Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 29, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 29, 2013

Last Friday’s first foray into an open forum elicited considerable comment.   Mr. Grattan’s question — understood or misunderstood — initiated a lively exchange.  What’s your homeland security (or Homeland Security) related question, concern, or comment?

March 28, 2013

On catastrophe’s eve

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on March 28, 2013

In my religious tradition today is Maundy Thursday.  This is when many Christian churches remember the celebration of Passover by Jesus and his disciples.

I “do” catastrophe preparedness, this has become my principal role in homeland security. In this context the Maundy Thursday narrative has some resonance.

The perennial story begins with a long celebratory dinner recalling liberation and forty years in the wilderness. After dinner, recognizing he is on the edge of an agonizing choice, Jesus asks his best friends to help him. But they keep falling asleep. Later that evening he is betrayed by a long-time friend. As a very dark night unfolds religious hypocrisy and political expediency conspire toward profound injustice. Trusted followers flee and deny any relationship with their one-time hero. Expectations are shattered. Hopes are dashed. The most cynical outcomes are — with wonderful exceptions — confirmed.

Friday is even worse.

The consequences are catastrophic. At least in the Euro-American context, this death and what happened next was until recently (still, in some quarters) widely understood as precipitating a fundamental shift in ultimate reality.

My own strategy for “managing” catastrophe involves individual, family, neighborhood, organizational, regional, and national resilience. I’m all in favor of prevention (up to a point, at some point many efforts at prevention become as bad or worse than the threat). But prevention will fail. There will be another seriously successful terrorist attack on the United States. I don’t know when or where, but it will come. Much worse than any terrorist attack will be when earthquake or pandemic or epic flooding or you name it de-link a major urban area’s supply chains for several weeks.

Mitigation, response, and recovery are, for me, all important components of resilience. But resilience starts, I increasingly perceive, with the stories we tell each other over meals together. Such as Passover when the story is told again and again of courage and cowardice, loyalty and betrayal, victory and defeat.

There’s a new book out called “The Secrets of Happy Families.” It’s another example of delving into social science research to reclaim common sense that was widely accepted until distracted by earlier versions of social science research. According to the author:

Psychologists have found that every family has a unifying narrative… and those narratives take one of three shapes.

First, the ascending family narrative: “Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. Our family worked. We opened a store. Your grandfather went to high school. Your father went to college. And now you. …”

Second is the descending narrative: “Sweetheart, we used to have it all. Then we lost everything.”

“The most healthful narrative… is the third one. It’s called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

For the last sixty years or so the Ascending narrative has dominated the American imagination.  In the last six or seven years the Descending narrative has exerted amazing power.  But as with most families, our national narrative is more complicated.

Reality oscillates. Catastrophes come. Seventy-two hours later or 40 days-and-nights (or years) later, even 1900 years later reality may take another turn. There are no guarantees of “success”. There are resilient and non-resilient choices.

March 27, 2013

Web slows under ‘biggest attack ever’

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2013

The following is the current lead in The Telegraph (London).  For the record, I am online, have been online all day (it’s now 1705 Eastern), and have not noticed a problem. I’ve checked a couple of US-based tech sites and a quick scan shows nothing or only a minor mention.  The New York Times is, however, giving major attention. Perhaps this is — so far — mostly a European phenomenon?


A Dutch web-hosting company caused disruption and the global slowdown of the internet, according to a not-for-profit anti-spam organization.

The interruptions came after Spamhaus, a spam-fighting group based in Geneva, temporarily added the Dutch firm, CyberBunker, to a blacklist that is used by e-mail providers to weed out spam.

Cyberbunker is housed in a five-story former NATO bunker and famously offers its services to any website “except child porn and anything related to terrorism”. As such it has often been linked to behaviour that anti-spam blacklist compilers have condemned.

Users of Cyberbunker retaliated with a huge ‘denial of service attack’. These work by trying to make a network unavailable to its intended users,overloading a server with coordinated requests to access it. At one point, 300 billion bits per second were being sent by a network of computers, making this the biggest attack ever.



Two morning after reports:

The San Jose Mercury tells us what happened in brief.

The Christian Science Monitor asks if it was overblown

Information Week tells us about the implications of what (apparently) happened

Sounds like it was much more a Eurasian event this time.

March 26, 2013

Homeland Security Legitimacy

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 26, 2013

This post was written by Charles Eaneff.  Among his other accomplishments, Chuck is the former Acting Executive Director DHS Office of State and Local Law Enforcement and a Naval Postgraduate School alumnus.



From Defining Homeland Security: Analysis and Congressional Considerations, CRS, Washington, DC, 2013,

Homeland security as a concept suggested a different approach to security, and differed from homeland defense… “Homeland defense is primarily a Department of Defense (DOD) activity and is defined as “… the protection of US sovereignty, territory, domestic population, and critical defense infrastructure against external threats and aggression, or other threats as directed by the President.” Homeland security, regardless of the definition or strategic document, is a combination of law enforcement, disaster, immigration, and terrorism issues. It is primarily the responsibility of civilian agencies at all levels. It is a coordination of efforts at all levels of government. The differences between homeland security and homeland defense, however, are not completely distinct. An international terrorist organization attack on and within the United States would result in a combined homeland security and homeland defense response, such as on 9/11 when civilian agencies were responding to the attacks while the U.S. military established a combat air patrol over New York and Washington, DC. This distinction between homeland security and homeland defense, and the evolution of homeland security as a concept, was reflected in the strategic documents developed and issued following 9/11.

After 9/11 the Bush Administration, by creating DHS and reprioritizing government functions, began the transformation of Treasury Agents and Department of Transportation regulators into Security agents. At the same time, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) was created within the Naval Postgraduate School reflecting the CRS observation that “The differences between homeland security and homeland defense, however, are not completely distinct.” The CHDS program, in admitting civilian and DoD employees from all levels of government, clearly represents the CRS contention that homeland security is a coordination of efforts at all levels of government. In 2009, the Obama Administration continued the merger of national security and homeland security, integrating the White House Homeland Security Council into the National Security Council.

A recent survey of over 1,000 homeland security professionals by the CHDS Futures Advisory Committee noted that the merging of national security and homeland security was one of the critical (existing or anticipated) trends within the Homeland Security Enterprise:

As domestic and foreign threats run together, it is not clear whether it makes sense to view these as separate issues. Also, increasing numbers of National Security issues (such as global trade, migration/travel, climate change, pandemic threats, access to natural resources, etc.) relate directly to Homeland Security issues. Geography will become less viable as a concept (in terms of threats, attacks, etc.). American tourists and diplomats may be threatened overseas.

As homeland security has matured since 9/11, the insights in the CHDS survey that the wall between national security and homeland security is coming down is undoubtedly accurate. A foundational challenge of the next decades is that those bricks between national and homeland security are being tossed aside and building a functional wall between justice and security. Whether or not we would collectively agree with the insights of former Shin Bet leadership expressed in the “Gatekeepers” movie, two major themes reinforced by their edited observations were that security and justice are inexorably intertwined, and that leadership all too often reflects “all tactics, no strategy” in pursuit of short term security. If the diverse community of homeland security practitioners does not heed lessons about the importance of legitimacy learned by the police segment of the homeland security enterprise, we risk achieving neither homeland, nor national, security.

Consistent with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Sir Robert Peele’s “The police are the public and the public are the police,” our historic security strategy has been justice supplemented by police (“the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”) combined with strong external defense capability. Domestically, justice has not been just a desired outcome, but a strategy to achieve an outcome of security. The separation of justice and security is cementing itself as more than different missions of two Federal Departments.

Justice driven discretion in the application of law increasingly exists side by side, and often at odds, with national security driven rules in the application of control.

The recent TSA decision to permit some knives on passenger aircraft makes this point quite clear. CNN reported that former Bush Administration head of TSA Kip Hawley concurs with this Obama Administration decision,

“In retrospect, I should have done the same thing,” Hawley said of the rule, which allows passengers to board aircraft with certain small knives, as well as sports equipment such as ice hockey and lacrosse sticks.

“They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy. Battle axes, machetes … bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It is as simple as that,” he said.

“So my position would be bravo on the 2.6 inch knife. But why not take it all the way and then really clean up the checkpoint where officers are focusing on bombs and toxins, which are things that can destroy an airplane. And it would smooth the process, cost less money, and be better security.”

Asked if he was using hyperbole in suggesting that battle axes be allowed on planes, Hawley said he was not.

How is it possible that across two Administrations, in the largest law enforcement agency in the United States (DHS has more law enforcement officers than any other department, Federal, State or local), with a law enforcement professional of impeccable credentials at the helm of TSA, that foundational principles of public safety and the well documented relationship between enforcement legitimacy and public compliance are ignored?

Might it be possible because the CHDS Futures Committee was correct, and we are well on the road to “Merging of Homeland Security with National Security”, but we are doing it at the expense of public security and legitimacy?

The most significant partners in establishing and maintaining security in the operation of passenger airlines has to be the flight crews and the flying public. A flight attendant’s primary duty is the safety of passengers. Flight Attendant Union outrage over this knife decision appears to reflect an understanding that if they ever believed that the government was a partner in their efforts to protect themselves and their passengers, that this is no longer the case. National Security is threatened if an aircraft is destroyed; the loss of cabin crew or passengers does not threaten national security.

TSA focus on national security in this “knife fight” comes at some loss of DHS/TSA legitimacy as a public safety provider.

However, as “homeland security” regulatory and enforcement continues to merge with and resemble “national security” rather than the public’s security, there are bright spots in the integration of justice, legitimacy, and security.

Department of Defense literature on counterinsurgency, including the US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, reflects a deep understanding of legitimacy and the role it plays in security. When Craig Fugate of FEMA extols his approach to “whole community,” what I hear is “FEMA, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that emergency managers are the public and the public are emergency managers; FEMA employees being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

In this version of Alice in Wonderland Homeland Security, the Marines and Emergency Managers are driving toward Peelian principles of trust and accountability, paying close attention to their legitimacy, and DHS enforcement is driving toward national security at the expense of public safety.

Evolving security, both national and homeland, ensured by State control has a complex relationship with our historic strategy of security ensured by the public perception of justice supported by law enforcement’s use of discretion and the law.   It is a relationship worthy of the same examination as the relationship between security and defense.

Going forward, academic examination of the relationship between defense and security without including justice as an “equal” is increasingly an examination of a two legged stool.

3000 Homeland Security Watch posts, and counting

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 26, 2013

According to the data bots behind the Homeland Security Watch curtain, this is the 3,000th post.

Here is the first post on this blog — 7 years, 3 months, and 25 days ago (my comments added):


December 2, 2005

Homeland Security Blogs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on December 2, 2005

One of the reasons that I decided to start HLS Watch was the paucity of good blogs on the subject of homeland security. However, there are a few that are worth reading, which I list below:

1. W. David Stephenson. A thoughtful and frequently updated blog focused on the idea of ‘smart mobs for homeland security.’

[David’s blog has evolved and is now presented as “stephenson blogs on Internet of Things, data, et al.musings on the Internet of Things, data liberation, and miscellany.”]

2. Bruce Schneier. A well-trafficked blog by a solid expert on homeland security, focused mainly on the intersections between privacy and security.

[Bruce continues to write about the intersections, but as his most recent posts declares (Arnold noted this a few days ago), Bruce thinks privacy lost:

The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we’re being tracked all the time. … This is ubiquitous surveillance: All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it’s efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell.]

3. Counterterrorism Blog. This group blog covers a wide range of opinion, and is the first place to go for rapid-reaction expert analysis on terrorist attacks.

[This blog stopped publishing about 2 years ago. Last time I checked, the original url was being used to sell air hockey tables, boots, baskets, awnings and gout treatment.]

4. Secondary Screening. A blog focused largely on TSA issues and now and then focusing on other aspects of homeland security.

[This blog’s url now resolves to a place holder for Ryan Singel’s Singel-Minded]

5. Early Warning (on the Washington Post site). Has a lot of very inside-the-Beltway on DOD and intelligence activities related to the broader war on terrorism. Occasionally touches on issues of homeland security.

[This blog stopped publishing in 2008.  But the author, William Arkin, is the co-author of Top Secret America — the most readable description I know of about the post 9/11 growth of the security state.]

6. Open Society Paradox. A good blog on privacy and security issues – but on hiatus right now.

[Apparently this blog remains on hiatus; the most current post describes “Yoga’s Breathtaking Effects.”]

I’ve been looking for homeland security blogs for the last two years, and these are the only bookmark-worthy ones that I’ve found so far. It’s a short list. If you have any more to add to it, please suggest in comments. At some point soon I’ll start a HLS Watch blogroll.


Thanks to Christian Beckner for starting this blog.  And thanks to all the people who have written for it, both above and below the comment line.

March 25, 2013

DOD Strategy for Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 25, 2013

Last month the Department of Defense released a new “Strategy for Homeland Defense and Defense of Civil Authorities.”

Like most DOD policy documents, this ain’t short.

Okay, I have to admit I haven’t read it yet and if you plan to, you might want to consider pouring yourself a glass of whatever you prefer, get a bag of snacks, and pick a comfortable chair.

Okay…it’s only 25 pages.  But a dense, jargon filled 25 pages. Maybe I’m just getting lazy.

But here are a few interesting points from the sections I’ve read. It is only a coincidence that the first has to do with the blending of national and homeland security:

We are now moving beyond traditional distinctions between homeland and national security.National security draws on the strength and resilience of our citizens, communities, and economy. This includes a determination to prevent terrorist attacks against the American people by fully coordinating the actions that we take abroad with the actions and precautions that we take at home. It must also include a commitment to building a more secure and resilient nation, while maintaining open flows of goods and people. We will continue to develop the capacity to address the threats and hazards that confront us, while redeveloping our infrastructure to secure our people and work cooperatively with other nations.

National Security Strategy May 2010

Phil should be at least intrigued by the following section:

Vulnerabilities: Contemporary threats and hazards are magnified by the vulnerabilities created by the increasingly interconnected nature of information systems, critical infrastructure, and supply chains. The information networks and industrial control systems owned by DoD, and those maintained by commercial service providers and infrastructure operators, are subjected to increasingly sophisticated cyber intrusions and are vulnerable to physical attack and natural and manmade disasters. A targeted cyber or kinetic attack on the nation’s commercial electrical infrastructure would not only degrade DoD mission essential functions but also impact DoD sustainment operations that depend on commercial electricity for fuel distribution, communications, and transportation. In the context of this increasingly interconnected security environment, seemingly isolated or remote incidents cancause substantial physical effects, degrade Defense systems, and quickly be transformed into significant or catastrophic events.

The oft-stated concern that citizens are too reliant on government help after a disaster has seeped into DOD strategies:

Public expectations for a decisive, fast, and effective Federal response to disasters have grown in the past decade, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Although DoD is always in a support role to civilian authorities (primarily the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA) for disaster response, the capacity, capabilities, training, and professionalism of the Armed Forces mean that DoD is often expected to play a prominent supporting role in response efforts. The prevailing “go big, go early, go fast, be smart” approach to saving lives and protecting property in the homeland – evident during the preparations for and response to Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and particularly Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 – requires DoD to rapidly and effectively harness resources to quickly respond to civil support requests in the homeland.

The full document can be found here: http://www.defense.gov/news/Homelanddefensestrategy.pdf

What if you could talk about homeland security without using the words homeland security?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 25, 2013

In her latest Boston Globe column, Juliette Kayyem discusses the official recognition that the effects of climate change will impact national security.

Now, in this year’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, issued last week by the office of the director of national intelligence, a new risk has been highlighted, marking a historic shift in how we think about our enemies: the weather — more specifically climate change. And the fact that America’s entire national security apparatus has embraced it as a threat is, in the end, good news for local communities.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.”

And we are not the only ones:

The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

Yet this isn’t a challenge for what is currently understood as our national security apparatus.

Unlike responses to most other national security threats, those that guard against climate change are local in nature.

And we still must become a more resilient society, one whose basic building blocks cannot be knocked out by threats that are utterly predictable.

So she talks about weather, critical infrastructure, resilience, and local action.  Sounds like a lot of topics that come up in conversations about homeland security definitions and education.  But the phrase “homeland security” appears nowhere in the piece.  I’m certain that is not out of ignorance of the topic or an aversion to the field–she is a former Massachusetts homeland security adviser and DHS Assistant Secretary.

Instead she frames the topics of climate change, natural disaster, critical infrastructure, and resilience as “national security” issues.  On one hand, this can be interpreted as weakening the notion of a distinct field of homeland security, as well as the need to precisely define it.  On the other, it represents an opportunity to focus attention on those areas that have been considered as not directly related to traditional national security.

Since 9/11 and the resulting evolution of the general field of homeland security, there has existed a tension between the security side and (for the lack of a better term) the rest.   Terrorism, border security, and other activities carried out by law enforcement personnel has existed in a not always smooth relationship with emergency management, non-police first responders, and the broad array of disciplines interested in building resilience.  Immediately after the Katrina’s and Sandy’s much hang wringing is accomplished concerning our preparedness for natural disasters.  However, the security side of the house (across departments and levels of government), with its connection to the military and intelligence worlds, always seems to retain cachet and policy priority.  Protecting us from the bad person rather than the bad weather is more exciting.  For example, there has been more ink spilled concerning the TSA’s decision to allow some sharp objects to be carried on planes versus the opportunities to build resilience in those communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

Protecting us from terrorism at home has always been considered a part of both homeland and national security.  Protecting us from natural disasters and pandemics, building resilience, etc. was often left to those  without security clearances.  Instead of proposing definitions that only build walls between disciplines, might it be better to expand the idea of what we consider important to security and future of our country?

March 22, 2013

Open-mike at Homeland Security Watch

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 22, 2013

When Christian began HLSWatch, Bill Cumming emerged from primordial Logos fully formed. When Jonah invited me here, Bill Cumming welcomed me to what was much more his home than mine. While writers on the front page come and go, Bill persists with questions, analysis, and (sometimes trenchant) commentary. When the cosmos is recumbent in quiet, Bill will eventually speak. He is the Higgs Boson of this parallel universe.

So… when Bill has the good idea of using Friday for an open thread, I am happy to begin the sewing…

March 21, 2013

The homeland security conversation

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 21, 2013

This afternoon I’m giving a presentation to the Virginia Emergency Management Association.  My topic is the strategic capacity of supply chains in potentially catastrophic events.  A Virginian heard me give a similar presentation on the West coast and asked for an update.

In mid-December I was pushed onto a stage in front of a bunch of scientists.  From the (lack of ) questions and the open-mouth stares encountered, I must have lapsed into glossolalia… their reaction perhaps being similar to your reaction to my use of glossolalia.  In any case, they were paying attention, but I failed to make a relevant connection.

I prefer open-mouth stares to dropped-dead heads working on their texts. This is my principal recollection of a session with “senior leadership” of an important organization.  The only person actually making eye-contact with me was the Big Guy.  Later he and I had an interesting conversation.  When I sought out the executive responsible for the core of my presentation she mostly wanted to talk about the weather.

Dead-heads are increasingly common, despite a colleague’s description of my presentation style as being “as much dancing as talking.”  The senior guy who put me on the agenda was sure the audience was listening. “We’re expert multi-taskers,” he explained.  Maybe.  I perceived a strong intellectual force-field seeking to exclude anything that might pierce the current consensus.  I left plenty of time for questions, there were none.

This afternoon I’ve been given 60 minutes.  I intend to present some supply chain findings specific to Virginia.  In rehearsal I’ve been able to do this in 17 to 20 minutes.   I think there are some provocative findings.  Then I plan to give the rest of the time to questions and answers.  I would prefer to focus on issues that are relevant to the audience.

Related to relevance: I hope a conversation might begin.  Supply chain is not — yet — a typical EM issue. I would like to hear some local supply chain stories and respond with stories of my own.  I would like to hear some catastrophe stories and ask some questions of the audience.  I would like to hear some questions I have not previously considered. Conversation is derived from root words meaning “to turn”.  In a conversation we are turning a topic upside-down, right-side-up, and every which way, thinking together about all the different angles.  Questions are the keys to the kingdom of new knowledge and potential wisdom.

There is too much information (at least too much for me).   There is an amazing amount of knowledge (information-in-context).    There is too little wisdom (ability to apply knowledge), which I perceive is one of the outcomes of too little conversation.

We gather information, analyze, report, present, argue.   We defend hypotheses and theories.  We marshal arguments and propose solutions.    There are times and places for all these.

But without a parallel process of conversation — including the casual give-and-take of uncertainties and unknowns — the analytical process leaves us with little more than separate pieces and divided lives.

Conversation is, I perceive (argue?), especially important to homeland security.   If there is any value-added to homeland security it is as an integrative, questioning, creative influence on disciplines related to the field.   Disciplines seem naturally — and rather helpfully — inclined to reductionism.  What works?  What’s the best formula for success?  Define, train, exercise, and deploy it.  In other words, be disciplined.

And even in the most hard-core disciplines, conversations are a regular part of life in the firehouse, police precinct, and at other grass-roots.   But these are usually discipline-specific (or community-specific) conversations.  The homeland security conversation, if it happens at all, is mostly the outcome of inter-disciplinary conferences; where we have often adopted an anti-conversational approach.

About two-thirds of the presentations I have heard over the last 120 days might accurately be entitled: “Let me introduce myself/my workplace/work assignment/tribe/INSERT”.  Even when their work clearly had merit, the presentations often communicated navel-gazing self-absorption (and defensiveness).  In several cases I know the presenters were specifically invited to present on topics other than their organization, were coached through mini-presentations to emphasize the other purposes, but once they were given the stage they defaulted to the cult of self-aggrandizement.  Not a very effective conversation-starter.

After one recent conference a female colleague commented, “None of these guys seem to know the way to get attention is to pay attention to what the other person considers important.”  I had a sense she might have been making a broader critique.

At one recent multi-disciplinary conference there were no breaks scheduled, so as not to interfere with the “transfer of information.”  Stop with the inert and self-referential information! Give me an opportunity to engage, question, and play with your knowledge.   Schedule more coffee-breaks, not fewer.  Have more small groups and fewer keynote speeches.  TED talks have their place.  But I would rather talk with Ted.

Mark Twain offered, “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.”

I’ll let you know how it goes this afternoon.

March 20, 2013

Our context: Five of hundreds

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2013

Here are a few bookmarks that caught my attention today:

Sun Storm Forecast (Tuesday New York Times): “Scientists say it is impossible to predict when the next monster solar storm will erupt — and equally important, whether Earth will lie in its path. What they do know is that with more sunspots come more storms, and this fall the Sun is set to reach the crest of its 11-year sunspot cycle.”

US Earns a D+ on Infrastructure (American Society of Civil Engineers): “The 2013 Report Card grades are in, and America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+. The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year.”

Terrorism is an Expression of Middle Class Frustration (Sultan Mehmood writing in DAWN): “The simple positive relationship between poverty and (material) crime could not be extrapolated… Not a single study could make a cogent case that terrorism had economic roots. This lack of evidence culminated in a recent review of the literature by Martin Gassebner and Simon Luechinger of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute. The authors estimated 13.4 million different equations, drew on 43 different studies and 65 correlates of terrorism to conclude that higher levels of poverty and illiteracy are not associated with greater terrorism. In fact, only the lack of civil liberties and high population growth could predict high terrorism levels accurately… It is not that most terrorists have nothing to live for. Far from it, they are the high-ability and educated political people who so vehemently believe in a cause that they are willing to die for it. The solution to terrorism is not more growth but more freedom.”

More Boko Haram Bombings in Nigeria (AFP): “A series of blasts targeting buses full of passengers in Kano, Nigeria has killed at least 20 people and sources say the toll is expected to rise. Initial reports indicated that two suicide bombers drove a car packed with explosives into a bus at the New Road station in Sabon Gari, a predominantly Christian neighbourhood in the majority Muslim city. Several explosions were heard following the initial blast, sparking panic as bloodied bystanders including some with serious injuries fled the scene as soldiers arrived to cordon off the area. Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s north, was repeatedly targeted by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, blamed for killing hundreds in the region since 2009.  (See related stories in sidebar.)

Pyongyang Pushes Buttons:   Last week several Washington D.C.  (aka as “Hollywood for ugly people”) luminaries took time out for the premiere of Olympus Has Fallen, a film featuring a North Korean terrorist attack on the US capital.  This week the real North Koreans (apparently, but not yet confirmed) launched a cyber attack on South Korea and a YouTube attack on Washington.  Frankly,  I preferred last month’s North Korean YouTube attack on New York… especially the musical soundtrack.

March 19, 2013

Environmental InSecurity and Cognitive Dissonance

Filed under: Climate Change — by Christopher Bellavita on March 19, 2013

Homeland Security Watch welcomes Terry O’Sullivan to our group of occasional authors.  Terry is Associate Director, Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy Research, at the University of Akron


Many scholars cite the infamous 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei as the end of the Italian Renaissance. As is commonly known, Galileo was tried by the Catholic Inquisition for challenging the Church’s centuries-old, Earth-centric view of the solar system/universe with the alternative sun-centric, Copernican model, which had been first proposed in 1543.

In part, Galileo was led to this challenge because of the 1609 invention of the telescope, a new technology he believed would change the minds of educated Florentian society, given the overwhelming, meticulous celestial scientific evidence he had gathered over the ensuing 20-plus years.

But, of course, Galileo was almost dead wrong.

His new evidence actually worsened, not improved, the counter-reaction to what had previously been only an abstract Copernican challenge. The Pope saw his 1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems book as a direct affront to Church power and authority. Galileo was tried before the Inquisition, and forced to renounce Copernicanism, saying “I affirm, therefore, on my conscience, that I do not now hold the condemned opinion and have not held it since the decision of authorities… I am here in your hands–do with me what you please.” His book was banned, and he died a broken man less than ten years later.

Nearly 400 years after Galileo’s trial by Inquisition, modern society would generally prefer to believe that we would not so blithely reject scientific evidence, merely because it challenged the convention wisdom.

But scientific “apostasy” continues to be punished, hounded, and denounced, as numerous politicians and climate scientists have discovered to their dismay in recent years. Some of the challenges have to do with sincere but misguided doubts about the science, some with politically and economically cynical and self-interested positions by the fossil fuels industry and its allies.

But much also has to do with the way people handle cognitive dissonance, and other ways new information is individually, societally, and politically processed.

I Think, Therefore I Sort
Cognitive dissonance is the often intense, emotional and intellectual discomfort caused by simultaneously holding two or more conflicting ideas, beliefs, values, or information. As the psychology literature has repeatedly shown, cognitive dissonance can lead to “irrational” thinking; people’s emotional response to conflicting information or ideas motivates them to reduce conflict/dissonance by rejecting disconfirming thoughts or ideas that don’t fit their position or even world view, or adding new ones to create a consistent belief system.

Two other classic identified human cognitive frailties appear to combine with cognitive dissonance and contribute to our inability to process the enormity and complexity of problems such as climate change: the difficulty of seeing connections across boundaries of time and space, and an inability to see the full impacts of our actions due to delays in the system. When you push the first domino, you may not understand where, what, or when the result will be.

These are common human traits, and we all experience them to some extent in our personal and professional lives, no matter how intellectually honest and analytically rigorous we may be. The power of conflicting human emotions and intellect is vast – particularly as that influences current and historic political and science discourse, and as it pertains intensely – even painfully – to what may yet turn out to be the gravest “slow disaster” security issue in human history.

Extreme weather-related natural disasters, increasing ocean-level rise, food and water supply disruptions, and other results of changing climate are national security, and homeland security issues.

Far from being fabricated or exaggerated, as some critics maintain, the rapidly accumulating evidence – reflected in dozens of high-level scientific and security institutions’ reports, including the U.S. DoD Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and various Intelligence Community-commissioned analyses – shows increasingly that the worst-case climate change scenarios of only a few years ago are now becoming seen as the most probable outcomes, absent concerted efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change is Security
Commander of U.S. Pacific Forces (PACCOM) Admiral Samuel Locklear met recently with academic national security experts in Boston. Afterwards, in response to a reporter who wondered what the top security threat was in the Pacific Command, instead of citing North Korean nuclear saber rattling or Chinese muscle-flexing, Locklear insisted that geopolitical disruption related to climate change “…is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.” “People are surprised sometimes…” that he emphasizes this, he said, but global warming-related destabilization will occur in part because so much of the world’s population lives near coasts: “The ice is melting and sea is getting higher… I’m into the consequence management side of it,” the Admiral said.

These climate stresses will create a worsening interplay of social, economic, and political disruption, and contribute, ultimately, to more weak and failed governments, and potential political violence – including terrorism. Climate change is already having an economic impact worldwide – costing, by one estimate, $1.2 trillion dollars annually, equal to 1.6% of global GDP.

These human disasters are all potential futures – but may already be having an impact. For instance, some observers believe the Arab spring/Arab-awakening may have been triggered in part by climate-related crop failures and food price spikes that led to Tunisian protests. The rest is ongoing history – leading all the way through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria – so far.

There is no legitimate scientific debate about the two pivotal facts of global warming: First, the planet has been warming since the beginning of the industrial revolution; and second, this has primarily been caused by the human burning of fossil fuels and the atmospheric release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases – especially carbon dioxide.

This is a scientific consensus supported by 98% or more of climate scientists, and over 120 years of increasingly vast and sophisticated evidence. Thus, the current “debate” is mostly a political, not a scientific one.

Disasters like Superstorm Sandy, the ongoing southwestern American drought and wildfire cycle, and new projections of rising sea levels (now projected to likely rise three feet by 2100 if global trends remain unchanged) all must be a wakeup call for Americans. The science is growing more robust and conclusive every year, and the news is bad. The famous so-called temperature “hockey stick” graph is becoming a climate scythe, as recent evidence indicates the world had been cooling over the last several thousand years, before temperatures shot up with the Industrial Revolution’s burning of fossil fuels.

Yet climate change skepticism and denial remains a powerful force in the American political debate. Despite the fact that both 2008 presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, affirmed the existence of global warming and the need for American policy response to mitigate it, resistance has grown in the years since then.

While no one is being literally burned at the stake, some have been politically and metaphorically burned – which has served to strike fear into those who might otherwise step forward in support of the basic facts, and of effective solutions.

The basic scientific facts are settled, even if there are many details still uncertain. But the fact is that as trillions of dollars have been spent on pursuing international terrorism, other things critical to the long-term security and resilience of the United States and the world are being neglected – falling prey, in part, to societal cognitive dissonance and failures of imagination.

Climate change is likely the biggest homeland and national security issue of our lifetimes. Yet it confronts powerful forces, including human cognitive dissonance, and the tendency to miss time-and-space connections and “slow disaster” situations where the results are not seen until much later. Sadly, some of the results are already here.

We deny and dither at our growing peril.

Explanation of Climate Change Sea Level Rise [15 minutes]:

March 14, 2013

Cyber framing of reality

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on March 14, 2013

From James Clapper’s Tuesday testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

We are in a major transformation because our critical infrastructures, economy, personal lives, and even basic understanding of—and interaction with—the world are becoming more intertwined with digital technologies and the Internet. In some cases, the world is applying digital technologies faster than our ability to understand the security implications and mitigate potential risks.

State and nonstate actors increasingly exploit the Internet to achieve strategic objectives, while many governments—shaken by the role the Internet has played in political instability and regime change—seek to increase their control over content in cyberspace. The growing use of cyber capabilities to achieve strategic goals is also outpacing the development of a shared understanding of norms of behavior, increasing the chances for miscalculations and misunderstandings that could lead to unintended escalation.

Compounding these developments are uncertainty and doubt as we face new and unpredictable cyber threats. In response to the trends and events that happen in cyberspace, the choices we and other actors make in coming years will shape cyberspace for decades to come, with potentially profound implications for US economic and national security.

A major hospital system has delayed deploying an extensive (expensive) digital patient record system.   Everyone agrees the new system will produce significant financial and clinical benefits.   But no one has figured out how to ensure an effective non-digital capability persists.   This was not a design specification.

There are multiple digital redundancies.  But what if electric power is lost beyond the capacity of back-up generators? How can patient records and status be accessed and updated if the digital system is dead for days?

This is more than a technical problem.  Many of the efficiencies generated by the ready-to-go system depend on collecting digital signals from various diagnostic tools and displaying integrated clinical outcomes.  Today the sub-systems feeding these displays — and their strengths and weaknesses — are understood by clinical staff.   Today it is not uncommon for an experienced nurse or lab tech to recognize that a specific data source  can be “screwy” and should be rechecked.   The new system will sufficiently obscure data sources  to make this nearly impossible.

One hospital administrator comments, “As long as we have clinical staff who remember how to use pre-digital systems, we can probably recover capabilities.”  But given staff turn-over this sort of human redundancy is expected to disappear within seven years.

My auto mechanic recently said, “When computer diagnostics first came out it was a big help, but I could still do most of my work without it, just not as quick.  Now if the computer is on the fritz I can’t do anything.”  He suggests younger mechanics are just “playing electronic games with your car,” and don’t understand any of the underlying systems. The hospital is trying to avoid this outcome.

I was talking to the manager of a large municipal water system.  “Actually I feel pretty good about our resilience,” he said. “We’re a collection of several largely separate legacy systems built over the last century-plus: lots of innate redundancy, mostly gravity fed, almost all of it requires a human to turn a valve somewhere.  Not nearly as efficient as the newest systems, but take out one piece and the rest just keeps on flowing.  Bad planning has had some unintentionally good results.”

Meanwhile without digital scanning and communications most retail, wholesale, and shipping would suddenly stop.  This includes food and pharmaceuticals.   When the March 11, 2011 earthquake-and-tsunami hit Northeastern Japan the digital voices of those inside the impact zone went silent.   The voice of hoarders hundreds of miles away became a shout.  The supply chain responded to expressed want, not silent need.

The digital world has become the frame and filter on which many of us depend to engage the real world.  Humans have long depended on frames and filters to simplify what would otherwise be too complex.  Mathematics, religion, law and more are all tool-sets for framing and filtering.

There is often a temptation to mistake form for function. Framing reality has always included the risk of warping reality.  We have experienced the consequences of these risks. (I seem to experience them daily.)

But never before has access to water, food, and other essentials for such large populations been so dependent on the quality and survivability of our frames.


“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

March 13, 2013

This Year’s Opportunity to Apply for the John D. Solomon Fund for Public Service

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on March 13, 2013

I am a little late this year advertising this opportunity, as the deadline for applications is March 15.  Nonetheless, if you know someone eligible it sounds like a great opportunity for individuals in the New York City area who want to serve their community.  I cannot come up with a better description of the history behind this fund than what I wrote last year:

John Solomon was a man who cared deeply about citizen preparedness. Though he held a job that had nothing to do with homeland security, he volunteered on a New York City CERT team and spent free time interviewing government officials and non-governmental leaders.  He learned about threats to the United States, both natural and man-made, and endeavored to match them with actions every citizen could take to become more resilient.  John blogged about it all on his site, “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog – A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness,” wrote op-eds, and worked on a book.

Tragically, John passed away on November 1, 2010.  He was only 47.  To honor his memory and passion for citizen preparedness, a fund to support the next generation of citizen-leaders in homeland security has been established in New York City.  It was set up by John’s family and friends in cooperation with the Fund for the City of New York.  This program aims to pair graduate students from New York City schools with various city agencies.

So if you are or know someone who is eligible and interested, it would honor the memory of a great homeland security leader to apply.

website contains all the relevant information and describes the fund:

The John D. Solomon Fellowship for Public Service is the first student fellowship in New York City government devoted specifically to emergency management. This program provides the opportunity for up to seven graduate students in New York City-area universities to have a nine-month paid fellowship (approximately 20 hours per week) in an agency of New York City government, including OEM, that is charged with helping the City be prepared for all types of emergencies. Each fellow will receive a $4,000 stipend, will be assigned an agency mentor, and will participate in special programs with other fellows.

Sponsored by OEM, the John D. Solomon Fellowship Program was established by the family and friends of the late John D. Solomon, who was an accomplished journalist on homeland security and other public policy issues and who was devoted to public service. An active member of his local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and a passionate advocate of emergency preparedness and resiliency, John originated “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog — A Citizen’s Eye View of Preparedness.” In recognition of his many contributions, in 2011, OEM created the John D. Solomon CERT Award for Exemplary Service in Emergency Preparedness Education and in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the national John D. Solomon Preparedness Award.

Participating Agencies

  • The NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is the main New York City agency charged with preparing and educating New Yorkers about emergencies and helping City, state and federal agencies coordinate their responses.
  • The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one of the largest public health agencies in the world, has critical responsibilities in any emergency that threatens the health of New Yorkers from bioterrorism to viral epidemics.
  • The NYC Department for the Aging, responsible for protecting the health and safety of the City’s 1.3 million older adults, is on the front lines in reaching low-income and the vulnerable elderly during times of emergency.
  • NYC Service was created by Mayor Bloomberg in 2009 to drive volunteer activity to where New York City’s needs are greatest. In the areas of emergency preparedness its goal is to nurture volunteer activities to increase business, individual and household “readiness.”
  • The NYC Digital Project-NYC Digital, launched in 2011 by Mayor Bloomberg, provides opportunities for New Yorkers to engage with City government digitally and for City government to engage with New Yorkers through Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr and Twitter, which are key channels during emergencies.
  • The NYC Department of Youth & Community Development, which is joining as a participating agency for 2013, was established in 1996 to provide the City of New York with high-quality youth and family programming.
  • The NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is joining as a participating agency for 2013, promotes the well-being of immigrant communities by recommending policies and programs that facilitate successful integration of immigrant New Yorkers into the civic, economic, and cultural life of the City.

Eligibility & Selection Criteria

Who’s Eligible
Graduate students who will be entering their first or second year in fall 2013 and who are specializing in the following fields:

  • Public Health
  • Public Safety
  • Communications
  • Journalism
  • Emergency Management
  • Social Work
  • Community Organizing
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Education

Selection Criteria
Fellows will work on projects that involve collaborating with many individuals in their own agencies, in other City agencies, with community organizations and New Yorkers. Therefore, in addition to academic achievement and prior work experience, the selection process will take the following into consideration:

  • Fluency in using major social media platforms, especially for marketing and communications;
  • First-hand knowledge of New York City’s neighborhoods and its community based organizations;
  • Experience writing for a wide audience;
  • Experience in working collaboratively and communicating clearly;
  • Commitment to New York City and serving the public;
  • The ability to speak at least one foreign language (is desirable).

Please note that New York City residency is not required for this fellowship. Additionally, students enrolled at universities within the New York City metropolitan area, including Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut, may apply for this fellowship.

To apply:
The application period for the 2013-14 academic year has begun. The deadline to apply is March 15Click here to apply

At the same website you can read thumbnail sketches of the impressive first batch of fellows and read about their experiences on a blog.


A day in the life of the Department of Homeland Security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 13, 2013

A friend sent me a link to the info graphic below:  A Day In the Life of Homeland Security. [Thanks, jr]

I think it has the wrong title.  I believe the image more accurately describe an average day for DHS elements, not homeland security.

Homeland security is much more than what DHS does.

An arresting graphic, nonetheless — even without mention of anything having to do with buying 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition (4.4 million rounds a day, if you’re doing the math).

Another friend said the picture could provoke a conversation about input, output and outcome measures. [Thanks, lsf]

March 12, 2013

Resilience is the act of coming to the aid of those in need.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 12, 2013

Three weeks ago a fire destroyed a lot of things my family and I used to own.

Life goes on, fortunately.

We are now in the recovery phase of managing our personal disaster.

When I’ve talked with colleagues about work related issues during the past three weeks the conversation frequently turns to the fire — usually at the end of whatever we’re talking about.

“How are you doing?” I’m asked.

I am unable to express how engulfingly supportive people have been to me and my family. But when I am asked how I’m doing, I really don’t know the answer.

My unthinking analytical default is to parse the sentence and ask, “How am I doing what?”

But that would be a jerk response. I know the question is meant in a socially sincere context. It deserves an equally sincere response.

“I’m fine, thanks,” doesn’t cut it because it is untrue.

“I’m devestated,” also doesn’t work, for the same reason.

I’m left with selecting something from the broad middle between stiff upper lip and what my son calls a pity party response.

I’ve discovered, however, that at least with homeland security folks, I can say, “Thanks for asking. I’m being resilient.”

I’m not sure what I mean when I say that, but it feels like an authentic response.


I think I first came across the word resilient (as I’m latching on to it) in Steve Flynn’s 2007 book The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation. Since then, oceans of words have been poured into explaining what resilience is, how to do it, how to be it, and how to measure it.  Individuals can be resilient, and so can communities and nations and economies.   There are very simple definitions of resilience in the literature and tortuously complicated definitions. But I am increasingly aware of the chasm between the language of resilience and the experience of it.

I’ve started asking first responders I know what their experience of resilience has been. Not their experience of the concept, but their experience of the experience of resilience.

I had a work-related conversation a few days ago with a police official I know, Pat Walsh. After the work part was finished, we started talking about resilience.

Here’s a note Pat sent me on Monday. I like what he wrote.  I had not seen it expressed quite like this in the resilience literature.   It resonated with my current experience.  I have his permission to share it.


I thought about the resiliency question after I hung up and I still had a mile or so to go [on my walk] so I started to think. My out of breath thoughts are sometimes the best, or so I think.

I have seen people lose everything in fires, accidents or to violence. I am always amazed at how calm the women in the situation are once they have their head wrapped around the situation. But then the things that make or break those affected is always interesting to me.

Some can handle the actual incident, but the aftermath, insurance claim, rebuilding, restarting is the last straw and is what actually breaks them.

Other people are a wreck with the event, but healing for them is the process of rebuilding.

I do not have the answer to why this is, but I have a hypothesis.

I think the people who handle trauma are the ones who are surrounded by family and friends (or kind strangers). We are all self reliant and stubbornly hang on to the idea that we can do it without the help of others (or we think we need too).

I wish I had a dime for every time someone said, “Why did this happen? What is the point?”

Well if you believe in God I would say the point is so you learn this is a fleeting life, and so that others can be tested to step up and help their fellow man.

If you are not a believer, I would say, the point is so others may learn what it is like to stop thinking about themselves and help another in need. It is in helping others that we are most fulfilled.

We can teach resilience all day long, but at the end of the day it is how one reacts to the incident and how others come to the aid. Both benefit, some more than others.

[A firefighter friend] did a video for [a course]…. It is worth watching. In his video he expresses disgust with himself for turning away a homeless man who wanted water. It haunts him to this day. I have those demons as well, and I would say we all do.

So in short, resilience is the act of coming to the aid of those in need.


Pat wrote about individual resilience. I want to believe the idea can be expanded to communities and to a nation.

Maybe it already is.

March 11, 2013

Remembering 3/11

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 11, 2013

Our life in this world –
to what shall I compare it?
Its like an echo
resounding through the mountains
and off into the empty sky.

Original by Ryokan, translated by Steven D. Carter

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