Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 28, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

On this day in 1993 various law enforcement agencies raid the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.  This unfolding event will involve a wide range of natural, accidental, and intentional factors over the next fifty days.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

February 27, 2014

The Constitution as homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 27, 2014

This is the twelfth 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 reproduced immediately below.


Article. I.

Section. 2. (Third Paragraph follows)

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.


The number of Representatives elected from any state would be based on its population of free persons and temporarily indentured — male, female, and children — not including Indians.  “Other persons”, also known as slaves or chattel property, would be reflected at three-fifths their total number in deciding how many Representatives a state would be allotted.

The number of Representatives is also the major element in a state’s proportion in the Electoral College.

Until the Civil War the Three-Fifths clause significantly enhanced the influence of slave-holding states in the House of Representatives and in Presidential elections. If slaves had not been included in political enumeration the lower house would have been predominantly — and increasingly — anti-slavery in  sentiment.   Over the whole antebellum period the Three-Fifth’s clause gave slave-holding states about 20-to-25 percent more representation in the House than if only free people had been counted.

It has also been argued that from the end of Reconstruction until implementation of the 1964 Voting Rights Act the political agenda of the former slave-holding states was amplified by suppressing the vote of former slaves and their descendants, even as these citizens were now counted as “five-fifths” for Congressional and Electoral College purposes.

The clause in bold was altered by the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868.

Homeland Security funds are often critiqued as being “unequally” distributed among the states.   Strict equality among the states was rejected by the Philadelphia Convention and its Constitution.  Rather than equality between states, the Constitution seeks a rough balancing of the whole people’s diverse interests.

The Articles of Confederacy began with:

Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled… The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

The states sent delegates to Philadelphia.  The people of the United States made the Constitution. The Constitution set aside friendship among sovereign states for perpetual union emerging of popular sovereignty.  A war between the states eventually proceeded to confirm what the people had wrought.

The people are sovereign.  Thoughtfully — and thoughtlessly — we delegate, distribute, and redistribute our sovereignty among a variety of agents.  Today this includes the Department of Homeland Security.

February 26, 2014

Alternative reality: what if Ramzi Yousef had accomplished his goals?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on February 26, 2014

Today marks the anniversary of the Ramzi Yousef’s attempt to topple one World Trade Center tower into the other.  Some believe that he came very close to his goal.

Not to diminish the value of the lives lost that day, I’d just like to ask what would our world look like if he had been successful?

Tens of thousands may have perished.

Many pundits often talk about the “post-9/11” world, as if reality changed that day.  Personally, what I think is that the nation woke up to reality.  In the previous decade the nation was not only attacked at the World Trade Center, but two of our embassies in Africa were bombed simultaneously and a Navy warship almost sunk.

When compared to today’s news (Al Qaeda is everywhere!), I sense a lack of strategic threat and more of a search for an overarching, global enemy.

But what about the 1990’s where Yousef had been successful?

Post-Desert Storm would the nation have blamed Iraq and invaded a decade earlier?

Pre-Aum Shinrikyo would something similar to Nunn-Lugar-Domenici been implemented sooner?

At the height of our “unipolar moment,” would the U.S. have acted even more aggressively than it did post 9/11?

Drones, NSA surveillance, and enhanced interrogation techniques.  All topics not only addressed but settled by now?

Focus on terrorism – would it have ended by this century or would it simply be a confirmation on the seemingly never ending nature of this conflict?

What questions am I missing?

Previewing the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on February 26, 2014

Last week George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs hosted an event on “Previewing the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit.”

Harvard professor, and nuclear expert, Graham Allison provided his insight regarding the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit. The conversation is interesting on a lot of levels.  For me personally, I was very intrigued by the idea of the summit as an “action-forcing event.”

Despite the amount of time spent on deterrence and non-proliferation, this topic is incredibly relevant for homeland security as any failure in nuclear security can have a potentially large impact on the resilience of our nation.


Old news (about a stolen radiation source), but new analysis

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on February 26, 2014

Last December the funny papers and cable news were all over the story of radioactive material that went missing in Mexico. This website’s own Phil Palin covered the news here.

The material was recovered, and the thieves ended up hospitalized for radiation exposure.

What I’d like to share is analysis of the implications for U.S. domestic radioactive source security.  In other words, it can happen here.

Tom Bielefeld, a physicist who is an associate at the Managing the Atom Project at Harvard, recently broke down the issues involved in this case for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In particular, he notes several cases in “Western democracies” which should raise concern:

  • In July 2011, in the parking lot of a Texas hotel, a thief broke into a truck and stole a radiography camera containing 33.7 curies of iridium-192. The truck drivers had forgotten to switch on the vehicle’s alarm system when they went to dinner. Even though the hotel’s security camera recorded the thief’s car as it left, the device was never found.
  • In February 2013, thieves stole another radiography camera in a small town north of Manchester, England. A courier had left it in his van, which was parked in front of the residence where he stopped for a weekend. The device turned up a month later, at a nearby shopping mall, luckily undamaged.
  • In Canada, the Nuclear Safety Commission lists 17 cases from the past eight years in which radioactive materials were stolen from vehicles, or in which the vehicle itself was stolen with a radiation source in the trunk. Five of these cases involved radiography cameras. All five were eventually recovered.

The news isn’t all bad:

It is true that, in many countries, the situation today is somewhat better than it was 10 years ago. Largely, this is because the US government made the issue a priority after 9/11, when it launched programs for security upgrades in countries where unprotected radiation sources were abundant and presumably within reach of terrorists. US experts have worked in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, helping local partners install security equipment in hospitals and at disposal sites. They have also recovered radiation sources from abandoned facilities and assisted foreign governments in formulating new regulations to improve oversight.

It ain’t all good either:

While US initiatives to strengthen radiological security elsewhere in the world have been at least partially successful, progress at home has been surprisingly difficult. According to a 2008 report by the National Academies, there are more than 5,000 devices containing high-activity radiation sources in the country, including 700 with category-1 sources. So, if terrorists wanted to mount a dirty bomb attack in the United States, they might not have to go abroad to try to steal the material for it.

And there’s this:

Many stakeholders argue that the current regulations provide good-enough protection. In reality, however, there is still little reason for such confidence. In fact, in some US facilities, security conditions remain hair-raising, even when these facilities have been checked by inspectors. This came to light in a 2012 report published by the Government Accountability Office: GAO investigators visited a number of hospitals all over the country to see how the NRC’s new security rules were being implemented, and came back with some sobering findings. For example, one hospital kept a blood irradiator, a category-1 source containing 1,500 curies of cesium-137, in a room with the access code written on the door frame. Another hospital kept a similar device on a wheeled pallet down the hall from a loading dock.

Tom does not leave us without specific recommendations:

Ultimately, good security needs both: strong, strictly enforced regulations and actively participating licensees. Strong regulations are required because investments in security usually don’t generate profits for the businesses. But no security system can work effectively without a vigilant staff that understands the terrorism risk is real. Much like the long-established “safety culture” that has almost certainly prevented many serious radiation accidents, a new “security culture” is needed. This means that businesses, regulators, and government agencies are all aware of security threats, understand their individual responsibilities, and adapt their practices accordingly.


Here are some specific recommendations for the various parties involved in transport security:

  • The NRC must further strengthen its regulations. Given the scale of damage that a “dirty bomb” could cause, it’s difficult to understand why there are still no armed escorts required for category-1 transports. A real-time location-tracking system should be mandatory, not just for vehicles transporting category-1 sources, but also for those with category-2 sources. Similarly, the requirement for drivers to identify “safe havens” for rest stops, before their trip begins, should be extended to category-2 transports.
  • The states could do a lot more, too. Those that do not yet require armed escorts for category-1 transports should implement such a policy soon—and not wait for the NRC to change its rules. And if there is one lesson from the Mexican incident for the states, it’s that all of them should be proactive when it comes to helping licensees identify secure parking areas.
  • The companies themselves play the main role in protecting radioactive sources. They need to be aware that someone might be after their cargo. Drivers, in particular, must be trained to follow security protocols, avoid risky situations, and respond appropriately should they come under attack. Managers should equip their trucks with low-cost security systems—such as GPS tracking systems, duress buttons, or vehicle disabling devices—even when they are not legally required to do so.

If you are concerned about dirty bombs, the entire piece is worth your time:


February 25, 2014

Baseball, the White House and Homeland Security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 25, 2014

August 28, 2011.

The New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 8-3 in the second game of a day-night double header.

New York hit five home runs. Ivan Nova — in his rookie year — won his 10th straight game.

Who cares about an uneventful baseball game that took place two and a half years ago?

I promise there’s a homeland security connection here.


After spending the last few months away from homeland security concerns, I’ve been trying to reconnect with what the front burner issues are in the Enterprise (if “enterprise” is even used anymore).

I went to the White House website to look at their “Issues” page.   Homeland Security is one of 23 important issues featured on the White House site.

Here’s what I found:

The headline item on the page was a video of President Obama, DHS Secretary Napolitano, and FEMA administrator Fugate talking about “on going response efforts to Hurricane Irene.”

The date of the briefing?

Yep, August 28, 2011 — the same day Curtis Granderson hit two home runs; and Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Andruw Jones each hit one.

None of those people play for the Yankees anymore. Things change.  Except, it seems, on the White House homeland security issues page.

The site also features information about:

– The July 2011 Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
– The June 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism
– The Administration’s success managing tornado damage in Joplin and Tuscaloosa, with a nod to DHS efforts during the BP oil spill.
– A March 2009 US-Mexico border initiative
– A May 2009 Cyberspace Policy Review
– A March 2010 Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment
– And a reminder of the principles guiding the May 2010 National Security Strategy.

And that’s pretty much it for that web page. There are a few half-hearted efforts on the right hand side of the page to be somewhat current – like two September 2011 commemorations of the 9/11/01 attacks, and a blurb about a 2013 Canadian border initiative. But that’s about it.

It does not look like anyone at the White House cares that much about the homeland security issue page.

I realize in the scheme of things this is not a big deal. Homeland security is not a website. I appreciate how difficult it is to keep the content and the look of a website current. Homeland Security Watch looks basically the same today as it did when Beckner wrote the first post on December 2, 2005.

I can only guess why no one at the White House deems the homeland security issues page important enough to keep current. I know they have the capability to pay attention. Maybe the interest is not there.

Compare the worn-out homeland security issues site with the White House sites dealing with the economy, education, ethics, health care, urban and economic mobility– to name just a few. Those sites look like they live in the second decade of the 21st Century. Plus they have updated information (mostly).

So what gives here?

My guess is in the list of administration priorities for the second term, homeland security does not matter  much.

Not because homeland security is unimportant. “The president’s highest priority is to keep the American people safe,” the issue page declares.

Perhaps the website is out of date because — for the most part — homeland security is being handled.

Compared with the messiness of the other issues on the president’s agenda, thousands of men and women engaged in homeland security work seem to be doing a more than adequate job accomplishing the core mission: keeping the American people safe.


The first spring training baseball games of the 2014 season will be played on Tuesday.

In spite of the Boston Marathon attack last year, I continue to believe the country is in good homeland security shape if there can still be time for baseball.

The Boston attack reminded us that effective homeland security does not mean complete safety or security.  There remains a lot of tuning to be done in the Enterprise.

An out of date White House website might simply mean that people are busy working, not playing on the Internet.

I hope that’s the reason.

February 22, 2014

Homeland security and The Long Telegram

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 22, 2014

At 9:22 PM (Moscow Time), February 22, 1946 George Kennan transmitted his “Long Telegram” to the State Department.   It was received at 3:52 Eastern Time.

Sixty-eight years ago this afternoon.

It was an acute analysis of the Soviet angle on reality, how this squared with other takes on reality, and how the United States could (should) play the gaps.

Kennan counseled what came later to be known as containment.  He did not like the word.  Given the realities of Soviet power and Russian nationalism, Kennan perceived the issue was less a matter of containing our adversary and more a matter of maintaining credible, coherent, and effective geo-political advantage.

For Kennan the ultimate source of this advantage was a culture of self-criticism and self-correction.  Reality is a solid bet. Soviet self-delusions would result in eventual collapse.  We should be strong, watchful, engaged, realistic… and patient.

While foreign policy was the clear priority, the “Long Telegram” includes an important element of what some might now call a “homeland security” component.

Here are the closing three paragraphs of Kennan’s note:

Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meets Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués. If we cannot abandon fatalism and indifference in face of deficiencies of our own society, Moscow will profit–Moscow cannot help profiting by them in its foreign policies.

We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past. It is not enough to urge people to develop political processes similar to our own. Many foreign peoples, in Europe at least, are tired and frightened by experiences of past, and are less interested in abstract freedom than in security. They are seeking guidance rather than responsibilities. We should be better able than Russians to give them this. And unless we do, Russians certainly will.

Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.

Cut “Russians”, “Soviet”, “communism” and replace with your preferred adversary.   Does it remain wise counsel?  Especially as I read today’s headlines from Kiev, Caracas, Quetta and elsewhere, seems so to me.

February 21, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

On this date (UTC) in 2011 a 6.1 earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand.   The prior September the city had experienced a 7.2 magnitude quake.  185 were killed.

On this date in 1891 an explosion of coal dust in a deep mine at Springhill, Nova Scotia killed 125 and injured many more.

On this date in 1970 a bomb detonated aboard SwissAir Flight 330.  While a controlled landing was attempted the plane crashed killing all 47 aboard.  On the same day a similar cargo bomb exploded in a second plane, but that aircraft was able to land safely.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

February 20, 2014

More, more concentrated, more specialized: More vulnerable?

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


There are many more of us.

In my lifetime the population of the United States has more than doubled. Over these six decades, the population of the world has grown from a bit less than 3 billion to more than 7 billion.

Growth rates are slowing in many places, even reversing in some affluent corners.  But our historical experience does not avail us many analogies well-suited to the present context.


US Census Bureau Image

We are more densely concentrated than ever before.

In 1870 one out of four Americans lived in urban areas. By 1920 the urban-to-non-urban ratio was 1-to-1. In 2010 four out of five Americans lived in urban areas. Today about 75 percent of Americans are concentrated on about three percent of the nation’s territory.

Demographers believe that — for the first time — since 2008 a majority of humans live in cities. This is a profound transition, but so suddenly achieved the full implications of our new condition cannot be confidently claimed.

For most of human history the vast majority of people have produced their own food or lived very close to where their food and other consumables were produced. The systems on which modern urban concentration depend have mostly emerged in the last four generations.  They continue to emerge.

Whether this is a brave new world or one blithely unaware can be debated. In any case, never before have so many depended on so few so very far away.

For at least 5000 years humans have gathered in cities.  To live in cities was to be civilized.  Athens at its classical peak housed about 140,000 (about 30 percent slaves). In the Third Century Rome exceeded one million inhabitants, the greatest concentration of humans until 18th Century Beijing (when Rome had collapsed to about 100,000).

Only in the last century has technology allowed the vast majority of us to detach ourselves from the task of feeding ourselves and selling the excess of our crop to others.  For most of human history there has not been sufficient excess to support anything like contemporary density.

Crop Concentrations

Map by William Rankin from Census data

To supply these dense concentrations we increasingly specialize.

The map above (click on image for more detail) suggests the kind of crop monocultures that have emerged to supply the intense demand of our cities.  Similar maps can be displayed for other monocultures: pork, chickens, pharmaceuticals, aircraft, micro-chips, financial services and more.  All of which makes sense in terms of rapid exchange of information, availability of expertise, and services for processing, packaging, transport, and such.

High volume, concentrated sources of demand and supply, and specialized production and processing tend to be very efficient… most of the time.

The same efficient networks are just as adept at spreading contamination and disruption. The networks in effect becoming fat targets — much fatter than previously — for hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, pandemic and even just stupid mistakes.

Peter Drucker wrote, demography “is the future that has already happened.”

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


This graphic was identified by Quin in comments to the post immediately above.  It demonstrates another form of concentration.  Our thanks to the Washington Post, Brookings Instituition and Alexandr Trubetskoy.

February 18, 2014

Something thoughtful about risk and homeland security

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on February 18, 2014

Would you like to brush up on your understanding of risk models and methods as they apply to homeland security? Maybe get some new ideas?

Ted Lewis recently published a web tutorial about risk — called “Risk Methods and Models” — in the online journal, Homeland Security Affairs.

You can find the tutorial at this link.

The tutorial is a muli-media presentation that begins with a brief history of probability, chance, and risk.  Lewis describes many of the ideas used to think about risk in the homeland security enterprise.  The tutorial surveys a variety of risk models and assessment methods, such as a priori, a posteriori, and conditional probability; expected utility theory using probabilistic risk analysis; long-tailed exceedence, and Bayesian models; and network risk in complex systems.

I vaguely knew what some of those words meant before I went through the tutorial.  I can’t say I can now explain all those ideas to someone else.  I found most of the presentation clear to a fault, but it is not a tutorial you go through once.  At least I couldn’t.

Maybe the most controversial part of the tutorial is the discussion of modern thinking about risk as it applies to networked systems like power grids, the Internet, and other critical infrastructures. I say “controversial” because I know of at least one knowledgable expert who’s said the information Lewis present is not accepted by the field at large.

He may be right.  But when I first heard the criticism, I thought about what Buckminster Fuller said about how to change ideas:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Homeland security has been trying to get consensus about risk for as long as I can remember.  I think Lewis wants to make mainstream homeland security ideas about risk obsolete.

According to Lewis, people who go through his 5 page tutorial (OK, 5 Internet pages, so don’t be thinking 8 by 10) “will be able to assess risk methods, understand limitations and applicability of those methods, and implement programs in risk assessment.”

If risk is something you think about, give the tutorial a try.  Check out the introductory video here:



The Constitution as homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 18, 2014

This is the eleventh 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 reproduced immediately below.


Article. I.

Section. 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.


Elections every two years ensures that the House will tend to be responsive to popular opinion.  There were some at Philadelphia who recognized this could be a source of turmoil as much as crowd-wisdom.  Hence the longer terms of the Senate and life appointments to the judiciary.  Each a piece in a complex system seeking optimum balance.

Prior to the Fourteenth Amendment‘s “equal protection” clause, individual states were expected to differ in a wide range of ways, including voter qualifications.  Someone who could vote for a Congressman in Massachusetts might not be allowed to vote in Texas.  Plenty of other differences abounded, the legality of slavery (or not) probably being most prominent.

The Civil War and constitutional amendments emerging from Union victory shifted these legal foundations.  It took a century more of political, cultural and legal give-and-take to practically shift the power-balance from individual states to the federal government.   But over the last half-century time-and-again when the federal government has decided to assert “equal protection” it has generally trumped other aspects of law and practice.

In the natural world the most resilient systems generally have a “strong (or strange) attractor of meaning” around which self-organization emerges.  Self-organization seems to be most robust when diverse behavior is maximized or in-other-words there is significant freedom of individual actors to engage each other and the attractor.

Does this reasonably describe federal-state-local-private behavior in homeland security?  Why or why not?


Regarding the age requirement for the House of Representatives: The average age of delegates to the Philadelphia Convention was 42 and four of the most influential delegates — Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, Gouverneur Morris and James Madison — were in their thirties.

The average age of current members of the House is fifty-seven.

I don’t immediately perceive any specific homeland security implications, but it seemed sufficiently interesting to share.

February 14, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 14, 2014

On this day in 2007 a massive winter storm peaked across the Eastern United States.  Northern Vermont got four feet of snow. More than 35 deaths were blamed on the weather system.

On this day in 1989 Union Carbide agreed to pay $470 million to the Government of India in regard to the Bhopal Disaster that killed more than 3700 and involved tens-of-thousands of human medical effects.

On this day in 1945 the Anglo-American fire-bombing of Dresden begins.   The Washington Star (and other newspapers) headlined the attack as “Terror Bombing Gets Allied Approval as Step to Speed Victory.”

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

February 13, 2014

Private-Public Cybersecurity Framework

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Private Sector,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2014

Wednesday the White House “launched” the long-under-way Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (41-page PDF).   A snow day has given me the chance to read it.

You need to turn to someone else for a technically competent reading-between-the-lines.  I have no particular competence in cyber hermeneutics.

Information Week reports, “Experts believe NIST’s voluntary Cybersecurity Framework will become the de facto standard for litigators and regulators.”

Several others suggest the voluntary standards are a reasonable step forward given the collapse of earlier efforts to draft legislation.  The US Chamber of Commerce continues to be suspicious of how even these kumbaya methods might be turned to satanic purposes.

The White House spin is well-set out in a detailed background briefing.

No one is suggesting the framework, even widely adopted, resolves vulnerabilities innate to the network.

Two aspects of the framework should not be taken for granted.  First, the methods to finalize the framework may be a model for future approaches to private-public problem solving.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory agency, played host and facilitator for a largely private-sector-driven process.  NIST did not try to drive the process in any particular direction, but was helpful in brokering practical paths for reaching consensus among sometime competitors and a variety of views.  “Honest broker” is not the first thing many in the private sector usually attribute to the Feds.  It apparently worked here.

Second, several of the private sector “Big Boys” involved in the process (e.g. AT&T) have announced their intention to use audited compliance with the voluntary standards as a gateway for those enterprises from which they will purchase goods and services.

This tees-up the potential for a dynamic process of community self-enforcement that several studies (including many by my heroine Elinor Ostrom) have found are much more effective at proactive avoidance and prevention of problems, rather than after-the-fact sanctioning.  Given the “commons-like” characteristics of the cyber-domain this could be an important dynamic to consciously cultivate.

NSS becomes NSC (again) and why it matters to HS and homeland security

Filed under: Homeland Defense,Organizational Issues,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2014

From the White House website, February 10, 2014:


– – – – – – –


By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to reflect my decision to change the name of the National Security Staff to the National Security Council staff, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Name Change. All references to the National Security Staff or Homeland Security Council Staff in any Executive Order or Presidential directive shall be understood to refer to the staff of the National Security Council…

And it continues briefly bureaucratic.  See it all here if you wish.


Monday’s Executive Order undoes the never-really-accepted early administration decision to call the newly combined NSC staff and HSC (Homeland Security Council) staff the National Security Staff.

This NSS fig leaf was mostly an awkward reminder of a brief dalliance with a sort of security separate from the defense-foreign policy-intelligence community condominium.  Rather as if someone from the Upper East Side had married into a family with a double-wide.

Finally we can put that foolishness aside.  Rather than silly fig-leafs, the virility and fertility of the National Security state can be proudly displayed.  The executive order merely confirming continuing practice and the strong preference of staffers.


As someone who abides in that homeland security double-wide all I can really say is that the national security types are smart, capable, and know how to play the policy and power game better than me.  They are tougher than I am and much better networked.  They won this battle — well, for them barely a skirmish — hands-down.  If they had the time or inclination to notice, I would offer my hand in congratulation.

This may strike some as passive-aggressive.  I hope instead it reflects a balance of realism and pride that persists even in losing an important contest.

I still believe what I told the House Homeland Security Committee back in April 2009.  Here’s an excerpt of my testimony:

For more than fifty years, the National Security Council has ably served the Commander-in-Chief. Every element of the NSC’s organizational DNA reflects the responsibilities and power of the Commander-in-Chief. In foreign and defense policy –and the intelligence agencies supporting foreign and defense policy – the President’s authority is preeminent. The NSC has been a creature of that preeminence. Even with the legal, budgetary, and direct command-and-control authority of the President, the NSC can have difficulty doing what is needed to coordinate defense, foreign affairs, and intelligence policy. But after fifty years there is an authoritative NSC institutional ethos that well serves the President and the nation.

This same ethos will often be counter-productive in solving Homeland Security problems… For the purposes of domestic counter-terrorism and prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery the authority of the Commander-in-Chief is not what matters. Most of the Governors will not respond positively to a command and control approach.  Neither will the Adjutants General, nor County Sheriffs, nor most Mayors, nor police chiefs, nor emergency managers, and then there is the private sector that actually owns most of our critical infrastructure. These are partners who must be cultivated.

Some have argued that more of a command-and-control culture is needed to motivate sufficient attention to domestic counterterrorism. It is true that many local jurisdictions across the United States do not give sufficient priority to counterterrorism. But we cannot command them to do otherwise. We cannot even pay them enough to do otherwise. If we are serious about preventing latter day Beslans or Mumbais – or worse, we must do the hard work of communicating, cooperating, building relationships, developing trust, and engaging together in meaningful local and regional risk analysis. Only when state and local authorities are ready – of their own volition – to invest time, energy, and their own dollars into consistent counterterrorism work will we be closer to real defense-in-depth regarding the terrorist threat.

Local authorities are – not unreasonably – actively engaged with disasters that threaten with some regularity: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes… each place and each region is different. They are not inclined to give sufficient attention to threats that are outside the pattern. They tend to undervalue a whole continuum of catastrophic possibilities: intentional, accidental, and natural. Given limited financial and human resources this tendency is understandable. Given recent financial extremities the tendency has been exacerbated.

The Federal government can and should play a role in helping ensure reasonable local attention to catastrophic possibilities – including terrorism. The federal government can play this role through consulting, educating, training, making grants, and through a variety of other mechanisms. When the federal government engages state and local authorities –and private sector — as peers and fellow professionals, the response will usually be productive. Ordering or even paying state and local professionals to do something they don’t believe in tends to produce very creative avoidance behavior.

These practical issues reflect in a wonderful way our constitutional system. We are dramatically reminded that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, not the nation. We are forced to recall that we are – even now – a federal union of sovereign states… and a robust society of free peoples who do not salute any master.

Re-reading this testimony five years later I am a bit embarrassed by the prose, but the experience of these years have further reinforced my judgment regarding the substance.

The contentious issue at hand is not a matter of intention or capability, but culture. I love the Upper East Side. I spend all the time I can at the Met, Guggenheim, elsewhere near-by. And at my home in the mountains our nearest neighbor does, indeed, live in a double-wide. Each of these worlds is real. Each is vitally important to our common future. Each tends to disdain each and in the process our shared strength is diminished.

February 12, 2014

Too much Congressional oversight of DHS – does it really impact homeland security?

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Arnold Bogis on February 12, 2014

There.  I said it.  In the title.  And now I will no longer be a viable job candidate for anything homeland security-related in Washington, DC (if I ever was in the first place…).

It is common knowledge, wisdom, even quasi-religious doctrine that a fractured and expansive Congressional oversight system hobbles homeland security. Too many officials have to appear before too many Congressional committees, involving too much staff time to prepare that could be better spent securing the homeland.

Look at the comparatively small number of committees that Defense and State report to!  It was in the 9/11 Commission Report! OMG this is why the terrorists will win!

Except….except that I’ve yet to hear this complaint outside of Washington or in those communities that do not deal closely with federal policy. Perhaps it is a product of my own insularity.  I do not often interact with law enforcement.  Perhaps they see the potential for so much more leadership from DHS if only they were not so distracted. Emergency management perhaps?  Would UASI funds flow easier, more widely, or with better focus absent onerous Congressional oversight? Fire seems content with their office in DHS.  EMS…well, that is another topic entirely, and one worth it’s own post.  But one not directly tied up in Congressional oversight.

All this is not to diminish the burden placed on DHS employees.  I can scarcely imagine the hours invested in preparing constant Congressional testimony. But the question should be asked: at the end of the day, does this affect homeland security?

State Department officials control the vast majority of diplomatic efforts.  Defense Department officials control the vast majority of military action.  Department of Homeland Security officials control ______ amount of what can be thought of as homeland security activity?

And if that is a relatively small amount, spread across multiple disciplines, what can be expected from Congressional committees?

All this  rumination brought on by a Lawfare post by Paul Rosenzweig, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security. He brings up a the work of the Annenburg Policy Center at UPenn:

Earlier today the Center (in conjunction with the Aspen Institute) followed up on the Task Force report with the release of a new short film on the subject:  “Homeland Confusion.”  According to the release:

The film argues that Congress can exercise one of its strongest roles in protecting Americans through clear, direct oversight of homeland security. Yet more than 100 committees and subcommittees currently claim jurisdiction over the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – three times as many as supervise the Defense Department. The movie “Homeland Confusion” looks at how and why fragmented Congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security leaves our nation more vulnerable than it might otherwise be to the threat of cyber-, biological, and chemical attack.

Unfortunately, I cannot either post the video directly or promise it will be available if you visit their website (I couldn’t access it while writing this post). The task force report referenced can be found here:

here: http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/downloads/sunnylands/homeland%20security%20report%2009-11-13.pdf

Cyber threats? Let’s ignore the complexity for a moment…it’s all about the bureaucracy.  Biological threats?  Again…let’s ignore both nature and bureaucracy….and blame the committees.

I hesitate to go out on a limb…but perhaps these and other topics are just generally complicated and complex due to their very nature?

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