Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 30, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 30, 2014

The National Academies Press recently sent around a newletter that collected much of their recent work on preparedness and resilience.

We’re halfway through Hurricane Preparedness Week, but how prepared are we really? We’ve pulled together a dozen of our reports on disaster preparedness to evaluate how ready we are for hurricanes and other disasters, and what we can do to improve our response and resilience.

There is a lot of good stuff – Crisis Standards of Care, children in disasters, alerts and social media, community disaster resilience, flood maps, etc. You have the option to buy a hardcopy or download free pdf copies.

You can read it online here.

(Thanks to Bill Cumming for sharing this link.)

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

May 29, 2014

“Sharing is caring”

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

Here’s a line from President Obama’s West Point talk on May 28th:

That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.

When it comes to conducting surveillance on Americans, there’s more to look at than government.

The same day the President spoke to the army cadets,  Leo Mirani and Max Nisen at Quartz  wrote about the “The nine companies that know more about you than Google or Facebook”.

The companies, called “data brokers” are: Acxiom, Corelogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, PeekYou, Rapleaf, and Recorded Future.   I’ve never heard of them.

Their business  – and there are more companies in the business than these nine – is “collecting and selling personal data—typically without your knowledge or consent—that are used to verify identity, help marketers, detect fraud and help perform detailed “people searches.”

You might want to check out http://www.spokeo.com/ to get an idea what data brokers can already “share” about you.

The Quartz story is in response to a Federal Trade Commission report (available at this link) titled “Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability.”

One finding from the FTC report:

Data brokers combine and analyze data about consumers to make inferences about them, including potentially sensitive inferences such as those related to ethnicity, income, religion, political leanings, age, and health conditions. Potentially sensitive categories from the study are “Urban Scramble” and “Mobile Mixers,” both of which include a high concentration of Latinos and African-Americans with low incomes. The category “Rural Everlasting” includes single men and women over age 66 with “low educational attainment and low net worths.” Other potentially sensitive categories include health-related topics or conditions, such as pregnancy, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Commenting on the recent European Court of Justice decision that people have [a]“right to be forgotten” on the internet, Evgeny Morozov gives an example of how consumer data can be used in ways more operationally harmful to regular people than NSA MetaDataCrunching (a term I shamelessly made up):

… the knowledge that you drink coffee rather than kale juice in the morning would surely improve [a bank or insurance company’s] ability to predict whether you might suffer a heart attack in the next five years—an extremely relevant bit of information for deciding whether to give you a loan or insurance and at what rates. …  As Douglas Merrill, the former chief information officer of Google and the founder of ZestFinance, a start-up that looks at more than 80,000 data points to assess your suitability for credit, puts it: “All data is credit data.” 

So, what data are these data brokers collecting?  No one knows with certainty because the companies do not have to tell people what they are gathering.

Appendix B in the FTC report provides something called an “Illustrative list of Data Elements and Segments,”  information someone can buy to help figure out what and how to sell — or not to sell  —  to you.    I suspect there are other uses for the data. I’m guessing there also are more Elements and Segments than are in the FTC appendix.

Identifying Data
• Name
• Previously Used Names
• Address
• Address History
• Longitude and Latitude
• Phone Numbers
• Email Address

Sensitive Identifying Data
• Social Security Number
• Driver’s License Number
• Birth Date
• Birth Dates of Each Child in Household
• Birth Date of Family Members in

Household Demographic Data
• Age
• Height
• Weight
• Gender
• Race & Ethnicity
• Country of Origin
• Religion (by Surname at the Household Level)
• Language
• Marital Status
• Presence of Elderly Parent
• Presence of Children in Household
• Education Level
• Occupation
• Family Ties
• Demographic Characteristics of Family Members in Household
• Number of Surnames in Household
• Veteran in Household
• Grandparent in House
• Spanish Speaker
• Foreign Language Household (e.g., Russian, Hindi, Tagalog, Cantonese)
• Households with a Householder who is Hispanic Origin or Latino
• Employed – White Collar Occupation
• Employed – Blue Collar Occupation
• Work at Home Flag
• Length of Residence
• Household Size
• Congressional District
• Single Parent with Children
• Ethnic and Religious Affiliations

Court and Public Record Data
• Bankruptcies
• Criminal Offenses and Convictions
• Judgments
• Liens
• Marriage Licenses
• State Licenses and Registrations (e.g., Hunting, Fishing, Professional)
• Voting Registration and Party Identification

Social Media and Technology Data
• Electronics Purchases
• Friend Connections
• Internet Connection Type
• Internet Provider
• Level of Usage
• Heavy Facebook User
• Heavy Twitter User
• Twitter User with 250+ Friends
• Is a Member of over 5 Social Networks
• Online Influence
• Operating System
• Software Purchases
• Type of Media Posted
• Uploaded Pictures
• Use of Long Distance Calling Services
• Presence of Computer Owner
• Use of Mobile Devices
• Social Media and Internet Accounts including: Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Flixster, Friendster, hi5, Hotmail, LinkedIn, Live Journal, MySpace, Twitter, Amazon, Bebo, CafeMom, DailyMotion, Match, myYearbook, NBA.com, Pandora, Photobucket, WordPress, and Yahoo

Home and Neighborhood Data
• Census Tract Data
• Address Coded as Public/Government Housing
• Dwelling Type
• Heating and Cooling
• Home Equity
• Home Loan Amount and Interest Rate
• Home Size
• Lender Type
• Length of Residence
• Listing Price
• Market Value
• Move Date
• Neighborhood Criminal, Demographic, and Business Data
• Number of Baths
• Number of Rooms
• Number of Units
• Presence of Fireplace
• Presence of Garage
• Presence of Home Pool
• Rent Price
• Type of Owner
• Type of Roof
• Year Built

General Interest Data
• Apparel Preferences
• Attendance at Sporting Events
• Charitable Giving
• Gambling – Casinos
• Gambling – State Lotteries
• Thrifty Elders
• Life Events (e.g., Retirement, Newlywed, Expectant Parent)
• Magazine and Catalog Subscriptions
• Media Channels Used
• Participation in Outdoor Activities (e.g., Golf, Motorcycling, Skiing, Camping)
• Participation in Sweepstakes or Contests
• Pets
• Dog Owner
• Political Leanings
• Assimilation Code
• Preferred Celebrities
• Preferred Movie Genres
• Preferred Music Genres
• Reading and Listening Preferences
• Donor (e.g., Religious, Political, Health Causes)
• Financial Newsletter Subscriber
• Upscale Retail Card Holder
• Affluent Baby Boomer
• Working-Class Moms
• Working Woman
• African-American Professional
• Membership Clubs – Self-Help
• Membership Clubs – Wines
• Exercise – Sporty Living
• Winter Activity Enthusiast
• Participant – Motorcycling
• Outdoor/Hunting & Shooting
• Biker/Hell’s Angels
• Santa Fe/Native American Lifestyle
• New Age/Organic Lifestyle
• Is a Member of over 5 Shopping Sites
• Media Channel Usage – Daytime TV
• Bible Lifestyle
• Leans Left
• Political Conservative
• Political Liberal
• Activism & Social Issues

Financial Data
• Ability to Afford Products
• Credit Card User
• Presence of Gold or Platinum Card
• Credit Worthiness
• Recent Mortgage Borrower
• Pennywise Mortgagee
• Financially Challenged
• Owns Stocks or Bonds
• Investment Interests
• Discretionary Income Level
• Credit Active
• Credit Relationship with Financial or Loan Company
• Credit Relationship with Low-End Standalone Department Store
• Number of Investment Properties Owned
• Estimated Income
• Life Insurance
• Loans
• Net Worth Indicator
• Underbanked Indicator
• Tax Return Transcripts
• Type of Credit Cards

Vehicle Data
• Brand Preferences
• Insurance Renewal
• Make & Model
• Vehicles Owned
• Vehicle Identification Numbers
• Vehicle Value Index
• Propensity to Purchase a New or Used Vehicle
• Propensity to Purchase a Particular Vehicle Type (e.g., SUV, Coupe, Sedan)
• Motor Cycle Owner (e.g., Harley, Off-Road Trail Bike)
• Motor Cycle Purchased 0-6 Months Ago
• Boat Owner
• Purchase Date
• Purchase Information
• Intend to Purchase – Vehicle

Travel Data
• Read Books or Magazines About Travel
• Travel Purchase – Highest Price Paid
• Date of Last Travel Purchase
• Air Services – Frequent Flyer
• Vacation Property
• Vacation Type (e.g., Casino, Time Share, Cruises, RV)
• Cruises Booked
• Preferred Vacation Destination
• Preferred Airline

Purchase Behavior Data
• Amount Spent on Goods
• Buying Activity
• Method of Payment
• Number of Orders
• Buying Channel Preference (e.g., Internet, Mail, Phone)
• Types of Purchases
• Military Memorabilia/Weaponry
• Shooting Games
• Guns and Ammunition
• Christian Religious Products
• Jewish Holidays/Judaica Gifts
• Kwanzaa/African-Americana Gifts
• Type of Entertainment Purchased
• Type of Food Purchased
• Average Days Between Orders
• Last Online Order Date
• Last Offline Order Date
• Online Orders $500-$999.99 Range
• Offline Orders $1000+ Range
• Number of Orders – Low-Scale Catalogs
• Number of Orders – High-Scale Catalogs
• Retail Purchases – Most Frequent Category
• Mail Order Responder – Insurance
• Mailability Score
• Dollars – Apparel – Women’s Plus Sizes
• Dollars – Apparel – Men’s Big & Tall
• Books – Mind & Body/Self-Help
• Internet Shopper
• Novelty Elvis

Health Data
• Ailment and Prescription Online Search Propensity
• Propensity to Order Prescriptions by Mail
• Smoker in Household
• Tobacco Usage
• Over the Counter Drug Purchases
• Geriatric Supplies
• Use of Corrective Lenses or Contacts
• Allergy Sufferer
• Have Individual Health Insurance Plan
• Buy Disability Insurance
• Buy Supplemental to Medicare/Medicaid Individual Insurance
• Brand Name Medicine Preference
• Magazines – Health
• Weight Loss & Supplements
• Purchase History or Reported Interest in Health Topics including: Allergies, Arthritis, Medicine Preferences, Cholesterol, Diabetes, Dieting, Body Shaping, Alternative Medicine, Beauty/Physical Enhancement, Disabilities, Homeopathic Remedies, Organic Focus, Orthopedics, and Senior Needs

Imagine if government collected and used Elements and Segments data on Americans — all in the name of providing more effective and more efficient services, of course.  The Nation might long for the good old days when it was only NSA  peeking through the windows.

Somehow it’s different when the private sector collects and uses this information.  I wonder why that is.

Maybe David Eggers got it right in his book, The Circle:

“Secrets are lies. Caring is sharing. Privacy is theft.”


May 28, 2014

President Obama’s West Point Commencement Address

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on May 28, 2014

Earlier today President Obama gave the commencement address at West Point, describing his vision for U.S. foreign policy. Here are some of the homeland security-related points.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed. This presents opportunity, but also new dangers. We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.


It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders. If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American citizens.

As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.


The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.

In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just. International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.


This leads to my second point. For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism, but a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naive and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaida leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized al-Qaida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate. And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi. It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi. So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.

We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us. And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al-Qaida core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.

But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job. And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police. Earlier this spring, those forces — those Afghan forces — secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history. And at the end of this year, a new Afghan president will be in office, and America’s combat mission will be over.

Now that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces. But as we move to a train and advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence there allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa. So earlier this year I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.

Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against al-Qaida, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya and facilitating French operations in Mali.

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria. As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers there, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon. As president, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people. And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders. I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share of support to the Syrian people.

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism. The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do, through capture operations, like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice, or drone strikes, like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.


Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict. We have a serious problem with cyberattacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens. In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.

That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change, a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food, which is why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.


I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.

And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo, because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.


The full transcript of the speech can be found here.

The video of his remarks, courtesy of PBS NewsHour:


Should first responder drills include ice cream socials?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Arnold Bogis on May 28, 2014

Perhaps ice cream socials aren’t the first thing that spring to mind when you think about a first responder drill. But it’s something that journalist Chris Faraone thought of during the recent “Urban Shield” exercises in Boston. He writes in a recent article in the Weekly Dig:

I arrived at the presser in time to hear Mayor Marty Walsh welcome delegates from the Metro-Boston Homeland Security Region–a network that includes the Hub and eight surrounding municipalities–plus emergency medical and fire personnel. In his comments, Walsh extolled the spirit of collaboration, while Office of Emergency Management Director Rene Fielding touted the relationships built through two prior Urban Shield runs.

Wondering if organizers added anything to this year’s schedule to bolster inter-agency communication, I asked Fielding and the uniforms beside her if they’d planned any meet-and-greet activities besides the mock trainings. “Something like an ice cream social,” I queried (they hadn’t). I was serious. Officials said that people “shouldn’t be alarmed” about the presence of 2,000 first responders in helmets and riot gear. That’s not possible–those visuals are inevitably frightening–but it might be reassuring if their interpersonal relationships were more than merely militant.

Mr. Faraone is what one would call a progressive journalist — my father might lean toward the term “leftist commie” — and the article generally addresses the militarization of law enforcement. I share some of the same concerns that he and those quoted in the piece have on this issue, though unfortunately while aiming at the right target he hit this exercise instead.  While the natural tendency to see every problem as a nail when you’re only holding a hammer is real enough, the scenarios included in the Urban Shield exercise are not driven solely by the desire to pull out the guns.

That criticism aside, what Faraone suggests in terms of an ice cream social points to an underlying truth.  As he put it:

As for first responders intermingling … for logistical purposes, they were mostly clustered with their own–transit fuzz with transit fuzz, triage officers with triage officers, and so forth.

I’ve noticed the same behavior in the few exercises I’ve observed.  Am I missing something?  Or are the participants basically all playing their assigned departmental roles with little to no overlap at the levels under leadership positions? While the higher ranks are “swapping business cards before game day,” i.e. leadership planning and responding together, are the rank-and-file actually getting the opportunity to meet and understand the roles of their opposites in the other responder disciplines?

This was an issue identified by a recent Harvard Kennedy School of Government report, “Why Was Boston Strong:”

Public safety organizations should develop improved doctrine, better training, and practice through exercises to ensure effective “micro-command” in crises. While officers typically look for command authority when operating at a scene with groups from their own agencies, they are less likely to do so when they have deployed as individuals and arrive at an emergency site on their own. Except for situations when near-instantaneous action is required to preserve life, doctrine should be developed and officers should be trained to look for authority at a scene of mass action, even if command is taken by someone from another organization.

One of report’s authors, Dutch Leonard, referred to this in Congressional testimony where he broke down the different experiences of responders:

By virtue of doctrine and years of joint planning and practice and work on multiagency events, the senior leaders of the relevant organizations for the most part knew one another personally and had knowledge of and confidence in each other’s capabilities – and they were able rapidly to form unified commands, both on Monday afternoon and again in Watertown in the early hours of Friday morning.  Individual police officers arriving from other jurisdictions at the scene of the gunfight at Dexter and Laurel Streets Watertown had none of those advantages to help them form a coordinating structure.  We need better doctrine, procedures, training, and practice to aid in the more rapid development of a command structure among people from different agencies arriving more or less independently and not under a preexisting overarching command structure.  We refer to this as the problem of establishing “microcommand,” and dealing with this requires that the doctrine that is now working well to coordinate agencies at the senior level needs to be cascaded downward so that it functions at any level where the agencies may encounter one another.

It is this problem where Faraone’s ice cream socials, or some other equivalent, might actually help.  The issue isn’t one of militarism, but understanding and recognition among tactical-level operators. Not just of mission, but role and structure.

On a final note, though I may disagree with the sentiments of some quoted in Faraone’s article about the nature of the Urban Shield exercises, I have to admit that criticism of terrorism preparedness drills so soon after an actual terrorist attack in the same city strengthens my admiration of our system of democracy. Always question – never simply accept.  Even when it seems to fly in the face of those protecting the public, this sentiment helps preserve our underlying freedoms.

May 27, 2014

Megalopolistic bedfellows, fire, filters, and eloquent twilight

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 27, 2014


What do Walmart, the Cheesecake Factory, Wells Fargo, the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, the Revelation Network, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Burbank Fire Department, Microsoft and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have in common?

They are members of the “Community Stakeholder Network” (CSN).

You may already know about the CSN.  I just learned about it.  CSA is “a product [sic] of HSAC,” which stands for the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

CSN is

“a collaborative portal designed to support businesses and community stakeholders in developing sustainable community resilience…; a collaborative single point of interaction with enterprise applications, content, processes, and people…; [and] “a consolidated, high-value, trusted source for business and community stakeholders where members can review, share data, and work together to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from man-made or natural disaster events.”

If that production vocabulary does not crystalize the meaning and function of CSN, they have a facebook page that, I believe, illustrates a bit of what they do.  There’s also a video with more explanation:  http://csntoday.org/Pages/ABOUT-US/CSN-Video.aspx.  

Among the interesting ideas in the video, you’ll hear the word “megalopolis” used correctly. I had not heard that word before.


The May 2014 issue of The Atlantic has a deeply researched article (written by Brian Mockenhaupt) on the 2013 Yarnell, Arizona fire that killed 19 firefighters: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/fire-on-the-mountain/361613/

This year, more than 50,000 wildfires—sparked by lightning, tossed cigarettes, runaway campfires, the occasional arsonist’s match, and even rocks scraping together in a landslide—will rage through forests and shrublands across America. Legions of firefighters will fly, drive, and march to do battle with them. For the most part, the firefighters will win, controlling up to 98 percent of the fires within 24 hours. But the fires that make up the other 2 percent—like the one that started burning in the brush above Yarnell on June 28—are a tougher fight….

This is the firefighters’ conundrum: how to balance risk in the growing wildland-urban interface. Faced with tornados, floods, volcanoes, and hurricanes, we do little but let nature run its course, try to limit the damage, and clean up in the aftermath. But when it comes to wildfire, we think we can do more. We think we can fight it. We now spend more than $3 billion a year on that effort, but only a small fraction is used to put healthy fire back on the landscape. Firefighters die each year, even though we now realize fire suppression is a battle we can’t ever win, and in some cases shouldn’t even be fighting. With so many people now living in the wildland-urban interface, we don’t allow forests and shrublands to burn the way they did for millennia. Instead, firefighters battle ever-larger wildfires to protect increasing numbers of homes. The result is a cycle of tragic inevitability.

The online version of the story also includes some remarkable video, including one from the Missoula fire sciences lab.


The Isla Vista shooting brings to mind a MIT Technology Review story about how the internet filter bubble performs after a controversial, emotionally charged event like a mass shooting.

Danai Koutra from Carnegie Mellon University and two Microsoft researchers, Paul Bennett and Eric Horvitz, analyzed “the Web browsing behavior of people who looked at a wide range of gun-related sites,… seeing how it changed before and after the [Sandy Hook school shooting] massacre.”

Before the event, “… people use the Web to largely access agreeable information;” agreeable means sites that tended to advocate a particular view toward gun rights and gun control. Gun control proponents favored sites that advocated controlling weapons; gun rights advocates frequented sites that supported their views.

When the researchers studied web behavior after the shootings:

The first thing to note is that after the tragedy, there was a sudden increase in the number of people accessing gun-related websites. But [the authors’] conclusion is that whatever content people already accessed, the tendency was to continue to access agreeable content but of a more extreme variety.

Isla Vista-like calamities — if the study results can be generalized – tend to make both gun rights and gun control proponents more calcified.


Privacy, local, average and later will soon be obsolete words.

Thomas Friedman makes that argument in a May 20th essay (available here – but perhaps behind a paywall — http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/opinion/friedman-four-words-going-bye-bye.html?):

Privacy: The recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling “underscored the fact that in a world where everyone with a cellphone camera is paparazzi, everyone with access to Twitter and a cellphone voice recorder is a reporter and everyone who can upload video on YouTube is a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure — and fair game.”

Freidman quotes Bill Maher:

“Now that Americans are getting wise to the dangers of being spied on by the government, they have to start getting more alarmed about spying on each other. Because if the Donald Sterling mess proved anything it’s that there’s a force out there just as powerful as Big Brother: Big Girlfriend. … In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker offered one way with dealing the modern world’s ubiquitous invasions of privacy: give up. She wrote: ‘If you don’t want your words broadcast in the public square, don’t say them.’ Really? Even at home? We have to talk like a White House press spokesman?”

LocalLocal is over for the same reason.

Everything and anything controversial you say or do anywhere in today’s hyperconnected world can immediately go global….  [Last] Monday, Google News carried the following story: “SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) — A Santa Rosa mother is accused of assaulting a boy she believed was bullying her daughter.” It doesn’t get more local than that, but it went global thanks to Google. Anyone who tells you that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is pulling your leg.

Average: …“average is over.  It has to be when every boss has cheaper, easier, faster access to software, automation, robots, cheap foreign labor and cheap foreign genius that can produce above-average so easily. Everyone needs to find their unique value-add, their “extra,” and be constantly re-engineering themselves if they want to obtain, or advance in, a decent job that can’t be digitized.”

Later: “on May 13,.. scientists [reported] that a large section of the … West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable.

...when we were growing up “later” meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won’t be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.

One more observation reported by Freidman:

Of the many things being said about climate change lately, none was more eloquent than the point made by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State …  when he observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”


May 26, 2014

Making meaning of memory

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 26, 2014

Some archaeologists argue humans have practiced burial rituals for up to 300,000 years.  Most agree there is clear evidence of ceremonial activity associated with death for at least 100,000 years.  Some careful observers suggest an extended period of grief — and even particular social behavior — associated with the death of elephants, dolphins, and some primates.

In any case, an acute awareness of and respect for death seems co-indicated with cognition.  Rather than cogito, ergo sum,  we might say cogito, ergo non esse scio.  Non-being (non esse) is also of concern to us.

Elie Wiesel opened his 1986 Nobel Lecture with a fable on the place, purpose, and power of memory:

A Hasidic legend tells us that the great Rabbi Baal-Shem-Tov, Master of the Good Name, also known as the Besht, undertook an urgent and perilous mission: to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people, all humanity were suffering too much, beset by too many evils. They had to be saved, and swiftly. For having tried to meddle with history, the Besht was punished; banished along with his faithful servant to a distant island. In despair, the servant implored his master to exercise his mysterious powers in order to bring them both home. “Impossible”, the Besht replied. “My powers have been taken from me”. “Then, please, say a prayer, recite a litany, work a miracle”. “Impossible”, the Master replied, “I have forgotten everything”. They both fell to weeping.

Suddenly the Master turned to his servant and asked: “Remind me of a prayer – any prayer .” “If only I could”, said the servant. “I too have forgotten everything”. “Everything – absolutely everything?” “Yes, except – “Except what?” “Except the alphabet”. At that the Besht cried out joyfully: “Then what are you waiting for? Begin reciting the alphabet and I shall repeat after you…”. And together the two exiled men began to recite, at first in whispers, then more loudly: “Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth…”. And over again, each time more vigorously, more fervently; until, ultimately, the Besht regained his powers, having regained his memory.

I love this story, for it illustrates the messianic expectation -which remains my own. And the importance of friendship to man’s ability to transcend his condition. I love it most of all because it emphasizes the mystical power of memory. Without memory, our existence would be barren and opaque, like a prison cell into which no light penetrates; like a tomb which rejects the living. Memory saved the Besht, and if anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.

Today we pause to remember.  In the words of the President, “It’s a time to remember the heroes… Because every time we cast our votes or speak our minds without fear, it’s because they fought for our right to do that.  Every chance we get to make a better life for ourselves and our families is possible because generations of patriots fought to keep America a land of opportunity, where anyone – of any race, any religion, from any background – can make it if they try.  Our country was born out of a desire to be free, and every day since, it’s been protected by our men and women in uniform – people who believed so deeply in America, they were willing to give their lives for it.”

Earlier this month we dedicated the lower Manhattan museum built to memorialize the horror and heroism of September 11, 2001.  In it and with it we remember the men and women in NYPD and FDNY uniforms and no uniform at all who confronted the chaos of that day with courage, compassion, and creativity.  This week the USS Cole is in New York for Fleet Week.  Somehow this physical link between what happened at Aden with what happened Downtown helps make positive meaning. But I’m not sure I can precisely explain why. We mourn our losses.  We are inspired by the memory of those who on the edge of death demonstrate devotion to life and love.  In memory’s matrix we weave together otherwise separate strings.

And sometimes, like Wiesel’s rabbi, out of neglect or pride or distraction we forget.

Last week a leading-light in homeland security chastised me.  For the second year in a row, he said, HLSWatch had failed to mention the April 19 anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing.   Next year it will be twenty years since Timothy McVeigh, with the help of others, killed 168 and injured more than 600 others.  It remains the most deadly incident of domestic terrorism in United States history.

This year April 19 happened to fall on Holy Saturday. According to my day book I worked on a contribution to a new British textbook on self-organizing complexity. (An excerpt quoting Bak and Paczuski: “Thus, if the tape of history were to be rerun, with slightly different random noise, the resulting outcome would be completely different. Some large catastrophic events would be avoided, but other would inevitably occur.”)  I went to church.  (From the Easter Vigil liturgy: “In the midst of life we are in death… Thou shalt show me the path of life; in thy presence is the fullness of joy, and at thy right hand there is pleasure evermore.” There is no mention of McVeigh or his victims.  I did not, evidently, give them an even momentary thought.

Like the rabbi, in my forgetfulness I am reduced to grief.  But with the help of my colleague’s better memory, I am restored to memory and with him — and you — to the possibility of positive meaning.  Memory alone is not sufficient.  For a hundred and more millennia we have adorned our dead with ochre sea shells or bleached animal bones or other talismans of meaning.   With these rituals we seek to redeem memory from despair and claim renewed strength for living.

According to my written record of this just past April 19, while entirely neglecting the death of so many innocents, I did read a poem by Thylias Moss that concludes with:

… Besides every

ritual is stylized, has patterns and repetitions

suitable for adaptation to dance.  Here come toe shoes,

brushstrokes, oxymorons.  Joy

is at our tongue tips: Let the great thirsts and hungers

of the world be the marvelous thirsts, glorious hungers.

Let heartbreak be alternative to coffeebreak, five

midmorning minutes devoted to emotion.

On this Memorial Day may we each find at least five minutes for emotion and heartbreak; may we thirst and hunger greatly, marvelously, gloriously long after the picnic is done.

Thanks for reminding me.

May 23, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 23, 2014

The 2014 hurricane season is here and NOAA is forecasting a “near-normal or below-normal season.”

As the Veterans Affairs scandal unfolds, keep in mind that department plays an important homeland security role with its role in the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS).

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?


May 22, 2014

DHS – No hope for a home?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 22, 2014

Yesterday’s Washington Post dumps an Olympic-size swimming pool’s worth of cold water on the future of a (relatively) consolidated headquarters for DHS at the St. Elizabeth site in Southeast D.C.:

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

It has been a bipartisan affair:

A decade after work began, the St. Elizabeths venture — the capital region’s largest planned construction project since the Pentagon — has become a monumental example of Washington inefficiency and drift. Bedeviled by partisan brawling, it has been starved of funds by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and received only lackluster support from the Obama administration, according to budget documents and interviews with current and former federal officials.

Delays are only making the final price tag rise:

The crippling shortfall in funding has created a vicious cycle, causing delays that in turn inflated the projected price tag as construction costs escalated over time and DHS agencies — still scattered in more than 50 locations across the Washington area — have been signing expensive temporary leases.

The article is full of details regarding difficulties connected with the site.  Also, interesting to at least me, it deploys two narratives about DHS.

The DHS was born at a time when the wounds of Sept. 11 were still fresh and homeland security was the top national priority. The new department melded agencies as diverse as the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aiming to eliminate gaps in coordination and poor communication that had helped make possible the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

By 2004, department officials were complaining that their headquarters on Nebraska Avenue in the District was one-quarter of the size needed. The operations center was small, with limited infrastructure. And with various DHS components dispersed as far as Herndon, Va., the department was wasting millions on leased office space and transportation costs.

These logistical problems slowed the government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to a 2006 terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives, Chertoff recalled. “People were shuttling back and forth in those critical days after the plot was exposed, and that just made it much more difficult and time-consuming,” he said.

Most of the poor communication and coordination gaps preceding 9/11 existed between agencies not included in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.  To over simplify things, the intelligence community and the military take the lead in fighting terrorism overseas and the FBI generally is out front domestically.  Not to take one iota of importance away from the work of DHS, but it does not get much positive Congressional attention as those entities unless it is politically convenient. And spending billions of dollars on a new headquarters complex for DHS is currently not very politically convenient. Want to bet that the FBI will get a new building before DHS?

The comments regarding logistical problems affecting the Katrina response and the response to the airliner plot are new to me.  I think its a given that having offices spread out over the DC area didn’t make things any easier, but is it a stretch to suggest that the response in New Orleans would have gone that much smoother if only there was a unified headquarters building?

May 20, 2014

“A punch in the gut”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 20, 2014

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum will open to the public on Wednesday, May 21st.

You can learn about the memorial at this link: http://www.911memorial.org/

I received an email  from a colleague, Robert Mahoney, who had the opportunity to visit the memorial yesterday.  Robert is a retired FBI agent. “He served as the national manager for all FBI Special Operations Groups, assistant legal attaché for terrorism in London and acting assistant special agent in charge in New York. Mahoney was in the World Trade Center on 9/11, leading an FBI search team into the site between collapses, and a supervisor in the FBI Crisis Command and Recovery Center thereafter, working at the World Trade Center and Fresh Kills Recovery sites.”  You can read his article “Preparing the Fire Service for Terrorism” at this link (registration required).

Here’s what he wrote in his email:

I went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum today as part of a pre-dedication period for people who were involved before it opens to the public later this week. They did an excellent job.

The spaces are very well done from large open areas to small intimate rooms. The collection and displays are almost too much to absorb. They have been very, very complete about all aspects of the attack and the aftermath. Pictures, artifacts, video, audio, victims biographies, displays, rescuers, individual stories, etc. It just goes on and on, each item leading you to the next, and from gallery to gallery.

You must go. It took over four hours, but I could use another visit to really take it all in.

There is very little about the rebuilding, but after all, the story they are telling is about the attack itself.

I’m sure once it opens to the public, the lead time for tickets could be months.

Having been deeply involved in the design and rebuilding, it’s also great to see how all the parts of the footprint out on the memorial plaza and in the museum really came together. It’s a very moving experience, and for each of us who had the privilege of participating in any aspect of this it’s also very rewarding. If you weren’t involved directly, it will certainly make you understand the experience.

With my lectures and writing about 9/11 and more importantly the lessons learned from it, I never cease to be amazed at how you do not need to go very far from NYC or Washington, before people think this whole terrorism thing is someone else’s problem.

On the one hand I came home last night thinking everyone should be made to go through this museum to understand the price of their detachment, but on the other hand it might only reinforce the idea that it’s a New York issue.

Have you ever been to a museum with chaplains and grief counselors moving among the visitors, or permanently installed boxes of tissues in the exhibits, or its own bomb sniffing dogs? It’s a strange experience. A friend who had also been there described it to me as a “punch in the gut”, and it really is.

Most memorials don’t begin to show up until after the war is over. This one is not only here while the war continues, but on the site of its biggest event, and from the security that’s evident, is accepted to possibly be a target again. So it’s a valuable ‘punch’ that absolutely  achieves its mission to cause remembrance but also to … everyone … in this homeland security effort, it’s a reminder to keep pushing the message.

I’m including a couple of photos I took of the new tower rather than focus on the past alone since it’s the rebuilding that contributes so much to the overall sense about the Trade Center.


9:11 memorial 1



9:11 memorial 2

9:11 memorial 3

May 16, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 16, 2014

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Administration’s nominee to be the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, testified this week and last. While all the attention is obviously on “Obamacare,” do not forget that if/when confirmed she will be in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) that has the lead for ESF #8 as well as civilian medical countermeasure development through the office of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).  This is an important homeland security-related position.

Speaking of public health issues, cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are popping up at an alarming rate outside of the Middle East, including the U.S.

These are the issues I’ve been thinking about.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

May 15, 2014

How did the government come to spy on millions of Americans?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on May 15, 2014

That’s the question PBS’ Frontline asks in Part 1 of a two-part television program: The United States of Secrets.

I watched it Tuesday night (thanks to a heads up from a colleague in the intel world).  The 114 minute program is available online at  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/united-states-of-secrets/ .  I don’t know how long it will be available.  I think it’s worth the 2 hours to watch it.

The story begins with Edward Snowden’s initial efforts to find a newspaper reporter who would accept his cache of NSA documents.  But the program is not about Snowden.  At most he’s the subject for less than 10 minutes.  The story is about “The Program,” the still unfurling domestic information collection effort that began after September 11, 2001 and — apparently — continues.  It’s about patriotism, ethics, heroism, personal tragedy, tough choices, lying, prosecution, persecution, and using the Constitution as a dependent variable.

While the program has a point of view, the main characters in a tale as narratively engaging as All The President’s Men do get their say.  You can watch extended interviews of the main characters — The Whistleblowers (Snowden is not one of them), the Government Officials (including Andrew Card, Michael Hayden, and Alberto Gonzales), and the journalists (including Glen Greenwald) — at this link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oral-history/united-states-of-secrets/.

Here’s what PBS says Part 2 — “How Silicon Valley Feeds the NSA’s Global Dragnet” — will be about.

On May 20, FRONTLINE continues the story of mass surveillance in America in part two of United States of Secrets, an investigation into the secret relationship between Silicon Valley and the National Security Agency.

Companies like Google and Facebook gather massive amounts of data on its users around the world, which they use to sell and create advertisements. To the U.S. government, it is a treasure-trove of information that regularly reveals what we do, who we know and where we go.

The revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden helped to uncover the role the tech industry played — at times unwittingly, but often with consent — in the NSA’s massive dragnet.

So how did the tech giants react when the government asked them to turn over data on millions of ordinary American citizens? And how much do companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo really know about you?

Find out on May 20 starting at 10 p.m. EST on most PBS stations. (Check local listings.)

I hope one can ignore the marketing hyperbole.  Tuesday’s program was unsettling.


May 14, 2014

Radiation Roundup: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on May 14, 2014


Members of the U.S. Senate are moving bills that aim to increase security at our nation’s nuclear power plants.

One of the bills, introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would ultimately force nuclear power plant operators to accelerate the transfer of nuclear waste stored in spent fuel pools into dry cask storage units.

Activists have long argued that spent fuel pools at many plants are filled beyond their originally intended capacity and could cause a catastrophic radioactive fire in the event of an accident or terrorist attack. Dry cask storage units, which some reactors are already using in a limited capacity, would be safer and more secure, watchdog groups have said.

In addition:

Another provision in Tuesday’s legislation would expand — from 10 miles to 50 miles — the size of the emergency planning zone around reactors that do not comply with the accelerated waste transfer plan.

Although NRC officials urged U.S. citizens within 50 miles of Japan’s Fukushima plant to evacuate during the onset of the disaster there in 2011, the commission only requires U.S. plants to have emergency response plans that cover a 10-mile area.


A separate bill introduced by the same three senators on Tuesday would stop the commission from issuing exemptions to its emergency response and security requirements for those reactors that have permanently shut down.

Moving spent fuel to cask storage really should be a no-brainer, particularly following Fukushima.

What will be interesting to watch unfold is the conversation around expanding the area covered by emergency response plans around nuclear power plants.  To my knowledge the 50-mile decision has never been fully explained in light of domestic regulations capping it at 10 miles.  Expanding it seems simple, but all of a sudden metro areas like New York City and Boston will be within the special planning zones.  How does one plan to evacuate New York City following a nuclear accident?


Some in the medical industry are resisting efforts to replace equipment that contains highly radioactive isotopes that could potentially be used in a dirty bomb with safer designs.  Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe has the story:

But now federal officials worry the material that makes these devices dubbed blood irradiator machines so effective — a highly radioactive powder known as cesium chloride — could threaten public safety. Some fear that people could be exposed in an accident or, in a worst-case scenario, that the material could be stolen by terrorists to make a “dirty bomb” spewing radiation.

That has set the stage for an unlikely fight between the government and some in the medical industry who are reluctant to give up the relatively low-cost machines and replace them with more expensive devices that are safer but might break down more frequently.

The potential benefit?

“If we could make headway on this — if you could get all the cesium chloride off the market — it would be permanent risk reduction,” said Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit dedicated to finding solutions to international security problems.

So what’s the holdup?

But some health providers and suppliers, which have a history of resisting such a change, say they are not convinced it is feasible to invest in newer X-ray irradiators, which costs up to $2 million, not including maintenance costs. They also said the technology is less reliable than the current machines, which can last up to 30 years, require little upkeep, and can handle larger quantities.


Others contend that some of the resistance stems from the radioisotopes industry, for which cesium irradiation machines have been a lucrative slice of the market.

‘There are going to be winners and losers,” said Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and an expert on radiological materials. “The people who only make cesium chloride aren’t going to like it.”

Why is this a pressing issue?

Cesium chloride is considered among the most pressing challenges in preventing the use of a dirty bomb. It has similar properties as sodium chloride, or table salt, such as being dissolvable in water. Such properties, along with its high radioactivity, make it better suited to a terrorist weapon than other medical radiological materials, such as cobalt-60, which comes in the form of a small pellet or wire.

As early as 2008, the National Research Council, a private nonprofit that advises the government on policy, recommended getting rid of the material, saying that “cesium chloride is a greater concern than other radiation sources based on its dispersibility and its presence in population centers across the country.”

Safety regulations almost always face push-back from entrenched interests.  It seems our economy should be a shell of its current self due to decades old efforts to clean up our air and water. But as the Boston Globe article points out, the U.S. lags behind other industrial countries in replacing these machines and I can’t imagine they have greater concerns regarding the potential dangers of dirty bombs.

The article has a number of other interesting nuggets and is worth a read.


In terms of U.S. nuclear terrorism security, Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee seem determined to cut off the nose to spite the face:

The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee last week approved legislative language that would prevent the U.S. Energy Department from using fiscal 2015 funds “for any contract, cooperation, or transfer of technology” between the United States and Russia until the crisis has been resolved. The panel included the language in its version of the annual defense authorization bill, which it passed last week.

“We acknowledge and are gravely concerned with the crisis in Ukraine — there’s no question about it,” Gottemoeller said in response to a question from Global Security Newswire. “But we shouldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot in terms of stopping or halting important national security work that prevents nuclear bombs from getting in the hands of terrorists because we have other grave concerns.

What does this work include?

Also included is the Energy Department collaboration with Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, which she said had so far been responsible for the removal of 3,000 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and plutonium from third-party countries. The collaboration also involves upgrading the physical security of buildings in Russia where sensitive nuclear material is stored, DOE officials have said previously.

If you rank the national security interests of the United States, preventing terrorists from exploding a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil should come in higher than concerns about Russian actions in the Ukraine.  Right?  Suspending activities that directly impact our security simply because it includes the word “Russia” is nonsensical. I bet it’s just as hard to find Russian dressing as French fries in the Congressional cafeteria these days…

May 13, 2014

“Buddhist Extremist Cell Vows To Unleash Tranquility On West”

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on May 13, 2014

The headline is from “America’s Finest News Source.”  I missed this story the first time it appeared. But it’s never too late to help make people aware of new threats.

Here are some excerpts from the original story:

buddhist terror threat


WASHINGTON—In a 45-minute video posted on Tibetan websites Thursday, Tsuglag Rinpoche, leader of the Buddhist extremist group Kammatthana, threatened to soon inflict a wave of peace and tranquility on the West.

Speaking in front of a nondescript altar surrounded by candles, burning sticks of incense, and a small golden statue of the Buddha, Rinpoche did not specify when or where an assault of profound inner stillness would occur, but stated in no uncertain terms that the fundamentalist Buddhist cell plans to target all Western suffering.

“In the name of the Great Teacher, we will stop at nothing to unleash a firestorm of empathy, compassion, and true selflessness upon the West,” said Rinpoche, adding that all enemies of a freely flowing, unfettered state of mind will be “besieged with pure, everlasting happiness.” “No city will be spared from spiritual harmony. We will bring about the end to all Western pain and anxiety, to all destructive cravings, to all greed, delusion, and misplaced desire. Indeed, we will bring the entire United States to its knees in deep meditation.”


The extremist leader specifically criticized the United States for its “blatant disregard of karmic balance within the universe” and ominously claimed that Americans will “one day soon” experience the highest form of metaphysical equilibrium through a union of both body and mind. Rinpoche also said all Western nations would “pay a heavy price in negative thinking and self-doubt” if they do not immediately engage in serious introspection and true spiritual liberation.

Sources confirmed the video then featured an uninterrupted 19-minute clip of water quietly flowing between rocks in a small forest creek.

[Here is a brief excerpt of the video]


“I want to assure all Americans that we are fully aware of these threats from Kammatthana, and they will not be taken lightly,” [a high ranking homeland security official] said at a press conference shortly after Rinpoche’s video surfaced, adding that several U.S. cities have been placed on high alert and authorities are watching closely for any suspicious peaceful activity in densely populated areas. “We do believe that Kammatthana currently possesses the means to inflict widespread balance in the collective subconscious of an American city. However, we are doing absolutely everything in our power to prevent that from happening.”

“The danger of total enlightenment is very real,” [the official] added. “And we must be prepared.”


May 9, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 9, 2014

Apologies for being a little late today.

In the interest of saving time, let’s just assume that something related to homeland security happened on this date at some point in the past.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

May 8, 2014

What can we do?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 8, 2014

Especially in homeland security we are compelled to ask again and again, “What is real?”

The etymology of “threat” involves pressing or crowding or pushing. If I perceive my space for maneuver is reduced, I feel increasingly at risk. Is my perception accurate?  Are there opportunities for maneuver not yet perceived?  Is the pressing, crowding, and pushing intentional? Is my preferred comfort-zone excessive? Is the threat I perceive instead an invitation to relationship?  Intentional or not is the threat pattern increasing or decreasing or is it fundamentally unpredictable? Is the very climate conspiring against me? Are railway tracks, nuclear power plants,  chemical repositories and cyber-criminals too close? Have evil men a continent away targeted me for murder?

How vulnerable — able to be wounded — am I?  In much of Western culture autonomy is perceived as strength. Others suggest the more separate the self, the more easily harmed. There is, some perceive, strength in numbers and relationships. I am dependent: on distant food producers, the electrical grid, truckers, fuel handlers, and a whole host of interdependent networks that I barely know, much less control. I am not autonomous.  Am I therefore especially vulnerable?  Or the opposite? Or is it more complicated than a dichotomy? Poorly suited to dialectic?  Am I especially constrained by my cultural predispositions?  In other words, threatened mostly by myself?

Who am I?  Just me?  Or does this self extend to family, friends, to those who grow my food and make my electricity?  When am I wounded?  What is the consequence — what follows — of a threat-fulfilled at some degree of separation?  At six degrees am I invulnerable?  Is the enemy of my enemy always my friend? Is the death of a child in Damascus of no consequence to me?  In Detroit?  It was famously said, “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbor.” Yes, I am to love myself and my neighbor. But the question remains, who is my neighbor? Are you?

Threat, vulnerability, consequence: What do these words mean and, then, how are they related? Even if you and I could mostly agree on meaning, could we then agree on measurement? And if we cannot measure, can we confidently shape, and if beyond shaping (much less controlling) what ought we do? Even: what can we do?

Have you seen the video rant by Abubakar Shekau, a chief of the Boko Haram? Seldom has evil been so clearly and coarsely expressed.  I hope we could agree that he is a “threat”, but might disagree regarding our vulnerability (and therefore its potential consequence).  Have you read Tuesday’s National Climate Assessment?  On this topic it is possible that we could agree on emerging consequences but disagree on cause and argue ad absurdum about how to manage vulnerability.  In Charleston, West Virginia there is considerable agreement regarding the near-term threat and consequences of water contamination.  There is much less consensus on long-term vulnerabilities related to the January chemical spill.  From Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Phoenix lack of water is a problem that seems to conflate threat-and-vulnerability-and-consequence.

What is real?

It is often beyond my ability to know.  Those who claim to be certain — like Abubaker Shekau — and those willing to defer to such certainty are near the top of my list of serious threats.

So… what most of us do on most days of the week is divide infinite reality into separate bits that seem more susceptible to our embrace.  We do not presume to understand the whole, but here, with our bit, we aspire to some sense of control.

In a complex universe a certain amount of reductionism is not unreasonable. It can be a healthy and productive expediency.  Especially if we remain self-aware of what we have chosen and regularly remind ourselves of the wider reality.

Purposeful — eyes-wide-open —  reductionism is the practical wisdom behind the counter-terrorism focus to which Tom Ridge (and others) would prefer DHS “return“.  Meanwhile Secretary Johnson has convened his leadership team to improve “traceability between strategic objectives, budgeting, acquisition decisions, operational planning and mission execution.”  Rather than reductionism, Mr. Johnson seems inclined to strategic synergies.

In each case there is a preoccupation with finding the right functional fix for DHS and, perhaps, the whole homeland security enterprise.  Somehow the cobbled-together-components will all “do” counter-terrorism with just an appetizer or side-dish or dessert of their other statute-established tasks.  Or somehow by being sure we can trace-and-connect strategic choices with budgeting with acquiring and with planning, when we actually execute (a three-syllable-synonym for “do”) the outcome will be more satisfactory (or at least coherent?).

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer warns, “Man can do what he wants but he cannot will what he wants.”  Our contemporary philosopher Sheryl Crow gives us the same with a more positive American spin, “We do what we can.”

A proposal: “homeland security” (no caps) is (should be, could be, maybe some day will be) a discipline by which we are thoughtfully, meaningfully, and practically reminded of how our corner of creation is connected to the rest.  Because it is the connections that constitute reality, this discipline will help us keep our corner calibrated with context.  This calibration should enhance our so-called span-of-control.

This discipline will also be immensely helpful when reality reminds us that control is a delusion.  Regularly engaging our extended connections prepare us for  those confusing days when the flimsy false walls of expertise and expectation are swept away.  On those rare yet inevitable days, I will be glad to have had the opportunity to meet you, learn from you, and share with you… on almost any topic.  Because this will allow us to better learn and share and do together on the awful day and days after.


 I will be away from HLSWATCH the next three weeks (at least).  Those bits of reality that I claim as my corner have become especially demanding.  I recognize the demands are almost certainly delusional.  But… I feel compelled to do what I can.

May 7, 2014

National Climate Assessment

Filed under: Climate Change — by Philip J. Palin on May 7, 2014

Tuesday the Third National Climate Assessment was released.  The full report is a digital heavy-weight.  You can download individual pieces here.

According to a White House summary, “the report finds that, on the whole, summers are longer and hotter, with longer periods of extended heat. Wildfires start earlier in the spring and continue later into the fall. Rain comes down in heavier downpours. People are experiencing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies. And climate disruptions to water resources and agriculture have been increasing.”

The report is detailed, data-driven, and the online version is media-rich. In my opinion, the web-site is over-complicated and it uses a great deal of white text on blue background or thin light blue on white background… initially pleasing but not good for sustained engagement.

I suggest downloading the overview PDF (20 pages, 4.93 MB) and starting there. Reports on individual states are also available.

There are alternative views. Writing at Fox News, Mario Lewis offers, “the new report is an alarmist document designed to scare people and build political support for unpopular policies such as carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, and EPA regulatory mandates.”

There is a section of the report on Response Strategies.  I cannot recommend the website for accessing this information.  You can download five separate PDFs here, scroll down.

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