Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 31, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 31, 2014

On this day in 1953 the North Sea Floods results in the death of 1800 Dutch and 300 British residents.

On this day in 2009 at least 113 were killed and more than 200 injured when an oil tanker overturned and its contents caught fire in Molo, Kenya.

On this day in 1996 a large truck-bomb crashed the gates of the Sri Lankan central bank killing at least 86 and injuring more than 1400.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

January 30, 2014

The mitigation message

East Rivers Elementary

Cobb County elementary school children sleeping Tuesday night in the gym

Last Tuesday my train pulled into Union Station, Washington DC, shortly before noon.  The station and surrounding city were unusually quiet.  The Federal Office of Personnel Management had given most of its employees liberal leave to stay home.   Most area schools followed this lead.

On Capitol Hill — where I still had some meetings — the snow did not really begin until about 2:00 and was not quite as bad as predicted even into the height of the typical rush hour, which given the OPM decision had much more rush than usual.

By the next morning there was nearly 4 inches of snow at Reagan Airport and over 8 at Dulles.  Wednesday got underway with official delays.

Still some were inclined to second-guess the Tuesday mitigation decision made with the best possible information Monday night.

I hope the second-guessers are giving close attention to the more recent news out of Atlanta.

Even at dawn Tuesday, January 28 the best information available to Georgia decision-makers — very much including the general public — was that the worst weather would track south and east of Atlanta.  Beginning between about 7 and 8 that morning the best information began to shift.  By 10 it was snowing in Bartow County on the northwestern edge of metro Atlanta.  By 11 it was snowing hard and icing.  At 11:23 Cobb County Schools (along the Northwest Atlanta beltway) closed and began busing students home.  At 12:15 Georgia DOT suggested private-sector workers head home.

By 1:00 many Atlanta highways were grid-locked, more the result of sudden volume than — yet — because of the weather.  (Should bring back unpleasant memories of similar events in Chicago and DC in recent years.)  As some of you know, traffic is not an unusual problem in Atlanta, even in fragrant and sunny springtime.

At 1:55 the Governor declared a State of Emergency; the most immediate effect being to pour state employees onto already packed roads.  Across the United States we are predisposed to evacuations.  It is a bad — sometimes, someplaces deadly — habit.

By mid-afternoon the snow and especially ice were adding to the problems.  You have probably seen the videos.  There were several hundred vehicle accidents just in the Atlanta area.

On Wednesday many Tuesday afternoon commuters were still stuck in their cars.  Some had abandoned their vehicles.  In several cases school buses were forced to retreat back to classrooms.  Several hundred children — the numbers are still unclear — spent the night in their schools. (See picture above.) My ten-year-old nephew got home from school, but neither of his parents could.  Shane spent the night at the neighbors.

There will be after-action analyses. There will be studies.  There will be hearings.  There will be blame-gaming. There will be lessons-learned.

What I hope someone will declare clearly and well is that 1) there are many things we cannot accurately predict, 2) especially in unpredictable contexts innate vulnerabilities are exposed, and 3) in densely networked environments, like cities, these vulnerabilities can sometimes meet and mate, propagating suddenly and prolifically.

So… for a whole host of risks we are wise to invest in mitigation and to keep in mind that what will always seem an over-investment before will likely pay profitable dividends after.

This principle applies well beyond the weather, including water systems, supply chains, fuel networks, bridges, and much, much more.

January 29, 2014

Senate Intelligence Hearing: Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States

This morning the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing “Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States.” Testifying were the Directors of National Intelligence, CIA, DIA, and FBI.

I’ve yet to watch the hearing or read the transcript, but thought they’d be worth sharing.


The transcript can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/transcript-senate-intelligence-hearing-on-national-security-threats/2014/01/29/b5913184-8912-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html

Atlanta: a little bit of snow and ice, a whole lot of cars

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Media,State and Local HLS — by Arnold Bogis on January 29, 2014

Georgia is closed


Now that the political Oscars are over, CNN decided to spend much of their coverage today on the situation in Atlanta (Fox News noticeably less).  It mostly focused on individual stories of hardship: 12 hours or more spent in cars stuck on highways, sleeping in gas stations and convenience stores, children kept at school overnight, etc.

Significant airtime was also given to the Atlanta metro region’s lack of snow removal and salting equipment and inexperienced drivers. There also seems to be a developing political story, as the mayor is under fire while some point to the decentralized nature of governance in the greater Atlanta region.  For example, the mayor has no say as to whether the schools are closed due to inclement weather.

I was heartened to see that a little attention was given to the fact that the entire region’s commuters were dumped on the roads at the same time.  It is likely this fact, more than the road conditions or experience driving in winter weather, that contributed to the horrific traffic conditions.  It happened in Washington, DC a couple of years ago (the decisions made or not made analyzed by Phil here) and in Boston a few years earlier.

In each case snow and ice make driving difficult, but the larger impact is the entire commuting population being told to essentially evacuate the urban core all at the same time.  This in cities that have traffic issues during rush hour even on the best of days, with a normal staggered exit. This was (eventually) learned in the case of hurricanes.  It seems to have penetrated into the city leadership in Atlanta, where they are talking about a wave approach to closings in the future: first the schools, then private business, then government offices (though I wonder if all the working parents will sit on their hands while their children are headed toward empty homes).  Hopefully other metro regions will take note.

I suspect the professionals understand the issues involved: closing before the day begins, shelter-in-place, or closing late (essentially evacuation).  Is it too much to ask for the media to pay more attention?

Homeland security and the State of the Union

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 29, 2014

I think it’s fair to say that this year’s State of the Union address had even less directly related homeland security content than the last. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as beforehand everything indicated an economic heavy speech. It was still there, however, if you look hard enough.

For those of you possibly concerned by the lack of the phrase “homeland security” anywhere in the speech, rest assured that “national security” received only one mention. I am not sure there are any lessons to be derived from the paucity of homeland or even national security issues. The United States remains the strongest, most secure nation on Earth.  Perhaps it is just time that we realize that fact.

What little there is I’m going to divide up among three tiers.  Tier 1 are those issues directly dealt with by the homeland security enterprise and those with impacts on that community.  Tier 2 are topics that can have second or third degree impacts.  Tier 3 are much broader, societal resilience issues. Feel free to disagree about my sorting.  I still have second thoughts.

But first a few side notes:

  • The cable news stations are treading dangerously close to parody with their hours of pre-speech analysis.  It is beginning to have a Super Bowl-all-day-programming-filled-with-inane-segments feel to it.  Add to that the amount of time spent on the Oscar/Grammy-like red carpet segment showing the arrival of members of Congress, though they definitely skewed older and conservatively dressed.  Though I’d bet the First Lady could rock the red carpet.
  • More time was spent on the arrivals than the impact of the winter storm down South.  Thousands of people are stuck on the roadways in Atlanta alone with hundreds of schoolchildren sheltering in place overnight and CNN was able to tear itself away from post-speech analysis for a good five minutes. Thank god for the Weather Channel.
  • The White House labeled last night’s speech the “most accessible and interactive SOTU yet.”  Sure, you could watch it online or just look at the handful of slides they provided with additional information on particular topics.  And of course there was Facebook, Twitter, and other social media links for sharing with your friends.  But would it have killed them to simply post the text of the speech in a readily available location?  I searched around for a while, gave up, and Googled it.
  • The important trivia for the night: Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was the Cabinet Secretary chosen not attend the speech but instead spend the night in a secure, secret location to ensure continuity of government in case of catastrophe on the Hill.  The odd thing is that last year then Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was the designated Cabinet official.  Is the thinking that physicists will do very well as a near dictatorial leader following the elimination of the rest of government?  Or are they just more likely to be bored with the speech?

Tier 1


Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.


Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. (Cheers, applause.) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

Gun violence:

Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.


If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

The fact is that danger remains. While we’ve put al-Qaida’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks.

We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing.  That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.

That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.

Nuclear security:

American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.

Tier 2

Energy (as we continue to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy, our strategic relationships should change in a fashion that reduces our vulnerabilities):

More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.

The “all the above” energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Climate change (a topic not directly worked by most federal homeland agencies, for example see the Recovery Diva’s recent post on the challenges facing FEMA, but many states and coastal cities are taking the risks very seriously):

But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

Iran (a nuclear Iran would not be in the national interest of the U.S., but it would not represent an existential threat; the danger would not be a direct attack but rather further proliferation in the Middle East and the risk of poor control of weapons or materials; there is little evidence, and much academic work that concludes the contrary, any state would voluntarily hand over a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization):

As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.

It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we’re clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don’t rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

Tier 3

The majority of the speech was focused on jobs, education, and healthcare.  There are vast ideological differences on how to advance all three, but all are vital for the long term resilience of our society.

January 28, 2014

The Constitution as homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 28, 2014

This is the eighth in a series of posts closely reading the Constitution of the United States for homeland security implications. Readers are encouraged to use the comment function to add background, analysis, exegesis or exposition related to the text highlighted.



We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


The Constitution is a covenant of the founding generation with their unknown (unknowing?) descendants.  It puts in place what modern scholars of complexity theory might call simple rules for self-organization and self-correction.  The Framers were wise enough to know they could not know — and ought not try to control — how future generations would decide.  But they could put in motion a system predisposed to liberty and justice.

In 1780 John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:

The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

The first generation did its job extraordinarily well (the perpetuation of slavery being the dramatic exception). The second generation was at least as gifted (though there does seem to be a systemic bias toward concentration of wealth). We were also helped by the profound folly of others. The transition to the third generation has, however, been a bit uneven it seems to me. We may now even need remedial instruction in the hard-learned lessons of the first and second.

January 27, 2014

Washington, DC-area event on: “Terrorist Threats and Risks to the Sochi Winter Olympics”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 27, 2014

For those in the DC-area who can sneak away at lunch time this Thursday, the following event at George Washington’s Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) on threats to the upcoming Olympics has a stellar panel.

Terrorist Threats and Risks to the Sochi Winter Olympics

Thursday, January 30, 2014
11:00 AM until 1:00 PM

Cloyd Heck Marvin Center
Dorthy Betts Marvin Theatre | Main Level
The George Washington University
800 21st Street,
Washington, DC 20052


The 2014 Winter Olympics, which begin in Sochi, Russia on February 7, face a significant threat from Islamist terrorism, due to the location of the Games, a wave of recent terrorist attacks in Russia, and the stated intention of terrorist groups in the region to carry out attacks against the Olympics. A panel of security experts will discuss these threats and what the Russian government, the International Olympic Committee, and participating nations are doing to mitigate these risks. 


The Honorable Tom Ridge
Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
President and CEO, Ridge Global

Matt Bettenhausen
Vice President and Chief Security Officer,
AEG Worldwide

Dr. Bruce Hoffman
Director of Center for Peace and Security Studies Program,
Georgetown University 

Moderated By: 
Frank J. Cilluffo
Homeland Security Policy Institute

Tom Ridge needs to introduction and Dr. Hoffman is a renowned terrorism expert.  If, like me, you didn’t recognize Matt Bettenhausen he is a former homeland security director for California and a cursory online search returns this talk on “large event security.”

Often HSPI posts a video of their events within a few days of the actual panel – but I’m not promising.

If you’re interested, you can RSVP here: http://www.gwumc.edu/hspi/events/PRF_Sochi%20Games_.cfm

January 25, 2014

There may be chaos

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 25, 2014

It’s the weekend.  Where I am, snow is on the ground and more is coming.  I just finished a whirlwind week where a wide range of the “whole community” was trying to engage various complex adaptive systems on which we depend each day.  Looking for something else entirely — an algorithm actually — I stumbled on this poem by George Santayana:

There may be chaos still around the world,
This little world that in my thinking lies;
For mine own bosom is the paradise
Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled.
Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled,
Unmindful of the changing outer skies,
Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies,
Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled.
I heed them not; or if the subtle night
Haunt me with deities I never saw,
I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw
To hide their myriad faces from my sight.
They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe
A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.

A pleasant exercise of posters-privilege.

January 24, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 24, 2014

On this date in 2003 the Department of Homeland Security officially began operations. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…”

I looked for a picture of me at eleven-years-of-age.  They are all entirely too embarrassing to post here.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

January 23, 2014

Il faut cultiver notre jardin

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 23, 2014

Snow garden

Earlier this month in a speech before the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and Homeland Security, Congressman Pete King said:

If you had a list of 50 priorities, homeland security would not be on it. … It’s not part of the American political debate right now.

Coming from the former Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee that’s quite a statement.  He remains a member of the committee and also sits on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Coincidentally or not, since that speech I have heard this sentiment repeated much more often than before King’s statement.  Follow the leader?  Beltway echo chamber? Crowd wisdom?

I don’t know about fifty, but I agree its not in the top ten.  And if you track or ask specifically about “homeland security” probably not in the top twenty policy priorities.  (Ask about the pieces that make up homeland security and a different outcome seems possible.)

But I am not writing to take exception.  I recognize considerable validity in what many might claim is just stating the obvious.

And yet… last week I met with twenty-some mid-career local, state, and federal officials who are cramming the books and taking time away from family and friends to do a graduate degree in homeland security.  Then I had lunch with four twenty-or-thirty somethings: intelligent, well-educated, articulate, idealistic and ambitious and we spent three hours talking through key issues in private-public relationships in homeland security. They are each private sector liaisons for their “major” jurisdictions.  Working together they have begun to put in place some practical steps forward.  This is their life, their career!

Wednesday this week I met with a bunch of lawyers from powerful firms who sacrificed 3-to-4 billable hours each to consider together issues of prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery.  They were looking at terrorism, rail accidents, cyber, pandemic, natural disasters, and more.  They were trying to think through — and stand-up — principles of equity, fairness, standards-of-care, and real readiness for the worst.  They were trying to spin-up legal principles to empower people to active care.  They each took some homework and will reconvene soon.

Friday I’m told seventy-some corporate executives will be there when I give a keynote on catastrophic preparedness and they are taking a day to think together about supply chain disruption.  They might not call it homeland security, but it most certainly is homeland security.

This is just where I touch the elephant (and not every touch in the last week). You are touching other rough and often smelly parts (or you wouldn’t be reading this).  So maybe we’re (who is that plural?) not giving it top priority, but the elephant is still there.  And we are attending to her as best we can in our blindness.

On December 6 I planted the last of my flower bulbs.  The next week I pruned my apple trees, earlier than usual but it had been extra cold.  This Monday I cut the last dry stalks and vines in the garden.   I’ve been laying down manure and lime a little at a time.

It is the middle of winter.  Single digit temperatures and double-digit inches of snow in my garden.  But if  I am serious about the harvest, it is what I do now that frames what will be possible.  It will be the seeds I order in the next couple of weeks.  It is the plowing I will do sometime in March.

It has been said before, but there are seasons.  In homeland security (and so much more) it is often what we do in the fallow season that allows us to claim the opportunity that will come with the change we can be sure is coming.

January 22, 2014

Promoting research on healthcare system recovery following disasters

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 22, 2014

After a hurricane, tornado or other disaster hits, lots of newspaper ink (and pixels) are spent on stories about the impact on people’s lives, homes, and their communities’  infrastructure.  Little attention is paid to their health or the impact on their communities’ healthcare system.  Where there is little attention paid to a topic often there is little money available for researching that topic.

Thanks to funds appropriated as part of the Hurricane Sandy relief act (or, more accurately, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013), that is beginning to change.  According to HHS:

Over the next two years, the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) will dedicate $8.6 million to support research that examines long-term recovery of health systems and communities in areas of the country hard hit by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

ASPR collaborated with the New York Academy of Medicine and the Institute of Medicine to engage the research community and examine how the response to Hurricane Sandy and recovery could be enhanced through scientific research. Experts from state health departments, community health organizations, federal government, and academic institutions identified some rapid research that could promote ongoing long­-term recovery efforts.

ASPR awarded it’s grants last October to the following recipients:

  • American College of Emergency Physicians, Irving, Texas – approximately $444,000 to study how health care systems were impacted negatively before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy and to develop comprehensive recommendations on how to strengthen health care systems going forward to treat patients effectively during disaster events:
  • Columbia University, New York City – approximately $596,000 to assess how community-level factors such as economic development, communication, and social connections influence mental and behavioral health recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and a second grant of approximately $276,000 to assess the resilience of residents of high-rise public housing in responding to Sandy’s impact.
  • New York University School of Medicine, New York City – approximately $752,000 to assess the resilience and response of a complex regional health care system impacted by Hurricane Sandy and the evaluation of patient care during and after the disaster.
  • RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif. – approximately $657,000 to explore how partnerships between local health departments and community-based organizations contribute to the public health system’s ability to respond to and recover from emergencies and contribute to resilience.
  • Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, N.J.– approximately $681,000 to examine how social networks within neighborhoods play a critical role in determining resilience of older Americans exposed to disasters.
  • University of Delaware, Newark– approximately $574,000 to identify critical factors that influence community resilience and use these factors to create a computer program that supports community resilience in New York City after Hurricane Sandy.
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore – approximately $417,000 to determine how social connections in a community of Maryland watermen influence their individual behavior and how the behavior impacts disaster recovery after Hurricane Sandy.
  • University of Pittsburgh – approximately $576,000 to study ways to minimize disruptions of access to primary health care services during recovery from major disasters, especially for at-risk populations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) also awarded research grants funded by the Disaster Relief Act.

More recently, a kickoff meeting was held in New York City at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health that brought together all of the grant recipients, as well as public health officials from some of the area impacted by Sandy.

How can Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the healthcare system inform future disaster planning and responses? Can research on this cataclysmic disaster help us to better integrate organizations, agencies, or services across the healthcare, public health, and emergency response systems? How do we better communicate with different cultural groups and communities before, during and after a disaster?

These were just a few of the questions on best practices tackled by a joint Hurricane Sandy meeting on January 7th.  The meeting convened with the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, representatives from the CDC and NIEHS, and principal investigators on Sandy recovery projects including the NIH’s Disaster Research Response Project. TheMailman School of Public Health hosted this first meeting as New York City was one of the communities most deeply affected by Sandy and home base to several research award recipients and partners.

Marcienne Wright, a Science Policy Advisor in ASPR who is currently managing this grant portfolio for that office blogged  a summary of that meeting’s outcomes (yes…ASPR has a blog…who knew?):

This week these three agencies did something pretty unusual — we convened a meeting with this group of grantees who will be researching public health, environmental health and healthcare in Sandy-impacted communities along with their public health and community partners. The meeting’s goal was to encourage grantees to explore opportunities for collaboration at the beginning, rather than at the end, of their projects.

Our grantees and their research partners were wildly enthusiastic. Distinct groups of researchers now want to work together to better support community needs in Sandy-impacted areas, do better science without duplication, and advance scientific knowledge on building resilience in these communities.

The research being conducted in Sandy-impacted communities is an example of what’s needed to support the decisions that communities across the country must make after disasters and every day – decisions about infrastructure, policies, procedures, partnerships, coalitions, and funding that drive your community’s resilience.

A better understanding of the science supporting response and recovery is absolutely needed for communities across the country – including yours – to become as ready and resilient as possible so that health stands up to disaster.

Sharing the information gained from this research with the impacted community and the nation is vital to building a country that is resilient to whatever comes our way. These projects as well as future studies initiated by the scientific community hold tremendous potential to bring people together to talk about tough decisions and difficult topics. A bonus to bringing people together for research purposes is that the action can lead to new coalitions, new partnerships and in turn stronger communities.

Potential researchers: think about it; by pursuing this line of inquiry you could help strengthen the health security of our entire nation. To learn about the projects underway now, visit www.hhs.gov/sandy.

January 21, 2014

The Constitution as homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 21, 2014

This is the seventh in a series of posts closely reading the Constitution of the United States for homeland security implications. Readers are encouraged to use the comment function to add background, analysis, exegesis or exposition related to the text highlighted.



We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


The Bill of Rights was adopted to address the concern of many Americans that the seven article  Constitution ratified in 1788 was insufficiently explicit regarding the nature of liberty.  Or in the words of the first Congress assembled under the Constitution, “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its (the Constitution’s) powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added.”  Government restraint is an essential corollary of individual liberty.

The First Amendment treats together three rights that were viewed “of a piece” in 1789 in a way we may now not readily recognize.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of conscience was, especially, freedom of religious belief and unbelief.   From this freedom of opinion in matters religious emerges a radical understanding of the role of belief — and reason — in other matters.  In his 1777 draft of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, Jefferson wrote:

To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy.

While Jefferson’s text was focused on religious opinion, its wider implications were clear enough.  This is one of the reasons the Statute was not adopted by Virginia until 1786.  Patrick Henry, another champion of liberty, did not quite agree.  But once we acknowledge our understanding of ultimate reality — of God — as a matter of opinion, our differences of opinion regarding other matters become such that “all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain.”

In the late 18th Century the blessings of liberty were often linked to life and property, but when taken alone liberty was the ability to believe, to discuss, and to argue what one understands to be true without the government interfering.  From this blessing it was thought would flow many others.

This has many implications for homeland security, but there is a particular relevance for counter-terrorism.  Religious liberty desacralizes government.  Government is understood as the province only of human reason and very human folly.  To understand how radical this notion remains, look to Iran, Egypt, India, or the charter of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), or even our old nemesis the British monarchy.  It is also possible to look closer to home.

We continue to refine our opinions.

January 20, 2014

“HLS is in its adolescence”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 20, 2014

Last week there was a brief but vigorous discussion on the Friday Free Forum.  Dan O’Connor, who I only know from his prior blog comments, offered a framing of Homeland Security that I found helpful,  sadly sobering, and — at least potentially — redemptive. I received Dan’s permission to re-publish on the “front page”.  You can revisit the original context of his comment here.  I hope discussion might continue and involve others.


When HLS is a by and large dictated Federal idea or disposition, it almost by default must take on the legalese or “bureaucratic stupor” of Washington because that is the expected language.

Even if we were to speak in metaphor, HLS is in its adolescence and within that context trying to find its place. John obviously goes to great length to point out the source documents for a formalized definition and structure. However, the idea of HLS leaves much to be desired.

The HLS enterprise or community, depending on ones’ predilection or syntax has much it can address for future relevance.

Its exercise and evaluation process is broken…inexorably broken. It’s contrived and scripted to such a degree that not a lot is accomplished annually. Is that because leaders do not want to be embarrassed by the lack of capability and potency or…because it’s been dutifully bureaucratized? The idea of a centralized exercise program is reasonable in a bureaucracy because so many hope to control the outcome. That’s not real.

Also, there seems to be a lack of adaptability and nimbleness in the construct. I like Rafe Sagarin’s biological disposition and ideas in this regard. So if we are not adaptive, decentralized, and nimble, the gaps created by Bill’s “bureaucratic stupor” become hardened, calcified if you will, and permanent. That is vulnerability. Instead of addressing these gaps we continue to reinforce antiquated ideas of what is security and threats, paying lip service instead of attention. Perhaps an overstatement on my part, but resilience and adaptation are far more important than the biannual review of Federal Continuity Directive 1 (FCD1)…

And DHS has issues with hiring qualified people. Yes morale stinks and yes, DHS will again be voted the worst place to work in the Federal Government. Initial numbers from the annual survey are still trending down. Survey’s being what they are may skew the reality a bit, but with 40% of its leadership positions unfilled and no qualified and quantified idea on how to develop HLS professionals should be a cause for concern.

Political patronage is destroying any semblance of vertical opportunity and the risk averse culture and professional bureaucrat stymies initiative. Look carefully at the leadership positions within DHS and one will see hundreds of political appointees.

It’s the nature of the beast sure, but it does not lend itself to growing and developing capable subordinates that will rise through the ranks. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare to the DoD but Generals are selected from Colonels and Colonels from Major’s, and Majors from …well, it’s pretty clear that there is a system in place that screens, evaluated, and prepared leaders and operators.
Unfortunately the OPM and organizational nepotism and cronyism make the organization unlikely to get well rounded, mature, and critical thinkers and operators.

I know there are exceptions to this, but the building of an organization, training and educating them, and preparing them for uncertainty has been left to what many would say are amateurs. Again, perhaps a bit unfair, but it is something that should be discussed. I know people who have great experience, graduated from CHDS and have unbelievable achievements who have applied for hundreds of Federal jobs with no interviews. It becomes a bit surreal. It also has its effect on both the attitude and opinion of the HLS but more specifically DHS enterprise.

It may be a function of its maturation but these are some of the challenges you who contribute to this blog illuminate daily.

So the real discussion I’d like to hear about are expectations too high or should we continue to expect a lessening of impact and relevance, so much so that DHS and HLS become as relevant as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing? No disrespect to the B.E.P.

Are these the growing pains an organization kluged together after an attack should have anticipated or has the entire idea of homeland security become so boiler plated in rhetoric and contrived that potency and capability are diminishing every day? Growing up is tough. I guess that’s why they call it growing pains and not joys!

January 19, 2014

Analysis of the President’s NSA Speech

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 19, 2014

While I do not have any personal insights regarding the President’s speech on NSA activities, I thought I’d share the opinions of others that might prove interesting or helpful in understanding the issues involved.

On Fox News Sunday, former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden gave what I thought was a concise and helpful 30,000-foot analysis of the President’s speech (though at the end of the segment on the subject of Iran he thread the needle of staying on the “right” side of Iranian hawks while not committing himself to supporting the current Senate sanctions bill, IMHO because he understands it does nothing to help the situation but doesn’t want to go on record…but that’s another topic).


On the afternoon of the President’s speech, several Brookings Institute experts provided their expert analysis on the various issues that are tied to the overall topic. Panelists that participated brought legal, privacy, counter-terrorism, and cyber defense points of view. [Note: Apologies for the technical difficulties, but I was unable to crop the video to start at the beginning of the panel.  So you will either have to forward the video below to the 1:10:00 mark or go here directly to the Brookings page: http://www.brookings.edu/events/2014/01/17-obama-nsa-reforms-speech-privacy-commerce-national-security]


On a final, somewhat worrisome, note, here is a short blog post from noted security technologist Bruce Schneier on his briefing members of Congress on NSA activities:

This morning I spent an hour in a closed room with six Members of Congress: Rep. Lofgren, Rep. Sensenbrenner, Rep. Scott, Rep. Goodlate, Rep Thompson, and Rep. Amash. No staffers, no public: just them. Lofgren asked me to brief her and a few Representatives on the NSA. She said that the NSA wasn’t forthcoming about their activities, and they wanted me — as someone with access to the Snowden documents — to explain to them what the NSA was doing.

While it’s always a good idea for members of Congress to seek expert opinion outside of government, in this case it seems that they weren’t seeking context or subject matter expertise on a particular subject but rather a description of the activities of a particular government agency.  This can’t be a good thing…

January 17, 2014

The President’s remarks on signals intelligence

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2014

This is a cut-and-paste from the White House website of the President’s remarks given at the Department of Justice earlier today. The topic. as headlined by the White House, is “signals intelligence”. I have highlighted a few phrases in bold, toward the end of a long day and longer week. No particular insight is promised in the highlights. But especially with this President, a careful read of the whole is almost always worth it.


THE PRESIDENT: At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston. And the group’s members included Paul Revere. At night, they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots.

Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms. In the Civil War, Union balloon reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of campfires. In World War II, code-breakers gave us insights into Japanese war plans, and when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops. After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence gathering. And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency, or NSA, to give us insights into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.

Throughout this evolution, we benefited from both our Constitution and our traditions of limited government. U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in a system of checks and balances — with oversight from elected leaders, and protections for ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.

In fact, even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. And in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War. And partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.

If the fall of the Soviet Union left America without a competing superpower, emerging threats from terrorist groups, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction placed new and in some ways more complicated demands on our intelligence agencies. Globalization and the Internet made these threats more acute, as technology erased borders and empowered individuals to project great violence, as well as great good. Moreover, these new threats raised new legal and new policy questions. For while few doubted the legitimacy of spying on hostile states, our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own, or acting in small, ideologically driven groups on behalf of a foreign power.

The horror of September 11th brought all these issues to the fore. Across the political spectrum, Americans recognized that we had to adapt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a basement, and our electric grid could be shut down by operators an ocean away. We were shaken by the signs we had missed leading up to the attacks — how the hijackers had made phone calls to known extremists and traveled to suspicious places. So we demanded that our intelligence community improve its capabilities, and that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks before they happen than prosecuting terrorists after an attack.

It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11. Our agencies suddenly needed to do far more than the traditional mission of monitoring hostile powers and gathering information for policymakers. Instead, they were now asked to identify and target plotters in some of the most remote parts of the world, and to anticipate the actions of networks that, by their very nature, cannot be easily penetrated with spies or informants.

And it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of our intelligence community that over the past decade we’ve made enormous strides in fulfilling this mission. Today, new capabilities allow intelligence agencies to track who a terrorist is in contact with, and follow the trail of his travel or his funding. New laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly and effectively between federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement. Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, and our capacity to repel cyber-attacks have been strengthened. And taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives — not just here in the United States, but around the globe.

And yet, in our rush to respond to a very real and novel set of threats, the risk of government overreach — the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security — also became more pronounced. We saw, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that contradicted our values. As a Senator, I was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps. And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate.

Through a combination of action by the courts, increased congressional oversight, and adjustments by the previous administration, some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took office. But a variety of factors have continued to complicate America’s efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties.

First, the same technological advances that allow U.S. intelligence agencies to pinpoint an al Qaeda cell in Yemen or an email between two terrorists in the Sahel also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach. And at a time when more and more of our lives are digital, that prospect is disquieting for all of us.

Second, the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats. It’s a powerful tool. But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse.

Third, the legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against U.S. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas. This is not unique to America; few, if any, spy agencies around the world constrain their activities beyond their own borders. And the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available. But America’s capabilities are unique, and the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.

And finally, intelligence agencies cannot function without secrecy, which makes their work less subject to public debate. Yet there is an inevitable bias not only within the intelligence community, but among all of us who are responsible for national security, to collect more information about the world, not less. So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate — and oversight that is public, as well as private or classified — the danger of government overreach becomes more acute. And this is particularly true when surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our laws.

For all these reasons, I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became President. I ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team and our lawyers, and in some cases I ordered changes in how we did business. We increased oversight and auditing, including new structures aimed at compliance. Improved rules were proposed by the government and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And we sought to keep Congress continually updated on these activities.

What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale — not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.

To the contrary, in an extraordinarily difficult job — one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic — the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people. They’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails. When mistakes are made — which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise — they correct those mistakes. Laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends, the men and women at the NSA know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots. What sustains those who work at NSA and our other intelligence agencies through all these pressures is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role in the defense of our nation.

Now, to say that our intelligence community follows the law, and is staffed by patriots, is not to suggest that I or others in my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs. Those of us who hold office in America have a responsibility to our Constitution, and while I was confident in the integrity of those who lead our intelligence community, it was clear to me in observing our intelligence operations on a regular basis that changes in our technological capabilities were raising new questions about the privacy safeguards currently in place.

Moreover, after an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open-ended war footing that we’ve maintained since 9/11. And for these reasons, I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty. Of course, what I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.

And given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations; I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.

Regardless of how we got here, though, the task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future. Instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and our Constitution require. We need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism and proliferation and cyber-attacks are not going away any time soon. They are going to continue to be a major problem. And for our intelligence community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain the trust of the American people, and people around the world.

This effort will not be completed overnight, and given the pace of technological change, we shouldn’t expect this to be the last time America has this debate. But I want the American people to know that the work has begun. Over the last six months, I created an outside Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to make recommendations for reform. I consulted with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by Congress. I’ve listened to foreign partners, privacy advocates, and industry leaders. My administration has spent countless hours considering how to approach intelligence in this era of diffuse threats and technological revolution. So before outlining specific changes that I’ve ordered, let me make a few broad observations that have emerged from this process.

First, everyone who has looked at these problems, including skeptics of existing programs, recognizes that we have real enemies and threats, and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber threats without some capability to penetrate digital communications — whether it’s to unravel a terrorist plot; to intercept malware that targets a stock exchange; to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised; or to ensure that hackers do not empty your bank accounts. We are expected to protect the American people; that requires us to have capabilities in this field.

Moreover, we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies. There is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room. We know that the intelligence services of other countries — including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures — are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, and intercept our emails, and compromise our systems. We know that.

Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities, and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.

Second, just as ardent civil libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities, those with responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse as intelligence capabilities advance and more and more private information is digitized. After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors. They’re our friends and family. They’ve got electronic bank and medical records like everybody else. They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded, and emails and text and messages are stored, and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones.

Third, there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone. Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your smartphone periodically. But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher. Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.

I make these observations to underscore that the basic values of most Americans when it comes to questions of surveillance and privacy converge a lot more than the crude characterizations that have emerged over the last several months. Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in repeating the tragedy of 9/11, and those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties.

The challenge is getting the details right, and that is not simple. In fact, during the course of our review, I have often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King, who were spied upon by their own government. And as President, a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.

Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me — and hopefully the American people — some clear direction for change. And today, I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress.

First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities both at home and abroad. This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of American companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties. And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.

Second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Since we began this review, including information being released today, we have declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities — including the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas, and the Section 215 telephone metadata program.

And going forward, I’m directing the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Attorney General, to annually review for the purposes of declassification any future opinions of the court with broad privacy implications, and to report to me and to Congress on these efforts. To ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am also calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under Section 702, which allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s important for our national security. Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.

Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on what’s called national security letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. These are cases in which it’s important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off. But we can and should be more transparent in how government uses this authority.

I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use national security letters so that this secrecy will not be indefinite, so that it will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy. We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data to the government.

This brings me to the program that has generated the most controversy these past few months — the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215. Let me repeat what I said when this story first broke: This program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls. Instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls — metadata that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization.

Why is this necessary? The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar — made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but it could not see that the call was coming from an individual already in the United States. The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible. And this capability could also prove valuable in a crisis. For example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence. Being able to quickly review phone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort.

In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans. Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead — a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retained for business purposes. The review group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused. And I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved.

Having said that, I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future. They’re also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.

For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach. I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.

This will not be simple. The review group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with government accessing information as needed. Both of these options pose difficult problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns. On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated database would be carrying out what is essentially a government function but with more expense, more legal ambiguity, potentially less accountability — all of which would have a doubtful impact on increasing public confidence that their privacy is being protected.

During the review process, some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need through a combination of existing authorities, better information sharing, and recent technological advances. But more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work.

Because of the challenges involved, I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps. Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three. And I have directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency.

Next, step two, I have instructed the intelligence community and the Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata itself. They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th. And during this period, I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed.

Now, the reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe. And I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate. For example, some who participated in our review, as well as some members of Congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of national security letters so that we have to go to a judge each time before issuing these requests. Here, I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime. But I agree that greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate, and I’m prepared to work with Congress on this issue.

There are also those who would like to see different changes to the FISA Court than the ones I’ve proposed. On all these issues, I am open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward, and I’m confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every American.

Let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been raised overseas, and focus on America’s approach to intelligence collection abroad. As I’ve indicated, the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection. Our capabilities help protect not only our nation, but our friends and our allies, as well. But our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy, too. And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to know what they think about an issue, I’ll pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance. In other words, just as we balance security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain the trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world.

For that reason, the new presidential directive that I’ve issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance. To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks. I’ve also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. commercial sectors.

And in terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements: counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cybersecurity, force protection for our troops and our allies, and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.

In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas. I’ve directed the DNI, in consultation with the Attorney General, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information, while also restricting the use of this information.

The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures. This applies to foreign leaders as well. Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies. And I’ve instructed my national security team, as well as the intelligence community, to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward.

Now let me be clear: Our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments — as opposed to ordinary citizens — around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does. We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective. But heads of state and government with whom we work closely, and on whose cooperation we depend, should feel confident that we are treating them as real partners. And the changes I’ve ordered do just that.

Finally, to make sure that we follow through on all these reforms, I am making some important changes to how our government is organized. The State Department will designate a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence. We will appoint a senior official at the White House to implement the new privacy safeguards that I have announced today. I will devote the resources to centralize and improve the process we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.

I have also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data; and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security.

For ultimately, what’s at stake in this debate goes far beyond a few months of headlines, or passing tensions in our foreign policy. When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed. Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas; to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world; or to forge bonds with people on other sides of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals, and for institutions, and for the international order. So while the reforms that I have announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future.

One thing I’m certain of: This debate will make us stronger. And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead. It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard. And I’ll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account. But let’s remember: We are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity.

As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control. Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely — because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

Those values make us who we are. And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we have been willing to defend it, and because we have been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense. Today is no different. I believe we can meet high expectations. Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.

Thank you. God bless you. May God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2014

Today, in a speech at the Justice Department — scheduled for 11AM eastern — the President is expected to address calls for reform in how the intelligence community collects and uses digital data.

Today California firefighters are battling several significant wildfires in the midst of serious and wide-spread drought.

On this day in 1994 a  6.7 earthquake hit Northridge, California.  On this day in 1995 a 7.3 earthquake hit Kobe, Japan.

On this day in 1966 a US B-52G bomber collided with a KC-135 tanker during mid-air refueling over the Mediterranean Sea. The KC-135 was destroyed when its fuel load ignited. The B-52G broke apart. Three of four nuclear weapons carried on the B-52G were found on land near the small fishing village of Palomares, Spain. The non-nuclear explosives in two of the weapons detonated upon impact with the ground, resulting in the contamination of a 0.78 square mile area by plutonium released from the nuclear weapons. The fourth weapon, which had fell into the Mediterranean Sea, was recovered intact after a 2½-month-long search.

On this day in 2010 riots between Christian and Muslim communities in Jos, Nigeria resulted in 200 deaths.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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