each candidate will complain I have obscured important differences.   In my judgment a narcissism of small differences is epidemic.   I have no interest in abetting the fever.  More interesting to me is — for good or bad — the considerable consensus that is articulated.

October 23, 2012

Homeland security’s exabyte problem

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 23, 2012

“There were 5 exabytes of information created by the entire world between the dawn of civilization and 2003. Now that same amount is created every two days.”

That’s a quote attributed to Google’s chief executive officer.

An exabyte is one quintillion bytes.  I can’t get my brain around one quintillion, let alone five of them.  I fear zettabyte (one sextillion bytes) is right around the corner.  I don’t know what any of that means. But I’m persuaded it’s a very big number.

Secretary Napolitano has talked about “the big data problem” —  the volume, variety, velocity and veracity of data generated by homeland security activities exceeds the ability of the enterprise to understand what the data means.  Hence “big data.”


Writing in November’s issue of Foreign Policy, Uri Friedman offers a brief history of how we got to the big data problem. Here are some excerpts, liberally adapted from Friedman’s article.


  • 1887-1890: Modern data processing age begins. Herman Hollerith invents a machine that reads holes punched into paper cards.
  • 1935-1937: Passage of the Social Security Act initiates government action to start keeping records on 26 million Americans and 3 million employers.
  • 1943: The British code breakers at Bletchley Park invent Colossus, the first programmable electronic computer; Colossus can read 5,000 characters a second.
  • 1961: The U.S. National Security Agency starts using computers to collect and analyze signals intelligence.
  • 1965-1966: The national government considers transferring all government records — including over 700 million tax records and almost 200 million finger prints — to a single data center.
  • 1974: The 1974 Privacy Act is enacted, limiting the personal information government can share.
  • 1989: Tim Berners-Lee develops the idea of the World Wide Web. “The information contained would grow past a critical threshold…so that the usefulness [of] the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use.” Or, “If you build it, they will use it in unimaginable ways.”
  • 1996: Bill Clinton claims “We are developing a supercomputer that will do more calculating a second than a person with a handheld calculator can do in 30,000 years.”
  • 1997: Michael Cox and David Ellsworth use the term “big data” for the first time. “Data sets [they were working with] are generally quite large, taxing the capabilities of main memory, local disk, and even remote disk.… We call this the problem of big data.”
  • 2002: John Poindexter leads a Department of Defense effort to combine government data sets into one “grand database” that would sift through communications, criminal, educational, financial, medical, and travel records to identify suspicious people.
  • 2004: The 9/11 commission calls for a unified network-based information and intelligence sharing system.
  • 2007 – 2008: Social networks proliferate. Wired magazine writes about the end of theory, “a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear” analyzing and understanding the data generated by the explosion of network activities.
  • 2009: The Indian government approves a plan to fingerprint, photograph, and take an iris scan of its 1.2 billion people, and assign each person a 12 digit identification number, creating the world’s largest biometric database. The nominal purpose of the program is to “improve the delivery of government services and reduce corruption.”
  • 2009: The Obama administration starts data.gov in support of its open government initiative. The website reportedly has more than 445,000 data sets.
  • 2009: the United Nations announces plans to create an alert system that captures “real time data on the impact of the economic crisis on the poorest nations.” The aim is to predict “everything from spiraling prices to disease outbreaks by analyzing data from” mobile phones, social networks, and related sources.
  • 2010: Each day, the national security agency intercepts and stores over 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other communications. Walmart claims to hold over 460 terabytes of information about its customers shopping and related habits.
  • 2011: IBM’s Watson computer defeats two humans on the television show Jeopardy. The computer system can scan 200 million pages of information – that’s four terabytes of data – in a few seconds.
  • 2012: The Obama administration announces a “big data research and development initiative” to respond to a US government report that calls for every federal agency to have a big data strategy. The National Association of State Chief Information Officers makes the same argument for state agencies.
  • 2012: Facebook has more than 900 million users, who post 300 million photographs every day, along with 3.2 billion new comments and “likes.”
  • 2012: Hillary Clinton announces a public-private partnership called “Data 2X” to collect statistics on the political, economic, and social status of women and girls around the world. “Data not only measures progress – it inspires.… Once you start measuring problems, people are more inclined to take action to fix them because nobody wants to end up at the bottom of a list of rankings.”
  • 2018: Everyone knows everything all the time about everyone else, but there remains a great deal of confusion and uncertainty. (I made some of that up.)


Meanwhile, back in the King James version of Ecclesiastes, the poet writes about the big data problem this way,

“And further, my son, be admonished by these: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

Or maybe — to push the risk of triggering a Palin response — the big data problem is not as new as the buzz suggests.

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

I am naively optimistic humans will — somehow — learn how to engage with big data, as we did with the piddling 285 terabytes of data produced by the printing press.

October 19, 2012

KSM and national security

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 19, 2012

The following is a statement, translated from Arabic, made by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed directed at judge (and US Army Colonel) James Pohl during pre-trial proceedings on Wednesday.  The defendant, often known as KSM, is accused of being the principal planner and controller of the 9/11 attacks.

KSM is  charged with committing  eight offenses: conspiracy; attacking civilians; attacking civilian objects; intentionally causing serious bodily injury; murder in violation of the law of war; destruction of property in violation of the law of war; hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft; and terrorism.

Transcripts of the Military Commission’s proceedings related to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are available at:  http://www.mc.mil/CASES/MilitaryCommissions.aspx

Yes. In the name of God, most graceful, the government at the end of the argument gave you an advice. They told you any decision you’re going to issue you have to keep in mind the national security and to remember that there were 3,000 people killed on September 11. And I would like to give you a similar advice.

Any decision you will take, you have to keep in mind that the government, that the government is using the definition of national security as it chooses. And this expression has a definition in the Military Commission’s Rules.

We have heard the expression of national security again yesterday and today about tens of times. And everyone use this expression as he or she chooses. But legislators and legal people who deal in the legal field, they have to differentiate between the politicians’ use of this word and the legal people’s use of this word.

When the government feels sad for the death or killing of 3,000 people who were killed on September 11, we also should feel sorry that the American government, who is represented by General Martins and others, (has) killed thousands of people—millions.

This definition is a resilient definition, lasting. Every dictator can put on this definition as they choose, as he chooses to step on every definition in this world, every person, and every law and every constitution.

With this definitions, many can evade the rule and also can go against it. Many can kill people under the name of national security and to torture people under the name of national security and to detain children under the name of national security, underage children.

I don’t want to be long, but I can say that the president can take someone and throw him in the sea under the name of national security. And so—well, he can also legislate the killings, assassinations under the name of national security, (of) American citizens.

My only advice to you, that you do not get affected by the crocodile tears. Because your blood is not made of gold and ours is made out of water. We are all human beings. Thank you.

The trial of KSM has been complicated by waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” of the defendant.   There have been several reports of KSM having confessed to his role in 9/11 and other conspiracies and attacks.


October 18, 2012

Three reports, one news item

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 18, 2012

Please identify the real news story:

1. The father of accused wanna-be Federal Reserve bomber, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, cannot imagine his son contemplating such a crime.  A banker in Bangladesh, the father said he last talked to his son on the same day as his arrest.  Read more from The Daily Star of Dhaka.

2. Small quakes in Puerto Rico and Alaska — each under 3.0 magnitude — greeted today’s Great American Shake-out.  Read more on earthquake preparation at shakeout.org.

3.  On Monday at O’Hare (Chicago) shortly before reaching the TSA desk I discovered my photo identity had gone missing (probably on the floor of the rental car).   After a frantic search, I approached the security desk with a forlorn “what are my options?”, not expecting many.   Within seconds a supervisor was asking me reasonable questions and examining various documents, credit cards, and such that were available.  Within moments I was approved to proceed through the line.  Thank you TSA.

If by news it is meant new, novel, or unexpected, perhaps number 3 deserves the headline.

Non-resilience through suppression of diversity and self-organization

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 18, 2012

Another definition for resilience:

Resilience is an innate tendency, usually consisting of several inter-related parts, that allows a system to flex under stress and bounce-back to something similar to its preexisting condition once the stress is lessened or removed.

Three inter-related parts that seem to recur in many systems:

Resilience is more likely to emerge if the system is characterized by diversity, decentralization (self-organization), and adaptation (including the improvisational and opportunistic sorts).

The more diverse roles and functions embedded in a system (nation, region, community, company, neighborhood, firm, family or many other examples) the more likely one or more of the roles and functions will effectively adapt to stress.

The more self-organizing a system —  the  more capable participants are to choose and act in accordance with Strange Attractors of Meaning — the more likely some participant will find an effective way of adapting to stress.

Resilience can mitigate the negative consequences of change through adaptation. Resilience expects change and spawns structural and behavioral characteristics that accept considerable change as a way of avoiding catastrophic change. Diversity does not ensure effective adaptation.  A decentralized and/or self-organizing system produces many mal-adaptive features.  But the more diverse and self-organizing the system the more likely the system will generate – nurture and facilitate – effective adaptation.


These notions began to knock about last Wednesday afternoon.  I had lunch with a FEMA colleague and we talked about how efficiency often conflicts with resilience.  After lunch, before driving to Dulles to catch a plane, I walked over to the Hirshhorn Museum to see the new Ai Weiwei exhibit.

Ai Weiwei is a leading Chinese artist.  If you pay any attention to such things you know he has been in trouble with the authorities:  arrested, jailed, beaten, fined, and not allowed to leave China.  But until visiting the exhibit I had forgotten what started his troubles. As recently as the 2008 Olympics Ai Weiwei was officially celebrated.

Entering the exhibit the visitor is confronted by a huge wall covered in Chinese characters, clearly a listing or inventory of something (see below).   A small English-language label explains these are the names and basic details of 5385 school children who died at their desks in the May 12, 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.  Ai Weiwei and other artists began to collect and publish the names when the government failed to do so.  The artists’ investigation also suggested official corruption in school construction had contributed to many of the deaths.

The entire list of dead school children is available here.

An audio recording announces each name.  Several other pieces in the exhibit are related to the destruction and death — and official deceit — related to the earthquake.

Another small English-language label quotes the artist:

A name is the first and final marker of individual rights, one fixed part of the ever-changing human world.  A name is the most basic characteristic of our human rights: no matter how poor or how rich, all living people have a name, and it is endowed with good wishes, the expectant blessings of kindness and virtue.

In acting on this Strange Attractor of Meaning, Ai Weiwei has earned official censure, unofficial violence, and a sustained effort to suppress his inclination to diversity and self-organization.


The world is ever-changing.  We face this flux with a small set of (near) certainties:  my name, your name, the nature of our relationship.  In some relationships — such as this blog — even the names are uncertain.

But in this digital space and its most proximate socio-political space, diversity proliferates and self-organization permeates.  Problems are presented and debated, proposed solutions even more so.  Expectations of kindness and virtue are often disappointed.  You dismiss me as a  Pollyanna (effeminate fictional character).  I decide you are a selfish cynic (dog-like).  But despite ourselves: we listen a tad, we learn a bit, we adapt grudgingly to one another.

I do not seek to deny or diminish our difficulties.  I wish for more kindness and virtue.  But especially in the face of cruelty and cravenness I am glad to be part of a system that does not suppress diversity of opinion and self-organization of solutions.

I predict plenty of troubles ahead — whoever is elected, whatever becomes of the Euro, regardless of why the earth is warming, no matter what Israel does (or does not do) to Iran or vice-versa, however Assad falls — there will be dark days. Want to debate that?

It is clear to me that whatever troubles descend we will be better off if we nurture diversity and facilitate self-organization.   From the relationship of these two characteristics emerges adaptability and in an ever-changing world adaptability is the best friend we’ve got.

October 17, 2012

Homeland security as a remedy for death

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2012

Yesterday Chris posted a homeland security fable.  Later the fable’s  author commented by, in part, quoting from Albert Camus’ The Wind at Djemila.  (It’s only three pages, I encourage you to click the link and read the whole.)

Djemila is a Roman ruin in Algeria.  The city — the ancients called it Cuicul — was established at the imperial apogee and suddenly, almost completely abandoned after 450 years of prosperous obscurity.   It was left empty and substantially intact for most of the next fifteen centuries.

The ruin’s contemporary name means beautiful in Arabic and signals the gracious, haunted symmetry of the place.  The Camus essay inspired by Djemila is mostly about death.  Here’s a middle passage:

And, I do not know why, before this furrowed landscape, before this solemn, mournful outcry of stone, Djemila, inhuman in the setting sun,before this death of colors and hope, I was sure that at the end of their lives men worthy of the name should find this confrontation again, deny the few ideas which were theirs and recover the innocence and the truth that shines in the faces of the men of ancient times before their destiny. They regain their youth, but it is by embracing death. Nothing is more contemptible in this respect than sickness. It is a remedy against death. It prepares for it. It creates an apprenticeship of which the first stage is tenderness for oneself. It supports man in the great effort he makes to escape from the certainty of utter death. But Djemila …. and then I feel that the true, the only progress of civilization, that to which from time to time a man attaches himself, is in creating conscious deaths.

Homeland security is part of the great effort we make to escape from the certainty of utter death.

This morning between the Gospel of Luke and Camus, I read excerpts from the Global Homeland Security Market 2012-2022, including this:

Currently, the major driver of the global homeland security market is the rise in terrorist activities across the world. The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have increased the threat of terrorist attacks against countries all across the world including the US, the UK, Israel, India, Pakistan and Indonesia. Moreover, recent years have witnessed advancement in technologies used by terrorists and this has fueled research and development activities by various countries in an endeavor to develop effective and advanced counter measures.

The authors of the market projection expect that over the next decade US$2595 billion will be spent on this global effort to find a remedy for death.

I project the effort will fail.

From time to time our specific counter measures will fail.  More profoundly we will fail in our strategic objective.  Death will take us.   Camus continues:

Djemila speaks truly tonight, and with what sad and insistent beauty! For myself, here in the world,I do not want to lie nor to be lied to. I want to carry my lucidity to the end and look at my death with all the profusion of my jealousy and horror. It is in the measure that I separate myself from the world that I am afraid of death, in the measure that I attach myself  to the fate of living men, instead of contemplating the enduring sky. To create conscious deaths is to diminish the distance which separates us from the world, and makes us enter without joy into the consummation of our lives, conscious of the exalting images of a world forever lost. And the sad song of the hills of Djemila drives deeper into my soul the bitterness of this lesson.

I understand.  I sympathize with Camus.  And in an important particular, I disagree.

Homeland security — and much more — is best fulfilled when we embrace the reality of death.  In making the journey to conscious death the possibility of  joy is made manifest.  Living boldly in the shade of death is joyful consummation.  There is surely sadness, but through our grief we might better know the measure of our joy.

October 16, 2012

A Paradox, a Quantum Mechanics Principle, and a Greek Myth walked into a bar

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 16, 2012

From the middle of April through last Saturday, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with close to 300 “homeland security professionals.”  I put that phrase in quotes because the title is as ambiguous as the discipline.

I’ve taken to asserting that homeland security is a potential discipline.  It’s a way to stimulate a conversation. I use the phrase “homeland security professional” in the same way.

Almost everyone I spoke with about this agreed they are homeland security professionals, but they are other things also, and often foremost — like police officers, emergency managers, fire fighters, immigration officials, scientists, transportation security officers, public health professionals and so on.

This is a familiar argument: for many people in the business, homeland security is an ancillary activity.

My conversations with homeland security professionals over the past months reminded me — as those conversations have done once or twice before — of the lines from a William Butler Yeats poem

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

As a generalization, that’s approximately what I saw over the past 7 months: the best in homeland security lack conviction; the worst are full of passionate intensity.

There are exceptions, of course, particularly for those who remain intensely committed to the collaboration and communication promise of homeland security.  But the exceptions were few, and frequently parochial.


Less than a month away from the 2012 presidential election, and I can’t recall very much talk about homeland security.  If one is in a gracious mood, one can tie political yelling about events in the middle east, and Afghanistan, and drones, and Guantanamo, and bin Laden to homeland security. But from a disciplinary perspective, it’s a stretch. Even immigration and border security seem to have lost their homeland security luster: regionally intense, but nationally diffuse.

You’d think cyber security would get some play.

Is that even a homeland security issue?  Yes, say a few voices. It’s national security, say others. No more regulation, hum the private sector mouths.

But I think modestly polite indifference remains the national response.  At least until the oft-foreshadowed cyber pearl harbor arrives and outrage returns.


I have a friend working on a book about homeland security education.  This friend never met a number he did not devour. He read his children to sleep by reciting the times tables. So I was surprised to receive the following homeland security parable from him.

A Paradox, a Quantum Mechanics Principle, and a Greek Myth walked into a bar.  The Bartender, seeking precision in a sometimes querulous manner, asked each of the trio to articulate their positions.

The Paradox, Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, suggested that progression toward a target is an infinite series of half-steps, meaning the object never reaches its target, only the half-steps along the way.

The Uncertainty Principle applauded Zeno but proclaimed it is not possible to measure position and trajectory simultaneously so Zeno should be content with each half-step and not concern himself with the objective.

The Greek Myth – Sisyphus –  wiped his brow and said he tired of endless toiling and repeated actions to push the boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back.

The Bartender served them, then noted in his journal that taken together, the positions of the three represented a metaphor for the pre-paradigmatic homeland security “discipline” struggling to move forward, able to measure only position, uncertain of its trajectory, impossible to reach its obscure objective and frequently seeing advances disappear.

The last entry in his journal that night was a paragraph (with a citation, of course) from Albert Camus:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. …. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Camus, Albert. (1942). The Myth of Sisyphus (Translated by Justin O’Brien, 1955). London: Hamish Hamilton Publishers. Chapter 4.

October 14, 2012

Malala and the Mullahs

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 14, 2012

According to The Guardian, Reuters, and others, a video was released on Friday in which Ayman al-Zawahiri praises the attack on the Benghazi consulate, calls for more protests against US diplomatic facilities, and encourages, “free and distinguished zealots for Islam to continue their opposition to American crusader Zionist aggression against Islam and Muslims”.  Similar statements have been made by AQ-affiliates in North Africa and Yemen.

An Al-Qaeda affiliate in Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the so-called ‘Pakistani Taliban’, has claimed credit for the assassination attempt on Malala Yousufzai (above), a 14-year old Pakistani girl who has campaigned to protect the right of girls to go to school.  The TTP justified its attack saying she was encouraging “Western thinking.”  Malala survived but is in critical condition.

It is in the self-interest of AQ, Salafists, and other religious extremists to characterize their struggle as combating an external threat presented by the United States and the West-in-general.   Westerners too often unwittingly play along and reinforce the message.  It is a false claim and a terrible trap.

The struggle that matters most is internal to Islam.

A teenaged classmate’s of Malala, interviewed on Pakistani television, said, “I am worried about Malala. The whole of Swat is worried about her. But every girl in Swat is Malala. We’ll educate ourselves. We will win. They can’t defeat us.”

In a Sunday column for Dawn, a Pakistani daily, Cyril Almeida is not as confident:

EVERYONE it seems has questions this week.

Some are of the stupid variety. What kind of human being would shoot a 14-year-old? Answer: a monstrous one. And there are a lot of monsters here.

How can anyone call themselves a Muslim and do this? Answer: Because they believe they are the true Muslims, not the weak-kneed moral relativists who pretend to be Muslims. A true Muslim does what needs to be done for the glory of Islam.

What kind of society teaches people to kill little girls trying to get an education? Answer: a sick and troubled society. A society that is in denial of the sickness in its midst.

Other questions are asked with a sly innocence. These are the more malign ones.

Why can’t we condemn all violence, by drones and by guns? Haven’t we had enough of killing? Can’t we now find a more humane way of ending the violence? Why don’t we try and understand this mindset instead of trying to destroy it?

These are malign questions because they are asked with a specific purpose.

The purpose is not to end jihad and violence, but to enable it, to perpetuate it, to make Pakistan the custodian of Islam, to create the perfect Islamist state in an imperfect world.

The trick the men with the malign questions have perfected is to sound reasonable.

See, we’re here on TV, talking things out, making our case, condemning all violence, trying to do our bit to make Pakistan peaceful and calm.

We all live here, we’re all the same. Let’s learn to understand why this is happening to us. It’s the Americans. It’s the Jews. It’s the Indians. Get rid of their influence and the wayward souls here will return to the fold.

They’re right about one thing: we all do live here. But we’re not the same, we don’t want the same things, and the men with the innocently asked but malign questions are not on the side of those asking in fear why this is happening to us.

Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that the difference isn’t as obvious as it should be.

Surely, both sides are well-meaning, people will ask. Surely, we can figure out a way to all live alongside in peace and happiness, people will say.

Yes, we could. But not if the rules are set by the other side.

Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that Pakistanis are not clear there is a continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism. It is not a difference of kind, only of degree.

The religious right creates an enabling environment for violent Islamism to recruit and prosper. And violent Islamism makes state and society cower and in doing so enhances the space for the religious right. One feeds off the other and together they grow in strength.

Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that the continuum from Jamaat-i-Islami to Al Qaeda, from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam to the Taliban is barely recognised, let alone understood.

If there is outrage at that statement, at conflating the two, that is a testament to the success and deep-rootedness of the denial, confusion and obfuscation.

The mullah of today is the same as the mullah of yesterday. What’s changed is that the mullah of today has his goal in sight and the means to achieve it. The means is the continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism — one feeding off the other and together edging closer to their goal.

For years now, the problem of Pakistan has been seen as a problem of the state. But perhaps what it really is is a problem of society. A decrepit and broken society whose decrepitude and brokenness the denial, confusion and obfuscation have masked.

There is surely a problem of the state too. A certain poverty of imagination and moral bankruptcy have fashioned a state that can no longer do what is right and necessary.

It’s not always about complicity and sympathy. Often it’s just about fear. In Balochistan, I have wondered why the state doesn’t just take out the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi killers. After all, there can’t be more than a few dozen of them.

I asked and asked until someone finally offered, “They’ll never forget. You take them on and eventually they’ll get you. Maybe while you’re serving, maybe when you’re retired, but they will get you and probably your family too.”

The same question I’ve asked in KP and Fata. Why can’t they wipe this out? This isn’t a foreign army operating; these aren’t alien areas; yes, it was always going to be a slow grind, but why are the results so obviously patchy? Ask and ask and eventually — after theories and philosophies of missing holistic strategies and drivers internal and external — an answer comes. “Because they don’t know. They don’t know if that’s what’s really wanted. And because they don’t know, they’d rather live to see another day, to go back to their families.”

The state is a broken project. The foot soldiers are fearful because the high command is locked in denial and the certainty of old ways.

But perhaps it is society that is broken too. A society that laments its misfortune but can’t see the cause. A society that sees evil in its midst but never its facilitators. A society so manipulated by denial, confusion and obfuscation that the grotesque can masquerade as salvation.

Mercifully, the violent Islamists aren’t very bright. The shoot a little girl, they flog a teenager, they do terrible things that make Pakistanis recoil in horror.

But perhaps they can afford to not be very bright. Because they have the men with the innocently asked but malign questions.

They have the mullah to deny, confuse and obfuscate and lull society into believing the problem is without when it really is within.

It’s not always about us.  We are usually no more than an excuse.  But too often we respond in a way that reinforces the excuse and encourages our adversaries.

October 12, 2012

Panetta: “Cyber terrorist attack could paralyze the nation.”

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on October 12, 2012

Last night in New York the Secretary of Defense told his audience, ““A cyber attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11. Such a destructive cyber terrorist attack could paralyze the nation.”

While noting the role of DHS and the FBI in cyber defense, the SECDEF also emphasized, “We defend. We deter. And if called upon, we take decisive action. In the past, we have done so through operations on land and at sea, in the skies and in space. In this new century, the United States military must help defend the nation in cyberspace as well.”

Here’s a link to the DOD news release.  I have not yet found a full transcript.  When I do — or you do — it will be posted here.


Here’s the transcript: Defending the Nation from Cyber Attack.

October 11, 2012

Resilience: Virtue and Collective Action

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 11, 2012

Dane Egli at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has authored an important new report: Beyond the Storms: Strengthening Security and Resilience in the 21st Century.  If it’s available online I don’t know where and cannot find it.  Out of respect for the author’s work, I will not make it downloadable here until certain I have a final version.  (I don’t know the author and did not receive my copy from him.)

The 216 page document is a product of Egli’s independent scholarship.  It was not commissioned by any public or private entity beyond the Applied Physics Laboratory.  It is not (directly) related to getting a grant or other such instrumental purpose.  When it is available online, I will let you know.  Or you let me know when you see it.

The report deserves to be read in its entirety.  It is expansive and comprehensive.  It aggregates a wide-array of elements that are usually treated separately. The pieces are important, but regular readers of HLSWatch are familiar with the pieces.  More valuable is Egli’s  weaving together of a whole picture that provokes a much more interesting conversation than obsessing over any particular piece.

Indeed Egli’s whole picture demonstrates that it is the interdependence of the pieces that really matter.

The report defines resilience as “the ability to bounce or spring back into shape or position after being pressed or stretched.”  But Egli goes on to argue that “resilience is not only the ability to recover from, or withstand, the impact of hazards, and flex — instead of snapping — but also includes the ability to get stronger as a result of adversity.”

In the illustration above, taken from page 2-9 of the report, resilience is identified as an active virtue integrated into all operations and systems.  I like that.  Not much more is specifically offered in terms of this virtuous character, but in context I take it to mean that resilience is a beneficial quality, an innate strength, and a capacity to act that is self-consciously developed.

I very much appreciate Egli’s multiple references to Elinor Ostrom’s work in Collective Action and his effort to integrate Ostrom’s findings into a disciplined cultivation of resilience.  (One of many examples of Dr. Ostrom’s contributions is the 2010 text: Working Together: Collective Action, the Common, and Multiple Methods in Practice, coauthored with Amy Poteete and Eric Janssen.)  Ostrom and her colleagues have looked at real communities dealing with real problems and gathered real data on what works and does not work in terms of resilience and related.

I like the document’s consistent recognition that many (most?) of the crucial issues are complex.  Egli writes, “The current threat environment presents an asymmetric and irregular flow of ‘black swan’ events — ones we don’t expect and cannot predict based on existing data, and ‘wicked problems’ — known challenges that are overwhelming to current emergency planners; and this trend appears to be growing in complexity and uncertainty.”

I am very glad the document situates resilience as a matter of national economic security.  For Egli resilience and the broader goals of national preparedness are key to “supporting the American economy and global markets that depend upon the free flow of commerce.”

Egli has his doctorate in public affairs and retired as a US Coast Guard Captain after a career that included assignments to the US Northern Command and the White House.  The pedigree shows.  His findings are well-organized, reasonably framed, and defensible while being written in brief, accessible, declarative chunks that build an argument.  He includes several short case studies to illustrate findings and ground recommendations.

I don’t agree with every finding.  In my opinion some of Egli’s judgments and recommendations reflect a career spent mostly in the public sector.   While he recognizes resilience is mostly a matter of private sector engagement,  I perceive he may not recognize the profound shift in government’s role and method that will be needed to systematically advance resilience.  But I will wait to argue these critiques after you have a chance to read his work.  It is very good work.

Resilience v. Adaptability v. Transformability

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 11, 2012

Over the last few months some of us have considered the connection or not between a system’s resilience — ability to “bounce back” to something close to its original condition — and a system’s ability to effectively bounce-forward into something very different.  From time to time we have politely disagreed, but I’m not sure much authentically new understanding has emerged.

A piece that has generated some new understanding by yours-truly is  Resilience, Adaptability, and Transformability in the Goulburn-Broken Catchment, Australia by Brian H Walker,  Nick Abel, John M Anderies, and Paul Ryan (no, not that Paul Ryan).  This was published waaay back in 2009, but I just read it.

Here’s a brief excerpt that may entice or the opposite.

Resilience, therefore, emphasizes the possibility of alternate system regimes and the thresholds between them.The ability to manage resilience—to avoid regime shifts and to become more (or less) resilient—is referred to as adaptability, or adaptive capacity (Walker et al. 2004). A related concept is transformability—what to do when it appears that a shift into an undesired regime is either inevitable,or has already occurred and is irreversible (Walker et al. 2004). We explore these concepts in the context of the Goulburn-Broken Social Ecological System, drawing on information from farmers, citizens, researchers, public servants,and publications from both within and outside the region.

In any case, the distinction between adaptability and tranformability is, I suggest, important and helpful to our future consideration.

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