Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 31, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 31, 2013

I apologize to fans of the Friday Free Forum.  This has been an unusually busy week and I simply forgot to launch this space for your comments.  It is now late Friday afternoon.

This week has been packed with breaking news related to homeland security.

I will note, however, that on this date in the year 526 an earthquake hit Antioch (now Turkey), essentially the New York City of its day.  Over 250,000 died.  Twelve years later the recovering city was sacked by the invading Persians.  In 541-542 Antioch was decimated by plague.

After more than nine centuries as the leading city of the Eastern Mediterranean Antioch slid into obscurity over a period of less than twenty years.

What’s on your mind regarding homeland security?

May 30, 2013

Pathogenesis of terrorism

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 30, 2013

Last week the President articulated his understanding of terrorist origins. At the National Defense University he explained:

Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. 

This is a common perception of what motivates terrorists.  The President tells us — and I agree — the motivation is not based in reality.

Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war  with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.

But there is another motivation more fundamental than the ideology referenced by the President.  There is an underlying precondition that enables the deadly ideology.  The vast majority of Muslims are mostly immune to this precondition precisely because of their Muslim faith.

Intentional violence against random strangers may be this precondition’s most dramatic symptom, but there are many more.  Other common attributes are beliefs and behaviors associated with narcissism: self-aggrandizement, sense of persecution, envy, lack of empathy, paranoia, delusions of omnipotence, et cetera.

If the ideology noted by the President is a symptom emerging from an underlying pathology, is a deeper diagnosis available?  Continuing the theme of poetic policy argument started on Tuesday, I suggest:

Banality breeds barbarity
Beginning with brittle self-regard
Combining with vague resentment
Finding in a convenient other
Sufficient blame for the fatal infection

The banal prefer clarity
Impatient with ambiguity
Insisting on bald binaries
Purchased by investing in
Disdain denial delusion

The banal find comfort in
Any orthodoxy that claims to
Contain the perpetual paradox
Emerging from our experience
Of constant creative change

Creating involves doing
Failing learning – thinking
Observing complications
Considering contradictions
Traipsing the light fantastic

The banal prefer repeating
Half-heard petty pieties
Unchanging litanies of self-
Congratulation and complaint
Elaborate confections of conceit

The banal build barns and fill them
Construct houses on sandbars
Do not consider the birds of the air
Cherish the log in their eye and the
Speck in the eye of their neighbor

The banal are deaf to dialogue
Blind to beauty but generally
Harmless except to themselves
Unless their delusions are
Nationalized, worse sacralized

Then sugary sentiment becomes
Hard cold sharp steel ready to
Sacrifice innocence especially their own
On a baroque altar of self-righteousness
Bloody bathos brutal banality

Bless me please with uncertainty.

May 29, 2013

PBS’ NOVA on the Boston Marathon bombings and technology

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

Just a heads up that tonight on your local PBS station, the program NOVA is running a show “Manhunt – Boston Bombers” that examines the technology that aided in the investigation.

As NOVA explains:

At 2:50 pm on April 15, two bomb blasts turned the Boston Marathon finish line from a scene of triumph to tragedy, leaving three dead, hundreds injured, and a city gripped by heartbreak and terror. Less than five days later, the key suspects were identified and apprehended with one dead, the other in custody. How did investigators transform the chaos of the bombing into a coherent trail of clues, pointing to the accused killers? NOVA follows the manhunt step by step, examining the role modern technology—combined with old-fashioned detective work—played in cracking the case. Given hundreds of hours of surveillance and bystander videos, how did agents spot the suspects in a sea of spectators? Why couldn’t facial recognition software I.D. the criminals? How much could bomb chemistry analysis, cell phone GPS, infrared imagery, and crowdsourcing reveal about the secrets behind this horrific crime? With the help of top criminal investigators and anti-terrorism experts, NOVA explores which technological innovations worked—and which didn’t—and how the world of crime fighting could be transformed tomorrow.



The view from inside a tornado

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

In case you haven’t watched cable news the past few days, you may have missed this amazing video taken from inside a tornado.



The Huffington Post provides some details:

In an intense, fascinating video clip, professional storm chasers Brandon Ivey and Sean Casey take viewers inside a wedge tornado in Smith County, Kan., on Monday evening.

The pair, who appear in the Discovery Channel series “Storm Chasers,” captured the footage from the inside of their “tornado intercept vehicle,” a heavy-duty vehicle outfitted with sensors and cameras, the video’s YouTube description explains.

According to their measurements, the tornado’s winds were in excess of 150 miles per hour — at least, that’s what the duo recorded before the storm ripped the instruments from their vehicle.

Marathon bombing ‘would not have happened’ in New York

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on May 29, 2013

In the Hill’s Blog Briefing Room, Jordy Yager reports:

A terror attack like the bombing of the Boston Marathon would never have happened in New York City, according to former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

Hayden, who also headed the National Security Agency, said the New York police department’s expansive spying on the city’s Muslim communities would have helped officials to identify the radical tendencies of the alleged bombers and prevent the attack.

“If these two mopes were living in New York this attack would not have happened,” said Hayden, speaking at a panel on Tuesday organized by the Institute for Education.
“The New York police department is far more aggressive, far more invasive, going what’s been termed ‘mosque crawling’ and a whole bunch of other things to permeate the Islamic-American community. Boston doesn’t do that,” he continued.

“The probability that these two young [men’s] — particularly the older one, Tamerlan [Tsarnaev] — behavior shows up on the scope in New York is much higher than it was in Boston.”

Hayden argued that there is not much more the government and law enforcement officials can do that would still maintain the civil liberties and personal freedoms that define America.

And Americans, he said, need to accept the consequences of that: the “inevitable” nature of another terror attack.

“We’ve already squeezed American privacy, American commerce, American convenience,” said Hayden. “My personal view is: we’re just about okay. I don’t know that I can promise you any more dramatic returns for doing more to make this kind of attack less likely.”

“In order to preserve our way of life, our DNA as a free people, we’re all going to agree that sooner or later something down here is going to happen.”

May 28, 2013

Immigration Reform and the Gilovich Conjecture

Filed under: Immigration — by Christopher Bellavita on May 28, 2013

Immigration reform may make its way through the Senate soon. Its chances in the House are less optimistic.

What role will reason play in the latest immigration reform effort?

My answer is guided by Tim Gilovich’s observation (reported in The Righteous Mind, page 84):

When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” Then … we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of psuedo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks.

When we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.”

And — as I have noted before about the Gilovich Conjecture — much of this questioning happens below the level of consciousness.

Test the conjecture for yourself next time you are confronted with a controversial argument you want to believe, or one you don’t want to believe. For example, maybe something like the following:

Continuing to believe that evidence and logic influence public policy more than emotion and an adaptive unconscious, the Heritage Foundation issued a report a few weeks ago about immigration. The report asserts that “current immigration practices … operate like a system of transnational welfare outreach, bringing millions of fiscally dependent individuals into the U.S.”

If amnesty is a part of immigration reform:

“Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion. …. This should be considered a minimum estimate. It probably understates real future costs because it undercounts the number of unlawful immigrants and dependents who will actually receive amnesty and underestimates significantly the future growth in welfare and medical benefits.”

Does that estimate hold up? asks Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews, as if has better access to evidence and argument.

“Not really. They [the authors of the Heritage Report] make a lot of curious methodological choices that cumulatively throw the study into question. It’s likely that immigrants would pay a lot more in taxes, and need a lot less in benefits, than Heritage assumes, and that other benefits would outweigh what costs remain.”

And then he writes a lot more about the subject, but — to be fair — not as much as the Heritage document.

Two days later, Wonkblog “put that piece in context” by noting one of the authors of the Heritage report wrote a PhD dissertation at Harvard about IQs and immigration that concluded (according to the dissertation abstract)

“The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations…. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.”

A number of people on the political left and middle and right and the gaps in-between objected to the argument and its conclusions, no doubt after also reading the dissertation abstract.

Heritage quickly announced the dissertation was “not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation.”

The Foundation then went into damage control, and apparently considered hiring professional damage controllers.

Two days later, the co-author (Jason Richwine) resigned from Heritage.

He was “guilty of crimethink,” tweeted Charles Murray, Richwine’s mentor. “The bashing from the right has been as mindless as from the left.”

Richwine was interviewed by Byron York of the Washington Examiner a few days after the resignation. York’s article offers a compassionate but realistic portrait of a young intellectual caught by surprise in a political and media shredder.

So, how did it happen? Richwine, the Harvard intellectual, thought he could discuss perhaps the most radioactive subject in America — a mixture of race, ethnicity, and group intelligence — in the context of another highly controversial topic — immigration — and act as if it were all a matter of scholarly inquiry. In addition, he made what was at best a careless mistake … and further damaged himself by making tone-deaf remarks during a public discussion in Washington. Given the intensity of the immigration fight now raging in Washington, that was more than enough to do him in.

Steve Colbert had a slightly different analysis of the Heritage report incident and its aftermath.

But all that is prelude to what I really wanted to present in today’s post.

Here is a 21st century policy argument about immigration in the United Kingdom titled “Mathematics.”

Hollie McNish is the author. Her 2 minute and sixteen second argument seeks to bypass the reason gene completely and go directly to the part of one’s brain that decides things.

Listen to her argument.

If you want to believe what she says, have your unconscious ask yourself “Can I believe it?”

But if you don’t want to believe the argument, direct your unconscious to ask “Must I believe it?”

I think there may still be a bit of time left to wait for Reason to get its policy act together.

Or maybe not.

May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 27, 2013

For those interested in homeland security it is worth remembering that Memorial Day emerged from our Civil War — a continuation of politics using other means — when Americans killed at least three-quarter million fellow citizens.

One of the first Memorial Day (or Decoration Day) commemorations was conducted in Charleston, South Carolina, where the first shots of the war had sounded.   In May 1865 freed slaves and Northern carpetbaggers (mostly missionaries and teachers) claimed a burial ground of Union prisoners-of-war at what had been the Charleston race track.

They erected a memorial (victory?) arch to which at least 10,000 marched.  According to a reporter with the New York Tribune:

At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing ‘John Brown’s Body.’ The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang ‘We’ll Rally around the Flag,’ the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. No record survives of which biblical passages rung out in the warm spring air, but the spirit of Leviticus 25 was surely present at those burial rites: ‘for it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you … in the year of this jubilee he shall return every man unto his own possession.

Especially on Memorial Day we recognize that, as when used by a surgeon, violence may be needed to remove a cancer and begin the healing.  But a politics of persuasion — reasoning and listening and working together — is always preferable to a politics of other means.

May 24, 2013

Terrorism and the greater threat of perpetual war

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 24, 2013

Below is an extended excerpt from the prepared remarks for a speech the President gave Thursday afternoon.  I have removed a historical preface and about the last fifth which addressed the situation with Gitmo and offered an eloquent closing.  The bold highlights are what on first reading struck me as especially interesting.  You can read the entire prepared remarks at the White House website.


With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions – about the nature of today’s threats, and how we should confront them.

These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11. Instead, what we’ve seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP –the most active in plotting against our homeland. While none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11 they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.

Unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria. Here, too, there are differences from 9/11. In some cases, we confront state-sponsored networks like Hizbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Others are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory. While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. That means we will face more localized threats like those we saw in Benghazi, or at the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives – in loose affiliation with regional networks – launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.

Finally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; a plane flying into a building in Texas; or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City – America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our time. Deranged or alienated individuals – often U.S. citizens or legal residents – can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. That pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

Lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We must take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya. These attacks were all deadly, and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow. But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.

Moreover, we must recognize that these threats don’t arise in a vacuum. Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.

Nevertheless, this ideology persists, and in an age in which ideas and images can travel the globe in an instant, our response to terrorism cannot depend on military or law enforcement alone. We need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills and ideas. So let me discuss the components of such a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.

First, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces.

In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counter-terrorism force which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe-haven to launch attacks against us or our allies.

Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al Shabaab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we are providing military aid to a French-led intervention to push back al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.

Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence; the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That’s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic.

But despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain a foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth. They take refuge in remote tribal regions. They hide in caves and walled compounds. They train in empty deserts and rugged mountains.

In some of these places – such as parts of Somalia and Yemen – the state has only the most tenuous reach into the territory. In other cases, the state lacks the capacity or will to take action. It is also not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist. And even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians– where a terrorist compound cannot be breached without triggering a firefight with surrounding tribal communities that pose no threat to us, or when putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis.

To put it another way, our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm. The risks in that case were immense; the likelihood of capture, although our preference, was remote given the certainty of resistance; the fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties, or embroiled in an extended firefight, was a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our Special Forces – but also depended on some luck. And even then, the cost to our relationship with Pakistan – and the backlash among the Pakistani public over encroachment on their territory – was so severe that we are just now beginning to rebuild this important partnership.

It is in this context that the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones. As was true in previous armed conflicts, this new technology raises profound questions – about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality.

Let me address these questions. To begin with, our actions are effective. Don’t take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden’s compound, we found that he wrote, “we could lose the reserves to the enemy’s air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.” Other communications from al Qaeda operatives confirm this as well. Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers, and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.

Moreover, America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.

And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it. That’s why, over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.

In the Afghan war theater, we must support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. That means we will continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces. However, by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we have made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.

Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. Even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.

This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted, lethal action is the use of conventional military options. As I’ve said, even small Special Operations carry enormous risks. Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies; unleash a torrent of unintended consequences; are difficult to contain; and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict. So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths, or to create enemies in the Muslim world. The result would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.

So yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life. Indeed, our efforts must also be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations. In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed. So neither conventional military action, nor waiting for attacks to occur, offers moral safe-harbor. Neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services – and indeed, have no functioning law.

This is not to say that the risks are not real. Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies, and impacts public opinion overseas. Our laws constrain the power of the President, even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.

For this reason, I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action. After I took office, my Administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that – not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP.

This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team

That’s who Anwar Awlaki was – he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S. bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Christmas Day bomber – went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, and helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack. His last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki.

Of course, the targeting of any Americans raises constitutional issues that are not present in other strikes – which is why my Administration submitted information about Awlaki to the Department of Justice months before Awlaki was killed, and briefed the Congress before this strike as well. But the high threshold that we have set for taking lethal action applies to all potential terrorist targets, regardless of whether or not they are American citizens. This threshold respects the inherent dignity of every human life. Alongside the decision to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way, the decision to use force against individuals or groups – even against a sworn enemy of the United States – is the hardest thing I do as President. But these decisions must be made, given my responsibility to protect the American people.

Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested – the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch – avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national-security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. Despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these – and other – options for increased oversight.

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia. As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking. We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred. Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better. But our security and values demand that we make the effort.

This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as a rebuke to violent extremists. We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating extremist elements – because the end of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorism. We are working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians – because it is right, and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region. And we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship – because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with peoples’ hopes, and not simply their fears.

Success on these fronts requires sustained engagement, but it will also require resources. I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures – even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.

America cannot carry out this work if we do not have diplomats serving in dangerous places. Over the past decade, we have strengthened security at our Embassies, and I am implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi. I have called on Congress to fully fund these efforts to bolster security, harden facilities, improve intelligence, and facilitate a quicker response time from our military if a crisis emerges.

But even after we take these steps, some irreducible risks to our diplomats will remain. This is the price of being the world’s most powerful nation, particularly as a wave of change washes over the Arab World. And in balancing the trade-offs between security and active diplomacy, I firmly believe that any retreat from challenging regions will only increase the dangers we face in the long run.

Targeted action against terrorists. Effective partnerships. Diplomatic engagement and assistance. Through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large scale attacks on the homeland and mitigate threats to Americans overseas. As we guard against dangers from abroad, however, we cannot neglect the daunting challenge of terrorism from within our borders.

As I said earlier, this threat is not new. But technology and the Internet increase its frequency and lethality. Today, a person can consume hateful propaganda, commit themselves to a violent agenda, and learn how to kill without leaving their home. To address this threat, two years ago my Administration did a comprehensive review, and engaged with law enforcement. The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the Muslim American community – which has consistently rejected terrorism – to identify signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. Indeed, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.

Indeed, thwarting homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part because of our proud commitment to civil liberties for all who call America home. That’s why, in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication, and build in privacy protections to prevent abuse. That means that – even after Boston – we do not deport someone or throw someone in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the State Secrets doctrine. And that means finally having a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counter-terrorism efforts and our values may come into tension.

The Justice Department’s investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As Commander-in Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

All these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact – in sometimes unintended ways – the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

May 23, 2013

The wisdom of the women of Woolwich

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 23, 2013

I am not in a position today to see/hear much of US broadcast media. I hope the following is not entirely redundant to every cable news headline blast. This afternoon — as I expect every reader knows — the President will give a much anticipated policy address on counter-terrorism.  I will be surprised if he addresses the kind of counter-terrorism we saw demonstrated earlier today in the UK.  There was a fierce collision at the intersection of despair, banality, barbarity, courage, competence and wisdom. If there is to be “victory” in the war against terror, it is more likely to emerge from what the women of Woolwich have shown us than 10,000 drones.  A long cut-and-paste from The Telegraph follows. 


A mother-of-two described tonight how she put her own life on the line by trying to persuade the soldier’s murderers to hand over their weapons.

Cub scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett selflessly engaged the terrorists in conversation and kept her nerve as one of them told her: “We want to start a war in London tonight.”

Mrs Loyau-Kennett, 48, from Cornwall, was one of the first people on the scene after the two Islamic extremists butchered a soldier in Woolwich, south east London.

She was photographed by onlookers confronting one of the attackers who was holding a bloodied knife.

Mrs Loyau-Kennett was a passenger on a number 53 bus which was travelling past the scene, and jumped off to check the soldier’s pulse.

“Being a cub leader I have my first aid so when I saw this guy on the floor I thought it was an accident then I saw the guy was dead and I could not feel any pulse.

“And then when I went up there was this black guy with a revolver and a kitchen knife, he had what looked like butcher’s tools and he had a little axe, to cut the bones, and two large knives and he said ‘move off the body’.

“So I thought ‘OK, I don’t know what is going on here’ and he was covered with blood. I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else. I thought these people usually have a message so I said ‘what do you want?’

“I asked him if he did it and he said yes and I said why? And he said because he has killed Muslim people in Muslim countries, he said he was a British soldier and I said really and he said ‘I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan they have nothing to do there.”

Moments earlier, the killers had hacked at the soldier “like a piece of meat”, and when Mrs Loyau-Kennett arrived on the scene they were roaming John Wilson Street waiting for police to arrive so they could stage a final confrontation with them.

She said: “I started to talk to him and I started to notice more weapons and the guy behind him with more weapons as well. By then, people had started to gather around. So I thought OK, I should keep him talking to me before he noticed everything around him.

“He was not high, he was not on drugs, he was not an alcoholic or drunk, he was just distressed, upset. He was in full control of his decisions and ready to everything he wanted to do.

I said ‘right now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose, what would you like to do?’ and he said I would like to stay and fight.”

The suspect in the black hat then went to speak to someone else and Mrs Loyau-Kennett tried to engage with the other man in the light coat.

She said: “The other one was much shier and I went to him and I said ‘well, what about you? Would you like to give me what you have in your hands?’ I did not want to say weapons but I thought it was better having them aimed on one person like me rather than everybody there, children were starting to leave school as well.

Mrs Loyau-Kennett was not the only woman to show extraordinary courage. Others shielded the soldier’s body as the killers stood over them.

MPs praised the “extraordinary bravery” of the women and raised concerns about why it took armed police 20 minutes to arrive at the scene while people’s lives were at risk.

According to a security source the delay in the armed police response is “particularly surprising” because there is a heavily armed police presence at Woolwich Crown Court, which is just two and a half miles away.

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs select committee, said: “We are all grateful for the local people who responded so quickly.

“I do want to pay tribute to them [members of the public] – I think what they have done is extraordinarily brave and courageous.

“It shows the spirit of London that people are just not prepared to allow an attack of this kind. I pay tribute to what they have done.”

Patrick Mercer MP, a former army officer and former shadow counter terrorism minister, paid tribute to the people who shielded the body of the soldier.

He said: “This is courage of the highest order, it sounds as if these members of the public are not soldiers, not policemen, not people whose duties demand this, they are extremely courageous people and that courage deserves to be recognised at the highest level.”

Resilience: Stop the virus now?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 23, 2013

A resilient person, enterprise, or region anticipates failure – even fundamental failure.

This is not necessarily a fatalistic or cynical disposition (though it can be). At best it is a kind of proactive realism, even a healthy paranoia (ala Only the Paranoid Survive).

The resilience paradox involves enhanced influence through less control.  The tensions between orthodox and paradox can be very real. (Unpack those two sentences and you have a chapter, if not a book, on the future of homeland security.)

As a strategic priority resilience mitigates hubris and promotes humility. It is one way of recognizing and saying-aloud, “Ultimately I am not in control, but I can be prepared to respond and adapt.”

A science of resilience is coalescing around principles derived from physics, biology, and human behavior. These natural principles are increasingly being tested and amended to be purposefully grafted into social systems.

Last week Arnold Bogis pointed us to the Rockefeller Foundation’s new multimillion dollar effort to build urban resilience. A thoughtful, clearly experienced, and apparently innovative emergency manager responded with at least some annoyance.

A.J. Phelps commented (in part, please see full comment):

I see a lot of potential duplication of effort with a CRO (Chief Resilience Officer) position, as opposed to consolidation of effort. Concepts that I associate with resiliency (like recovery and mitigation) fit squarely on my plate as an emergency manager provided the focus is on the manager side of the title, are addressed through a collaborative planning process with SMEs, and should be included in existing planning programs.

I hope many top emergency managers have already begun bringing together the team that will enable their city, region or whatever to apply to the Rockefeller Foundation.  Especially if Mr. Phelps’ critique is correct, emergency managers should be in the vanguard of this effort.

Resilience is a buzzword which is a kind of meme which is a kind of emergence that may or may not find its own resilience.  Such beginnings are precisely when the opportunity for influence is most profound.  Do you want to kill the resilience movement? This is your best chance.  Do you want to refine and nourish the resilience movement?  Now is the right time.  In either case, this is the moment to reflect on your motivations and take action.

Great foundations — like great teachers, executives, and prophets — invite us to work with  them to create new realities.  This is what the Rockefeller Foundation is doing with their 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge.  They do not presume to have defined resilience as some sort of universal constant. They have observed that “vulnerability in one area shakes the stability of others, rippling across borders and continents.”  They are inviting creativity and commitment to ensure “cities are prepared for and can withstand the crises they are certain to face – mitigating local impact and minimizing worldwide reverberations.”

You can learn more and apply at: 100 Resilient Cities

Synergistically Shifting the Resilience Paradigm

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 23, 2013

The following post is by Andrew J. Phelps. I invited Mr. Phelps to “respond” to my post above which was a reaction to his comment last week. His response is considerably more than a response-to-a-response and deserves this separate posting. (Philip J. Palin)


I have no idea what the title of this post means. I don’t know if I could accurately define or describe “synergy”, “resilience”, or “paradigm”. I have ideas of what they may mean and I have used them all, probably incorrectly, in talks, presentations, and my writing. I have a problem, however, with the word resilience. So much so that I jumped at the opportunity to dig a little deeper into my derision for that word when asked by the folks at Homeland Security Watch.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s recently announced 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge is aimed at creating 100 local CROs (Chief Resilience Officers) “to oversee the development of a resilience strategy for (their) city”. Reading about this well-intentioned initiative made me wonder if the concept of “resilience” is truly understood by the policy-makers asking communities to become more resilient. I do not believe it is. My two-part understanding of resilience in the context of disasters and catastrophes in a community is this:

  • One, the ability of a community to quickly begin recovering from a disaster and continue the provision of services;
  • and two, a community’s capacity to return to its pre-disaster “shape” (a rubber-band is resilient, in that as it is pulled and stretched, it always returns back to its original size and shape. Unless it breaks.  In which case, it is beyond repair and perhaps lacked sufficient “resiliency”).

My first understanding of resiliency speaks to two critical components of emergency planning: Recovery (both short and long-term) and Continuity of Operations/Government. My second understanding just sounds like a bad idea to me and one I would not be comfortable explaining it as an optional path following a disaster to my elected officials:

Governor: Our state has been devastated by XYZ disaster. We need to show we are resilient.

Emergency Manager: How would you like us to demonstrate that?

Governor: By returning everything to how it was before the disaster.

Emergency Manager: Okay. But doesn’t that mean we will remain vulnerable to this same disaster in the future? Apparently “normal” wasn’t doing the trick and we had this horrible disaster. Maybe “normal” isn’t where we want to be…

Governor: Good point. So… we need to show we are beyond resilient; that we are forward-thinking and vow to re-build stronger than before so we won’t have to go through this again. I shall convene a blue-ribbon panel of experts to devise a strategy that will allow-

Emergency Manager: Governor, if I may, we have already done that. It’s our Hazard Mitigation Plan, full of project ideas designed specifically for that purpose. Why don’t we look at some of those projects that will allow us to be “beyond resilient” and rebuild our community so there is less of an impact next time and we don’t need to do as much “bouncing back”?

I think the idea of a resilience officer duplicates the current efforts of emergency managers to build a collaborative space in which subject matter experts from government agencies across all levels of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and the community served by the emergency manager develop plans, strategies, training and exercise initiatives, and resource acquisitions to address what it sounds like the Rockefeller Foundation envisions being addressed by a Resilience Officer.

Here is what I believe:

Communities are inherently resilient.

Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has been recovering, even in light of a national economic down turn and a second disaster, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil leak. I understand New Orleans has not fully recovered, however a study released in February, 2013 showed that between 2010 and 2011 it was the fastest growing city in the US and as of July, 2011 (5 years after the disaster) had 90% of its 2000 population. That same study showed the New Orleans metro area had a 0.6% increase in jobs while the rest of the country had a 3% decrease between 2007 and 2012. The referenced study does show some areas where New Orleans is not doing so well, especially in terms of violent crime and affordable housing, but it certainly is not allowing itself to wash away into the Mississippi delta. I imagine that New Orleans is not seeking to resiliently return to its pre-Katrina condition, but to recover to a state better than its pre-Katrina condition.

There is no community in the US that I can think of that has been impacted by a disaster in the last 100 years that has not recovered. After a disaster, our communities are not abandoned. They come back. Some quickly, some slowly, but they come back. West, Texas will come back. Moore, Oklahoma will come back. Who will be leading those comebacks? It won’t be a Chief Resilience Officer. It will be planners, SMEs from all corners of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and members of the community.

Resilience is the new All Hazards

Most every profession has a short-hand (even the NIMS-indoctrinated, plain-text homeland security crowd). As I began my pursuit of a career in Emergency Management everyone was talking about an All Hazards approach. Of course, it didn’t mean we were planning for every hazard under the sun; it is shorthand meaning that we were planning for all of the hazards that could impact our community. I recently mentioned the all-hazards planning approach while giving a talk to a community organization where I live and work in New Mexico. A puzzled audience member asked why we would be preparing for all hazards when things like tsunamis and hurricanes wouldn’t really impact us. It occurred to me that the words we use and concepts we understand are not necessarily understood by people outside of our field, though that does not prevent elected officials, policy makers, or philanthropists from using them, regardless of their own lack of understanding. The further we get from the meaning of our own shorthand, the more cloudy our mission becomes, both to us and our communities. Instead of throwing around a term like “resilience” or “all-hazards” and assuming people know what we are talking about, let us break those concepts down into its individual parts and really explain the role of hazard and risk identification and assessment, mitigation, recovery and operational continuity planning and its importance. People are smart and don’t need us to “Reader’s Digest” everything into small words. These are big and important ideas. Let’s not throw them away.

I do not know that a CRO is sustainable, but believe sustainability is critical to resiliency.

The Rockefeller Foundation wants to distribute $100 million among 100 cities with the goal of making communities more “resilient”. My math can be shaky, but since I have time to use a calculator I have figured out that this comes to $1 million per community. The idea is that this money will be used to fund a Chief Resilience Officer charged with overseeing resiliency initiatives like a resilience plan and improvements to infrastructure to increase their resilience. If the recent FEMA Community Resilience Innovation Challenge is any indication of what some of those projects may be, we will see the creation of mobile communication vehicles and the purchase of emergency generators, but likely with even less accountability than current homeland security grant programs that have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to projects just like those. And in the blink of an eye, the community has blown through their million dollars, has a new position they either need to pay for or get rid of, and another plan tucked onto its already-too-full shelf; a plan that is in all likelihood a mash-up of existing continuity of operations, hazard mitigation, recovery and emergency response plans. And Harold Hill has moved on to the next town.

I also question how a community could assess the return on investment of a CRO, but I suspect that it could be measured in much the same way the return on investment can be measured for emergency managers (grant funds brought in to a community, contact with citizens during preparedness presentations, more efficient response times, etc.), in which case, what would be done by a CRO that is not already being done by someone. We also need to be adaptable to a changing world and maintain our ability to improvise to dynamic situations like disasters, but I don’t think we need a Director of Adaptability or Improviser in Chief.

Blog posts are the new psychotherapy, a chance to work through demons. The difference is the opportunity for strangers to comment on how well, or how poorly, you’ve done. I am grateful to Philip Palin and the HLS Watch for providing me an opportunity to have worked through my deep-seated hatred for the word resilience. I look forward to a continued exchange of ideas. We emergency managers, mayors, governors, fire and police chiefs, urban planners, corporate executives, community organizers and concerned citizens need to incorporate the concepts that are commonly understood as contributing to a community’s resilience into our planning. This means looking at climate change as a hazard to be mitigated and above all else, ensuring our communities can continue to progress, not regress or remain static, following a devastating tornado, wildfire, or pandemic. Many communities already do this formally, I believe all do informally.

Resilience is not a bad word, and the Rockefeller’s Resilience Challenge is not a bad idea. It has perhaps given emergency management a hair cut, so now people will look at emergency management in another way and say “you look… different. Good, but different.” And emergency managers should say “thank you” and keep doing what we are doing, but perhaps with a little more money in our budgets and, even better from the perspective of my office chair, more understanding and support of what we are trying to accomplish.

May 22, 2013

Even in our grief, applying the algorithm

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 22, 2013

Plaza Tower Elementary Before After

Plaza Towers Elementary School, Moore, Oklahoma. Before and after

My mother’s family mostly live around Oklahoma City.  As far as I know all my cousins are okay.  But it is a huge clan, much more prolific than my father’s.  I have not met most of the youngest generation.

Even without a personal connection — including childhood memories of  my grandpa’s storm cellar — the outcome of what happened in Moore and nearby prompts many of us to quietly, respectfully ask some questions; and listen patiently and non-judgmentally for answers at the right time.


Is the frequency of the threat increasing?

Is the innate energy of the threat increasing?

Can we do anything to reduce the threat?


Since the 1999 tornado has new construction reasonably reflected the nature of the threat? (For example, safe-rooms, basements, other “protective action”)

Since the 1999 tornado has there been any retrofitting to reflect the nature of the threat? (For example, construction/designation of safe-rooms)

What is the nature of public training, exercising, messaging and other aspects of threat preparedness?


Does this event — and similar events — have implications for residential density?

Does this event — and similar events — have implications for preventive actions? (For example, there was at least some talk late Sunday and early Monday — before the tornado struck — of canceling schools across a wide area of Central Oklahoma.  Those involved in snow-closings will recognize the treacherous nature of such decisions.)

How do we best mitigate the worst risks?

Or as a friend wrote yesterday how do we — allow ourselves, discipline ourselves, empower ourselves — to “think-differently” about such risks?

May 21, 2013

“I think I have to turn off the news. As a grown man I’m crying for those school children.”

Filed under: Disaster — by Christopher Bellavita on May 21, 2013

The quote is from an anonymous person somewhere in New York on May 20th.

The images are from Oklahoma. Also on May 20th.

Moore ok 1


Moore ok 2


Moore ok 3Moore ok 4Moore ok 5Moore ok 7Moore ok 6

May 17, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 17, 2013

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

May 16, 2013

Soldier of Steel: Superman and the National Guard

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 16, 2013

In the tradition of Navy recruitment at theaters showing “Top Gun,” and what I hoped would be a similar boost for public health from “Contagion,” the National Guard has hitched itself to the new Superman movie that will hit theaters on June 14.

I saw this video during the previews before a showing of “Iron Man 3” (which itself is absolutely worth going to see…).



First off, just to be clear, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the men and women who serve in the National Guard.  And I think this recruitment video is well done, and the rest of their campaign found on http://www.soldierofsteel.com/ is innovative…for a government program anyway (play a game or watch some workout videos!).

What struck me in the theater is the juxtaposition of the scenes, all obviously showing the homeland rather than national security missions of the National Guard, with the title “citizen soldier.”  Everyday men and women (who looked incredibly fit and reminded me that I need to get back to the gym) morph into these citizen soldiers who arrive at the scene of disasters to rescue you or your neighbors.

That happens.  If you are reading this blog you are undoubtedly aware of the vital role National Guard units play in response to natural disasters or terrorist attacks while under the control of their respective governors.

However, as “citizen soldier” suggests, the National Guard is not strictly a homeland response force but also plays an enormously important role in national security planning. To be blunt, when push comes to shove, the Pentagon expects these forces to be deployed and aid in the projection of American power overseas.  In simpler terms, they are soldiers expected to perform military duties — such as killing our enemies — whether or not it’s hurricane season in their home states.

I am not arguing against this role.  In fact, along with the Reserves, the Guard plays an absolutely vital role in the defense of our nation.  With the withdrawal from Iraq and the slow extrication from Afghanistan, in the immediate future it is much less likely that National Guard units will be deployed in warzones (hoping that we don’t get drawn into foolish adventures in Syria or Iran…or forced to respond to North Korean or other provocations).

Yet I can’t help but be a little…something, since disturbed is too strong and piqued too weak…by this particular representation of the Guard’s duties.  Yes, it presents the opportunity to help your neighbors following disaster.  Yes, you put on the uniform and will be called upon to perform heroic duties.  But remember that you may not only end up digging children out of rubble but quite possible be responsible for inadvertently putting them, or at least foreign children, under it.

That is not an anti-war or anti-Guard or anti-military statement.  Just one that aims to point out that war is by necessity messy with boundaries often hard to define.  As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan showed far too many times, there are few defined “front lines” and innocent civilians are too easily thrust into the line of fire.

Joining the Nation Guard is to join a honored profession and to serve our country.  It is not, however, a job in a solely homeland security/disaster response force. And I wish that this recruitment campaign could make that point just a little more clear.

From a recent Baltimore Sun article on the last deployment of the Maryland National Guard to Afghanistan:

More than a decade of deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and other battlegrounds since Sept. 11, 2001, has produced a highly skilled and deeply experienced generation of warriors. But with the United States out of Iraq and planning to leave Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. James Adkins sees a new challenge.

“Many of the soldiers that are serving now have known only war,” he said Thursday from Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, where members of the 244th Engineer Co. are training for a deployment starting later this year.


Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Maryland National Guard has deployed nearly 4,000 soldiers and airmen to Afghanistan. Members have had a broad range of duties such as mentoring the Afghan Army and police, serving as infantry, evacuating wounded soldiers and flying drones.

Twelve Maryland guard members have been killed in action.


Since arriving at Fort A.P. Hill, an Army base north of Richmond, members have trained on weapons and tactics. On Thursday, they used a new GPS system to find their way through a wooded area.

“Warrior-type tasks,” Pennington said. “Your basic battle skills.”

May 15, 2013

A Chief Resilience Officer for Every City?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 15, 2013

Here’s an interesting idea: “Does Every City Need a Chief Resilience Officer?” The Atlantic Cities staff writer Emily Badger explains the concept:

The Rockefeller Foundation, this year celebrating its 100th anniversary, is throwing its weight (and its money) behind this mandate. Today, it’s announcing a 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, a three-year, $100 million prize with one particularly interesting component: The foundation plans to put up the money to hire a Chief Resilience Officer position in 100 cities around the world. Ultimately, though, these cities will have to scrounge up their own funds to keep the job alive.

Had anyone heard of this initiative? I hadn’t, and I’m impressed that a foundation as prestigious as Rockefeller is embracing the resilience concept.  Until recently, in my view at least, “resilience” was an idea more or less regulated to homeland security, health, and other related fields.  It would emerge immediately following a large event, whether natural or man-made, but just as quickly disappear from the public eye.

Rockefeller Foundation money does not equal widespread acceptance nor understanding, but I would argue that it is a sign that the concept is firmly entrenched in the public discourse and will not quietly pass into that good night if the next federal administration/round  of homeland security “experts” decides to go in another direction.

It appears that this came about partly because of the threat of climate change:

Rockefeller is inviting cities to apply to be one of these 100 resilient cities – to be named in three rounds over the next three years – by arguing for how they’re working to become “resilient.” Rockefeller wants to then help them create a resilience plan, preemptively sketching out how they would address any number of catastrophes including but beyond climate change.

“We see it as broader than that,” Coleman says. “It’s really about how cities are able to deal with shocks and stresses. Those could be climate-related, or more general weather-related. But they could be other natural disasters like earthquakes. They could also be things like financial shocks and stresses – something we’ve seen a lot of over the last few years. Or health crises. Really anything that is going to test the city and its response.”

The foundation is thinking about the long term:

“We feel that having someone specifically tasked with thinking about and acting on and planning for resilience will mean that other people within the city government will need to pay – and will be required to pay – attention to the issue,” he says. “They won’t be able to ignore it. Or, what tends to happen more often is not that it’s ignored, but it’s put on the back burner because it’s not seen as a priority until something happens.”

Maybe this will be one of those jobs that becomes obsolete through its own success: When “resiliency” is baked into everything a city does, we won’t need resilience officers any more.

I have to admit, I’d love one of these positions.  I also have to admit, that the best individuals for the job would be both well versed in the concept of resilience while also being among the movers and shakers in their local governments.  This will not be an easy position — inherently tough choices will be faced, no matter the local conditions.  It will, or at least should, require some level of political acumen that can best provide an opportunity for resilience-related initiatives to blossom.

For now, Rockefeller is unaware of any city already hosting a job quite like this one, so it’s hard to say exactly how the role will work (or what a qualified candidate might look like). Perhaps some mix of urban/transportation planner and sustainability officer and emergency manager? All of those jobs already exist, so it will be interesting to see how the people who hold them view the arrival of this new official tasked with reporting directly to the mayor.

(h/t to Dawn Scarola for sharing this concept and article.)

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