Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2014

Renewed use of chemical weapons in Syria challenges inaction

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 30, 2014

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE:  Today the U.S. Department of State submitted its annual Country Reports on Terrorism to Congress.  The Strategic Assessment includes:

Some of the thousands of fighters from around the world who are traveling to Syria to do battle against the Asad regime – particularly from the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe – are joining violent extremist groups, including al-Nusrah Front and ISIL. A number of key partner governments are becoming increasingly concerned that individuals with violent extremist ties and battlefield experience will return to their home countries or elsewhere to commit terrorist acts. The scale of this problem has raised a concern about the creation of a new generation of globally-committed terrorists, similar to what resulted from the influx of violent extremists to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

— +–


Late Tuesday evening Greenwich Mean Time, The Telegraph, a leading British newspaper, published an exclusive story claiming to prove Syria has continued to use chemical weapons.

According to The Telegraph’s report,”…soil samples from the scene of three recent attacks in the country were collected by trained individuals known to this news organisation and analysed by a chemical warfare expert. Our results show sizeable and unambiguous traces of chlorine and ammonia present at the site of all three attacks.”

Just last week President Obama said, “Eighty-seven percent of Syria’s chemical weapons have already been removed.”  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been working under an international agreement to relocate and destroy the Syrian stockpile.

The chlorine and ammonia assets allegedly used in recent weeks were not part of the chemical weapons inventory which the OPCW has been working to remove.  There is informed speculation that industrial chemicals have been crudely repurposed to replace the more sophisticated chemicals (including sarin and mustard) that have been removed.

Late last summer and into the autumn, the United States was dissuaded from military operations against Syrian chemical stockpiles when Russia brokered a “last-minute” deal to remove the weapons from Syria.  The decision by the US to not undertake military action disappointed the Saudis, surprised the French (who were prepared to join in the action), and precipitated a months-long reversal of progress achieved by the Syrian opposition.

As evidence accumulates of recent use of chemical weapons, there will be renewed pressure for US military intervention against the Assad regime.  For example, The Telegraph’s Defense Editor comments the new findings, “must serve as a wake up call to the West that it can no longer ignore a brutal conflict that has so far cost an estimated 150,000 lives.”

The Syrian Civil War is also a violent flash-point in Sunni-Shia antipathy, a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a training ground for a new generation of international terrorists.

Whatever we do — or decide not to do — will have homeland security consequences.

April 29, 2014

You can never be sure where interesting ideas might come from

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on April 29, 2014

About two years ago, someone in one of my classes showed the following two minute video during a break.  It illustrates, in a humorous way, the importance of deconfliction.


You never can tell where ideas will come from. Two years later, the woman who showed the video completed her master’s thesis describing the factors that contribute to inadvertent, and sometimes violent “police-on-police” encounters and how to improve deconfliction efforts in the US.

Here’s the abstract of her thesis.  It will be available from the Homeland Security Digital Library in a few weeks, but if you’d like a copy before then, send me an email: christopherbellavita [at] gmail [dotcom]:

Police-on-police encounters, also referred to as Blue-on-Blue, are serious occurrences that can compromise investigations, cause physical injuries, or worse—result in death to officers, informants and/or innocent bystanders. Law enforcement deconfliction is the protocol that was developed to address this specific issue. This research focuses on the scope and breadth of federal law enforcement deconfliction processes within the United States. An examination of these processes uncovered complex organizational issues and human factors that undermine complete and consistent reporting of both failed and successful deconfliction events. With national oversight and accountability, however, gaps and vulnerabilities in deconfliction operations could be addressed, and a repository to archive and evaluate these efforts could be formed. This thesis proposes that the Blue Diamond Deconfliction Division (BD3) should be established within the United States Attorney’s Office to provide deconfliction oversight and reporting, reduce federal law enforcement organizational and fiscal inefficiencies, and most importantly, save lives.

April 25, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

On this day in 2011 a three-day tornado outbreak began.  Over 350 tornadoes were confirmed over the US.  More than 300 were killed.  Damage was estimated at over $11 billion.

On this day in 2005 a commuter train near Osaka, Japan came off its tracks. 107 were killed and 562 others injured.

On this day in 2013 the Associated Press twitter feed was hacked and a report of a terrorist attack on the White House was distributed.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

April 24, 2014

Attention, distraction, and Yemen

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2014

Gulf_of_Aden_mapWikipedia Commons

Sometime between mid-February and late March al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) held a combination pep rally and planning conference.  The specific location is contested, but almost certainly somewhere in Yemen.  On March 29 a video was released of the event.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, the AQAP chief — and “general manager” of AQ-Core — is shown speaking, “We must remember, oh brothers, that we are fighting the greater enemy: the leaders of disbelief. We must bring down their leaders. We must eliminate the cross. The bearer of the cross is America!”

The video is a spit-in-the-eye of Yemeni, Saudi, US, and other intelligence services that would dearly love to have targeted such an event. It is also a rallying activity for far-flung affiliates.

In this context, threat is the outcome of capability and intention. AQAP has consistently demonstrated both.  It was behind the attack on the USS Cole. The Yemen-based AQ affiliate was the long-time host and sponsor of Anwar al-Awlaki, a premier English-speaking evangelist of attacks on the United States (see related story). AQAP continues to support the bomb-making specialist Ibrahim al-Asiri, mastermind of a wide range of attacks on the US and object of a February warning to air travelers.

Ibrahim al Rubaish, a former Guantanamo detainee, now serves as the AQAP “chaplain”.  Early last year he released a video that included, “It is my duty to spur the Muslims to kill the Americans, to get them out of the Muslims’ land.”

In 2012 John Brennan, then Deputy National Security Advisor now CIA Director, told the Council on Foreign Relations, “Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is al-Qaida’s most active affiliate. It has assassinated Yemeni leaders, murdered Yemeni citizens, kidnapped and killed aid workers, targeted American interests, encouraged attacks in the United States and attempted repeated attacks against U.S. aviation.”

Sunday and Monday saw  a series of assaults on AQAP by Yemen and the United States. The US operates a significant fleet of Reaper drones out of bases in Djibouti, just across the narrow Bab-el-Mandeb (Gate of Tears) from Yemen.  Several reports indicate more than fifty AQAP fighters have been killed.   The Yemen Post reports the military operation had an “intensity and violence never witnessed before.”

See especially Bill Roggio’s and Oren Adaki’s reporting at Long War Journal .

The ground and air operation follows the visit of a Yemeni military delegation to Washington DC in early April.  It is also well-timed to demonstrate Yemeni government resolve and capability in anticipation of the April 29 meeting of the “Friends of Yemen” in London.


Apples and oranges I suppose, but on Wednesday morning I typed into my English-language US-based Google webpage the word “Yemen” — non-specific, all-inclusive.  Google tells me I can choose from among 82,800,000 results.  Plenty.

When I type in “Malaysia Airlines Flight 370” Google gives me 117 million results.  254 million without quotation marks.  Forty to 300 percent more than anything related to Yemen. Is Google content a proxy for public interest… or media coverage… or what?

In a March 20-23 survey the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that the loss of Flight 370 was attracting the most attention of Americans following any news.  Interest regarding the missing plane far surpassed the Ukrainian crisis, a distant second with less than half the level of attention given the plane.  Nothing related to Yemen or Nigeria or Central African Republic or even Afghanistan made the list of seven top stories offered by respondents.

The human mind is attracted to mysteries.  I understand the intrigue with Flight 370.  I don’t understand the disinterest in Yemen and similar.

The Twentieth Century political-economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” Given options available in Yemen, Ukraine, Egypt or even the Jersey Shore, that seems a fair assessment.

But is it possible a significant block of the voting public may actually prefer the clearly disastrous to the ambiguously unpalatable?

April 23, 2014

New DHS Secretary tackles “Unity of Effort”

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on April 23, 2014

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson yesterday issued a memo to the senior leadership of the Department entitled “Strengthening Departmental Unity of Effort.”  The memo establishes the strategic objective of making DHS “greater than the sum of its parts” and a Department “that operates with much greater unity of effort.”  The memo then identifies a number of key initiatives and tasks in support of this objective, including (a) an assessment of options for a joint requirements process, (b) a review of the Department’s primary acquisition directive, MD 102-01, (c) an effort to harmonize analytic capabilities within the Office of Policy and the Management Directorate, (d) the development of a new strategic framework for the security of the U.S. Southern Border, and (e) a new review of the Department’s international footprint.

You can read the full memorandum here.

A copy of initial thoughts on this:

First, I am glad that the new Secretary is taking on these issues, which were the key imperative for why Congress created DHS in 2002.  As my former boss Sen. Lieberman noted in the Senate floor debate on the Homeland Security Act:

“…the holistic design of a new Department.  By that I mean the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.  Indeed, since the very beginning, the entire purpose of formulating this Department has been to create a cohesive and unified organization in which all of the pieces fit together tightly with all of the other pieces.”

Unfortunately, these issues have received insufficient attention in the first eleven years of the Department’s history.  When they have received attention, too often it has been episodic and ad hoc, due to the direct and positive leadership of people such as former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen (who stood up and led a joint requirements process, as he discusses in 2012 testimony) and former Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider.   What has been missing in the last decade has been a sustained and institutionalized set of processes for addressing these “unity of effort” issues.  A key challenge of this new initiative will be building and institutionalizing these internal management and decision-making processes, so that they can be maintained and sustained across leadership teams and Presidential transitions.  This may require new legislative authority, particularly with respect the authorities of the DHS Office of Policy, Office of Operations Coordination, and Management Directorate vis-a-vis similar offices within the operational components of DHS.

Another key challenge will be ensuring that DHS is staffed appropriately – both at headquarters and at the component level – to carry out the strategic intent of this memorandum.  Does DHS have enough people with the right kind of practical experience (in terms of knowledge of analytic methodologies, operational background, budget and financial experience, etc.) to fulfill the objective of this memorandum?  If not, how can it address these gaps?  Does DHS need a new Department-wide professional career track, akin to the Foreign Service at the Department of State?  (Something I proposed in a blog post here in 2006).   Does it need to increase or refocus its investment in professional development?   Hopefully an evaluation of these issues will be the focus of a complementary review by the Secretary.

Overall though, this memorandum is a good first step for the DHS leadership team at tackling a set of critical issues that have a direct impact on the Department’s effectiveness and its stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Appeals panel orders release of kill memos

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 23, 2014

A three-judge Court of Appeals for the second circuit has ordered the US government to release a redacted version of documents, “relating to targeted killings of United States citizens carried out by drone aircraft.”

The decision is narrowly framed as a matter of FOIA procedures and does not address the legality of the actual killing of United States citizens.

From the finding and order:

In resisting disclosure of the OLC-DOD Memorandum, the Government contends that making public the legal reasoning in the document will inhibit agencies throughout the Government from seeking OLC’s legal advice. The argument proves too much.  If this contention were upheld, waiver of privileges protecting legal advice could never occur… Agencies seeking OLC legal advice are surely sophisticated enough to know that in these circumstances attorney/client and deliberative process privileges can be waived and the advice publicly disclosed. We need not fear that OLC will lack for clients.

Reading the decision, it is clear the 2013 leak and eventual release of a redacted Department of Justice White Paper (Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force) seriously complicated the government’s attempt to resist these FOIA requests.

April 22, 2014

“If a foreign nation were doing this to our children, we would defend our families.”

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Christopher Bellavita on April 22, 2014

“One of the great public health epidemics of our time.”

“The epidemic here is worse than was previously estimated. Much worse.”

“Over 95% of all Americans will be overweight or obese in two decades.”

“The government is subsidizing the obesity epidemic”

“By 2050, one out of every three americans will have diabetes.”

“There are 600,000 food items in America. Eighty percent of them have added sugar.”

“Junk food companies are acting very much like tobacco companies did thirty years ago.”

“Ronald McDonald never sells to children. He informs and inspires through magic and fun.”

“This is the first generation of American children expected to lead shorter lives than their parents.”

“If a foreign nation were doing [this] to our children, we would defend our families.”


All the quotes come from a trailer for the muckraking homeland security movie called Fed Up (thanks, Dan).

More about Fed Up in a moment, but I call it a homeland security movie because if the claims about the epidemic are accurate, here is another issue affecting the safety and security of the nation that is not within the DHS portfolio: i.e., a generation of children whose life expectancy may be shorter than their parents.


Theodore Roosevelt gets credit for originating the term muckraker.

In April 1906, he said “The men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well being of society….” 

He went on to say they shouldn’t be raking muck all the time, but in the same speech he noted,

There are, in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.


Switch over now to the food you and your family eat. How’s that going? Do you understand what foods help you and your family stay healthy? What foods don’t? Do you even pay attention to food? Where do you get your knowledge about nutrition?

Enter the muckrakers to give us what may not be an objective set of answers to those questions, but they do claim to be accurate.

The film “Fed Up” is scheduled to open in theaters on May 9th. It was produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David. David also produced “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film not exactly without controversy or complaints about skewing data to make a point. (See, for example, Section V in Richard A. Muller’s Physics for Future Presidents , or this Washington Post fact check article: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2007/10/an_inconvenient_truth_for_al_g_1.html).

I can’t imagine going to a theater to watch a video about the food industry. But I guess people actually do that.

As one person who watched the Fed Up trailer below commented,

“I swear to god, there’s going to be people watching this movie in the theaters with a large soda and popcorn with extra butter….”


April 21, 2014

“We were Boston Strong, because we were Boston Ready”

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Resilience,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on April 21, 2014

Today, nine thousand more people are running the Boston Marathon than last year.  Officials expect over one million spectators – roughly double the average. Hotels have been booked for months, and people looking to volunteer have been turned away for weeks due to the crush of applicants.

I take a couple of points away from this and all the other outpouring of support for today’s race, runners, and the Greater Boston area:

  • To steal NSFW terminology from Big Papi, this is basically a big fuck you to terrorism.  It doesn’t work if people aren’t scared, and the people of Boston, Massachusetts, and runners and spectators from across this country and world are obviously not scared.
  • Not only do Bostonians (and Cantabrigians and Watertown-ians(?) and etc.) not scare easily, Americans in general do not scare easily.  So I hope pundits leave behind flawed concerns that the unprecedented shelter-in-place order on the Friday following the Marathon bombings was a sign of underlying weakness rather than determined strength born out of  in-the-moment operational necessity.
  • We as a society are resilient.  Yes, there are significant concerns about infrastructure and emerging threats.  Things can and should be improved across a range of sectors and issue areas.   However, I simply have not read nor heard convincing proof that our current society is any less resilient than in decades past.  Stephen Flynn I’m looking at you. Instead, we live in a different world with different vulnerabilities but also different strengths.

Leading up to today, there has been much said about the potential of missed clues or signals that could have led authorities to prevent this attack.  There has also been much shared about the resilience of those directly affected by the bombings. Rightly so.

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit to being a little concerned.  The medical response to the attack has been lauded.  It has not been sufficiently explained.  It should not be taken for granted.

The concept of a “dry run disaster” has been advertised.  Lessons learned from the Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Israeli experience have been explored. It is easy to point out that the explosions occurred yards away from a medical tent, and that Boston is blessed with an overabundance of world class hospitals just minutes away from the scene.

Yet the underlying strength of the Boston response originated from years of planning, practice, and collaboration.  Similar examples of which are difficult to find across our nation. Boston was, and is, strong because it has, and continues to, work on preparedness.

Boston Strong because Boston Ready.

This should be noted and shared.

All I have to offer in addition is a few suggestions:

  • The Federal goverment, both the Administration and Congress, should increase funding to such programs as the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) that aims to instill the cross-sector collaboration that was so successful in Boston.  It would also be nice if top Administration officials not only talked about resilience but actually did something to drive actual change in their departments.
  • State and local governments should embrace the “whole of community” approach.  This would require that first responders embrace the possibility of a robust civilian response in their plans, as well as encouraging cooperation among private stakeholders.
  • Those private stakeholders, hospitals and healthcare systems and etc., should understand that cooperation and collaboration with others should not be viewed as a net loss on the ledger books, but as an overall positive contribution to their business model.
  • And finally, the individuals among us should realize that having health insurance is a good thing.  Not unduly burdening the emergency medical system during times of unexpected stress, such as the Marathon bombing, could save lives. Learning what to do to help our neighbors would be even better.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Recently, NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired a segment on “Boston Strong: The Marathon Bombing, One Year Later.”

You can watch a video of it here: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-anniversary/boston-strong-marathon-bombing-one-year-later-n79161

It was a round table discussion with an audience of Boston first responders.  The individual making the incisive observation I took as the title of this post was Senator Ed Markey.  His full quote:

And, you know, we were prepared. We were Boston Strong, because we were Boston Ready. The city was ready. And the commissioner has a lot to do with that. The people who were here. There was a lot of cooperation at the local level. And then we needed the bravery of people then to respond on that day. And they did. And the resilience of people afterwards.

He makes a subtle and often overlooked point.

April 18, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

On this date in 1906 an earthquake and fire destroy much of San Francisco.

On this date in 1912 the RMS Carpathia arrives in New York with 705 survivors of the April 15 sinking of the Titanic.

On this date in 1983 a suicide bomber destroys much of the US Embassy in Beirut, killing sixty-three.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

April 17, 2014

One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s…

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 17, 2014

On the anniversary of one great rebellion the commanders met secretly to advance their own rebellion.

For several years they had operated mostly in the far north, but now gathered in the capital city.

Just days before, their leader had taken direct — and highly symbolic — action against the regime. His shift from argument and example to economic boycott and violent protest surprised many.

Passwords were exchanged, introductions offered, preparations undertaken. The insurrectionists were fully aware it was risky to meet together. Most did not expect, however, that their inner circle had been compromised.

They gathered over dinner. The ancient rebellion was recalled and celebrated. As subversives will, they also quarreled. Around the table several motivations were represented: nationalists, religious extremists, idealists, some simply attracted by the charisma of their leader and a common cause. They disagreed more than they agreed.

The leader was skilled in forging an alloy of their differences. He served them. He warned them: They would betray him and each other. They would suffer. What they valued most would be destroyed. He had an uncanny ability to upend typical understandings of good and bad.

They would be separated from each other, attacked, oppressed, tortured and killed. Despite all, together they were creating a more just reality. The new reality’s lack of specific definition allowed each to project his particular preferences.

Sharing drink, food, and conversation reaffirmed the relationships around the table: tenuous surely, but tenacious as well. They found in each other a confidence that was much more elusive when alone.

There were many similarly subversive groups. Until quite recently this particular movement had not seemed much of a threat, more reformist than revolutionary. Some senior officials shared most of the reformist critique. Others had a grudging respect for the movement’s ability to generate popular support.

In retrospect even benign neglect would probably have produced a less dynamic outcome. But challenging a core economic engine surely required a deterrent response, just as a matter of due diligence. Then the good fortune of “turning” one of the movement’s inner circle was too good to pass up.

They might have rounded up the whole command-network. It was an elegant bit of restraint to choose instead a single decapitation. The remainder of the inner circle quickly dispersed, a demonstration that demoralized many long-time followers and disgusted recent converts.

The most sophisticated advocated for a long languishing imprisonment, the proven technique for facilitating a divided movement’s self-disintegration. The cowardly behavior of those insurrectionists left at-large argued the efficacy of such a plan.

But the most sophisticated had not anticipated the intensely personal antagonism that erupted when some of their superiors encountered the arrested leader face to face… or rather word for word. He was infuriating: self-righteous, obscure, and entirely unrepentant.

(We often feel the most innate conflict with those who remind us of our own most troublesome tendencies.)

The decision was made to put him to death. Behind closed doors the most sophisticated argued this was a mistake. Alive but imprisoned he would impede the emergence of a successor. Death opened an opportunity for someone more radical to arise. A public execution could transform one of many malcontents into a useful martyr for a wide range of discontent.

But at times events emerge and can take on a life of their own. The most sophisticated did not win the argument.

April 16, 2014

Disengaging in order to more fully engage?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 16, 2014

Two separate events, disconnected in any substantive way (as far as I know) but an interesting coincidence in terms of timing:

Monday the Muslim Public Affairs Council held a press conference alongside notable Muslim community leaders at the National Press Club to announce a new campaign to actively prevent violent extremism. Called the Safe Spaces Initiative, the campaign is the first major national grassroots effort to equip American Muslim community and campus leaders with practical tools for developing healthy communities as well as intervention strategies for troubled individuals. You can download the paper from the Safe Spaces website.

Tuesday the New York Police Department said it would disband a special unit charged with detecting possible terrorist threats by carrying out secret surveillance of Muslim groups. The squad that conducted the surveillance, known as the Demographics Unit, was formed in 2003. It brought the NYPD under fire from community groups and activists who accused the force of abusing civil rights and profiling.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “This reform is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”

April 15, 2014

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 15, 2014

To what purpose, April, do you return again? Edna St. Vincent Millay asks in “Spring.”

Time has come to remember tragedy.

On Sunday a scrubby heil hitler spitting septuagenarian hatewad clawed tears into Kansas.

A year ago the madness shrouded Boston.

T.S. Elliot wrote

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.


Mixing memory and desire. Stirring dull roots.

But to what purpose, April?

Walt Whitman — grieving a Lincoln whose April 15 death few any longer commemorate — thought also of the lilacs

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

To mourn with ever-returning spring?

1. marathon 10


1a marathon 8


2 marathon 3



3  marathon 1


3 marathon 13



Bramhall's World - Boston NY - New York Daily News 4/16/20135 marathon 4



7 marathon 6

8 marathon 5Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

9 marathon 9a

11 marathon 12

12 marathon 11

It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify? ….
Life in itself
Is nothing
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs,
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. — Edna St. Vincent Millay

April 14, 2014

On the 14th of Nisan

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 14, 2014

A 14-year-old Eagle Scout, his grandfather and an elderly woman were killed in shootings Sunday afternoon near Kansas City. The two separate shootings each took place on the grounds of a Jewish institution.

73-year-old Frasier Glenn Cross Jr. was taken into custody after the attack. The Southern Poverty Law Center says Cross is an alias for Frasier Glenn Miller, the former Grand Dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and a long-time neo-Nazi.

It is worth noting that this year the celebration of Easter (in many churches) and the birthday of Hitler coincide on April 20.

April 11, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 11, 2014

On this date in 1861 Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.  Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused.  At about 4:30 AM on April 12 Confederate artillery commenced firing on the fort.

We persist in the light and shadow of that bombardment.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

April 10, 2014

Mass aggregation and analysis of data: Debate, discussion, desiderata

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Media,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 10, 2014

On Monday the Supreme Court declined a petition to expedite consideration of Klayman v. Obama.   The plantiffs had sought to by-pass appellate review given the government’s “outrageous intrusion of privacy” confirmed by a Federal District Court’s finding.

Klayman is one of several cases focused on the government’s aggregation and analysis of metadata, as exposed by the Edward Snowden document releases.  (Prior consideration by HLSWatch is available here.)

Since the December decision in Klayman at least one other Federal District Court has affirmed the constitutionality of actions that the judge in Klayman suggested would cause Madison to spin in his grave.  A variety of related cases — and contending judgments — are working their way through the courts.

It would have been unusual for the Supreme Court to abbreviate the process.  On this issue a fulsome set of legal engagements should serve to clarify key issues.

The political process around mass surveillance is also advancing.  On March 25 the President outlined several reforms to how metadata is collected and accessed.  The Republican Chair and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee have proposed their own reforms. There is also an effort underway to frame-up policy directions for the digital domain that go beyond a privacy-v-security binary.

The political context features several advocacy groups, such as the ACLU and EFF, pressing for privacy rights; several commercial organizations including AT&T, Verizon, Google and Facebook reluctant to be identified  as co-conspirators in invading consumer privacy; and a mainstream media keen to cover any source of conflict.

At least in the United States there is deeply divided public opinion.  For example one January poll found that 48 percent of respondents approved and 47 percent did not approve of tracking phone calls for potential terrorist links. Roughly twenty-percent of those who approved of the phone tracking also agreed the program is “too much intrusion into Americans’ private life”.   This tracks with what seems to be increasing concern that “anti-terrorism policies” threaten civil liberty, even as support for specific anti-terrorism activities remains strong.

TREND: What concerns you more about the government’s anti-terrorism policies, that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties, or that they have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country?
                     Jan 09  Oct 01  Aug 02  Jul 10  Jan 14
                     2014    2013    2013    2013    2010

Gone too far         51      43      46      45      25
Not gone far enough  33      40      39      40      63
DK/NA                16      17      15      15      12

Are these public attitudes contradictory… ambivalent… paradoxical?  Are these the ill-considered judgments of a poorly informed mass or a signal of profound crowd-wisdom?

Our intellectual culture is (mostly unconsciously) influenced by Hegel (abstract, negative, concrete or sometimes thesis, antithesis, synthesis and more).  The law is especially Hegelian in its dependence on the adversarial process.  Well beyond the law we are inclined to engage contending perspectives in search for ideal solutions.  For some this ideal emerges from historical (empirical) context.  For others there is an ideal that transcends history and experience.  In either case there can be a tendency to exclude or negate one option in order to achieve an other.

It is worth noting this is Hegelianism without Hegel who wrote, “Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.”  But much of our current discontent with so many aspects of politics, law, and governance may very well emerge from an intellectual conceit that seeks the best and disdains the rest.

If you characterize an issue as privacy versus security, I will probably lean toward privacy.  To acknowledge this predisposition can be helpful. It ought not be confused with thought. First principles inform but very seldom resolve our problem-solving.  Thinking requires an examination of context and contingencies and potential consequences.

Privacy and security are not necessarily in conflict, as for example in the language of the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

When privacy and security are perceived to be in conflict, what is the source of conflict? What are the contingent Goods that an active instance of privacy or security seems to threaten?  For surely neither privacy nor security are ends-in-themselves.  Rather each are aspects of a more comprehensive Good or Goods.  Can we articulate our valuations to each other so that we might resolve the perceived conflict by directly addressing the goals which privacy and security are thought to advance (or retard)?  Are we disagreeing over first principles or tertiary techniques?

Issues of privacy and security are clearly being considered as matters of law.  In these legal considerations ancient ethical concerns are referenced and there will clearly be contemporary ethical implications whatever the legal outcomes.

The current political arguments strike me as mostly rhetorical rather than ethical.   Typically absolute rights or obvious needs are assumed much more than demonstrated. Strawmen are set forth by every side.

In both the legal and political domains the consideration tends to be adversarial — pseudo-Hegelian — in method.   I have no objection to this as one of several methods by which a shared understanding can emerge.  I am concerned if it is the predominant method.

Where do you participate in serious and sustained consideration of important ethical issues?   Especially civic issues such as the matter of privacy v. security?  Where and how have you seen non-adversarial methods generate practical solutions?

I hope your answers are more fruitful than my own.  If not, I wonder how much the paucity of such approaches suggest a social-civic anemia for which our current political confrontations are but a symptom?

April 9, 2014

Boston Marathon Bombing Roundup

With the Boston Marathon quickly approaching, along with the one year anniversary of the Marathon bombing, you can imagine there has been a surge of related events and releases.

Here are some of the more informative, in case you missed them.

Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing “The Boston Marathon Bombings, One Year On: A Look Back to Look Forward.” It mostly focused on the law enforcement-related decisions, and served as a podium to denounce the Administration’s stated plans to consolidate homeland security grants into one block grant to states.  However, it also contained interesting questions and answers/testimony on the current and future state of NIMS in disaster response.

The Committee’s page for this hearing can be found here: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/hearingthe-boston-marathon-bombings-one-year-look-back-look-forward

A better quality video can be found here (apologies, but I couldn’t find one I could post on this blog): http://www.c-span.org/video/?318765-1/boston-marathon-bombings-anniversary-review

The Witness list with links to written statements:


Mr. Edward F. Davis, III

Former Commissioner, Boston Police Department and Fellow

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]


Mr. Edward P. Deveau

Chief of Police

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]


Mr. Jeffrey J. Pugliese


Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]


Prof. Herman “Dutch” B. Leonard

Professor of Public Management

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
Two of those testifying, Dutch Leonard and Edward Davis, participated in the development of the report, “Why Was Boston Strong, Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing.” Among it’s conclusions:

 The report highlights a number of factors that contributed to a largely successful response and emphasizes what, exactly, made Boston Strong and resilient in the face of tragedy. It also provides a set of recommendations for jurisdictions to consider going forward. Among other findings, the authors urge responders:

•    To quickly establish a cross-agency, senior strategic and policy-making level of engagement and secure command post — with dedicated space for strategic, tactical and logistical teams — that looks to both the big picture and a longer timeframe.

•    To provide responders and political leaders with more training and experience in the doctrine of incident command in complex circumstances through exercises and utilization of regular “fixed events” to develop skills.

•    To develop a more effective process to manage the inevitable self-deployment of responders who in response to crisis arrive as independent individuals rather than in organized units.

•    To critically review current training and practice on control of weapons fire, which may call for new paradigms.

•    To design and routinely establish a staffing schedule for all levels of personnel ensuring rotation and rest that are essential to sustained performance when critical events last for days.

•    To consider a legislative change to the HIPAA regulations regarding release of information to family members about the health status of patients critically injured in an attack, in order to provide them the best care possible and to cater to their wide range of needs.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint Harvard Kennedy School and Public Health School venture, just released their preliminary findings on “Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons From the Boston Marathon Bombings Response: The Ingenuity of Swarm Intelligence.” What’s it about?

The Boston Marathon Bombings required leaders of many agencies – scattered over numerous jurisdictions and with different authorities and priorities – to rapidly respond together to an unknown and complex set of risks, decisions and actions. This report analyzes their leadership through the event. It seeks to understand how they were able to effectively lead an operation with remarkable results. These outcomes are measured in lives saved, suspects quickly captured, public confidence maintained and population resilience fostered. These leaders were observed to exhibit “Swarm Intelligence,” a phenomenon in which no one is in charge and yet, with all following the same principles and rules, leaders are able to accomplish more together than any one leader could have achieved separately. These rules include: 1) unity of mission that coalesces all stakeholders; 2) generosity of spirit; 3) deference for the responsibility and authority of others; 4) refraining from grabbing credit or hurling blame; 5) a foundation of respectful and experienced relationships that garner mutual trust and confidence. That confidence, both personal and systemic, bolstered these leaders individually and as a coordinated force over the 102 hours between the attacks and the conclusion of the incident. They handled difficult decisions in the face of credible risks: Whether to keep public transit open? Whether to release blurry pictures of the suspects? The study found that over the course of the week, they learned how to lead and lead better, so that by the time they reached the chaotic conclusion of the event, they acted as a coordinated and unified cadre of crisis leaders.

Finally, 60 Minutes aired a segment several weeks ago about the decisions made behind the scenes during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

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