Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 28, 2012

Some Far Rockaway of the heart

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 28, 2012

So many others are giving such expert attention to the recovery from Sandy — and its implications for preparedness and response — that I have not found much to add.   It’s too soon to tell what will actually happen, but much that is being said strikes me as prudent, wise, even prophetic.

Reading the Times, Observer, New Yorker, Daily News, and even the Post — talking with friends and colleagues on return visits — I have been reminded how rough realism and real romanticism are coequals in most New Yorkers.  They know the City must constantly change, they are proud of their ability to navigate the constant turmoil, and they embrace most improvements with weary regret.

Some of that attitude — both resilient and adaptive, it seems to me — is captured in this poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. New York, here’s wishing you a Happy 2013.


A native-born New Yorker
I was from the Lower Inside
a part of town much favored by
addicts of the subjective
(a subversive group always being investigated)
as well as buddhists
and their lower chakras
and others seeking salvations
from various realities
virtual or actual
And losing track
of where I was coming from
with the amnesia of an immigrant
I traveled over
the extrovert face
of America
But no matter where I wandered
off the chart
I still would love to find again
that lost locality
Where I might catch once more
a Sunday subway for
some Far Rockaway of the heart


January 1, 2013 Update: There is a great companion piece to the Ferlinghetti poem — and a wonderful bit of post-Sandy reporting — by Michael Greenberg in the just published New York Review of Books.  Please see Occupy the Rockaways!

December 27, 2012

Leaning purposefully into paradox

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 27, 2012

Nicholas Poussin, Le Massacre des Innocents

Between December 27th to December 29th many Christian churches remember the massacre of innocents which, according to the gospel of Matthew, was ordered by King Herod to eliminate the just-born Jesus.

Whether hagiography or history, the proximity of infanticide to what the author claims as the incarnation of divine love rectifies any inclination to sugar plum banalities.  A mix of fear, power, and pride surges across human history with tidal force.

One person’s — or nation’s — search for security can seem to another only murderous rage.

In Newtown and Syria we see a suicidal logic reaching its conclusion.   The Taliban assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai and the killing of children by US drones each demonstrate the outer limits of intention.   In Matthew three wise men — empirically-skilled and well-intentioned — inadvertently motivate the massacre.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted and pure love without power is destroyed.”  We are poised between chaos and cosmos.   Forsaking goodness or love or power will not lessen our vertigo.  But by embracing the perpetual paradox of our situation it is possible to lean purposefully into the present moment, our standing sustained precisely in tension with the challenge.

Homeland security unfolded from our  encounter with unexpected calamities and as an earnest effort to prevent or mitigate future encounters.  We are still preoccupied with exerting power to prevent fear and protect pride.   But haven’t we learned — paradoxically — the most effective ways to prevent and mitigate emerge from expecting and embracing the recurring reality of disaster?

December 26, 2012

Disaster Amnesia

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 26, 2012

From the December 26 Jakarta Post, an Op-Ed by Syamsidik, head of applied research at the Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center (TDMRC) and a lecturer in the civil engineering department of Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh.


The eighth anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami will fall on Dec. 26. The disastrous event effected many changes not only in Indonesia, but also in the international disaster management paradigm.

Nevertheless, eight years after the event, unintentional or intentional actions by communities and government agencies seem to have led to a downgrade in the awareness of and preparedness for future disasters.

Although a less focused effort on disaster risk-reduction in official documents might not be apparent, the underlying concerns are real.

Intensive measures on disaster prevention and mitigation are only visible when major disasters occur with an overwhelming impact on human life. It is only natural that people tend to forget things after years have passed and the grieving and fear are gone.

The only way to fight this disaster amnesia is to be bold in promoting disaster risk-reduction at community level and in government policies and programs.

Unfortunate lessons obtained from past disasters notwithstanding, experience should be the key guide in increasing community and regional preparedness for future disasters. Past disasters do provide some basis for prediction of future disasters.  MORE

December 25, 2012

A christmas story in 21 pictures

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 25, 2012

1a  Wary Christmas

1b  Reason For The Season

1c 17 2483631

1d Seasons Greetings

1e 10 crowson

1f 11 danzcolor4586

1g occupy christmas 18 occucartoon111223 full 600x400

2 12 Cliff on the Shelf

2a Stocking Stuffers

3 Washington Wise Men

3a 13 Santa Wish List

3c 7 Chritmas Kids Gifts

4a 16 job for christmas 123638 600

4b 8 santa will work

6a Sustainable Christmas Tree

7 20 hempholidays

7a 14 white guys 123224 600

8 19 2010 12 24

8a danzcolor5364

9 peace dove jsh122208

10 21 3 wise men and a wall 2

December 20, 2012

Proximate solutions to insoluble problems

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security,Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 20, 2012

I am in the bad day business.  Whether the cause is natural, accidental or intentional my role is preparing for bad days.  My specific role has become helping others prepare for very, very bad days.

It is my impression most readers of HLSWatch are in a similar business.

While personally most of my days are fine — even very fine — I know bad days will come.   I have experienced them.  I have been with others shortly after their experience of such days.

One of my favorite memories from when I was 8 or 9  is of laying upside down on the backyard slide on a bright summer day reading about Vesuvius burying Pompeii and the tsunami swamping Lisbon.  History books are mostly about somebody’s bad day.

A few years ago I was in the prevent-bad-days business.   In some ways that was a better job.  But no matter how good you are: prevention will fail.  The bad day will come. Very bad days seem to be coming more often.

Last Thursday I reported on an “emerging threats forum” that had decided the best strategy for the most serious threats is to:

  • Inform the public of the threats,
  • Explain that government is not capable of prevention or timely response regarding many threats,
  • Encourage and facilitate enhanced individual, neighborhood, school, and workplace (other) preparedness to be self-sustaining.

Arnold Bogis asked that I give more details.  I promised I would.  In the seven days since there have been several very bad days in Newtown, Aleppo, Karachi, Davao, Goma, Suva, and elsewhere.

I was surprised the emerging threats forum chose a “public engagement” strategy.  In my experience, these sort of sessions are usually dominated by men (mostly) who want to exercise control and prefer developing systems and methods subject to their control.  At a similar session the week before there had been an extended discussion regarding how to ensure the persistent appearance of control (even though being out-of-control was the implicit reality).

Maybe it was the list of emerging threats that discouraged the usual symptoms of homeland security’s own version of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  The facilitators chose largely novel or large-scale threats that dwarfed even the biggest ego.

Maybe it was the age of the participants.  It was a bifurcated group.   There were several “older” (apologies) folks like me and a roughly equal number of young.   The young are accustomed to not being allowed to exercise control.  The old have often discovered control can be an illusion.  Those in-between — perhaps still fighting for control — were a distinct minority (probably because that age group mostly remained in the cockpit while we were in the seminar room).

Maybe it was an increasing recognition of and respect for complexity.   The discussion gave considerable attention to linkages, signals, and unpredictability.

In any case, one of the younger people was the first to suggest there is a problem with unrealistic expectations related to government capabilities in major disasters.   Sandy was still on the mind of many and mostly there was the sense of a bullet dodged.  “It could easily have been much, much worse,” seemed the consensus.   “This was not even a hurricane when it came ashore and look at the consequences.”  And still it was and is plenty bad.

Unrealistic expectations enable individual, family, and private sector choices that increase vulnerability.   Government responsiveness on a typical bad day sets up unrealistic expectations for response on a very, very bad day.

While there seemed to be considerable consensus that  “unrealistic expectations” is a key strategic insight and “public engagement” could be an effective solution, the group perceived public engagement would be very difficult to achieve.  Among the problems discussed:

  • Many in government perceive public engagement as a political, not an administrative task.  Many government officials are reluctant  and uncomfortable engaging the public and nearly as uncomfortable with politicians.
  • When government does engage the public there is a tendency to over-organize the process.  It is difficult for  many officials to admit weakness to the public (One participant said, government officials tend to “talk at rather than with the public.”
  • The public is not listening and tends to deny or discount risk until it is too late.

There was not time at last week’s meeting to seriously engage these challenges.  But for what it’s worth, I will list some personal suggestions.

Government — and especially the homeland security professions — need to give more attention to hiring and using brokers, facilitators, relationship-builders and others skilled at bridging the private-public divide.   Politicians are, by the way, often very skilled in these methods.

Government needs to find existing networks of private-public and private-private connections.  These preexisting connections are much more likely to persist than anything created and managed by government.  Politicians are often expert navigators of these networks.

Within these existing networks there is a need to identify or recruit independent champions of prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, recovery, or whatever other purpose.   Once again, politicians can be very effective champions within their preexisting networks.

Government should ask and listen about twice as much as it tells.   Politicians are usually not good at this skill.

In my experience when the foregoing preconditions are in place up to 80 percent (occasionally more) of individuals, families, and private organizations are very willing and interested to be in meaningful dialogue with the government.   The public is more likely to listen when they perceive the public sector is listening to them.  The public sector is more likely to listen to and engage with a neighborhood or business group or similar organization.

In my experience the public is surprised when told what the government cannot do in a disaster and about 10 to 20 percent will initially strongly resist what they are hearing.  But most are able to quickly recognize their own unrealistic expectations and begin to shift, especially if they get some informed help making the shift.

This is, I suggest, a model that extends beyond homeland security to a wide range of social, economic and political concerns.   Fantastic success in implementing all of my suggestions will not reduce the number of bad days, though I think consequences can often — if not always — be mitigated.


Maybe this is already clear enough, but to be sure I will add: What all these tactics and techniques are really about is making and maintaining meaningful human relationships that happen to engage disaster risk among other matters.  Other matters will usually be more important. But disaster risk is worth including among the concerns around which the relationships emerge and move.  It is kinship with each other and our shared prospects.  Get the relationships right and the rest will be much easier to engage.

December 19, 2012

Poking Holes in Homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on December 19, 2012

Just a warning: for fans of the hit Showtime cable television show “Homeland,” the following will either be informative or deflating.

Former White House Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Commisioner for Counterterrorism at the NYPD Richard Falkenrath has penned a short Foreign Affairs article on the factual shortcomings of the show:

Homeland is immensely entertaining. But how well does it represent reality? In truth, only partially. As a depiction of how U.S. agencies actually go about tracking down and apprehending terrorists, the series misses the mark. It focuses on a few dramatic human-oriented counterterrorism operations that rarely make a difference in practice, and it overlooks the technological capabilities and bureaucratic systems that constitute the bedrock of the country’s counterterrorism apparatus. In short, Homeland portrays a CIA far less constrained than it is in real life but that nevertheless does not use some of the major tools of modern counterterrorism.

After pointing out many issues with the show’s depiction of counterterrorism policy in this country, Falkenrath highlights perhaps the biggest omission:

For all the powers that the creators of Homeland grant their CIA protagonists, they ignore one completely. In a real-world counterterrorism investigation, once a suspect is credibly identified, the single most important power of the U.S. government is electronic surveillance: the ability to ingest and analyze digital communications of suspect individuals, including phone calls, text messages, and e-mails. It has been the key to unraveling the vast majority of terrorist conspiracies since 9/11. In Homeland, technical surveillance is essentially an exercise in voyeurism.

He also points to a good thing (for us as citizens, not for the show):

There is indeed a real threat of terrorism in the United States, but the country has never faced a terrorist even remotely as competent and powerful as Abu Nazir. And that is a good thing, because such a foe could easily inflict civilian casualties far in excess of the nearly 3,000 who died on September 11, 2001. There would be simply too many vulnerabilities for him to exploit.

If you are a fan of the show, I would recommend reading the entire article.  It’s fun and informative.  As are the related pieces on other popular cable  programs and their relation to political science theory.

Getting back to “Homeland” for one last moment, Falkenrath misses what I consider the single biggest factual error in the show: the repeated delivery of Tim Hortons coffee.  While I am a big fan of this largely Canadian coffee and donut chain (think Dunkin Donuts), I can say with certainty that a store does not currently exist withing the metropolitan Washington, DC area.  Yet their delicious coffee has repeatedly made an appearance on the show.

Either the security professionals who dedicate their lives defending our freedoms have special access to “Double Doubles,” or the show is filmed in Toronto (which might also explain why outside of iconic shots of DC landmarks, referenced Washington neighborhoods and squares don’t quite conform to reality…).

(H/T to Paul Rosenzweig of the blog “Lawfare.”)

December 18, 2012

After the first death, there is no other.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 18, 2012

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, By Fire, of a Child in London

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child’s death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London’s daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

— Dylan Thomas
Candle thumb 300x300 3559

December 15, 2012

Neti, neti

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 15, 2012

Unless something more is uncovered in the investigation, I do not want to make Newtown a homeland security story.

There may be analogies, implications, and such. Many of us no doubt immediately thought of Beslan.  But I want to  frame and name this massacre as something else.   I’m not sure my wanting has good cause, but that seldom stands in the way of blogging.

A friend and colleague is inclined to ponder the ontology of homeland security.  In this case, I am arguing a categorical distinction.

For me Newtown ascends beyond homeland security to a question of fundamental ontology.  There are some expressions of reality we ought not try to narrow and dissect.  There are moments that claim our paltry best to engage as whole.


If you have 51 minutes to listen, I find this radio discussion unintentionally relevant to the situation in Newtown — and to other aspects of reality I am more sanguine to include in homeland security.  Please listen to: Presence in the Wild.

December 13, 2012

WSJ: National Counterterrorism Center given access to full-spectrum of Federal databases

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 13, 2012

If you’re a Wall Street Journal subscriber, you  read the story late Wednesday night or earlier today.   If not it’s behind the Journal’s pay-wall.   I carried today’s (paper) Wall Street Journal to my morning meetings and didn’t see it until lunchtime.

But here’s how Wired magazine is summarizing the WSJ’s investigative journalism:

In a secret government agreement granted without approval or debate from lawmakers, the U.S. attorney general recently gave the National Counterterrorism Center sweeping new powers to store dossiers on U.S. citizens, even if they are not suspected of a crime, according to a news report.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder granted the center the ability to copy entire government databases holding information on flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and other data, and to store it for up to five years, even without suspicion that someone in the database has committed a crime, according to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story.

Whereas previously the law prohibited the center from storing data compilations on U.S. citizens unless they were suspected of terrorist activity or were relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigation, the new powers give the center the ability to not only collect and store vast databases of information but also to trawl through and analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior in order to uncover activity that could launch an investigation.

The changes granted by Holder would also allow databases containing information about U.S. citizens to be shared with foreign governments for their own analysis.

A former senior White House official told the Journal that the new changes were “breathtaking in scope.”


Am I vulnerable or am I threatened? Does it make a difference?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 13, 2012

Monday I participated in an “Emerging Threats Forum.”  Facilitated by Toffler Associates, a major jurisdiction was working to think through the atypical and potentially new.   Among the issues offered were:

  • Aging Infrastructure
  • Engineered Viruses
  • Climate Change
  • Cyber Attacks
  • Nano robots
  • Solar Weather

And more.  I perceive the purpose was less a matter of tactical planning and more an effort to conceive a strategic stance that might meaningfully engage a wide range of threats, not just those specified.

While our rather small, but diverse group was in conversation, the National Intelligence Council released it’s quadrennial report: Global Trends 2030: US Leadership in a Post-Western World. (Warning: 20-plus MB)

If you read HLSWatch, I’d be surprised if you have not already read a news piece or two on the report.  The Telegraph (UK) headlined: US will be “first among equals by 2030.” The Economic Times (India) headlined: India- China unlikely to topple American supremacy by 2030: Intelligence.  Same report viewed from two different contexts.

Here’s how the Office of the Director of National Intelligence frames the report:

“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” projects that by 2030 the U.S. most likely will remain “first among equals” among the other great powers, due to the legacy of its leadership role in the world and the dominant role it has played in international politics across the board in both hard and soft power. The replacement of the U.S. by another global power and construction of a new international order is an unlikely outcome in this time period.

Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of other countries, the “unipolar moment” is over and no country – whether the U.S., China, or any other country – will be a hegemonic power. In terms of the indices of overall power – GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment – Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined.

The empowerment of individuals, the diffusion of power among states, and from states to informal networks, will have a dramatic impact bringing a growing democratization, at both the international and domestic level. Additionally, two other “megatrends” will shape the world out to 2030:  Demographic patterns especially rapid aging and growing demands on resources such as food and water, which might lead to scarcities. These trends, which exist today, are projected to gain momentum over the coming 15-20 years.

On Tuesday Dan O’Connor asked, “Why are Americans so scared?” Well, if you’re predisposed to fretting there’s plenty of encouragement in the Global Trends report.   If worst case thinking is your particular fetish, the six Black Swans described will be as titillating as the Four Horsemen.

I was surprised how the emerging threats conversation unfolded.   To effectively deal with any exotic threat — and many others as well — those in the room concluded there was a need to proactively engage the public.   The public should know the government does not have sufficient capabilities to effectively respond to many of these threats.  As a result, individuals — and the private sector generally — should be self-sustaining for a significant period, potentially well-beyond the 72-hour window.  It is especially important that those with the financial and physical capacity to be self-sustaining do so in order to allow the government to assist those without such capacity.

In other words, the conversation gave much more emphasis to shared vulnerabilities than to specific threats.  The strategic stance focused on individuals and the community being informed, realistic, and proactive regarding existing vulnerabilities.  (The group also perceived it would be difficult — both politically and functionally — to achieve this strategy, but that is for a different blog post.).   At least one HLSWatch reader was also involved in the discussion, I will be interested if she finds this a fair representation of what seemed to me to be a consensus conclusion.

The National Intelligence Council addresses vulnerabilities (and opportunities), but it does so within a rhetoric that presumes a threat.   The calculus of action and options unfolds from preventing or mitigating a threat.

The micro does not always translate into the macro but as the father of young children I discouraged attention to potential threats, even while I encouraged sustained attention to potential vulnerabilities.   I was taught by my parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and community that strength emerges from diligent self-development — doing my very best — not from preoccupation with threats or competition.  For better or worse — and I think mostly for better — this is the strategic stance with which I have lived my life.

Are we vulnerable or are we threatened? Does it make a difference?

December 11, 2012

Why are Americans so scared?

Filed under: International HLS — by Dan OConnor on December 11, 2012

Recently my wife and daughter went on a school/church trip to Kampala, Uganda.  They spent two weeks working in and around an AIDS orphanage and a small village.

The trip is part of a recurring program that has a variety of humanitarian, educational, and spiritual missions. It often shocks the team, typically a dozen or so 16-18 year olds, into stark awareness of how life is lived elsewhere, and what it looks like.

On this particular trip, they worked in a village than had never seen Caucasians, ever.  The kids on the team, almost all girls, were mauled — not in a malicious way, but purely a curious one as the children from the village wanted to touch their hair and pink cheeks.

One day the kids went to visit an older woman.

She was taken aback, thinking they were… well, ghostly.


It was after this visit that some real learning took place.

The woman had no income and lived by selling goat milk.  She was upset on the day of the visit because someone had stolen her goats.

Nevertheless, she felt compelled to give a gift to the visitors, as is their custom.

She did not want the kids to enter her home for a variety of reasons, but she returned from her shelter with a small sandwich style bag full of peanuts.  This was her food and she felt compelled to share it.


In Kampala, girls are relatively worthless.  Girls are considered trade bait and commodities.   A 12 year old girl has generally only two outcomes in Uganda: traded for a cow or sold for sex.   Mothers purposely distance themselves from affection because this is the course life takes.

The orphanage where my wife and daughter worked was overwhelmingly filled with girls who were discarded…no longer useful for trade or sex.  Imagine having no value at 13 years of age.

Towards the end of the second week, there was a question and answer panel set up by a seminary in Uganda.  The seminary students were African and had what I would call a binary understanding of the world and a qualified “if, then” thinking.

Here are some of the questions they asked the American visitors:

“Why did the Americans help Muslims in Yugoslavia and not Syria?”

“Why does your President say he is a Christian but allows Cops (Coptic Christians in Egypt) to be persecuted?

“You are a superpower, why do you pick and choose who you provide humanitarian aid to?”

“How can you be the richest nation in the world and have so much debt?”

“You are America, why are you so scared?”

My wife said they expected simply questions about America but not questions like this, in a place where electricity is on 4 hours a day and poverty and death are universal.

They did their best to answer the questions and while not contentious, the discussion did create tension.  The questions spurned a secondary discussion amongst the American kids.

They felt like there was a purposeful hypocrisy in our politics and felt like our affluence had less influence than our character.

Bright, wide eyed American kids, conducting foreign policy.  Perhaps this is our real responsibility in the world.  Not necessarily being so quick to drop money or food but being more consistent in our portrayal of character and consistency.

This being a homeland security blog, these people who live in mud huts and metal sheds, and who live simple, simple lives want to know why America does what it does.

Homeland security is monumentally bigger than money, policy, and security.  It is as much an idea as it is a function.  Our security and place in this world are directly affected by what we present, how we present it, and whether it’s authentic.

The world is full, literally and figuratively, of places like this that pose the question: why does America do what it does?

Perhaps if we were to become more attuned to our reputation and more consistent in our behavior, our kids and our citizens won’t struggle the next time they find themselves in a conversation that starts, “We love America and thank you, but why do you….”



December 8, 2012

Hanukkah: Lighting one candle at a time

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 8, 2012

Last week a young woman approached me after a fairly typical policy-strategy session.  I had an hour until my next meeting across the street, so we sat talking over stale coffee as the room emptied.  Her first name was Laura, same as my daughter’s and close to the same age.  Stupidly, I did not get her card and don’t remember her last name.

But I know she reads this blog.  That’s how the conversation began.  She recognized my name.

Laura is a contractor assigned to DHS.  She originally wanted to become a civil servant, but especially because she is not a veteran she thinks this is unlikely anytime soon.  I won’t say much more about her background since I cannot ask her permission.  But I will say she was articulate, seemed competent, and for her age had a strong set of experiences to complement a BA/MA from good schools.

She had read the Coburn report and seen an ABC News piece on the same.  She was discouraged. “As depressed as I’ve been since the GSA Las Vegas conferences.”

Laura does not question the veracity of Senator Coburn’s findings.  She is at least as appalled and embarrassed too, wondering which family member will bring it up over the holidays.  Laura is also mystified.   I will have to paraphrase, I do not have audiographic memory.

“I’ve been assigned to DHS for almost three years.  I’ve seen money wasted, but only from good ideas that failed.   Stupid, silly ideas get shot down pretty quickly.  Even potentially good ideas get kaboshed because someone’s worried to try something new or there’s just not enough money for every good idea.”

“We were working on a pretty cold private-public possibility and it seemed there was departmental buy-in, but once Toy Story (her name for the Coburn report) was released the client shut-it-down totally.”

Most of the projects to which Laura has been assigned require significant private-public engagement to make substantive progress.  She said, “To even hope to be effective we should be going to the private sector, attending their conferences, asking for meetings, bringing resources — even funding — to co-invest in solutions.  I shouldn’t be in DC much. But the best way to avoid  criticism is to sit at your desk and write reports or go down the hallway and meet with other feds and contractors.”

She mentioned I was the only non-Fed at the meeting just completed.   My identity is fungible.  To private sector people I am clearly public sector, while to public sector I am obviously private.  To academics I am a practitioner, while most practitioners think I’m as academic as the day is long.

“The real waste, the profound and appalling waste is of human talent squeezed into cubicles and windowless conference rooms and basically told to stop asking interesting questions, much less encouraged to find interesting answers.”

Laura asked me if she should go into the private sector.  I asked a few questions:  long-term goals, what she really likes doing, amount of student loans… typical stuff.  I gave a non-answer about the sort of problems encountered in the private sector.  She had to leave before I could come up with anything more meaningful.  I’ve thought about the conversation ever since.

Tonight is the beginning of Hanukkah.  As I write the sun is just about down.

I am tempted to an extended analogy on the tension between Judaism and Hellenism and the contemporary private-public divide.  But I will save that for what I hope is another conversation with Laura.  For the purposes of this blog I will, instead, turn to the most traditional story of the festival.

On reclaiming and cleansing the Temple from the defiling and tyrannical Greeks, the Maccabees discovered they only had enough sacred oil to keep the menorah alight for one day and it would take at least eight days to produce new oil.  Miraculously the small amount of oil was sufficient.  It lasted until new oil was made.

Laura, we often underestimate our own capabilities.  This is a particular vulnerability of those who are self-aware, self-critical, and self-correcting.  We don’t think we have enough, when we actually have much more than is needed.  One of many meanings of Hanukkah is to not hesitate to use what we have, even as we very practically work to make more.

I don’t know the specific impediments that are being thrown at you.  But I encourage you to continue asking interesting questions and exploring interesting answers.  Do what you can  as you can.  When one angle is blocked, try another — always remaining self-aware, self-critical, and self-correcting.  Listen carefully even to the fearful and angry, they are not always wrong.  Continue to make your way, as best you can see the way… especially when self-giving is, as best you can tell, what’s fueling you.

Each day and night use what you have.  You may be amazed at how much you have.


Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness – to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness – to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.

Allen Ginsberg, “Psalm III”

December 7, 2012

December 7, 1941

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

December 7 1941

December 7, 1941, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“When I came back from church today, I heard the dreamlike news that Japanese airplanes had bombed Hawaii. I was shocked beyond belief. I sat in front of the radio and listened to the news all day. They said that at 6 a.m. Japan declared war on the United States. Our future has become gloomy. I pray that God will stay with us.”

Dec 12

December 12, 1941, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“It was fair and clear weather today. I spent all day at home. Starting today we were permitted to withdraw up to $100 from the bank. This was for our sustenance of life, we who are enemy to them. I deeply appreciated American’s large heartedness in dealing with us.”

Dec 25

December 25, 1941, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“Christmas in the time of war. We spent time at home quietly as all of the family joyfully got together. For this we were all thankful. We had a pleasant Christmas, with Roger as the center of attention.”

Jan 5

February 3, 1942, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“I finally decided to register my fingerprints today after putting this off for a long time. Mrs. Sasaki and I went to the post office at the appointed time of 9 a.m. We finished the strict registration two hours later. I felt that a heavy load had been taken off of my mind.”

April 3

April 8, 1942 Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“Today most of the stores in the Japanese section of town closed down. In this manner, our community of 40 years has come to a profound end. Reminiscing over the past, my eyes filled with tears. I had high blood pressure again so I received a second injection. I stayed in bed and rested, but my heart was filled with deep emotions thinking about the future.”

April 28

April 21, 1942 Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“At last the order for evacuation was given formally by General DeWitt. There were some limitations to the first move. Kazuo (son) along with some others will leave here on the 28th as an advanced party. In haste, we prepared for the leave.”

April 29

April 28, 1942 Camp Harmony Assembly Center, Puyallup, WA: (diary translation)

“At last the day had arrived. It was time to leave Seattle, the city where we have lived for such a long time. Even though I tried not to cry, the tears flowed. Our group of 370 working people departed at 9:30 a.m. in a long string of cars and buses. We arrived at Puyallup at 11:30 a.m. We settled into our assigned place, A-2, number 27. We were all very dissatisfied with our army cots and cotton mattresses. Until late at night we heard a mixture of hammering and the crying voices of children. With much difficulty, I was eventually able to fall asleep.”


The images were created by Japanese-American Roger Shimomura. The words are translated from his grandmother’s diary.

The remaining images from Shimomura’s “An American Diary,” describing his family’s internment during World War II,  can be seen at this link.

New York City is where the future comes to audition

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 7, 2012

Thursday morning Mayor Bloomberg gave a speech on post-Sandy recovery.  It is important to New York.  Some of the principles articulated are, I suggest, important for the nation.  You can read the entire speech here. Below I have excerpted several paragraphs worth your particular consideration


We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes,but I don’t think it’s fair to say that we should leave it to our children to prepare for the possibility. We are a coastal city, a harbor city, surprise, surprise. And sea levels are expected to rise by another two and a half feet by the time a child born today reaches 40 years old, and that’s going to make surges even more powerful and dangerous. And intense storms are likely to increase as the ocean’s temperatures continue to rise…

You can argue about what caused the weather to change, but there is no question – you can measure the temperatures of the ocean, you can measure the amount of moisture in the air, and that just leads to the kind of aberrations that we’re seeing: snowstorms where we didn’t have them before, droughts where we didn’t have them before, hurricanes that take different paths, go in different directions and have different strengths.

We cannot solve the problems associated with climate change on our own here in New York City, but I think it’s fair to say we can lead the way. We have been, both locally and globally. New York City has always been a leader. As Ed Koch once said: ‘New York City is where the future comes to audition,’ and we have a responsibility I’ve always thought to help the rest of the world…

We don’t know whether the next emergency will be a storm, a drought, a tornado or a blizzard, but we do know that we have to be better prepared for all of them.

And we also know that every one of those events is not going to come exactly the way that we had prepared for. We need to make sure that we have people who are well-trained, well-equipped, and able to react in an emergency and to deal with whatever nature throws at us, even if we hadn’t predicted it…

We have to reexamine all of our major infrastructure in light of Sandy – and how we can adapt and modernize it in order to protect it.

So today, I have directed someone with extensive experience in both infrastructure development and community revitalization, Seth Pinsky, the President of the Economic Development Corporation, to develop concrete recovery plans for the communities Sandy hit hardest as well as a specific and comprehensive action plan to prepare our city for the climate risks we face. Deputy Mayors Cas Holloway and Bob Steel will directly oversee this work – and our entire City Hall team, especially our Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability – will be deeply involved…

This is not work that can be done overnight, but it is work that must begin immediately where the need is greatest. So in each of the hardest-hit areas, Seth and our team will work with local leaders to develop and implement comprehensive Community Recovery and Rebuilding plans.

The plans will cover everything from public and private housing, to hospitals and schools, to transportation and parks, to businesses and nonprofits, including cultural institutions like the New York Aquarium. To succeed, the plans must include the input of the people who live and work in these communities – and they will. Members of the community will assist in shaping and implementing each community plan – and that will be just the beginning of our work.

The biggest challenge that we face is adapting our city to risks associated with climate change. And meeting that challenge will require us to take a leap into the future. But I think, as Al pointed out, the good news is, compared to any other American city, we’ve got a running head start…

For major developments in vulnerable areas, we now require a climate risk assessment. That’s why the developers of Willets Point – and those building the new recycling facility in Red Hook – are required to elevate development out of the flood plain. It’s why the park being built on Governors Island is being elevated by four feet, and I’m happy to say it sustained no major structural damage in the storm, nor did Brooklyn Bridge Park, which we designed specifically to withstand major storms – and I’m happy to say that it did…

New York City has 520 miles of shoreline – and it is some of the most beautiful, dynamic shoreline in the world, with the most beautiful views. Robert Moses built the roads along our coastline, separating us from this natural resource and we have worked very hard to try reconnect back to the most wonderful asset that we have. It’s why people have chosen to live at the coastline for centuries. And it’s why the question I have gotten most often since the storm is not about the damage Sandy caused, but about whether people can rebuild their homes in places like Breezy Point and Midland Beach.

Let me be clear: We are not going to abandon the waterfront.

We are not going to leave the Rockaways or Coney Island or Staten Island’s South Shore. But we can’t just rebuild what was there and hope for the best. We have to build smarter and stronger and more sustainably. And Seth and his team will be working with all of our City agencies, and lots of outside experts, to determine exactly what that means.

For instance: even though the City has already revised the building code to strengthen standards for flood protection, we will now do it again. The fact is: two-thirds of all the homes damaged by Sandy are outside of FEMA’s existing 100-year flood maps…

No matter how much we do to make homes and businesses more resilient, the fact of the matter is we live next to the ocean, and the ocean comes with risks that we just cannot eliminate. Over the past month, there has been a lot of discussion about sea walls. It would be nice if we could stop the tides from coming in, but King Canute couldn’t do it – and neither can we, especially if, as many scientists project, sea levels continue rising. However, there may be some coastline protections that we can build that will mitigate the impact of a storm surge – from berms and dunes, to jetties and levees.

On October 23rd, one week before Sandy hit, you should know that our Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability initiated a formal request to the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate additional ways that we could reduce the impact of coastal storms. A full Army Corps study will take three to five years to complete – and that does not include the required engineering analysis, which also can take years. And I’ve said we just cannot wait that long. So we will launch an expedited engineering analysis of coastal protection strategies to ensure we pursue the ones that are right for our city.

But remember: there are no panaceas or magic bullets. No matter what we do: the tides will continue to come in – and so we have to make our city more resilient in other ways, especially when it comes to our critical infrastructure.

During Hurricane Sandy, all of our major infrastructure networks failed and they have all taken just too long to come back on line. Our Long Term Planning and Sustainability Team have been working with many of these network operators to assess their vulnerabilities.

We know, for example, that a substantial proportion of the City’s critical electrical infrastructure is in the 100 year flood plain, so I have directed Seth to work with Sergej Mahnovski and our sustainability team to assess what it takes to make every essential network that supports our city capable of withstanding a Category 2 hurricane, or a record-breaking heat wave, or other natural disaster. That includes our transportation network, our power network, our gas network, our telecommunications network and our hospital network.

What will it take to ensure that even in a Category 2 hurricane, orif a record heat wave comes, what will each of these networks be required to remain operational? How much will it cost? And what standards should be set for bringing networks back quickly so that residents and businesses can have reasonable expectations about how long they may be out of service? In addition, how can we ensure continuity of operations, not just of our critical infrastructure, but of critical industries?

Many businesses – including the New York Stock Exchange – remained closed for days because not enough people could get to work. In all fairness, the New York Stock Exchange did have generators, they were perfectly capable of opening, but they can’t open without their employees. In a wireless world, we have to do a better job, not only keeping our networks up, but keeping our markets and businesses open, come hell or high water.

Many of our key infrastructure networks are run by private companies as you know, but they have contracts, franchises, and licenses to provide public services – and the public does has a right to establish clear benchmarks for their performance in a disaster. That’s why we’ve reached out to the CEOs of Con Ed, National Grid, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, Hess and others and asked them to work with us on this effort. All have pledged their unqualified support…

I had a long conversation last night with Lowell McAdam, who is the CEO of Verizon. Their schedule right now says that Lower Manhattan’s night going to be back up until May, and I pointed out that is just not acceptable. And together we’ve worked out a plan where the City can help them get access into buildings and other things that you wouldn’t think about so that Verizon can accelerate that. Those buildings in downtown that lost electricity and heat should be back up by the end of this month, but they can’t be occupied unless we have telephone service, and that’s going to be our number one priority for downtown.

Even today, five weeks after the storm, there are just too many people who cannot come back to work here. We don’t want them moving any place else, and they need to earn a living and we need their service. And a growing number of New Yorkers, as we all know, today are relying on wireless networks and abandoning land-line telephones. We cannot, in the future, have cell towers that have only eight hours of back-up battery power. That is just not acceptable in the world that we live today. The telephone is our lifeline, the telephone is a lifeline not just to business, but to our own physical security. It has to keep working.

We’ll take on all of these efforts, but we also have to be mindful not to fight the last war and miss the new one ahead.


The actual speech is about twice as long and worth the read.    Reading Mayor Bloomberg is much better than listening to him.

December 6, 2012

Senator Coburn gives a second warning to homeland security

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on December 6, 2012

Senator Tom Coburn fired another warning shot over the bow of the USS Homeland Security Enterprise.

On December 4th, the man likely to become ranking minority member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in US Cities.” The 54 page report — well worth reading — “exposes misguided and wasteful spending” in the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant programs.

As if to emphasize “misguided and wasteful,” the cover features a toy truck, a toy 4 wheeler, a toy police helicopter, and a small R2D2 robot.

Coburn uasi report

The toys are immediately outside the US Capitol building. I’m not sure what that image is supposed to symbolize. It could mean somebody’s been playing around with Congress. Or maybe it is supposed to be a metaphor for the way Congress treats homeland security.


The UASI report is the senator’s second recent warning to the homeland security enterprise.

Last October, he released “Federal Support For And Involvement In State And Local Fusion Centers.” That report questioned federal funding for fusion centers and concluded, among other things, that fusion centers do not contribute much to federal counterterrorism effectiveness, and DHS does not know how much it spent on fusion center support. (Spending estimates ranged — if “ranged” is the correct word here — from $289 million to $1.4 billion.)

The Fusion Center report hit a nerve. Within a week of its release, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs Association, Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs, National Governors Association Homeland Security Advisers Counsel, National Narcotics Officers Coalition Association, National Fusion Center Association, and the Association Of State Criminal Investigative Agencies issued a “joint statement” disagreeing with the report. (Eight public safety associations agreeing on anything in less than a week must be a world record.)

Their statement said, in part, “Simply put, the report displays a fundamental disconnect and severe misunderstanding of the federal government’s role in supporting state and locally owned and operated fusion centers and the critical role that fusion centers play in the national counterterrorism effort.”

Media attention to the Fusion Center report lasted about a week. I wonder how long interest in the UASI report will last.


The UASI report has lots of material to provoke media outrage.

Some of the stories of questionable UASI expenditures are old news – for example the one about 13 sno-cone machines (p. 31). Other “questionable projects” were new – at least to me.

One city produced a series of videos titled “A Tale of Disaster and Preparedness.” The UASI report complains the “little more than common sense suggestions” in the video are “presented as a steady stream of jokes….” (p. 32).

I thought the preparedness videos were innocently compelling – sort of like Apple versus PC commercials. But as Will Rogers might have said, one person’s joke is another person’s misused taxpayer funds.

There was a somewhat too long description of a $1000, UASI allowable expense, entrance fee for a five day counterterrorism summit held on an island near San Diego. The Summit featured “40 actors dressed as zombies getting gunned down by a military tactical unit.” (p. 25)

The report even found some UASI money was apparently spent on “a true pork project – a hog catcher in Liberty County [Texas],” used (according to another source) to aid in catching and controlling unruly swine at holding sites. (p. 24)


There are many other examples of UASI spending for things and activities that at a minimum activate a reader’s WTF response. But beyond the sometimes surreal stories, the report – addressed to “Dear Taxpayer” – is a serious critique of the $7 billion spent on the UASI programs over the past decade.

Part 2 of the report: “The Politics of Risk” discusses the role of political influence in determining how homeland security money is allocated.

Tom Ridge is quoted as saying he was looking for a grant formula that gets “218 votes in the House or 51 votes Senate….”  Anyone still operating under the assumption that grant awards are – or ever were – based on objective measures of threat or vulnerability or consequence can benefit from spending time with Part 2.

Part 3 asks whether UASI grants have made the nation safer.

This chapter is the latest cover of the “Nobody Knows Whether Homeland Security Spending Is A Worthwhile Investment” song. The report (later) even brings up the Mueller and Stewart critique about acceptable and unacceptable risk. I thought their analysis was anathema in DHS and in Congress. Maybe not everywhere.

Part 3 also describes how homeland security money expands the militarization of state and local law enforcement, including the use of drones and “Long-Range Acoustic Devices” (i.e., sound cannons) in urban areas.

Part 4 was a bit disappointing. It offered a recycled critique that FEMA ineffectively manages grant programs, and shows a surprisingly naïve understanding of how measuring homeland security preparedness is different from measuring risk in the finance and insurance industries. The report avoids trying to explain the causes of this “mismanagement;” saying instead, “It is unclear why FEMA continues to have difficulties in [measuring the effectiveness of its grant programs] considering the experience and expertise of the private sector that is available to inform FEMA’s own efforts.”

How about “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted?”

I thought the report all but gave up in Part 5: “Conclusions and Recommendations.” I did not see anything new here in the slightly more than one page final section.

DHS needs to address A, B, C…
DHS needs to demand Q, R & S from local and state partners…
DHS needs to implement a systematic approach to X, Y & Z…

Yes, DHS ought to do all those things.

But what is that old saying about insanity? About doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results? Those recommendations are not new insights.


The UASI report missed an opportunity to break new ground in the decade long search for ways to bring more rigor, order, rationality, and common sense to the homeland security grant process.

On page 5, one finds this nugget of realpolitik:

“Any blame for problems in the UASI program, however, also falls on Congress, which is often more preoccupied with the amount of money sent to its cities than with how the money is spent, or whether it was ever needed in the first place. With so few accountability measures in place, there is almost no way to ensure taxpayers are getting value for their money, and more importantly, whether they are safer.”

The report blames the members of Congress for being more interested in sending money to constituents than figuring out the usefulness of those expenditures.

So what does the report recommend Congress should do to fix this primal cause of the UASI allocation problem?

The only recommendation I could find was in the last sentence of the report: Congress needs to … “demand answers.”


Lorelei Kelly describes in another document  called  “Congress’ Wicked Problems,” — also released on December 4th — how and why Congress has become incapacitated, despised and obsolete.   She argues in its present state, Congress “cannot serve the needs of American democracy in the 21st Century.”

Kelly’s essay is especially worth reading in conjunction with the UASI report.

Someone who is sick probably can’t get better by demanding that other people get healthy.

Maybe the next step Congress could take to remedy the significant issues raised in the UASI report is to heal itself first.

I wonder if that healing will be on the agenda of the new ranking minority member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

October 29, Lower Manhattan looking north (Getty Images)

This season’s final episode of Revolution, a new NBC dramatic series, was broadcast last week.   With 7 to 10 million viewers, the network has ordered a second season.  Here’s the premise:

We lived in an electric world. We relied on it for everything. And then the power went out. Everything stopped working. We weren’t prepared. Fear and confusion led to panic. The lucky ones made it out of the cities. The government collapsed. Militias took over, controlling the food supply and stockpiling weapons. We still don’t know why the power went out. But we’re hopeful someone will come and light the way.

Last Thursday’s post included what then seemed a rather modest notion: “I perceive we need to assume power outages and discover how we can still water, feed, and otherwise serve those in need.”  The onslaught of email I received seems to indicate the TV show’s premise may not be as implausible as I thought.  For many the possibility of  doing much of anything without electricity is nearly unimaginable.

Another set of emailers can imagine life without electricity, but found my effort misguided (even in the words of one, “enabling bad practice by the utilities.” ) These correspondents insisted that instead we must see to it that the electric utilities “just do their job.” This job evidently involves effectively, efficiently, and at no additional cost adapting to increasing demand, legacy infrastructure, more regulation, hurricanes, ice storms, earthquakes, cyber-threats, and perhaps the greatest threat of all: property owners who love big trees. Not a job I want.

October 29, Lower Manhattan to Midtown seen from Brooklyn (AP Photo)

I know a resilient electrical grid is possible.  It’s just that given choices we made more than a century ago, it seems unlikely anytime soon.  Re-engineering for resilience will take time and lots of money.   But I want to believe in the possibility of redemption.  And fortunately, there are prophets to show us the way.

The prolifically prophetic J. Michael Barrett — usually  more Isaiah than Jeremiah — has just completed an augury that might well have included, “Come now, let us reason together…”    It is a scripture in four chapters, which began appearing on October 19 (see, I told you, prophetic) entitled: Ensuring the Resilience of the US Electrical Grid.

Chapter 1: Fixing it before it breaks

Chapter 2: Managing the chaos — and costs — of shared risk

Chapter 3: Requirements for a more resilient system

Chapter 4: Key investments and next steps

In Barrett 4: 12 (or so) we read, “Embedding resilience within the electrical grid is about three main categories of investment: 1) managing and meeting overall demand to help avoid an adverse event; 2) expanding alternatives or substitute systems before and after an event; and 3) enabling rapid reconstitution if and when a disruption does occur. Fortunately, the implementation of each type of solution often carries over benefits across to one or both of the other categories, for the tools and the knowledge that can help avoid an event can also be useful in response and recovery efforts.”

For a prophet Mike Barrett’s language is remarkably calm and balanced (unlike this post).  But between the lines a reader might discern the lemony shadow of “Rise up you who are at ease, hear my voice; you complacent ones… for the palace will be forsaken, the populous city deserted…

On what do you depend?  If you persist in this dependence do not despise its nature, but honor it with study and work. Beware distraction.  Do not be absent minded.  That on which you depend requires mindful engagement.   Absence — ab esse — is to step away from being, even outside being.  Never a good choice.

Please visit an extraordinary collection of Sandy-related photographs by Christophe Jacrot: New York in Black.  The example immediately above is too small.  In full form the spirit of Edward Hopper is re-claimed.  This is not just a city darkened, but a city more sharply seen.

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