Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 9, 2012

Seven recent homeland security stories you might have missed

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on October 9, 2012

1. An EMP attack could bring this country to a screeching halt by permanently disabling electronic devices, and DHS remains unprepared for the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event or attack, says the Heritage Foundation. William Forstchen wrote a book called One Second After that describes what life could be like after an EMP attack.

2. Two fusion centers in Wisconsin — the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center and the Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Analysis Center created a website called WiWatch “to provide a portal to educate the public and provide a means to report suspicious activity.” The site describes 16 examples of “suspicious behavior” to say something about (either on the phone or on the web) if you see something.
WiWatch notes: “A critical element of the missions of the Wisconsin Fusion Centers is ensuring that the civil rights and civil liberties of persons are not diminished by our security efforts, activities, and programs. Consequently, the “WiWATCH” campaign respects civil rights and liberties by emphasizing behavior, rather than appearance, in identifying suspicious activity.”

3. Karen Remley, the Virginia State Health Commissioner, reminded the state’s clinicians about “the medical school dictum related to differential diagnoses: ‘When you hear hoof beats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra.’ Sometimes, however, it will be a zebra. If you think it is a zebra, I want you to say something. During the anthrax attacks in 2001, clinicians made the first diagnosis in an emergency department…. An astute clinician who diagnoses a reportable illness and alerts the local health department may be detecting a bioterrorism attack or a disease outbreak and putting in motion actions that will save his or her patient and many others.”

4. For $4,450, you can get a 680 page report about the U.S. Homeland Security & Public Safety Market from 2013 to 2020. Here’s an excerpt from the online summary:
“Annual investments in HLS and Public Safety products and services (excluding: HLD post-warranty revenues) purchased by the U.S. Federal agencies and private sector increased from $48 Billion in 2011 to $51 billion in 2012 and is forecasted to increase to $81 billion by 2020…..The total U.S. HLS, HLD, HLS related Counter-terror & Public Safety Markets (including post-warranty maintenance and upgrades revenues) grow from $74.5 billion in 2012 to $107.3 billion in 2020 at a CAGR [I think that means compound annual growth rate] of 4.7%…. Unlike most other government sectors, the 2013-2020 federal, state and local government funding for HLS & Public Safety will grow over the next eight years at a CAGR of 4-5%. This growth is driven by a solid bipartisan congressional support.” [That’s my favorite sentence.]

5. Stephanie Lambert tried to bring peanut butter on a flight last June. TSA confiscated the peanut butter. After filling out the appropriate forms, Lambert received a $3.99 refund check from the U.S. Treasury. For another $22.99 Lambert can by 6 jars of Skippy Peanut Butter on Amazon, and have them mailed to her house.

6. Without comment, The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a blogger’s challenge of body scanners and whole body pat-downs at airports. “[The] court declined to take up Jonathan Corbett’s complaint that the Transportation Security Administration’s use of the screening techniques violated passengers’ protection against illegal searches under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

7. And the final story you might have missed: October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

October 7, 2012

DHS as the great coordinator?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 7, 2012

Interesting question and observation from a friend:

Have you, or other folks in the field, looked at homeland security as a function rather than a substantive “new” field?

In other words, maybe homeland security should stop trying to carve out substantive turf and look at itself as the great coordinator. Intelligence, military, borders, state law enforcement, local law enforcement, coast guard, TSA, emergency preparedness, etc. do not really have a good way to communicate, share information, see all the dots – let alone connect them.

Perhaps that is the purpose of the “homeland security,” to have enough visibility and interaction with all those players so sharing is happening when it is useful, but not just as a meaningless unfiltered information dump.  That would actually be a very difficult job, and in many ways, precisely the intent of the fusion centers.

One thing is certain though, if that were expressly DHS’s mission and it was roughly limited to that mission, they would have a much better opportunity for success.

October 4, 2012

The blame-game in homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 4, 2012

Tuesday I was given a quote from Lionel Trilling, “Our culture peculiarly honors the act of blaming which it takes as a sign of virtue and intellect.”

It comes from an essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Here’s a bit of context:

… He was gifted with the satiric eye; yet we feel that in his morality he was more drawn to celebrate the good than to denounce the bad.  We feel of him, as we cannot feel of all moralists, that he did not attach himself to the good because his attachment would sanction his fierceness toward the bad — his first impulse was to love the good, and we know this the more surely because we perceive that he loved the good not only with his mind but also with his quick senses and his youthful pride and desire.

He really had but little impulse to blame, which is the more remarkable because our culture peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect. “Forbearance, good word,” is one of the jottings in his notebook.  When it came to blame, he preferred, it seems, to blame himself.  He even did not much want to blame the world. Fitzgerald knew where “the world” was at fault.  He knew that it was the condition, the field, of tragedy.” (Trilling, Lionel, The Liberal Imagination, pages 271-272 (1950)

I am writing this Wednesday morning.  I plan to post it before tonight’s debates.  I expect the Denver exchange — and especially each side’s after action — will include  a plethora of bipartisan blaming.   Do we still take this as a sign of virtue and intellect?


Who is to blame for the death of Ambassador Stevens and three others?  Who failed to connect the dots and send in the Marines?  We have even revived the debate over who’s to blame (and why) for the slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

Who is to blame for a drone’s “collateral damage”?  Is there blame to dispense when a drone is used to kill a US citizen abroad?

Who is to blame for rise of Salafists in Mali and Northern Nigeria?  Who is to blame for inter-religious violence and vandalism in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria, Oak Creek,  Wall Street, and Murfreesboro?

Who is to blame for budget deficits,  fiscal cliffs, and political gridlock?  Who is to blame for the persistence of threats and vulnerabilities more than a decade after 9/11?  Who can I blame for billions obviously misspent?

Whoever it is: Get them, kill or capture them, stop them from defiling the peace and prosperity I deserve.

Blame: c.1200, from O.Fr. blasmer (12c., Mod.Fr. blâmer) “to rebuke, reprimand, condemn, criticize,” from L.L. blasphemare “revile, reproach” (see blaspheme). Replaced O.E. witan with long “i.” The noun is from O.Fr. blasme, a back formation from blasmer.


Unlike Fitzgerald — at least Trilling’s idea of Fitzgerald — we are not likely to blame ourselves.   We do not love the good that much and the American sense of tragedy can often be a bit anemic, even adolescent.

From another Trilling essay on the relationship between history and literature (and more on blame):

We have come to believe that some ideas can betray us, others save us.  The educated classes are learning to blame ideas for our troubles, rather than blaming what is a very different thing — our own bad thinking.  This is the great vice of academicism, that it is concerned with ideas rather than with thinking, and nowadays the errors of academicism do not stay in the academy; they make their way in to the world and what begins as a failure of perception among intellectual specialists finds its fulfillment in policy and action.

In time of war, when two different cultures, or two extreme modifications of the same culture confront each other with force, this belief in the autonomy of ideas  becomes especially strong and therefore especially clear.  In any modern war there is likely to be involved a conflict of ideas which is in part factitious but which is largely genuine. But this conflict of ideas, genuine as it may be, suggestions to both sides the necessity of believing in the fixed, immutable nature of the ideas to which each side owes allegiance.  What gods were to the ancients at war, ideas are to us. (Trilling, Lionel, The Liberal Imagination, page 218 (1950)

Over the next month and more two extreme modifications of the same culture will confront each other.  This will happen in many places across the planet, including in American voting booths.   From the confrontation in the voting booths our idea of homeland security may be amended.  More radical change is possible depending on confrontations elsewhere.

Ideas emerge from thinking.  Ideas are valuable as repositories of prior observation and experimentation.  Ideas challenge and validate.  Ideas should inform — and can inspire — our thinking.

Several have said this election presents a clear choice between two very different ideas of America.

Thinking is, however, more than choosing between ideas.  Thinking engages the present moment with self-critical attention and purposeful creativity.  Thinking produces new ideas and displaces old gods.

October 3, 2012

Committee duel over fusion center report

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 3, 2012

As noted in several media, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has released a report highly critical of state fusion centers.  (Access has been a bit difficult on Wednesday.) Here are a few paragraphs from the Subcommittee’s news release:

A two-year bipartisan investigation by the U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found that Department of Homeland Security efforts to engage state and local intelligence “fusion centers” has not yielded significant useful information to support federal counterterrorism intelligence efforts.

“It’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties,” said Senator Tom Coburn, the Subcommittee’s ranking member who initiated the investigation.

The investigation determined that senior DHS officials were aware of the problems hampering effective counterterrorism work with the fusion centers, but did not always inform Congress of the issues, nor ensure the problems were fixed in a timely manner. MORE

Chairman of the full-committee Joe Lieberman has taken exception to the subcommittee report.  From a Wednesday statement:

“I strongly disagree with the report’s core assertion that ‘fusion centers have been unable to meaningfully contribute to federal counterterrorism efforts,’” Lieberman said. “This statement is not supported by the examples presented in the report and is contrary to the public record, which shows fusion centers have played a significant role in many recent terrorism cases and have helped generate hundreds of tips and leads that have led to current FBI investigations.

“The report does include valuable findings in some areas. It cites examples of inappropriate use of homeland security grant funds and accurately notes that FEMA has struggled to account for how homeland security grant funds are allocated and used, a longstanding concern of mine.

“But the report also contradicts public statements by the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the FBI, who have acknowledged the value fusion centers provide to the intelligence community. MORE

This is a case when I expect the same data could support two very different understandings of reality.

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

Doonesbury is written and drawn by Garry Trudeau.

If you are not a regular reader of Doonesbury, Rick Redfern is a once prize-winning Washington Post reporter now blogging free for Huffington Post.

October 2, 2012

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Dan OConnor on October 2, 2012

Recently I received a notice in my mail box about a new documentary. I get them from time to time and I scan them to see if any catch my interests. This one, called Robot Wars, immediately caught my attention.

This is interesting on a couple of fronts. First, it was put together by Al Jazeera and the narrator, Josh Rushing, is the former Marine Corps public affairs officer who was character assassinated endlessly for taking a job with them. Second, some of the interviewees discuss how Americans have become less tolerant of their youth coming home in body bags.

Also prominently featured is Peter Warren (PW) Singer, a noted political scientist and author of Wired for War. In his book, Singer discusses the rapidity of technological change and how wars are fought and the impact on politics, economics, laws, and the ethics that surround war itself.

So we use robots more; a lot more. This may be the continuation of creating stand off distance for warfare. But this technology is changing warfare.

Today there are more than 7,000 drones and 12,000 ground robots in use by all branches of the military. These systems mean fewer American deaths and also less political risk for the US when it takes acts of lethal force – perhaps even outside of official war zones.

Some people see the growth of drones and robots as acceptable because the provide tactical advantage and decreases vulnerability of U.S. assets. Others criticize the growth because it suggests that drone or UAV warfare has devolved into a video game where the operator can enjoy a Starbucks and still make it home on time to catch their child’s ball game. The outcome is we now have killing from 8000 miles away in a box in Nevada or wherever, never smelling the cordite, acrid smoke, burnt and rotting flesh nor sensing the destruction they have caused.

As he observed the carnage during the Battle of Fredericksburg, General Robert E. Lee said, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Sometimes I wonder if by making war too easy and not seeing the carnage we are growing “too fond of it.”

Has our fondness for technology and a growing risk aversion for loss made one of these arguments of UAV warfare correct?

Do the UAV or robot operators at far off distances have an understanding of war and death? They may say they feel the sense of urgency and fear but their argument cannot possibly be compared to the Marine or Soldier in harms’ way. They do not deal with the consequence, the smell, the after effects, the detritus of war. It is an extension of the pilot leaving the battle space.

Another issue and one that I have discussed at length with Marines returning from extended combat in Sangin and Fallujah are the dehumanizing aspects of UAV combat and death from afar. When a sniper engages an enemy he does so with a magnified animation of the individual. There is some degree of interaction or, better described, transfer of humanity.

Some see the UAV attacks as much less so. While “surgical” they do leave one with the idea that surgical is relative and a 500 lbs explosion is not as discriminate as we say it is. Is our moral imperative, the one we profess to have, compromised by the way we value our enemies’ life and how we kill them?

From a purely spiritual perspective and from someone who has trained to do this for a long time, I always felt it necessary to realize that taking another’s life should never be an easy task, politics and nationalism aside. Many of those engaged in war are conscripts, pushed out in front of their Nation by others and given choices that are none too selective. So in that light, it must cross one’s mind that killing another son, father, brother, daughter, mother, sister etc. is not trivial. That process makes at least defining and identifying what the Nation asks its military to do a reasonable humanity test.

The irony here is that in order to do something very well you kind of have to like it, which is in direct conflict with the previous thought. To be really good at fighting you have to like it. To like fighting is to like killing. Is that the bridge? Is that accurate? Talk to combat veterans and they will tell you there is no rush like fighting. War is intoxicating. Or is it? A topic for another debate.

I think we are getting too good at rationalizing away why we fight and how difficult it is to kill.

Most people will tell you they don’t fight the enemy as much they fight for their mates left and right. That’s probably accurate. That is also an argument against having an all-volunteer force vice a conscription force.   The all-volunteer forces are more apt to comply because of career decisions. This is not my argument. It is one I have heard from both former Vietnam draftees and others not enamored with the “military industrial complex.” And we have figured out how to make our fighters adept at killing, something they may not have been good at 50 or so years ago.  (For more on that, read On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by David Grossman.)

With regard to hunting high value targets, terrorists and their leaders are probably worthy targets, and there is a good argument to be made. I’m not being flippant here. But when lawyers spend great amounts of time trying to justify activities, it makes me a little squirrely. This is the slope I see us on.

So using robots, UAVs, drones and their ilk is an extension of protecting our fighters — something that borders on risk aversion in lieu of answering policy questions. But it also devalues our enemies and life in general. This therefore amplifies the terrorists desire to strike us, because 99+% of the population has little understanding of what we ask the military to do and how they do it. They just watch war porn on Youtube and play it on Xbox.

Madeline Albright infamously said, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” That is wildly cavalier and demonstrates how little we value our lives and the lives of others.

It’s getting too easy. It becomes too easy to roll out the troops, and then they get stuck in tough situations because of all the constraints and all the politics. If we do not respect the lives we take and the collateral damage we cause is that a problem? Is caring more about Snooky and her baby and Honey Boo Boo more newsworthy than the 2000th death in Afghanistan? It’s a far cry from the number of deaths in Viet Nam and World War 2, but you know it hurts the families who lost them the same.

Do we have to respect our enemy’s lives to better understand what it is we are asking our military to do? If we do not should anybody be surprised that they do not respect ours either?

Here are two recent essays about the use of drones:

1. A dangerous new world of drones, by Peter Bergen, CNN National Security analyst, and Jennifer Rowland.

2. Drones Will Soon Be Able To Kill During War Without Human Assistance

October 1, 2012

From the Annals of the Strange: Hezbollahland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on October 1, 2012

To be sure, Lebanon pulls far ahead of California when it comes to a history of bloody civil strife (not that the Golden State hasn’t had its moments). But where California definitely pulls ahead is in theme parks. California has Disneyland, Six Flags, Legoland, and countless others. We looked long and hard for a theme park in Lebanon but the only attraction that seemed to come close was Hezbollah’s new Tourist Landmark of the Resistance, in Mleeta, about 50 miles south of Beirut, near the Israeli border. It’s a multi-million-dollar complex that memorializes resistance to the Israeli occupation (1982–2000) with something of a Six Flags spin. To that segment of the Lebanese who refer to Hezbollah as “the Hez” the attraction is known as “Hezbollahland.” Israel—known to many locals as “the Zionist Entity”—refers to the same place as “a Disneyland for terrorists.”

This isn’t from the Onion, but rather a Vanity Fair article by Tom Freston, “Six Flags over Lebanon.”

His fellow travelers were interesting:

We also took a friend of a friend, a smart, funny Lebanese-American named Jihad. Kind of like heading for the Magic Kingdom with a guy named Mickey.

Though it seems like it might be best to wait a few years before planning your own trip:

The facility was impressive: modern buildings in every direction, open plazas, signs and markers in Arabic and English. Our guide, a proud, friendly, soft-spoken man, was happy to see some foreign visitors. It was Ramadan and business was slow. He said that what we would see was just “phase one”—only 15 acres. Hotels, a spa, swimming pools, a sports club, campgrounds, and a paintball battlefield were still to come. Hezbollahland was just getting started.

Mr. Preston points out that the impact of this effort isn’t trivial:

We left the Resistance Tourist Landmark with a mix of reactions. Hezbollah has long supported terrorism—this is the organization that blew up our embassy and the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in the early 80s, with enormous loss of life. Full stop. Even so, it’s hard not to have some understanding for why Hezbollah has gained respect among the local population for its role in ending the 18-year occupation. Now Hezbollah has built an effective attraction to communicate its narrative to the young.

Oh, about his traveling companion:

A couple of days later I saw my new friend Jihad bartending at a club called Radio Beirut. His T-shirt read, “MR. JIHAD,” in huge letters. Such is Lebanon. The drinks were on him.

The entire article is interesting, entertaining and worth your time:


(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

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