Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2013

What are the people around you reading?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 30, 2013

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

I came across that quote from Haruki Murakami yesterday.

I don’t know what everyone else is reading, so I asked them.

OK, not everyone, but at least the people who were around me yesterday, either physically or virtually.

Since 99% of the people I know have something to do with homeland security (that’s another story), the resulting list is mostly about homeland security.

And I do work at a university; that probably influenced the list a bit.

Plus the university is on a military base, so there’s that.

I did ask one person who was fixing a video screen near my office what he was reading. I’d never met him before, but he had no trouble immediately replying.

Two other people who responded are parents of small children who, at least for today, were the focus of their homeland security attention.

Here’s the reading list. I learned about some books and other material I had not heard of.

If you’d like, try the same experiment wherever you are today. Ask people you work with what they are reading. Keep it to one book per person. If you have the chance, post the results in the comments section.


1. Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God. 1st ed. Ballantine Books, 2001.

2. “Articles that explore the use of Social Network Analysis to better understand: 1) cohesion factors in groups, 2) structure of message contributions, 3) pattern of exchange, 4) the role of the critical mass, 5) role and power network structures as they related to various type of on-line collaboration and knowledge creation.” (Right, not a book; the person who sent me this also included 15 pdf articles to illustrate the point he was making.)

3. Berggruen Institute on Governance. “Think Long Committee for California” a new governance tool to repair California’s government. (Not a book, but it’s what she was reading.)

4. Carafano, James Jay, and Paul Rosenzweig. Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom. Heritage Books, 2005.

5. “Cub Scout Committee Chair Training Manual” (That was her third choice.  Her first choice was somewhat more “shaded.”  She also said if I planned to use her name I had to say she was reading the Bible.).

6. Deardorff, Brad. The Roots of Our Children’s War: Identity and the War on Terrorism. AgilePress, 2013.

7. Desmond, Leslie, and Bill Dorrance. True Horsemanship Through Feel, Second Edition. 2nd ed. Lyons Press, 2007. (At first I thought this had nothing to do with homeland security, but on second thought….)

8. Dumas, Alexandre. The Three Musketeers. Simon & Brown, 2013.

9. Eco, Umberto. Serendipities: Language and Lunacy. Mariner Books, 1999.

10. Gardner, Howard. Five Minds for the Future. Harvard Business Review Press, 2009.

11. Hirsch, James S. Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend. 1st ed. Scribner, 2010.

12. Lemov, Doug, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi. Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better. 1st ed. Jossey-Bass, 2012.

13. Lewis, Ted. “The Book of Extremes: Why the 21st century Isn’t Like the 20th Century.” 2013. (This book is in a prepublication format, and won’t be published for a few more months; it’s a follow up to Lewis’ Bak’s Sand Pile: Strategies for a Catastrophic World.)

14. Mackey, Sandra. Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict. 1st ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

15. McCauley, Clark, and Sophia Moskalenko. Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us. 1st ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2011.

16. Moghaddam, Fathali M. The Psychology of Dictatorship. 1st ed. American Psychological Association (APA), 2013.

17. Mudd, Philip. Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

18. Owen, Mark, and Kevin Maurer. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden. First Edition. Dutton Adult, 2012.

19. Rejali, Darius. Torture and Democracy. Princeton University Press, 2009.

20. Sodium Polyacrylate: My life would be a mess without it. (Not actually a book. But it could be, should be, one.)

21. Stegner, Wallace. Angle of Repose. Penguin Classics, 2000.

22. Williams, Gary. Seal of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN. Naval Institute Press, 2011.

23. “What am I reading? I can’t think of anything in particular…. Wow. How sad is that,” said a person who works as hard as almost anyone I know.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “The person who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the person who can’t read them.”


If you do ask people in your ecosystem what they’re reading, please post what you learn here.  And if you get to talk with each other about what you’re reading, that’s even better.

April 29, 2013

FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino on the community response to the Boston Bombings

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 29, 2013

Son-of-Boston Rich Serino, currently Deputy Administrator of FEMA and formerly Chief of Boston EMS, penned a thank you op-ed last week to the first responders and citizens of Boston who participated in the response to the bombings.

While in one moment we saw terror and brutality, in the next we saw our community’s love and compassion. We saw our EMTs, paramedics, police officers, and firefighters spring into action and perform their jobs heroically.

He also saw how those non-professional responders helped save lives.

They weren’t the only first responders, though. Bystanders and marathon volunteers, regular people given the chance to run, decided instead to stay and help the professional responders do their jobs. Some comforted victims, urging them to hold on and that help was on the way. Some helped carry victims to the medical tent for triage. Some did more by helping to control bleeding, in some cases using their own clothes as tourniquets to stop life-threatening blood loss.

Years of planning across the spectrum of agencies in the area contributed to the incredibly high level of preparedness.

For years, responders in Boston, as in other cities, have utilized large public events as “planned disasters,” anticipating and preparing for mass casualties if something goes wrong. In Boston, First Night, Fourth of July on the Esplanade, and the 2004 Democratic National Convention, all offered the city’s medical community a chance to hone their plans and skills in managing high-profile, public events. In my current role at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, we work with communities big and small across the country to prepare for these worst-case scenarios.

And he was clear about the successes of that day.

It was no accident that not a single hospital in the city was overwhelmed with patients in the aftermath of the bombings. It was no accident that patients were appropriately triaged and transported in an orderly manner to the appropriate hospital based on their needs. And it was no accident that a Medical Intelligence Center was fully staffed and operating on race day to keep track of patients, coordinate resources and share information with the medical community throughout the region. All of these are tangible results of disaster planning that has gone on in Boston for more than 20 years.

A man of, by, and for that community for so long, Chief Serino is uniquely positioned to offer his thanks.

In a disaster, everyone has something to give and never was that more evident than on Marathon Monday. For the EMTs and paramedics of Boston EMS, a special “Thank you for a job well done!” To the citizens of our town, I’ve never been more proud.

The entire piece is worth your time: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/26/medical-response-marathon-bombings-was-community-wide-effort/VxBxwziGKrz532QbwPQlfP/story.html

Harvard Panels on Boston Bombings

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 29, 2013

Last week two different events reviewed various aspects of the terrorist attack in Boston.

Harvard’s School of Public Health held a panel, “The Boston Marathon Bombings: Lessons Learned for Saving Lives:”

Following the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon and a dramatic search for the suspects, the city’s emergency preparedness and response systems have been credited with saving lives. This Forum event, focused primarily on the immediate aftermath of the bombings, revealed the sometimes surprising underpinnings of a successful emergency preparedness system and shared hard-won lessons applied and learned. Presented in collaboration with WBUR.

Speakers included:

  • James Hooley – Chief, Boston EMS
  • Judy Ann Bigby – Former Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Paul Biddinger – Director, Emergency Preparedness and Response Exercise Program, Harvard School of Public Health, and Chief, Division of Emergency Preparedness, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Leonard Marcus – Co-Director, National Preparedness Leadership Initiative
  • Don Boyce – Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Health and Human Services



An event at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government looked at a wider range of issues related to the bombing:

“Boston Marathon Tragedy & Aftermath” featured Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis,  former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem, Harvard Divinity School Dean David Hempton, Director of MEMA Kurt Schwartz, WBZ Anchor David Wade and Harvard Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood.  The extensive conversation touched on terrorism, coordinated city, state and federal responses, impact of the media, and the resilience of Boston.


April 26, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 26, 2013

On this day in 1986 reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a catastrophic event. On this day in 1989 a tornado hit Bangladesh, killing upwards of 1,300, injuring 12,000, and leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. Why do many of us remember one and not the other?

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

April 25, 2013

Intellectual Critical Infrastructure: The Story-Engine Threat

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 25, 2013

The human mind is a story-engine. Our species survived by — strangely, weirdly, perhaps uniquely — perceiving the future as something that can be influenced, even created.

In many cultures there is a sense of past, present, and future. In other cultures it is more a matter of an unfolding toward completion…

But whatever the subtlety of time past or yet to arrive, we can feel compelled to anticipate, predict, and — forewarned and thereby forearmed — take action to shape our story’s outcome.

This cognitive adaptation was very helpful to a puny, hairless primate. We may not be able to see ultraviolet, but we can see — or think we see — the future. Over the generations we have sharpened the skill and applied it in wonderful ways.

But the skill emerged more as automatic reflex than mindful choice. Lions, tigers, and bears are unambiguous. The other tribe was immediately recognizable. When there is an unexpected rush of wind or water, my senses surge and cognition jumps into overdrive.

When I am in a strange place surrounded by a strange tribe — most cities, for example — my senses and story-engine are especially alive. The prospect of an immediate intentional threat provokes a particular kind of cognition. It’s similar to when a police car suddenly appears in the rear-view mirror.

This internal engine for imagining the future seems especially adept at short-stories and, actually, rather trashy repetitive short-stories. Stereotypes abound. Once I decide what a threat looks, sounds, smells, feels or tastes like everyone (thing) that shares those characteristics is a threat until proven otherwise — if I take a chance before running away or killing them. For most of the last 60,000 years this has probably been a mostly helpful predisposition.

Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist who won the Nobel prize in economics, has written, “…people are not accustomed to thinking hard, and are often content to trust a plausible judgment that comes to mind.”

I am. Most of the time.

So… I hear about an unexplained fire in a small town in Texas. There is considerable evidence of human neglect in terms of a fertilizer storage facility and what was allowed to be built near the storage facility. But neglect is not intention. Evidently without intention, my story-engine doesn’t feel much motivation. Accidents happen.

This week many of my friends and family are threatened by the flooding Mississippi and Illinois rivers. There is a part of my brain (mind?) that knows (perceives?) the threat has been amplified by a whole host of human choices. But once again neglect is not intention. Without intentionality, my story-engine is mostly bored. Other engines — sympathy, empathy, problem-solving — may start-up. But the story-engine is quiescent. Nature will have her way.

But when two kids not only intentionally kill and maim, but do so randomly and wantonly: while I am 550 miles away my story-engine roars into high speed.

Back in 2007 Kahneman reported on this research result:

Some ten or fifteen years ago when there were terrorism scares in Europe but not in the States, people who were about to travel to Europe were asked questions like, How much would you pay for insurance that would return a hundred thousand dollars if during your trip you died for any reason. Alternatively other people were asked, how much would you pay for insurance that could pay a hundred thousand dollars if you died in a terrorist incident during your trip. People pay a lot more for the second policy than for the first… basically what you’re doing there is substituting fear.

You are asked how much insurance you would pay, and you don’t know—it’s a very hard thing to do. You do know how afraid you are, and you’re more afraid of dying in a terrorist accident than you’re afraid of dying. So you end up paying more because you map your fear into dollars and that’s what you get.

Perceived intentionality amplifies the sense of fear which stimulates our story-engine. The story-engine looks for sources-of-intentionality that will explain — and allow us to quickly influence — how our story unfolds. Our story-engine is not very sophisticated: it’s principal plot device is avoidance or elimination of the threat.  Like the scriptwriter for Texas Chainsaw Massacre, our story-engine prefers obvious threats, unambiguous good and bad, and is inclined to several sequels of essentially the same story.

Reality is not usually so obvious, unambiguous, and repetitive. We need to spawn more sophisticated stories, less pulp fiction, more great American novel, maybe some Russian tragedies or German existentialism.   Even some poetry.

April 24, 2013

Wanted: A new narrative with American Muslim communities, based on trust and mutual respect

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on April 24, 2013

Mike Walker is a former acting Secretary of the Army, and former FEMA deputy director.

Yesterday on his twitter account — @New_Narrative — he posted the following 22 observations:

1) AQAP’s Inspire Magazine has been counseling homegrown jihadists to work alone & not tell anyone about plots. It may have worked in Boston.

2) The FBI has gotten so good at terrorism stings, the Boston bombers apparently closely held their plotting, not trusting anyone else.

3) The Boston brothers and their closely held jihad. Will this become the new face of terror?

4) Analysts had been saying homegrown terrorists would never be as effective as al-Qaeda operatives. The Boston brothers prove otherwise.

5) But remember my old caution: Global jihadists promote homegrown terror to tie down Western law enforcement while they seek to regroup.

6) But Islam is not the enemy. The terrorists are. They do not represent Islam, but a warped, narrow, essentially medieval interpretation.

7) Yet, global jihadists believe their strength is in their message that “Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended.”

8) The Boston brothers bought into the Al Qaeda narrative which seeks to inspire a small group of malcontents to do terror’s bloody bidding.

9) The US & the West are not at war with Islam. This is not a clash of civilizations nor a war of religions. Many Muslims believe otherwise.

10) Recent polls show Muslim views of the US are the lowest since 2008. We need a new narrative to effectively change those perceptions.

11) We also need more than “See something, say something.” We need a more effective outreach into American Muslim communities.

12) Only American Muslims, themselves, can effectively recognize warning signs when radicals in their midst are beginning to turn violent.

13) To be effective, our new narrative must be based on trust, mutual respect & must be a two-way street with American Muslim communities.

14) Canada’s approach with the Muslim community on the recent Al Qaeda train plot is a good example of how such outreach can be effective.

15) Homegrown terrorism is much more than a law enforcement issue. Don’t expect to eradicate it entirely. But it can be minimized.

16) And minimizing future Bostons is not solely a law enforcement responsibility. It requires a whole community approach.

17) Potential violent radicals must believe the US is not at war with their religion, but with terrorists who do seek to hijack Islam.

18) It would be a mistake to write Boston off as an anomaly. Clearly, very few American Muslims will become so radical as to become violent.

19) Yet, the number of homegrown terror cases continues to grow and Al Qaeda will seek to use Boston as their new recruiting tool.

20) A new narrative will not be easy to achieve. The war in Afghanistan continues. Drone attacks sometimes kill innocent civilians.

21) We must keep the most lethal terrorists abroad off balance, while also building a new era of trust in majority Muslim communities.

22) This is the new challenge in the war against the terrorists. Let the debate begin.



April 23, 2013

Lilacs out of the dead land: 9 lessons to be learned from last week

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 23, 2013

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land….”
T.S. Eliot wrote at the start of his Waste Land poem.

I’ve tried, but I never did understand that poem. Part of it, maybe. But not most of it.

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the waste of last week either, of lives, and hopes and promises.

I’m not sure the majestic horror of West, Texas or Boston, Massachusetts is to be understood. Like the sudden explosion of the West Fertilizer Plant captured forever on an iPhone, some events transcend meaning. They simply are.

In years, the professional hive mind may come to a general but unspoken agreement about what those events mean, as it has done with September 11, 2001, and Katrina. But today — the next week in time — is too soon. At least for me.

Still, candidates of meaning emerge faintly through the numbness. I will write them as outlines, pretending there is more solidity to them than I know.

1. There is much more to homeland security than the Department of Homeland Security.

During last week’s cruelty and nobility, I did not hear much about the Department of Homeland Security. I do recall something about the Department of Homeland Security standing by, ready to provide whatever support was needed in Boston. But state and local responders proved themselves more than adequate to the job. That’s as it should be, at least according to homeland security doctrine.

Homeland security is not exclusively about what the federal government does.

They also serve who only stand and wait, said another poet.

2. Homeland security works.

Measuring preparedness before the fact is in the “too hard to do” box. Whatever homeland security is or is not, it involves collaborating and sharing information. Last week, public safety agencies demonstrated through a metric no one wants replicated they know how to do homeland security.

Atul Gawande wrote an essay in the New Yorker, Why Boston’s Hospitals Were Ready. The essay nominally is about medical care workers. I think it is also about most everyone within the homeland security community.

The bombs at the Boston Marathon were designed to maim and kill, and they did. Three people died within the first moments of the blast. More than a hundred and seventy people were injured. They had their limbs blown off, vital arteries severed, bones fractured, flesh torn open by shrapnel or scorched by the blasts’ heat. Yet it now appears that every one of the wounded alive when rescuers reached them will survive….

How did this happen? Something more significant occurred than professionals merely adhering to smart policies and procedures. What we saw unfold was the cultural legacy of the September 11th attacks and all that has followed in the decade-plus since. We are not innocents anymore….

Talking to people about that day, I was struck by how ready and almost rehearsed they were for this event. A decade earlier, nothing approaching their level of collaboration and efficiency would have occurred. We have, as one colleague put it to me, replaced our pre-9/11 naïveté with post-9/11 sobriety. Where before we’d have been struck dumb with shock about such events, now we are almost calculating about them. When ball bearings and nails were found in the wounds of the victims, everyone understood the bombs had been packed with them as projectiles. At every hospital, clinicians considered the possibility of chemical or radiation contamination, a second wave of attacks, or a direct attack on a hospital. Even nonmedical friends e-mailed and texted me to warn people about secondary and tertiary explosive devices aimed at responders. Everyone’s imaginations have come to encompass these once unimaginable events….

We’ve learned, and we’ve absorbed. This is not cause for either celebration or satisfaction. That we have come to this state of existence is a great sadness. But it is our great fortune.

3. Homeland security doesn’t work, not all the time.

At least 50 terrorists plots against the US have been stopped since September 11, 2001. But not the Boston Marathon plot.

Suspect Number 1 was inside the FBI radar for awhile. Some political carrion eaters still hawk the perfection of dot connectivity. But I think the public too has lost its pre-9/11/01 naïveté.   A lot of people are sufficiently sophisticated to know you can’t stop them all. Maybe this is a manifestation of the resilience we’ve been aiming for. Even within a planned security event, you can’t prevent all bad from happening.

It’s not alright that homeland security does not work all the time. But it will not nor cannot ever be perfect. Last week I did not hear many people from Boston dispute that claim.

On the other hand, if it is true that “the last time regulators performed a full safety inspection of the [West Fertilizer Plant] facility was nearly 28 years ago,” or (according to Representative Bernie Thompson) “This facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act, yet we understand that DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up.”, then what else inside homeland security is this wrong? And why?

4. Don’t bother trying to plot dead and injured against attention

a. 4 dead, 176 wounded
b. 26 killed, 2 wounded
c. 12 killed, 58 wounded
d. 13 killed, 30 wounded
e. 33 killed, 23 wounded
f. 15 killed, 24 wounded
g. 14 killed (including 11 first responders), 200 injured
h. 30 dead, 162 wounded
i. 75 dead; 350 injured
j. 190 dead, 11,000 injured

a. April 15, 2013, Bombings at the Boston Marathon
b. December 2012, shooting at a school in Newton, Connecticut
c. July 2012, shooting at movie theater in Aurora, Colorado
d. November 2009, shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas
e. April 2007, shooting at Virginia Tech
f. April 1999, shooting at Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado
g. April 2013, West, Texas plant explosion
h. Average daily homicides and wounded due to gun violence (successful and attempted suicides excluded)
i. April 15, 2013 bombings in Iraq
j. April 2013 Sichuan province earthquake

(thanks, JFM)

5. Technology and amateurs on social networks don’t automatically trump the grinding work of trained professionals.

Facial recognition systems were unable to identify Boston suspects Number 1 and 2, “even though both [suspects’] images exist in official databases: [Suspect Number 2] had a Massachusetts driver’s license; the brothers had legally immigrated; and [Suspect Number 1] had been the subject of some FBI investigation….”

Video did help, but “The work was painstaking and mind-numbing: One agent watched the same segment of video 400 times,” …. “The goal was to construct a timeline of images, following possible suspects as they moved along the sidewalks, building a narrative out of a random jumble of pictures from thousands of different phones and cameras. It took a couple of days, but analysts began to focus on two men in baseball caps who had brought heavy black bags into the crowd near the marathon’s finish line but left without those bags.”

Twitter, Reddit, homeland security experts who should have known better, the main stream and tributary media were largely outclassed by public safety professionals. Social media in particular stumbled badly on its heretofore unchallenged climb to information superiority:

“In addition to being almost universally wrong, the theories developed via social media complicated the official investigation, according to law enforcement officials,” the Post reported. “Those officials said Saturday that the decision on Thursday to release photos of the two men in baseball caps was meant in part to limit the damage being done to people who were wrongly being targeted as suspects in the news media and on the Internet.”

6. It just got more difficult to cut homeland security spending.

I can hear the testimony being written now: “If you cut our request for [fill in the blank], you’re going to make it really difficult for us to [fill in the blank with something about sustainment, resilience, terrorism, or some other hazard]. We’ve come so far since [insert September 11, 2001 , or Katrina, or other locally appropriate reference], you can’t abandon us now, just when the threat of [insert relevant threat] is growing. [Insert subtle metaphor about blood on someone’s hands.]”

In completely unrelated news, TSA Administrator John Pistole announced on Monday that TSA was postponing plans to allow passengers to carry small knives on planes.

7. Small towns need homeland security training just as much as the big cities.

Watertown, Massachusetts — where Suspect Number 2 was captured — has a population of around 32,000 people.

The population of West, Texas — site of the West Fertilizer Plant — is about 2,600 people.

Terrorists and disasters do not restrict themselves to UASI regions.

8. During chaos, public emotion is more powerful than public rationality, and the consequences of emotion persist.

Accounting logics seek to shape homeland security conversations around norms of economic rationality. But when the dramatically ugly happens, homeland security has very little to do with efficiency, cost benefit analysis, risk management, or any of the other magic words used by those who count things.

Listen to 17,000 Bruins fans sing the National Anthem.

Look at the signs all around Yankee Stadium about the love Yankee fans have for Boston.

Listen to Big Papi tell a packed Fenway Park and a national TV audience that “This is our fucking city. And nobody gonna dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

And lest you think those kinds of emotions pass quickly, recall George Bush’s September 14, 2001 bullhorn speech to the Ground Zero workers: “I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

And recall the consequences of that spontaneous prediction.

9. During chaos, the Constitution can be placed off to the side, without too many objections.

First comes action, then objections.

“The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” argues those who believe sometimes the perceived urgent supersedes pedantic attention to the rule of law.

Action first. Then talk.

A major American city was “locked down.” Whatever than means.

Let’s talk about what that means, and by what authority the action was taken.

Police searching for Suspect Number 2 entered homes, searched the residents, ordered them to leave the house with their hands clasped behind their heads.

Can the cops do that? What about the Bill of Rights?

Act first. Then talk about those kinds of concerns.

During chaos, not too many people seem to mind being told what to do by uniformed men and women with guns.

“I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.”
warned T.S. Eliot

April 20, 2013

Why and/or how?

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 20, 2013

On Friday night the President articulated what many are thinking, “…why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?  How did they plan and carry out these attacks, and did they receive any help?  The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers.  The wounded, some of whom now have to learn how to stand and walk and live again, deserve answers.”

In the case of the Tsarnaev brothers we have already put together some answers that will be difficult to amend, such as:  Big bad brother recruits sweet little brother to join him in murderous outburst.

We are not quite sure — yet — what precisely motivated big brother.  An uncle says he is an angry loser, a boxing buddy claims he is an alienated outsider, there are vague suggestions of a long-time pattern of simmering violence, growing religious intolerance, a very thin skin. Each of us has our own spectral adversary which we tend to project.

My hypothesis tends toward mobility, modernity, and absent meaning.

The boys divorced parents are currently in Russia.  There’s an ashamed uncle in Maryland, a shocked aunt in Canada.  “Close” friends discuss having most recently exchanged a text or some other digital communication in February.  On a social media site the younger brother identified his personal priorities as “career and making money.”  His twitter feed consists mostly of banal references to pop lyrics.

I glance at these initial reports and a complicated theory of how good and evil reside in each of us is reinforced.  I hear or read second-hand reports from which I cherry-pick bits and pieces that conform with my expectations and — by the way — reconfirm my wisdom.

A friend dismisses “why” questions even as he is tenacious in asking and answering “how” questions.  For him asking why implies purpose and presumes purpose is deterministic.  He has decided purpose is mostly after-the-fact human justification, rationalization, and telling ourselves stories.

I hope there are plenty who agree with my friend involved with deciphering the Tsarnaevs’ history. But I will continue to ask why, even as I try to resist self-justifying answers.

How helps.  How can often be answered precisely.  Many, maybe even most, whys lack precise answers. But if my “why” is honest and open it compels me to listen to you much more carefully. If you ask me why and also stop to listen for my response we have moved into a shared relationship around the question.

For someone concerned about mobility, modernity, and absent meaning this shared relationship is itself a big part of the answer.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev arrested

Filed under: Investigation & Enforcement,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 20, 2013

According to the Boston Globe between 7PM and 8:30PM on Friday night the following transpired:

Police found Dzhokhar ­Tsarnaev hiding on a boat stored in a backyard on ­Franklin Street. Police ­exchanged gunfire with him before capturing him alive. Spontaneous celebrations erupted across the region, from the ­Boston Common to the Back Bay streets near the bombing.

The boat’s owners, a couple, spent Friday hunkered down under the stay-at-home order. When it was lifted early in the evening, they ventured outside for some fresh air and the man noticed the tarp on his boat blowing in the wind, according to their his son, Robert Duffy.

The cords securing it had been cut and there was blood near the straps. Duffy’s father called police, who swarmed the yard and had the couple evacuated, Duffy said.

Residents, who had barricaded themselves in their homes for nearly 20 hours, were still deeply shaken. “I’m so happy they got these guys,” said Tom Sheridan, 35, an interior painter from Watertown, as he cheered police cruisers and ambulances as they drove by on Mount ­Auburn Street. “But I’m worried there are more people out there like that. It won’t be the same.”

Tsarnaev was wounded and taken to a hospital. In an interview late last night, Patrick said he is “hoping very deeply he survives those wounds, because I’ve got a lot of questions and I know investigators have a lot of questions for him.”

April 19, 2013

One suspect dead, other on the run

Filed under: Investigation & Enforcement,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 19, 2013

Overnight — beginning about 2230 Boston time — the search for the Boston bombers unfolded into a fire-fight and active manhunt.  The individual with a black hat shown in the photos released yesterday afternoon is evidently dead.  As of 0530 Eastern on Friday the individual in the white hat is the object of an extensive search by a range of law enforcement agencies.

One of the best bets for authoritative reports is the Boston Globe website. According to the Globe:

The Associated Press reported this morning that the suspects came from the Russian region near Chechnya, which has been plagued by an Islamic insurgency. A law enforcement intelligence bulletin obtained by the AP identified the surviving bomb suspect as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old who had been living in Cambridge. The Globe has learned that the dead suspect is Tsarnaev’s brother.

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 19, 2013

In addition to the April 19 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building and all the gruesome anniversaries noted in my Thursday post, April 15 also marks the sinking of the Titanic and the beginning of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, the worst experience of flooding, so far, in American history. Natural, accidental, or intentional risks abound. What is the role of homeland security? What’s on your mind?

April 18, 2013

FBI photos of “suspects” 1 and 2

Filed under: Investigation & Enforcement,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 18, 2013

Shortly after 5:15 PM Eastern Time on Thursday the FBI released photos of two individuals seen near the location of the Boston Marathon explosions shortly before detonation.  The FBI has requested the assistance of the public in identifying the individuals.  More photos and a videotape are available at the FBI website.

Earlier today Secretary Napolitano cautioned that individuals in the photographs should not at this time be considered “suspects” in the bombing.  This distinction was not especially emphasized during the FBI news conference.

Those of us old enough to remember the 1995 Centennial Park bombing during the Atlanta Olympics may also recall the rush to judgment in treating Richard Jewel as a “suspect”.

Expecting Evil

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 18, 2013

On Monday two “pressure cooker bombs” exploded in Boston killing three and injuring more than 180. Eighteen years ago Friday a 5000 pound bomb exploded in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring 450.

On the same day as the Boston attack at least 50 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in a series of early-morning car bomb explosions in cities across Iraq.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights yesterday (April 17) at least 44 non-combatants and over 200 combatants were killed in that civil war. Among yesterday’s dead were four children, bringing the total number of children killed since March 2011 to over 5000.

We have been taught to view such attacks as self-conscious tactical choices endemic to certain kinds of violent political (or religious) conflict. The legal definition of terrorism usually involves the application of indiscriminate violence with the intention to influence political decisions. In this conceptualization we demonstrate some of the same preoccupation with self that characterizes the “terrorist”. It must be about us. Not always or even often.

April 15 is also the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth claimed political purposes. It was too late in the war to have any realistic hope of reversing confederate fortunes. But it was a ripe moment for a megalomaniacal if mediocre actor to make a very real claim on immortality as a latter day self-proclaimed Brutus.

On April 16, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks. This year’s Boston Marathon was dedicated to the memory of those killed by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. Saturday is the anniversary of Columbine.

Such attacks are not about the victims or those of us who survive or our political choices. Whoever constructed, delivered, and detonated the Boston bomb had no specific intention to kill Martin Richard, age 8, or injure Martin’s seven-year-old sister and mother. If a political manifesto is ever found or offered, give particular attention to how — if — the attack is explained as a change-agent. Is it even minimally persuasive? Usually not.

The justifications typically range between self-aggrandizing and deeply delusional. Timothy McVeigh characterized his bombing of the Murrah Building as, “borrowing a page from U.S. foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile.”

These sort of attacks are an effort by the attacker to express power: to most-of-all convince himself (almost always a him) that he has power. Similar attacks by so-called “terrorist” groups also seek to reinforce and extend self-assertions of power. Victims are much more tools — totems of inadequacy overcome — than targets, in any traditional understanding of target.

Too often we inadvertently feed these delusions in how we magnify the risk and in this way inflate the ego of the attacker and those similarly predisposed. Most of these pathetic men (and a few women) are thrilled to be seen as a somehow existential threat to the most powerful nation on the planet.

On Tuesday President Obama spoke of how Boston is responding to the attack, he said, “if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.”

Thirty-or-so years ago President Reagan unexpectedly involved me in a quick but intense discussion of the Holocaust. I had a difficult time keeping up with where the President was going and what he was trying to work out. But I very clearly remember one line: “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.”

We should do a great deal to prevent attacks. We are making an extraordinary effort to identify and hold accountable whoever is behind the Boston attack. But in this important work we will sometimes fail. Where we can be more certain of success is in engaging with courage and compassion those who have been abused as tools of another’s self-assertion.

Evil is persistent. Evil will recur. Fear feeds evil. Courage starves evil. Love confuses, confounds, and contains evil.

April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombings: Prepared, Threatened, Resilient

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 17, 2013

Some unrelated thoughts about the Boston Marathon bombings.


  • It could have been worse.  Sunday night and Monday morning I considered re-posting an oped I wrote five years ago on the “Marathon as dry-run disaster.”   The underlying point of that piece being that the City of Boston and the surrounding communities through which the marathon is run are extremely prepared for terrorist attacks and other types of events, particularly on Patriots Day. The planning goes on all year, includes the possibility of non-marathon related incidents, and requires the deployment of an impressive amount of medical personnel.  Emergency rooms add staff, Boston EMS is backstopped by private providers from around the region, and a medical tent at the finish line (a block or two from the explosions) is staffed by a score of volunteer doctors and nurses.  Considering the types of injuries caused by the blasts, with many limbs later amputated in hospitals, lives were undoubtedly saved by the close proximity of such an array of medical resources that could begin to manage the victims.
  • Bystander care is essential.  Despite this being one of the most  heavily first responder resourced events in the nation, with medics, doctors, and nurses steps away from the explosions, bystanders still played a critical role in the response. As a Washington Post profile explains:

In the aftermath of Monday’s explosions, much of the early lifesaving was performed by amateurs: Boston cops, marathon volunteers, plain old bystanders. They tied tourniquets and carried away the injured in wheelchairs or in arms.

On Tuesday, local hospitals said this work — along with the efforts of professional medics on the scene — probably saved lives.

“Tourniquets are a difference-maker. Tourniquets can save a life,” said Joseph Blansfield, a nurse practitioner and program manager at the Boston Medical Center trauma unit, which saw a large influx of patients from the scene. “They proved their value yesterday.”

The scene of the next terrorist attack or natural disaster is likely not to be so heavily staffed by medical personnel, so bystander care will play an even more vital role. Homeland security officials at all levels of government should think now how to better engage and train the public to provide immediate lifesaving treatment, and how to change the first responder community’s reluctance to take advantage of this resource.

  • A teachable moment  It is difficult to take the focus off Boston for even a moment, but it should be recognized that this attack represents a teachable moment for the rest of the nation.  Whether due to a concern that these bombs represented the beginning of a campaign of attacks across the country, or that eventually it could happen in any town, responsible officials will be reviewing their community’s plans for a similar event.  Fortunately, American medical professionals rarely have to treat victims of explosions.  Before it happens again it might be wise to review and disseminate information such as that produced by the CDC on the treatment of blast injuries:


  • Impossible to stop every attack.  It was accepted conventional wisdom that there would eventually be another successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Few politicians commented on that fact, instead preferring to highlight efforts aimed at prevention. However, the Boston Marathon is just the type of highly visible soft target most vulnerable.  Unlike the Superbowl or World Series, officials cannot restrict access to just a few points and check everyone’s bags.  If the individual or group who planted the bombs did not share their plans with others, it may have been impossible for law enforcement or intelligence agencies to get tips about the plot. These agencies have greatly improved their capabilities since 9/11, but they are not omnipotent.
  • Foreign or domestic? In the bigger picture of the lives directly impacted, who cares? Victims’ wounds would not have changed according to the ideology or citizenship of the bombers. However, if it is discovered that the perpetrators communicated their plans to like-minded colleagues beforehand, it may point to gaps in intelligence and policing. But at this point that remains a big if.
  • Non-strategic. One thing to keep in mind is that as horrible as the bombings are for those directly hurt by the blasts and mentally shaken by events, this was a small attack.  It will only become a strategic blow if we overreact and needlessly change our way of life.  This is not the time for an “own goal” that will serve to only help further terrorists’ goals.


  • Life didn’t stop. In the hours after the attack, friends in Boston replied to my text messages inquiring about their safety.  The vast majority were at work (despite what you may have read the entire city does not get the day off) where they stayed. Not sheltering-in-place, but going about their daily jobs. One particular friend was in the midst of selling his condo.  He has not put that on hold. Even in Boston, life did not come to a screeching halt for the majority of people.
  • Cold or strong? On my way home from work that day I stopped at an upscale Italian restaurant for a cocktail and some news. Monday is not a particularly busy night, but there were still a number of people seated at the bar.  I was the only one watching the television tuned to CNN. I realize that due to my work and interests that I have a strong appetite for stories about catastrophes.  Yet it struck me, at first, that the other patrons seemed cold or callous, sipping their cocktails and nibbling on their olives unconcerned about a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. After a while I reconsidered.  Perhaps we have become more resilient.  Maybe we are not prone to overreaction. It might be that they already had heard the news and did not feel the need to stay glued to anchors repeating the same information over and over again. It could be that Tom Friedman, writing in today’s New York Times, got it right:

Fortunately, we don’t frighten easily anymore. You could feel it in the country on Tuesday morning. We’ve been through 9/11. We probably overreacted then, but never again. We tracked down Osama bin Laden with police and intelligence work, and we’ll do the same in this case.

  • I have a feeling that next year the 118th Boston Marathon may be among the largest ever because as Boston author Dennis Lehane, writing in the same edition of the Times, put it:

Boston took a punch on Monday — two of them, actually — that left it staggering for a bit. Flesh proved vulnerable, as flesh is wont to do, but the spirit merely trembled before recasting itself into something stronger than any bomb or rage.

April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Incident update. DHS, FBI and CDC IED resources

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 15, 2013

Please note that little is known about this open incident and what is “known” may later revealed to be mistaken.

Blogs covering the incident





Boston Police Department reports 23 injured and 2 dead
Boston Police, Fire, EMS live radio broadcast: http://www.broadcastify.com/listen/feed/6254/?rl=rr


DHS and IEDs


FY 2008 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) Supplemental
Guidance Information Focusing on Improvised Explosive Device
Deterrence, Prevention, and Protection


Secretary Napolitano Excerpt from Counter-IED Symposium .

Search here for additional information: http://search.dhs.gov/search?query=ied&affiliate=dhs


FBI and IEDs

Mar. 1, 2013 FBI Podcast on IEDs


Search here for additional information: http://www.fbi.gov/fbi-search?q=ied&siteurl=www.fbi.gov%2F#output=xml_no_dtd&client=google-csbe&cx=004748461833896749646%3Ae41lgwqry7w&cof=FORID%3A9%3BNB%3A1&ie=UTF-8&siteurl=www.fbi.gov%2F&start=0&q=ied++++

3:02 PM Update (thanks AB):
Links to the information produced by a CDC project on responding to blast injuries caused by terrorist attacks (from the Securing the Cities project):






“But the greatest threat isn’t posed by the direct harm terrorists could inflict; it comes from what we do to ourselves when we are spooked.”


April 12, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 12, 2013

Might be worth noting — given our interest in homeland security — that on this day in 1861 South Carolina militia initiated an artillery bombardment of Ft. Sumter, beginning the Civil War. What’s on your mind?

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