Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 29, 2013

Friday Free Forum

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

What’s on your mind related to homeland security

November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 28, 2013

In the midst of profound challenges — national and international, personal and social, practical and philosophical — I pause to give thanks.

I give thanks that the original ambitions of al-Qaida have been fractured, diminished, and are being pushed to the periphery.

I give thanks for the substantial recovery of New Orleans, the Gulf, Joplin, Tohoku, the Jersey Shore, Staten Island, Long Island and in this very moment the Visayas.  For the extraordinary creativity of the human spirit, I give thanks.  For the deep resilience of biological systems, I give thanks.

I give thanks that the men and women involved in air and ground transportation have demonstrated the potential of science and thoughtful design to engineer systems that over time substantially reduce risk of death, injury, and destruction.  May we seek to apply their lessons elsewhere.

Especially during these days of intense holiday travel, I give thanks for the polite, patient, and professional demeanor of the vast majority of TSA officers.

As I consider the extraordinary bounty of a beautiful world offered for my pleasure (often at an amazingly low price), I give thanks to the professionals at Customs and Border Protection and ICE.

For blueberries, raspberries and so-sweet clementines in bleak mid-winter, I pause in childlike wonder and thanksgiving.

Inspired by the hope and hard work of the newest Americans, I give thanks to the men and women of USCIS and their work to preserve and protect this nation of immigrants.

For Abdellilah, Annick, and Bahija, Arash, Jonathan, and Tessa, Vino, Shekar, and Toyoka, I give thanks.

I give particular thanks to live in a nation where the ballot is sacred and — with all our current frustrations — elections matter more than guns.  So I give thanks to the Secret Service as guardians of our collective choice.

For all my old friends at FEMA I daily give thanks.  You are expected to do much more than you are authorized, funded, or organized to do.  Yet most of you — most days — do the very best you can with the burden, threat, and opportunity of these extravagant expectations.

For my new friends at SPAR, I admire your intelligence, insight, and ambition, your confidence that the elephant can yet learn to dance.  I give thanks for practical idealism and tough-minded optimism.

As a collective the men and women of the United States Coast Guard are the most consistently competent, capable, creative, caring, and courageous I have ever personally encountered.  You give me hope that large organizations are able to combine command-and-control with actual thinking and meaningful, mindful action.  Thank you for your challenging contrarian model.

I don’t know many from NPPD, I&A, S&T, and other DHS components.  I only have the broadest notions of what you do.  But thank you.   To say much more would probably seem gratuitous (which once meant to express gratitude, but has morphed).

Over the last decade (and a bit more) my life has been enriched to work in homeland security.  There are so many state and local officials, so many private sector executives, so many neighbors caring about neighbors who have inspired and taught me so much.

It is also true there are too few Jocks and not nearly enough Leonas.

Chris Bellavita can seem a lonely archangel luminous in pure thought and flames of complex kinosis raising a bright sword to inspire a righteous but worried and rather absent-minded angelic host.  Those gathered about him at times seeming much more Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class, than Michael or Gabriel golden and glorious. Yet the archangel persists in loving and leading them.

And please remember, Clarence got the job done.

There are too few Teds, Jennifers, Janets, Patrices and Davids.   Each a plural because beside you stand others — still too few — but a remnant that may in the end be sufficient, just enough to see us through.

Working with each of you has been a constantly unfolding blessing.  Thank you.

There are days that I decide we are — at least I am — doomed, not merely to death (which is not for me a particular cause of dread) but to futile floundering, missed opportunities, and stupid self-limiting selfishness.

But then Ellen or Angela or Ryan — Tuesday it was Maybelle  — someone my children’s age, demonstrates such keen intelligence, strategic insight, and willingness to work that I am reassured that strings of mindfulness still stretch over the frets of this species’ long neck.  We are instruments capable of great beauty.

Thank you, each of you, for your music.

November 27, 2013

The (temporary) Nuclear Deal With Iran – Horrible or Divine? Don’t Believe the Hype

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 27, 2013

To listen to commentary, the recently concluded short-term agreement between major Western powers and Iran over that nation’s nuclear program is either the greatest diplomatic victory since the Treaty of Westphalia or the worst since “Munich.” (The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank has a great piece throwing cold water over the reflexive nature of the later crowd.)

Personally, I think the deal is positive and a great start, however it cannot be fully judged until (and if) a long-term agreement is eventually reached.

Regardless, the homeland security angle to this continuing story is second or third order — primarily in the supposed threat that Iran would either give or lose control of a nuclear weapon (when it actually develops one) or the material to Hezbollah or other terrorists. (Or that an Iranian nuclear capability will spur proliferation in the region…also leading to the theft or gift of nuclear weapons to terrorists.)

However, as this story has the potential to fuel water cooler talk in many homeland security circles, I would like to point to a resource for clear and balanced analysis.

The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recently launched “Iran Matters.” The website includes original analysis from the Center’s experts, including former high level White House, State Department, DOD, Intelligence, and IAEA officials.  There are also fact sheets, videos, Q & A’s, etc….all the trimmings of a thorough policy-orientated website.

Among the experts there are those that served President Obama, as well as in the Bush and Clinton Administrations. Viewpoints are shared by nuclear technical experts, professional diplomats and intelligence operatives, as well as nonproliferation experts and “big picture” political scientists.

Among the current offerings:

  • Graham Allison on the best “thumbs-up” and best “thumbs-down” assessments of the nuclear deal.

  • Gary Samore discusses what has to happen in the next six months to get to a permanent deal.

  • Former State Department Under Secretary Nicholas Burns answers “three good questions” about the nuclear deal.

  • Former IAEA deputy director general Olli Heinonen analyzes the devil in the nuclear details.

  • Professor Matthew Bunn explains why the deal makes sense.

  • Senior Fellow Will Tobey on ways to test Iran’s seriousness.

  • Mark Wallace and Matan Shamir on the risk to sanctions.

  • Senior Fellow Chuck Freilich on the view from Israel.


Again, if you are interested, the website is: http://iranmatters.belfercenter.org


And just because this song has been stuck in my head after listening to too many cable news pundits on this topic…

November 26, 2013

The National Strategic Narrative: A story that keeps giving

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

The National Strategic Narrative was published two years ago.  Early drafts surfaced a few years before that. The Narrative has been around awhile.

If you’re in the mood to read something hopeful this week, that focuses on national opportunities instead of national risks, and that talks about achieving prosperity and security within the bounds of Constitutional values, then this short document is worth your time.

But it does require reading more than a few paragraphs.  And it demands thinking about what is in the Narrative.

I’ve heard one of the authors (Wayne Porter) talk about the Narrative maybe a dozen times.  The audience has always been public safety leaders and mid career folks — people who are experienced enough not to blindly embrace the latest fad about “how to make everything right again.”  Almost without exception in these groups, the ideas in the Narrative are received as fundamentally new and unsentimentally inspiring.

I came across a video a few days ago that describes the Narrative and also captures some of the energy of the ideas.  If you have 20 minutes this week, you might enjoy watching the story of the National Strategic Narrative, told by its authors.

The video is too large to post on this site. But here’s the link: https://vimeo.com/31205135.


November 24, 2013

Update on Visayas Event

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 24, 2013


Click on the map to open a larger version

As of Saturday evening Philippine time:

Confirmed fatalities: Over 5000

Displaced persons: 4.29 million

Needing emergency food: 2.5 million

A combination of extraordinary international relief and restored domestic supply chains are delivering basic needs — water, food, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and such — to a wide area of the Central Philippines impacted by the November 8 typhoon.  It seems to me that it took roughly eight or nine days to establish sufficient capacity and capability across an area roughly the size of Louisiana.

These crucial elements of near-term recovery have been accomplished while most of the area still does not have electricity.  This is, I suggest, another in those important distinctions between a disaster and a catastrophe.  In a disaster the priority is usually restoration of power after which most other problems can be solved.  In a catastrophe or near-catastrophe the priority is often to deliver basic needs without the grid being operational… with all the complications that involves.

The Visayas are shifting to longer-term issues of recovery.  For example, fishermen who lost their boats to the typhoon are improvising as they can, but at least 1300 fishing craft were destroyed.  Mid-December is the season for rice-planting.  Seed-stocks were lost and need to be replenished and distributed quickly.  A geo-thermal plant — Asia’s largest — in western Leyte was thrown offline by the typhoon.  Cooling towers and controls will require repairs before it can restart.  The plant supplies roughly one-third of the electricity consumed in the Vasayas region.

November 22, 2013

Friday Free Forum

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

On this date in 1800 an estimated 6.0 to 7.0 earthquake damaged structures across Southern California.

On this date in 2006 the CAI chemical plant in Danvers Massachusetts exploded.  The blast was heard over 50 miles away and over 300 proximate structures, in a mostly residential neighborhood, were damaged.  There were, however, only minor injuries.

On this date in 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

November 21, 2013

Complex versus complicated

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on November 21, 2013

Sunday I was doing what I could — not much — to deploy barges, boats, anything that could float a truck to the San Bernadino strait between Luzon and Samar in Eastern Philippines.

About the same time several tornadoes were tearing through the area of downstate Illinois  where I grew up.  In Pekin and Washington over 500 homes were destroyed, over 100 were hospitalized, one died.  There was more death and destruction across the Midwest.

In each case — Central Illinois and Central Philippines — the precipitating cause was a cyclonic event with winds exceeding 190 miles per hour. In each case similar critiques have emerged related to risk-awareness, mitigation, warning, and preparedness.

Otherwise the differences are significant.

While there were over 70 confirmed tornadoes across the Midwest on Sunday, tornadoes are episodic. Tropical cyclones are epic.  Survivors in the tri-county region of Illinois talk about two-minutes of hell.  Survivors in the Visayas region of the Philippines experienced hours of assault by rain, wind, and surge. It is now estimated that up to 4 million have been displaced by the typhoon. Over 518,000 houses have been destroyed.  The dead are still being found.

Terrestrial cyclones don’t come with storm surge.  Water kills much more effectively than wind. Only earthquakes are more deadly… especially if they splash up a tsunami.

The scale — specific power at impact — of the EF-4 tornado that hit Washington is comparable to the CAT-5 typhoon that passed south of Tacloban.   In terms of their scope… well, look for yourself.

Haiyan to Washington

But it is a mistake to only see the differences as a matter of scope or scale.  In terms of consequences these events are expressions of entirely different categories.  The Visayas Event was/is complex and very much continuing to unwind.  The Washington Event was complicated and, except for those directly affected, is now mostly finished.

Disasters are contained in recognizable time-and-space, temporarily disrupting patterns that mostly rebound.  Catastrophes are complex cascades marking a fundamental shift in experience and direction.

There is a temptation to focus on size, as if one is a ping-pong ball and the other is a basketball.  Instead, it seems to me, we need to recognize that one is any size ball and the other is a positron: two very different types of reality, requiring two very different strategies of engagement.

For example:

In Illinois it is entirely reasonable to form a security perimeter around the impact site, to focus on evacuating survivors, and to defer mostly to private sector decisions related to recovery.

In the Visayas these same choices are possible, but where in Illinois the velocity and outcome of these choices are reasonably predictable and positive, in the Visayas such choices are likely to make things even worse (especially the next time).   In any case, in the Visayas (the positron) we are dealing with probability not predictability.

Given the catastrophic context in the Philippines instead of perimeters, focus on permeability (e.g. clear debris, repair bridges, expedite convoys).  Instead of evacuation, focus on quick restoration of lifelines (especially water and food, even electricity is secondary).  Private choices will be important in both places, but there are threats and vulnerabilities in Tacloban and elsewhere that would benefit from a much more active role by both government and civil society.

Catastrophes are not just big and complicated, they are an entirely different category of reality.

November 20, 2013

Senate Hearing on Threats to the Homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 20, 2013

In case you missed it, last week the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on “Threats to the Homeland.” You can find the member statements and written testimonies, as well as a higher quality video, on the Committee’s website: http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/threats-to-the-homeland

The witnesses included:

  • The Honorable  Rand Beers

    Acting Secretary
    U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • The Honorable  James B. Comey, Jr.

    Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
    U.S. Department of Justice
  • The Honorable  Matthew G. Olsen

    Director, National Counterterrorism Center
    Office of the Director of National Intelligence

I did not note anything particularly insightful or new in the testimony or answers to Senators’ questions. Lots of cyber, lots of Al Qaeda, lots of “Homegrown Violent Extremists” (HVEs), a little bit on other terrorist threats and active shooters.

However, if I missed something interesting please note it in the comments.



November 19, 2013

The reset of global violent jihad

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on November 19, 2013

This essay was written by Mike Walker as a series of 49 tweets.  Mr. Walker is the former undersecretary and acting secretary of the Army and former deputy director of FEMA during the Clinton Administration.    You can follow his twitter feed @New_Narrative.


The nominee for DHS secretary told Congress last week his first priority would be filling open political jobs. Shouldn’t the top priority of any DHS secretary be protecting the nation? In fact, the DHS nominee said counterterrorism was his third priority. The administration insists we are safer from terrorist attack today. We are, but a threat remains while a new one gathers. Many analysts believe the core of al-Qaeda has been decimated in its Pakistan safe haven. Yet, al-Qaeda keeps replacing everyone we kill. Their bench is apparently deeper than expected. Thanks to good intelligence, we have made it difficult for al-Qaeda to launch major attacks here at home.

Yet, the terrorists’ affiliates, allies & adherents are now active in more than 36 countries. The Al Qaeda movement today is in 3 times more countries than on 9-11. Since 9-11, al-Qaeda has morphed, decentralized & disbursed on purpose. Some analysts believe this diffuse, new al-Qaeda movement is, therefore, less threatening. They say the terrorists are now more focused on local issues, no longer on global violent jihad. These analysts are missing two current trends inside the terrorist syndicate.

First, al-Qaeda’s radical ideology continues to inspire small numbers of people, including Americans. In fact, a new Pew poll indicates as many as 13% of Muslims, perhaps 200 million people worldwide, view al-Qaeda favorably. Analysts also insist those being inspired today are less lethal. Tell that to Boston’s victims. Al Qaeda is actively urging homegrown terrorists to launch more attacks like Boston in America. Many analysts say, however, al-Qaeda’s call to violent jihad is falling on deaf ears. Yet, since Bin Laden was killed at least 50 people in the US, influenced by the al-Qaeda ideology, have been arrested or indicted. In the years since 9-11, law enforcement has done a great job keeping the nation safe. However, Boston proves we cannot stop everything & shows a continued weakness in intergovernmental cooperation.

The second trend is al-Qaeda’s rebirth overseas. The cycle of terrorism is being reset. Though under attack, al-Qaeda continues safe haven in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, & Somalia. New safe havens are being established in Libya, the African Sahel & the Egyptian Sinai. But it is Syria that is most troubling. Syria is attracting thousands, influenced by al-Qaeda’s radical & absolute beliefs. For the first time in al-Qaeda’s 25-year history, it now has a base in the very heart of the Middle East. Hundreds of Europeans & at least 60 Americans are being trained in Syria. Former FBI director Mueller warns these newly trained Americans may return home & attack here. One cell returning home has already been arrested planning attacks in Belgium.

Spreading violent jihad in recruits’ home countries is a requirement of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front in Syria. The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq also promises to attack inside the US, as does the brutal new leader of the Pakistan Taliban. And AQAP in Yemen has already launched at least 3 plots aimed directly at the American homeland. Before 9-11, al-Qaeda trained thousands of violent jihadists in large camps in Afghanistan. Today’s terror training is more modular & more subtle, thus more difficult to detect & stop. It is also more sophisticated & more accelerated than during the old days in Afghanistan. Some believe al-Qaeda has accomplished in 2 years in Syria, what it took them 10 to accomplish in Afghanistan. So, the global violent jihad has not disappeared; instead it continues to morph & develop.

Al Qaeda’s leaders have said future attacks will be at the time & place of their own choosing. Al-Qaeda’s adherents are patient & think in terms of decades or even longer. It was reported in mid-2009 that U.S. officials feared al-Qaeda’s ally, the Pakistan Taliban, had gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon. Fortunately, it wasn’t true, but Pakistan’s nuclear security is the second weakest in the world. And leading Pakistani nuclear scientists suggest those weapons could be hijacked & given to terrorists. Taking no chance, FEMA has been developing response plans to deal with the aftermath of an improvised nuclear device.

To conclude, we should all be wary of analysts with rosy assumptions. The global violent jihad movement has only been in hibernation. Today, that movement is resetting for the next new phase of terror. The reset of global violent jihad is emerging from an unfulfilled Arab Spring & is encouraged by weakened US influence abroad. So, the first homeland security priority must continue to be the safety of the United States. We are safer now than on 9-11 but will not continue to be if we take our eye off the ball. It is no time for complacency in America. As the director of the NCTC told Congress last week, al-Qaeda will attack should the opportunity arise.

This essay also appeared on the blog “Pietervanostaeyen: Musings on Arabism, Islamicism, History and current affairs.

November 18, 2013

Security-free Pedigree for Heads of DHS

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Nick Catrantzos on November 18, 2013

A subtitle could be DHS Execs: Video Gamers in a Contact Sport.

The ostensible leadership of the federal monolith charged with protecting the United States against existential threats at home continues to fill its executive ranks with people whose security expertise is either inflated or undetectable. The net result is akin to appointing a couch-addicted video gamer as quarterback for a team entering the Super Bowl. He may be fragile, but at least he has no arm, no legs, and no grace under pressure, even if his thumb-to-joystick coordination is world-class.

Enter Jeh Johnson, the latest attorney and bureaucrat to contend for stewardship of the Department of Homeland Security without the burden of ever having been responsible for actually protecting people or property. Raising campaign funds, prosecuting felons, haggling with other lawyers, and occupying sinecures doled out after successful political campaigns by grateful principals may certainly qualify an individual for patronage and the trappings of high office. Nevertheless, these talents fall short of bringing subject matter expertise to the job of protecting America from existential threats at home.

In this lack of anything properly describable as professional capacity, however, Mr. Johnson is neither unique nor especially reprehensible. Just because he has no experience protecting anything, this does not separate him markedly from his predecessors for one main reason: Neither were they. After all, prosecuting felons, the closest most of them have come to what the media confuse as a security role, has as much to do with preventing an attack as an autopsy has to do with saving a patient’s life.

Prosecution does not happen until after a loss has occurred. Consequently, it does nothing to prevent the loss. At theoretical best, prosecution serves a societal objective of making villains pay for their misdeeds and perhaps — a big and oft-debated perhaps — deter future malefactors from committing the same crime. Thus prosecution may contribute to public safety. It does little for protection, for security. This is why, at least in the private sector, security departments earn their keep by preventing losses from occurring in the first place rather than by chasing down the people responsible for causing those losses. Prevention, in other words, trumps apprehension. In the vast majority of cases, the time, resources, and expense of hunting down the people responsible for causing a loss are wildly out of proportion to the return for such efforts. Not only is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure, but in security the prevention is desired and affordable while the cure is a luxury that comes too late if the patient, i.e. the business, is already dead or on a morphine-drip after a catastrophic loss or attack has taken place.

So, why hire non-security professionals for what may well be the nation’s top security job? Given the consistency in the pedigrees of all DHS secretaries to date, one must infer that the real recruiting criteria are not so much about protection and prevention as about other things. What are those other things? I submit that there are three true qualifications in demand.


A South Korean general who pinned on his first star within a year of Jim Clapper, before either foresaw the latter’s rise to Director of National Intelligence, once told me this: “Colonel is military rank. General is political rank.” The top DHS job takes and confers political rank. Any office holder expects to spend more time testifying before various House and Senate committees or managing the relations between DHS and Congress than actually doing productive work in his or her office. Consequently, in order to navigate successfully through such waters, the Secretary of DHS must be a pilot who knows the political shoals and landscapes. He or she best does this by, well, being cut from the same cloth, by being one of them. And most of them are lawyers who have spent the bulk of their careers in the public sector — just like every Homeland Security top executive and candidate for that office.


The only possible exception to this criterion — and only to a part of it — was the first DHS executive, Tom Ridge. He was more of a peer to President Bush, having met and interacted with him when both were state governors. Consequently, when the out-of-office Governor Ridge needed a job and President George W. Bush needed the first DHS cabinet secretary, Ridge came in as a known to Bush. The two eventually grew to have their differences, but Ridge never directly showed insubordination to his boss. Subsequent incumbents were clearly more subordinate and beholden to their patrons. Michael Chertoff owed Presidents Bush (father and son) for some of his career appointments, and he was arguably the most cerebral and accomplished of DHS secretaries and candidates to date. Janet Napolitano, unlike Chertoff, had been elected to higher office as a governor, yet had no ostensible time in a peer relationship with her patron, President Obama. She did endorse him when he was a presidential candidate, as did Jeh Johnson, the latter also having raised funds for Obama’s campaign. Both Napolitano and Johnson supported and benefited from ties to the Clinton administration and Democrat party affiliation, just as Ridge and Chertoff did from Bush and Republican ties. Manifestly, then, political acceptability and familiarity to the appointing boss, whether Democrat or Republican, appears to be a more important selection criterion than, say, demonstrable security expertise.


Again, Ridge may have been a partial exception to this criterion in that he entered the office after having been a peer of the president who appointed him. Nevertheless, he and all successors remain presentable to the media, Congress, and the public while never rising to the kind of prominence that would eclipse that of the Commander in Chief. To explore this criterion, consider who the Secretary of Homeland Security has not been. After 9/11, the most prominent and publicly intuitive pick would have been Rudolph Giuliani. Not only did he turn around crime-related decline in America’s largest city, he showed leadership in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, earning the sobriquet, America’s Mayor. Anyone with direct exposure to this individual, though, has also been exposed to an out-sized ego and work habits that were likely more chaotic and incompatible to those of President Bush. A look at Giuliani and at either Bush or Obama, however, soon foreshadows incorrigible unreconcilability. Having himself contended for the office of President, Giuliani would invariably threaten to steal the thunder of any Commander in Chief. Since the latter remains a political office, too, no incumbent would embrace as Secretary of DHS a person who might intentionally or otherwise redirect limelight away from the nation’s chief executive.

With criteria such as the foregoing in play, is it any wonder that traces of actual security competence end up ranking so low on the list of selection criteria as to belong in the nice-to-have-but-not-essential category?


— Nick Catrantzos

[This essay was originally posted on All Secure]

November 16, 2013

Post-typhoon supply chain: Some preliminary observations

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 16, 2013

The following is tentative, hypothesis-stating and offered for correction. It is written to think-aloud about issues with implications beyond the Philippines, but informed by the concrete consequences observed in the Philippines. It is focused on Tacloban because that is the location for which there is the most current information. I am also of the opinion that urban environments tend to more clearly unveil supply chain vulnerabilities than stress in less densely populated areas.



Prior to the typhoon Tacloban was a city of about 220,000 people. It is located in the Eastern Philippines adjacent the strait separating the islands of Leyte and Samar. It is the principal urban concentration in the Eastern Philippines and a regional center for trade, transportation, education, medical care, and government services.

Leyte Province has a population of roughly 1.6 million (including Tacloban). Neighboring Samar Province has a population of roughly 730,000. The economy is largely based on rice, coconut, and sugar farming, fishing, and commerce.

Tacloban is on the Pan-Philippine Highway. The highway bridge connecting Leyte and Samar was not seriously damaged by the November 8 typhoon. Tacloban is 536 miles by highway from Manila. This usually requires at least 18-26 hours to travel (including a ferry crossing from Matnog to Allen). This week the same distance has required up to 60 hours (sometimes more see update below). Passenger ferries and, especially roll-on/roll-off ferries are key elements in the Philippines transportation system.

Maritime transport from Manila to Tacloban generally requires 30-to-40 hours depending on class of carrier and weather.  Ferry transport to Cebu (now the emergency relief hub for the region) typically takes 13 hours.

Impact and Starting Basis

Tacloban was hit especially hard by the CAT-5 typhoon, perhaps the strongest to ever be recorded making landfall. Sitting at the head of the Leyte Gulf it is likely the storm surge piled up against Tacloban (as was the case at Staten Island). A 12-to-20 foot tsunami-like wave has been described by survivors.


Click on graphic to access larger view (courtesy of the BBC)

Clearly other locations in the Philippines were also hit hard. But given its especially vulnerable geography and population density, it is possible Tacloban will end up being the disaster’s epicenter even as a more complete picture emerges in the days ahead.

There is no indication of acute resource shortages prior to the typhoon. Some interviews and media reports even indicate sufficient supplies of some resources — such as fuel — for several days following the typhoon’s landfall. In other nearby locations — the city of Ormoc, for example — authorities reported at least two days supply of food on hand four days after landfall.

Further, by the end of the first week after landfall there were multiple reports of resources piling up at emergency hubs established to channel official relief supplies. (There was a Thursday post on the status of humanitarian logistics.)

Private Sector Supply Chains

I have found  very little reporting related to private supply chains per se.  But some impressions based on bits and bites reported here and there:

Clean water is a serious problem.  The Tacloban water system was taken off-line by loss of electricity and damage to infrastructure.  As of today, only about 20 percent of the city has had water service restored.  Other potential sources of water were contaminated by the consequences of the typhoon.

Several key transportation nodes, especially the airport, seaport, ferry docks and such, were essentially obliterated by wind and surge. (On Saturday  International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), in cooperation with the Philippine government, announced plans to donate a “mobile” port to Tacloban.  It is expected to begin operations by Tuesday.)

The road network was made impassable by debris and destruction of some infrastructure. (But in most cases bridges and tarmac seem to have held up remarkably well.)

Loss of electricity and communications — as usual, interdependent — seriously compromised situational awareness, operational flexibility, and near-term response and recovery.  Pumping fuel, refrigeration, financial services, and much more collapse or crawl without power.

The horrific impact on residential housing and the deaths of thousands resulted in wholesale and retail operations remaining closed in the days immediate following landfall.  (The inability of local employees to staff operations in the immediate aftermath of a significant disaster is a systemic problem far beyond the Philippines.)

There are spotty reports of retailers — particularly food and fuel retailers — choosing not to re-stock or reopen due to concern over looting and other security problems.   There have been confirmed reports of some looting, but the scope and scale is difficult to discern.   Did actual looting create a response and recovery problem, or did the fear of possible looting repress supply chain resilience, or was the looting that occurred the outcome of a delay prompted by concern about looting?  What is cause and what is effect can be easy to confuse.

Medical supplies were quickly exhausted by a dramatic spike in demand and the absence of a proportional re-supply surge.  It is my impression (what little it’s worth) that medical supplies originate in the Manila metro area and were not moving until assurance of open roads and reasonable security south of Matnog.

There are very mixed — even contradictory — reports related to the availability of fuel.  But whatever the available stock, it is clear that distribution of fuel was a problem over the first week.  The distinction between supply and distribution is crucial and too often neglected.  For some reason public sector folks seem to automatically assume supply is the problem (or simply don’t understand the distribution function).

The most mysterious aspect of what I have been (un)able to access relates to trucking.  The Philippine Minister of the Interior, quarterbacking the relief operation in Tacloban, told NPR that he had sixteen trucks to supply all of Leyte province.  One OCHA report highlighted twenty army trucks finally making it to Tacloban seven days after landfall.   Where did all the trucks go?

In terms of supply chain resilience, in the typhoon’s aftermath there were — and are — obvious physics problems: destruction of infrastructure, impassable debris, disrupted demand signals, diminished local distribution capabilities (caused by deaths of wholesalers/retailers and destruction of facilities).  There were also psycho-social problems: grief, confusion, fear…

With the exception of clean water — certainly a crucial exception — I cannot find compelling evidence of a serious problem with actual sources of supply.  In other words throughout the crisis there has been sufficient strategic capacity to provide the necessary life-sustaining resources.  But there has been a period of several days when connections were lost between that strategic capacity and the local capability to distribute and receive.


As noted above, I don’t feel certain of anything here.  But I hope by making these impressions explicit I will attract more accurate information.

I will pay a reward to the person that tells me what happened to the trucks.



From a Philippines television news outlet, reporting on a private-public supply chain summit held earlier today (Saturday):

Their initiative came amid reports of a logjam in relief distribution, with hundreds of trucks and other vehicles bearing relief goods stranded for days at Matnog port in Sorsogon, as there are not enough ferries to bring them across the sea to Allen town in Samar, from where they can go to Leyte and Samar areas devastated by the super typhoon.

This still doesn’t explain where the local trucks have gone, but this is certainly a big part of the problem. Further, the entire piece (HERE) is an interesting read.  There are also sidebar stories on fuel distribution and other related issues.


According to several reports the municipal water system in Tacloban is again operating at or near full capacity.  Current operations are even characterized as “normal.”

A story in the Inquirer, a Philippine daily, includes:

Dump trucks, payloaders, graders and other road-clearing equipment belonging to private contractors outnumber those deployed by the government in areas devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

I wonder if prior reports have only focused on “official” trucks.  In any case, there are several reports of trucks being transferred from Manila, Cebu and other locations to assist with resupply in the hardest areas.

(In the United States it is common for major trucking firms to “evacuate” their fleets out of harm’s way in advance of a notice-event, and even to pre-stage for response and recovery.  I cannot tell if anything similar was done in the Philippines.)

The back-up at Matnog continues (see above).  Below is a photograph of the four-to-five mile long line of trucks waiting to access one of the roll-on-roll-off ferries heading south into the impact zone.

matnog truck backup


On Sunday the Philippine military deployed Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) at Matnog and another smaller port between Luzon and Samar.  This has begun to reduce the bottleneck of supplies.

Emergency food packets, bulk rice distribution, and water have been the principal commodities distributed in the first week since the typhoon.  On Monday the Philippine Secretary of Agriculture announced several measures to jump-start (replace? complement? compete with?) the regular food supply chain:

The DA (Department of Agriculture) chief also instructed concerned agency officials to immediately transport frozen chicken, potatoes and other vegetables from Manila and Baguio to Tacloban using three refrigerated vans from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Three more vans, from the Philippine Fisheries and Development Authority will load and deliver food items from Albay in Region V to Tacloban and neighboring areas.

“We will be also utilizing all available closed vans of the Department and its attached agencies to deliver eggs and other dry food items,” Alcala said.

The DA chief has also instructed BFAR Director Asis Perez to deploy a 1,200-tonner vessel, currently anchored in Cagayan de Oro (CDO), to deliver food items to the Region. Smaller ships will ferry food items to smaller islands.

The Department is set to implement market mechanisms to move food items from the production areas to affected communities via the Barangay Food Terminal and local government food trading centers. Functional food warehouses will also be utilized for food stocking.

“We will engage big market players such as the San Miguel Corporation in CDO to supply poultry products to affected areas,” Alcala said.

The National Food Authority in Region VII will begin to supply rice to parts of the region in an effort to augment rice stocks in areas severely damaged by the super typhoon.

Robinson’s Retail, the Philippines second largest grocer, has over fifty retail outlets in the area most impacted by the Typhoon.  Except for their main supermarket in central Tacloban, all were able to reopen on November 9.

As of Monday morning roughly 65% of retail gasoline stations in the impact area have reopened. There is no indication of a fuel supply problem, but distribution remains uneven.

Restoration of wireless communications ranges from roughly 60 percent to over 90 percent in the impact areas.  On Leyte and Samar islands about 75 percent of pre-typhoon service has been restored.

The electrical grid remains offline in Leyte, Samar, and nearby.  On the periphery of the typhoon’s main path brown-outs are being used to manage load.  Generation capacity was reduced by storm damage, so even where transmission and distribution networks are in place power is a problem. With a 1,077 megawatt capacity and a demand of 1,012 megawatts, there is no regulating reserve.  Restoration of the electrical grid to something close to pre-typhoon capacity is anticipated by late December, but in some areas full restoration may take up to six months.

Pan Philippine Map


Just to bring this consideration to a sort of resolution:

First, it is now my judgment that plenty of trucks and fuel were available in the impact zone throughout this crisis.  There was, however, essentially no coordination — or really attempt to collaborate — between private and public networks.   The public sector did not seriously endeavor to engage private sources.   Private sources have been responding to social needs, but in mostly spontaneous ways that neither official or media decision-makers tend to recognize as substantive.  (An analogy to Euclidean and Non-Euclidean geometry comes to mind… and to be explicit, both are real.)

Second and closely related to this non-Euclidean reality, there is now increasing evidence of the resilience of this complex, self-organizing system of private initiative and resources. Please see a report from the Straits Times of Singapore.

We do not give enough attention to this other reality.  Too often official action unintentionally suppresses this crucial source of resilience.

But third — official action is also crucial — especially in opening the space needed by the unofficial to operate.  This is the strategic implication of the following success story.   From the Inquirer:

Matnog, Sorsogon — The line of relief trucks and passenger buses going to typhoon-ravaged Samar island has eased at Matnog port in Sorsogon, after the deployment of additional ships.

Jun Hilbero of the Philippine Ports Authority told INQUIRER.net on Wednesday that more ferries were assigned to the port and that another port in the nearby town of Bulan was also authorized to accommodate special trips to Samar.

“We have eight regular trips a day, which was augmented by another three vessels. And in Bulan there are mercenary trips…Our relief trucks were diverted there,” he said.

Hilbero, officer-in-charge of PPA Matnog, said additional ramps were also in place, allowing more vessels to load simultaneously.

He said that as of Wednesday morning, only 15 buses and 12 trucks were waiting at the Matnog port. Last week, reports said the line going to Matnog port was around four kilometers long. 

Meanwhile, four ferries were deployed at Bulan port on Monday.

“Now we have enough ships…Actually in three to four days we expect operations to return to normal,” Hilbero said.

Among the vehicles waiting to board at Matnog port are trucks carrying gas, aluminum posts and other items to aid and rebuild communities hit by super typhoon “Yolanda.”

November 15, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 15, 2013

According to the November 14 update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the consequences of Hurriane Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Central Philippines include:

Over 921,000 displaced people

Based on initial data, 243,595 houses are damaged (131,106 are totally destroyed
and 112,489 partially damaged).

Damaged water systems are causing limited or no water supply in affected areas. 239 municipalities do not have electricity as of 13 November. Water systems in these areas may not be fully operational as they often rely on power to pump water.

A total of 2.5 million people are in need of food assistance. As of 17:00 on 13 November, 9,804 family food packs for 49,020 people were distributed.

At-risk groups amongst the displaced in evacuation centers include an estimated
112,000 children aged between 0 to 59 months and 70,000 pregnant and lactating
women who urgently require nutrition assistance.

Main roads are clogged with debris, cutting off remote areas and markets away from the population centres. There are increasing reports of fuel shortages.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

November 14, 2013

Healing our addiction to control

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Recovery,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2013

Logistics hubs

The area shown above is a roughly 50,000 square mile region featuring six major and many smaller islands.  The region’s total population is about 11.2 million.

The typhoon made landfall in eastern Samar province early Friday morning November 8. With sustained winds of 195 miles-per-hour and wind gusts of up to 235 mph, the cyclone tore west across the nation of islands for the next twelve hours.

There had been preparations and in many areas evacuations.  But given the cyclone’s reach and Philippine geography one might run but not hide from a storm this size.

The number of casualties is not yet clear. The fate of survivors is clear enough. Tomoo Hozumi, the Philippines’ UNICEF representative, told CNN food, shelter, clean water and basic sanitation are “in a severe shortage, the situation on the ground is hideous.”

The dead have not been buried. Toxic detritus has been splashed across the wrecked landscape. Human waste is accumulating. Simple cuts become life-threatening due to infection and lack of medicine.

More than 11 million people are affected. More than a half-million have been displaced. Up to 2.5 million are in imminent danger due to lack of human essentials.  “Maslow’s pyramid has collapsed,” one Filipino said.

Delivering supplies is the preeminent challenge. As it was in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2010 Haitian earthquake, and 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake. We will see these challenges in the United States following a CAT-5 hurricane or 8-plus earthquake pummeling a dense urban area.

On Tuesday night, nearly five days after landfall, the Philippine national government outlined a “master plan” for supplying the expansive impact area roughly the size of Louisiana. Based on an interview with Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, here’s an overview from the Manila Bulletin:

“This will come out to be one of the largest logistic and relief operations that the Philippine government has ever done in history and the President wanted to make sure that we have aligned everything,” he added.

“There has never been anything at the magnitude of what we are trying to do now—not in size, not in volume, not in even the breadth of it,” he added.

Under the relief plan, Almendras said the government will set up a special processing center in Cebu that will integrate the flow of all relief assistance. From Cebu, the relief goods will be distributed to the typhoon-hit places.

He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will also establish additional repacking centers of relief goods, including in Ormoc, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.

He said the government is moving the relief goods to Tacloban City by air, land, and sea transportation. C-130 planes are doing sunrise to sunset operations to bring relief goods to the disaster-hit areas.

He added that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has been designated “transportation guru” to ensure relief goods are moved as fast as possible.

On questions why the goods are not reaching some victims, Almendra said: “That’s really a local issue that we are trying to address now.”

The last — unanswered — paragraph is the crucial concern.  Establishing logistical hubs is certainly a challenge. They may be needed, I don’t know the status of preexisting hubs.  But hubs exist to serve spokes and move energy to the treads. Spokes and treads are how commodities become supplies that survivors actually consume.

In its November 13 situation update the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) emphasizes, “Trucks and fuel are urgently needed to deliver aid. Debris and logistics continue to severely constrain the delivery of humanitarian assistance.” In the same report OCHA estimates that to date about 250,000 survivors have received food assistance (of the 2.5 million noted above).

There have been some — surprising — lessons learned from prior catastrophes.  After the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear emergency Japanese Self Defense Forces spent at least five days trying to self-create sufficient capacity to serve hundreds-of-thousands of survivors. There was never close to enough. Only after the perimeters came down, fuel was available and commercial resources were reengaged did supplies begin to meet demand.   The convenience store sector in Japan became a major engine of localized response and recovery.

A friend who was on the ground soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti says, “Really effective distribution did not take hold until street vendors opened a so-called black market for relief supplies.  Our initial reaction was moral outrage. Our second and very quiet reaction was gratitude.  In a couple of days the street vendors achieved a level of distribution that was far beyond the capability of the international and NGO communities.”

Since their 2011 experience the Japanese have given unprecedented attention to pre-planning and collaboration with the private sector. (There is even a — controversial — proposal to use private sector transportation for  non-disaster-related military missions.)  The emergency-response strategy is now more focused on restoring instead of replacing private sector supply streams.

In both Japan and Haiti — and now the Philippines — the strategic issue might be framed as, “How do you make complexity your friend?”

Some partial, situation-specific answers:  Clear debris, open roadways, restore or replace bridges, do not divert fuel from the commercial economy, keep perimeters reasonably permeable, compensate the private sector (even black-marketeers) to distribute at no-charge what they had previously sold, cherish and support truckers and trucks (especially small trucks), provide security as needed with convoys or otherwise. As much as possible, use whatever relationships, networks, systems, capacities, and capabilities facilitated distribution prior to the crisis. Encourage creative local — even random — adaptation.

I don’t know the Philippines well-enough to be confident of the right answers there and now. I do recognize in the government’s “master plan” familiar strategies that have proven ineffective in previous catastrophic situations.

The front-page of the November 14 Manila Bulletin includes this headline: Despair, chaos grip Tacloban: Survivors Hope To Escape Apocalypse


The “serenity prayer” is, perhaps, most associated with Alcoholics Anonymous:

Give me grace to accept the
things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

We might adopt it for catastrophe preparedness, response and recovery.

Looting or adapting?

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2013

Rice_AP_Aaron Favila

Here is the scene at the looting of a warehouse near Tacloban.  Those are bags of rice being carried away.  (Associated Press photograph by Aaron Favila.)

Major media have been quick to suggest a rapid descent into anarchy.  A report in today’s (November 14) Los Angeles Times begins, “As concerns grew about rampant looting and lawlessness, Philippine security forces sent reinforcements and imposed a nighttime curfew in Tacloban…”

USA Today suggests that security concerns have discouraged some relief efforts.  The most recent OCHA report includes, “Security concerns persist, including harassment and mobbing of people during relief transport and distribution.”

There have also been less prominent reports of something less starkly Hobbesian.  According to NBC News, “Some eight soldiers in the back of a military truck appeared to ignore residents clambering out of the rubble carrying canned food, bags of rice and bottles of water. And in a nearby checkpoint, soldiers waved through residents carrying bags of rice.”

I am not there.  I have only been to the Philippines once, years ago.  I understand that crime has been an increasing problem and there are pockets of armed insurgency.  I don’t pretend to be sure of the situation on the ground.

But I am certain there is a general expectation of panic and mass violence in the aftermath of  disaster.  It is a recurrent theme.  It is usually over-reported.  After-action analysis almost always finds an actual decline in violent crime following a major disaster.  While we look for the bad we often fail to notice the good.

A few years ago Rebecca Solnit examined the aftermath of several catastrophic events and wrote the book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise is Disasters.  She mostly found evidence of altruism, resourcefulness, and courage.

In the picture at the top, what do you see?  Opportunism? Chaos? Greed? Collaboration?  Civil collapse?  Personal initiative?  Crime? Adaptation?

November 13, 2013

Ten summary observations about Jeh Johnson’s nomination hearing

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

Here are ten summary observations I took away from Wednesday’s Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Jeh Johnson’s nomination to lead DHS.

1. The hearing was low key. It’s as if even the Senate Committee is tired of homeland security and just wants someone to take it over so they can get on with other business. Senator McCain provided the only high energy moment. He insisted Johnson agree to achieving a “90% effective” metric for border security. McCain wanted a yes or no answer. Johnson said he needed to understand the issue better before he could commit to something like that.

2. Senator Levin said there are 2 million corporations created each year in this country. He said allowing states to approve who gets to form a corporation without checking who the “real” owners are behind those corporations is a problem. Levin is a primary sponsor of the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act. The bill would require states to identify who is behind the corporations they charter. Senator Carper noted most states are opposed to Levin’s proposal. Johnson again said he wants to understand the issue before he takes a position on it.

3. Johnson was asked how to strike the balance between interrogating someone to get information that potentially might stop a terrorist attack, and interrogating someone with the idea in mind of eventually prosecuting that person. He responded “There’s authority for a pre-Miranda national security interrogation. We need to codify that.”

4. Senator Paul asked “Does the 4th Amendment apply to my Visa [credit card] purchases?” That started a brief, mostly one way, conversation about the 4th amendment and what due process means. Paul, commenting on the Obama Administration’s approach to targeted killings: “Due process is not a bunch of good people sitting in a room discussing whether to kill someone.” I think Paul had the day’s most telegenic one-liners.

5. Johnson was asked what steps he’d take to make sure DHS works effectively with state and locals. His response suggested this is a new area for him. “I’ve been struck by the emphasis people up here [in Congress] and at DHS place on [state, local, private sector relationships]… and the attention … they want me to pay to it, and it’s pretty apparent to me that it’s part of the mission… I think I get that.” He mostly talked about law enforcement; I did not hear anything about fire, emergency management, public health, emergency medical, hospitals and the other non-law enforcement participants in the homeland security enterprise. Sensitivity to state and local issues in homeland security is something former governors (like Ridge and Napolitano) grasp. It’s not clear people who spent most of their career seeing the world through federal eyes actually do “get that.”

6. Senator Coburn asked Johnson if he agrees with the Obama Administration’s proposal to consolidate all DHS grants, and base awards on risk rather than spreading the money out across the nation. Johnson’s response suggests he has not thought much about this topic: “It’s an issue that a number of people have raised with me, how we dispense grant money; it’s taxpayer money…. In general the professionals who I’ve consulted over the past couple of weeks seem to feel that we need to move in the direction of a risk based approach to homeland security, and that probably entails focusing our grant money in the same direction as well. So I’d be inclined to agree with you if what you’re saying is we need to make efficient use of our taxpayer dollars for purposes of homeland security.” I believe DHS has been “moving in the direction of a risk based approach” for more than a decade.

7. Coburn asked Johnson about “broken travel” (i.e., when someone flies somewhere and then takes a train or bus and then connects somewhere else to fly again [h/t D.]). Coburn reviewed a few of Johnson’s statements about the need to monitor how some people travel, and asked “Can you state for this committee what role you envision for DHS in tracking the travel of US persons, at home or abroad, that are not on a suspicious list or on a high risk list?” Johnson acknowledged there are significant privacy and civil liberty concerns with travel, but also emphasized that “broken travel” is real. We have a problem with suspicious individuals laundering their travel, he said. That’s a fact. It’s a blind spot (for the United States).

8. Senator Coburn said he hoped Johnson will consider staying on through the next administration, “so that we don’t lose all this tremendous experience and gray hair, and have to re-train another leader.” And then he offered Johnson a large, white binder with what Coburn called “alternative views of homeland security collected over the past 6 years.” I would love to know what’s in the binder.

9. Johnson came across (to me) as a very competent, professional, largely uncontroversial, leader/manager. He believes protecting the American public is a core mission of the United States government. He seemed to know a lot about some homeland security and defense issues, and less  — at least in public — about several other important areas in homeland security: such as the role of state and local participants, grant programs, border security and immigration. I did not get the sense he had a unique vision for DHS.  When asked about his vision for DHS Johnson spoke about focusing on terrorism, immigration, cyber security, and getting off the GAO “high risk” list. Not an especially inspiring vision, but maybe DHS needs competent management more than it needs inspiration.

10. Johnson — who, if confirmed, would be the 17th in the presidential line of succession — closed his testimony predicting that at the end of his DHS tenure, the senate committee will say “Johnson was somebody that worked well with us in a bipartisan fashion.”


Jeh Johnson nomination to be DHS Secretary: live blogging of Homeland Security Committee hearing

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

The information below is one person’s observation of today’s Jeh Johnson nomination hearing.  The post starts at the bottom of the page. You can probably see the streaming video of the hearing at “http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-of-hon-jeh-c-johnson-to-be-secretary-us-department-of-homeland-security.”

Coburn ends the hearing by reminding whoever’s listening that agreeing to take on a job like DHS Secretary takes a huge toll on the nominee’s family.  He suggests Johnson maybe not be seeing his family again before Christmas.  It is meant as a joke – perhaps.

[2:29] Coburn says he hopes Johnson will consider staying on for the next administration, “so that we don’t lose all this tremendous experience and gray hair, and have to re-train another  leader.”

And then he offers Johnson a huge white binder with “alternative views of homeland security collected over the past 6 years.”

At 2:27 Johnson gets to make closing comments. He compliments the people who he’s dealt with preparing for the hearing.  He says he believes in the hearing process. He pledges to having an open and transparent relationship with the committee. He predicts that at the end of his tenure at DHS, the committee will say “Johnson was somebody that worked well with us in a bipartisan fashion.”

Carper comes back on at 2:23 with cyber security. Compliments NIST (http://www.nist.gov/) for working with the private sector. DHS needs to find quality employees for the cyber work DHS does.

Carper then moves to loan wolves (or “stray dogs,” as a colleague terms them).

At the 2:21 mark, the conversation moves to acquistions.  Coburn asks what Johnson will do to firm up the DHS acquisitions process.  Johnson says it starts with getting quality people involved in the acquisitions process.

At the 2:19 mark the issue of “broken travel” comes up (i.e., when someone flies somewhere and then takes a train or bus and then connects somewhere else to fly again [h/t to D. for the explanation]. Coburn: “Can you state for this committee what role you envision for DHS in tracking the travel of US persons, at home or abroad, that are not on a suspicious list or  on a high risk list?”

Johnson: There are privacy and civil liberty concerns with travel. We have a problem with suspicious individuals laundering their travel. That’s a fact.  It’s a blind spot (for the US). [Expect to hear more about this one.]

At the 2:15:30 mark, back to more traditional homeland security topics.  Coburn on homeland security spending: Do we spend the money on risk or do we spread the money out?  [Great question.]

Coburn says he feels we should spend the money where risk is the greatest.  Johnson says he “thinks” he agrees.

Coburn: We’ve spent 37 billion on grants, and less than 25% has gone to highest risk areas. (He blames congress’ parochial interests for some of this.) Coburn agrees with the Obama Administration’s plan to consolidate all DHS grants and then base awards on risk.  How does Johnson feel about that?

Johnson: “It’s an issue that a number of people have raised with me, how we dispense grant money; it’s taxpayer money….  In general the professionals who I’ve consulted  over the past couple of weeks seem to feel that we need to move in the direction of a risk based approach to homeland security, and that probably entails focusing our grant money in the same direction as well. So I’d be inclined to agree with you if what you’re saying is we need to make efficient use of our taxpayer dollars for purposes of homeland security.”

Coburn then brings up the lack of performance metrics. Grant reform is a big deal to Coburn. Money should be spent to reduce risk, and not to make a politician look good, he says – not allowing the windmill to obscure his vision.

Johnson says he’ll work with the committee to reform grant programs.

Around the 2:14 mark, Coburn gets another turn questioning Johnson.  He first congratulates John Pistole for TSA improvement.  Then comments on how negligent the Congress and the country has been confronting the problems of mental illness.

At 2:11, Carper reviews the LAX shooting and sends “a shout out” to TSA. He then asks what Johnson will do to mitigate the threat against TSA and other DHS employees. “We need to look at how to provide for their safety,” is Johnson’s response.

Carper reminds Johnson of the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental illness. He also underscores to Johnson and whoever is still listening to the hearings at this point the importance of “See something. Say Something.”

At the 2:09 mark, Carper turns to the issue of “state and local stakeholders.”  A lot of DHS work involves state, local and non-profits (like Red Cross). What steps would Johnson take to make sure the DHS works effectively with state and locals?

Johnson: “I’ve been struck by the emphasis people up here [in Congress] and at DHS place on [state, local, private sector relationships]… and the attention … they want me to pay to it, and it’s pretty apparent to me that it’s part of the mission.” He then goes on to talk about his New York City experience, working with New York Police Department.  He concludes his answer to the question about what steps he’d take to make sure DHS works effectively with state and locals by saying, “I think I get that.”  That seems to be it for state and local; nothing about fire, emergency management, public health, and the other non-law enforcement participants in the homeland security enterprise.

At the 2:06 mark (I‘m now using the video timing, not my pacific time clock; an archive of the video stream is still available on the Senate site): Carper asks Johnson what Johnson thinks are the major management challenges for DHS, and his role fixing them. Johnson refers to GAO report on DHS high risk issues (http://www.gao.gov/highrisk/strengthening_homeland_security/why_did_study#t=1).  Management issues: vacancies, efficient procurement; unqualified audit financial statement; business intelligence (with 6 different account systems). Talks about leadership as sometimes requiring that you “push people,” as you might push a sluggish aircraft carrier. (Expect more DoD metaphors to enter the homeland security vocabulary,)

11:47 AM – Back to blogging. The hearing is over, so I’ll just summarize the remaining 30 minutes or so.

8:57 AM  – Need to attend to my day job for awhile.  Back later.

8:51 AM  – Sen Carper defines “high risk” list.  High risk = ways of wasting taxpayer money. Arnold B provides  details:  http://www.gao.gov/highrisk/overview

8:45 AM – Senator Paul “Does the 4th Amendment apply to my Visa purchases?” Can a single warrant apply to millions of things? Can you have due process with only one side represented? (FISA court.)  Should we decide the scope of the 4th Amendment in secret.  Johnson wants “robust discussion” as he’s had in past use of force decisions. Paul “due process is not a bunch of good people sitting in a room discussing whether to kill someone.” Should we target Americans overseas who are not engaged in combat? Paul argues for an examination of due process and paying attention to the 4th amendment.

8:37 AM – Senator Ayotte asking about AQ. Johnson describes 3rd phase of AQ terrorism – loan wolf.  Harder to detect; need more local focus by state/local first responders. Now asking about interrogation of AQ. How to balance the benefit of interrogation with domestic laws and protections. How can we have a policy that allows us to gather information and prosecute. Johnson – “There’s authority for a pre-Miranda national security interrogation. We need to codify that.”  And then the discussion moves to DHS employees abusing DHS overtime policy.

8:26 AM – Senator Begich’s (Alaska) turn – CBP denied a request from a tourist company to move; Begich says approving the request would actually make money for the government (and CBP), and “DHS would make a 20% profit.”  Discussing Coast Guard and the Arctic. Johnson in favor of [Coast Guard] being agile with resources we have. Domestic drone activity discussed. Johnson uses the “risk based strategy” mantra again. DHS has two offices related to drones. Question about disaster assistance to houses of worship. Starts a discussion about church-state relations

8:19 AM Senator Levin’s turn – 2 million corporations created in the US each year; states approve the corporation without asking who they are.  Senator Levin is about to expand DHS mission to monitor ownership of who own the 2 million corporations created by states annually. Advocates for support for a Levin-Grassly bill to do this. States opposed to the bill.  Johnson says he wants to understand the issue better.  GAO report on border report discussion – says terror threat is greater in the north than it is in the south. Coast guard needs helicopters….

8:11 AM McCain – Says Johnson will be confirmed.  Then starts asking questions about border apprehensions and what constitutes border security. Apprehensions are up? Apprehensions are down? who knows what any of that means. McCain gets his border information from CBP not DHS.  McCain wants 90% effectiveness at the border.  McCain wants a yes or no answer; Johnson uses his “inclined to…” response.  Johnson then says he wants to cooperate with McCain, but he wants to understand the issue better before he commits to what McCain asks. McCain says he won’t support Johnson unless he commits to the 90% target.

8:03 AM – Senator Tester’s turn at questions (and statements). Focus on DHS morale. Asks for ideas to cultivate future leadership at all levels of DHS? Johnson says you have to have passion for the mission.  How do you motivate people? Johnson: complement them for a job well done. Tester asks about CBP pay, border security technology. Johnson uses the buzz phrase “risk based strategies.”  Tester: on to the private sector and contractors.  DHS favors big contractors; Tester wants smaller organizations to have a shot.  Johnson says he’s in favor of competition. Questioning gets into the details of how to write contract specifications.

7:58 AM – Coburn asks what DHS programs might not be necessary. Johnson suggests some intel programs.  Coburn asks about DHS cyber security problems, including DHS internal cyber procedures. If DHS can’t take care of its own cyber issues why trust it with the cyber portfolio, he asks.

7:54 AM – Coburn starts his testimony by asking Johnson to give him information.  Johnson says “If confirmed I will look at the issue and be inclined to give you the information.” Coburn going through a list of things he wants to learn about DHS and asks Johnson to look into the issues, including intel, fusion centers, border security, immigration enforcement.  Johnson good at responding that he will “be inclined” to provide what’s asked. 7:58 AM

7:50 AM – Johnson talking about what he learned about leadership. Needs to be able to see the entire enterprise.  Tells a story about actually reading memos and asking people why others agreed to the memo’s suggestions.  He cites the 11 for, 1 against story about decision making.  Carper: “leadership is the courage to stay out of step when everyone else is wrong.”

7:47 AM  — Carper: what is your vision for DHS? and what are the challenges?  Fill management positions; focus on terrorism, immigration, move the ball forward on cyber security; get off the GAO high risk list (whatever that is); read Coburn’s writing on DHS.  “We need to be vigilant.”  Recongizes morale issues at DHS. Believes protecting the american public is the core mission of the US government.

7:44 AM – starts with three standard questions: any conflicts of interest? anything preventing you from doing your job? will you respond to “reasonable summons” from congress.  No to first 2, and yes to last one.

7:35 AM – Johnson starts his testimony by introducing his family. Describes his past experience related to homeland security and DoD.  Reads the DHS mission. Understands many senior positions in DHS are vacant. Will get DHS off the GAO “high risk” list. Says he won’t shrink from hard decisions – hints at previous drone decision and don’t ask/don’t tell decision.  Going through a list of his decisions.  Pledges transparency and candor with congress.  Use to be an intern for Sen. Moynihan. Cites a photo with his family car parked next to the Capitol.  Says those days may not return in our lifetime. Ends at 7:44 AM.

7:32 AM – McCaskill — has 5 issues, but they went by too quickly for me to catch them:   1)right sizing DHS, 2) cohesive department, 3) DHS as directorate, 4) procure bio terrror stuff, 5) DHS needs a clean audit.

7:31 AM – Carper asks Johnson to turn in another draft of his answers to the committee; too many of them were cut and pasted from other hearings, Carper claims.

7:29 AM – Coburn’s critique of DHS comes in a binder:  1) Establish proper balance between freedom and security. CBP owns drones, but hasn’t filed privacy statements. 2) Is DHS spending on Intel and counter terrorism helping to make us safer? who knows? 3) Can DHS secure borders and handle immigration? 90 billion spent in the last decade on border security, with minimal effect. 4) DHS needs to prove it can work with private sector, especially with cyber. 5) Needs to manage major acquisition programs effectively. 6) FEMA disaster declaration process needs fixing. Asks Johnson to “run a transparent shop” (whatever that means).

7:19 AM – Coburn’s turn.  He warns everyone his opening statement will be “lengthy.” Coburn to Johnson: It’s not “if” you’ll be confirmed; it’s “when.” But he’s still concerned by cut and paste responses from past hearings.

7:18 AM – Carper: “DHS lacks cohesion and a sense of team; morale is low at DHS; fiscal environment constrains what DHS can do.  Even on a good day DHS secretary is a very very hard job.”  DHS has 13 vacant leadership positions; it’s executive swiss cheese.  Basically, Carper in favor of Johnson. Suggests Johnson seek advice from former DHS secretaries, Comptroller, former DoD secretaries.

7:08 AM – Menendez: “Johnson oversaw 10,000 attorneys in DoD.” DoD has 10,000 lawyers?

7:06 AM – Booker: “All three previous DHS Secretaries support Johnson’s nomination; so does law enforcement.”

7:03 AM – Hearings start. The nominee will be introduced by Senator Robert Menendez and Senator Cory A. Booker

6:57 AM[pacific time] — Hearings are being streamed at http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-of-hon-jeh-c-johnson-to-be-secretary-us-department-of-homeland-security.  They start at 10 AM eastern; 7 am pacific

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