Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 31, 2014

What was the most significant homeland security development of 2014?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on December 31, 2014

I woke up this morning thinking that it would be nice to write a post looking back on 2014 in terms of homeland security-related events.  Then I realized I should have started reviewing posts, news, and other sources days ago to refresh my memory about everything that occurred over the last 12 months.

So instead I am going to take the easy way out and ask a question of you: in your opinion, what was the most significant homeland security-related development of 2014?

It could be positive, negative, or to be determined.

Personally, I’m nominating Ebola’s appearance in the United States – keeping the focus “homeland” related, not neglecting the horrific impact of the disease in West Africa nor the importance of putting an end to the outbreak at its source.  I think I think this because of the reaction to the disease, not the direct impact of the organism itself.

Flu has already claimed more lives inside the U.S., as did the recent record breaking snow near Buffalo, New York.  What (I hope) Ebola did was bring attention to the importance of public health to a broad range of groups — politicians, policy makers, media, and the general public. Not holding my breath, I can dream that federal monies flow again to public health preparedness and local and state budgets for the same are increased.  Again hoping, it may underscore both the degree to which we are interconnected with the rest of the world and the risk that the lack of public health capacity and capability elsewhere poses to us at home. As with illegal immigration, we are long past the point that building higher walls will provide any commensurate increase in security.

But I am more than happy to consider other alternatives.

What do you consider the most significant homeland security-related development of 2014?

December 30, 2014

“All that happens must be known”- What’s good for cops should be good for elected officials.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 30, 2014

A Washington Post-ABC News poll learned that “86 percent of Americans support requiring patrol officers in their areas to wear small video cameras while on duty.”

In the words found within David Egger’s book, The Circle, “All that happens must be known.”

In other routine news, a congressman resigns after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion charges.  A former governor is found guilty of 11 counts of public corruption.  Four of the last seven governors of another state spent time in prison.  It happens to mayors too.  And judges. And to numerous federal officials.

Every profession has bad apples. So, if it’s good for cops to wear cameras while on duty, why not elected and appointed officials?

“All that happens must be known.”

David Egger’s utopian/dystopian novel (it sort of depends where you sit) is centered on a mega corporation, called the Circle. The Circle is used for 90% of all internet searches, but it’s also a technology company.

As we join this excerpt, one of the Circle’s founders – Stenton – is giving an Idea talk in the Great Room of Enlightenment.

“As you know…, transparency is something we advocate here at the Circle.  We look to a guy like Stewart as an inspiration…. [Stewart wears a video device on his chest; he has been recording and sharing every moment of his life for the past five years.]

“…There’s another area of public life where we want and expect transparency, and that’s democracy.  We’re lucky to have been born and raised in a democracy, but one that is always undergoing improvement.  When I was a kid, to combat back-room political deals, for example, citizens insisted upon Sunshine Laws….  And yet still, so long after the founding of this democracy, every day our elected leaders still find themselves embroiled in some scandal or another, usually involving them doing something they shouldn’t be doing.  Something secretive, illegal, against the will and best interests of the republic.  No wonder public trust for Congress is at 11 percent….  Your occupation could be dropping human feces on the heads of senior citizens … and your job approval would be higher than 11 percent.

“So what can be done? What can be done to restore the people’s trust in their elected leaders?

“I’m happy to say that there’s a woman who is taking all this very seriously, and she’s doing something to address the issue.”

Stenton then introduces Congresswoman Olivia Santos.  Santos is at the Idea talk to announce “a very important development in the history of government.”  She acknowledges that all citizens have the right to know what their elected leaders are doing, who they are meeting with, talking with, and what they’re talking about.

“We’ve all wanted and expected transparency from our elected leaders,” Congresswoman Santos says, “but the technology wasn’t there to make it fully possible.  But now it is.  As Stewart has demonstrated, it’s very easy to provide the world at large full access to your day, to see what you see, hear what you hear, and what you say….”

At this point it’s obvious what Santos is going to announce.

“Starting today. I will be wearing the same device Stewart wears.  My every meeting, movement, my every word, will be available to all my constituents and to the world.

And the Idea talk audience rose to their feet in the Great Room of Enlightenment cheering, whooping and whistling their approval.

When Santos first announced what became known as “the new clarity,” there was a bit of media coverage, but not much.

“But then, as people logged on and began watching, and began realizing that she was deadly serious — that she was allowing viewers to see and hear precisely what went into her day, unfiltered and uncensored — the viewership grew exponentially…. [Soon] there were millions watching her.”

The new clarity spread.

“By the third week, twenty-one other elected leaders in the U.S. had asked the Circle for their help in going clear…. By the end of the first month, there were thousands of requests [for the Circle’s help] from all over the world…. By the end of the fifth week, there were 16,188 elected officials… who had gone completely clear, and the waiting list was growing.”

Like police departments that tried to resist in-car cameras, and who may initially balk at requiring officers to wear cameras, resistance for the politicians in Egger’s world was futile.

“The pressure on [politicians] who hadn’t gone transparent went from polite to oppressive.  The question, from pundits and constituents, was obvious and loud: If you aren’t transparent, what are you hiding?  Though some [people]… objected on grounds of privacy, asserting that government, at virtually every level, had always needed to do some things in private for the sake of security and efficiency, the momentum crushed all such arguments and the progression continued.  If you weren’t operating in the light of day, what were you doing in the shadows?”

Back to real life for a moment, “in the first year after .. cameras [were introduced in the Rialto, CA police department] … the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.

The result in Egger’s world?

“Within weeks, the non-transparent [elected] officeholders were treated like pariahs.  The clear ones wouldn’t meet with them if they wouldn’t go on camera, and thus these leaders were left out. Their constituents wondered what they were hiding, and their electoral doom was all but assured.  In any coming election cycle, few would dare to run without declaring their transparency….  There would never again be a politician without immediate and thorough accountability, because their words and actions would be known and recorded and beyond debate.  There would be no more back rooms, no more murky deal-making.  There would be only clarity, only light.”

Several people have mentioned to me that in 2015 we will be as far away from the year 2030 as we are from the year 2000.  That does not seem all that long ago.  But so much unpredictability has reshaped the world and this nation in those mere 15 years.

Who dares predict what will emerge in the next 15 years? Let alone what 2015 will bring.

Remember to breathe.
[thanks dwl]

December 28, 2014

NSA internal privacy audits released

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 28, 2014

While most of us were either dreaming of sugar plums or battling traffic to get over the river to grandma’s house, the National Security Agency released a set of heavily redacted, but still interesting reports.

According to the NSA’s December 23 cover-letter:

Following a classification review, the National Security Agency (NSA) is releasing in redacted form NSA reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB). The release includes quarterly reports submitted from the fourth quarter of 2001 to the second quarter of 2013. The materials also include four annual reports (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) which are consolidations of the relevant quarterly reports…

The released reports demonstrate that NSA has multi-layered protections in place for signals intelligence information. These protections apply across the full spectrum of the signals intelligence process. At the targeting stage, NSA collects only those communications that it is authorized by law to collect in response to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence requirements. After foreign intelligence or counterintelligence information is acquired, it must be analyzed to remove or mask certain protected categories of information, including U.S. person information, unless specific exceptions apply. This process is referred to as “minimization.” Without appropriate minimization, NSA intelligence reporting generally cannot be distributed to other agencies—“disseminated,” in intelligence parlance—even if the other agency requires the information. Reports generated as a result of this process are subject to further constraints on access and handling.

NSA accounts for all identified errors and violations, no matter how slight, in its oversight reporting process. Internally, a wide range of NSA offices currently exercise oversight authority, including the Office of the Inspector General, the Office of the General Counsel, the Office of the Director of Compliance, the Office of Civil Liberties and Privacy, and compliance offices embedded within NSA’s mission elements. Externally, errors are reported to a variety of departments and offices across all three branches of government, depending on the nature of the authority involved. The quarterly reports released today are provided to the Department of Defense Senior Intelligence Oversight Official (DOD SIOO) (formerly the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight (ATSD(IO)), which plays an important role in ensuring NSA operates within the law.

The link will take you to the NSA website where each of the quarterly or calendar year reports can be opened and read.


December 26, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

December 25, 2014

Another strategic narrative

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on December 25, 2014

Greek Opening of Gospel of John

God looms large in homeland security, though we seldom say so.

Arguments over God — the nature of reality, what is right and wrong, and prospects for atonement — precipitate acts of terror.

Acts of God — Force Majeure — are subjects of ongoing strategic engagement.

Recently I was in discussion with a long-time peace officer, together we were trying to make sense of a treacherous situation.  He has a PhD.  We both are proud children of the Enlightenment.  Each of us accustomed to practically engaging problems.  Yet we decided that, at least for the moment, we must leave this particular problem to prayer. And, he confessed, to tears.

God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being. (Joseph Campbell)

What Campbell perceives as metaphorical many have encountered as palpably physical, emerging from the encounter transformed.  This is typically an experience difficult to articulate.  But it becomes their very source of being.

From this source some are motivated to frenetic external action, others to placid mindfulness. Either seeming extreme to those outside the experience.

In all the great spiritual traditions we are also warned of our shared tendency toward error and corruption. We pollute direct experience with self-serving explanations or — even worse — confuse our finite understanding as encompassing the infinite.

God is being-itself.  After this has been said nothing else can be said about God as God which is not symbolic. (Paul Tillich)

In my particular tradition this is a day dense with symbolism.  It is our story that God has become human, infinite becoming finite, author and character are now as one.  In this synthesis many encounter a compelling metaphor for living authentically.

Our metaphor is replete with injustice, suffering, torture, and agonizing death. Also friendship, feasting, forgiveness, extravagant gifts and considerable drinking of wine. The master-metaphor is reinforced with a crowded collection of metaphorical set-pieces, most of which suggest tension and conflict as furrows from which love may flower.

Within this intricate system of metaphor, allegory and parable there are plenty of contradictions, but also intriguing coherence. Reasonable expectations are consistently overturned. There is unrelenting delight in words that surprise, shattering settled understanding, and seducing any having ears to radically re-imagine human possibility. It is a reality — close-at-hand, in-our-face — in which paradox is beautifully persistent, creatively prolific, and profoundly powerful.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (The Gospel of John)

December 23, 2014

Celebrating Festivus by airing GAO’s grievances with DHS

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 23, 2014

Today, December 23rd, is when we celebrate Festivus. There is much to be learned about how to celebrate this day by reviewing how the Government Accountability Office treated DHS in 2014.

Here’s the headline that dragged me reluctantly into the Festivus spirit: “U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack Or Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe GAO Says.”

What in the name of all that is peace-and-goodwill-toward men could it possible mean to be “fully prepared for a nuclear terrorist attack?” How about being fully prepared for a “large scale natural catastrophe?” How do you do that? If you’re prepared, is it really a catastrophe?

True, it’s the Huffington Post’s headline writer not GAO that ruled on the nation’s inability to be ready for the end of the world.  GAO’s actual headline is much more unassuming: “Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Interagency Assessments and Accountability for Closing Capability Gaps.”

If you read between the lines (and the report) you could see how the Huffington Post (and the dozens of other outlets that jumped into the story) could semi-plausibly, though not helpfully, reach the conclusion that life as we know it will end soon if we don’t get going on those capability gaps.

But an overt hatchet job is not GAO’s style.

A Washington friend once described the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as an agency that bayonets the wounded.

I believe that characterization is unkind.

GAO has a job to do. They watch things for Congress. They are not brutal. They are persistent, particular and as far away from petulance as it’s possible for one agency to be. There is a nobility to what they do and to how they express what they discover.

This is the time of year when we could all benefit from listening to what GAO has to teach about the right way to celebrate Festivus. Or at least what is arguably the most important part of Festivus: the “Airing of Grievances”.

The celebration of Festivus — according to Festivus officials — begins with the “Airing of Grievances”, which takes place immediately after the Festivus dinner has been served. It consists of each person lashing out at others and the world about how they have been disappointed in the past year.

If you are shy, anonymously write your grievances on a sticky note and post the note to the Festivus Pole. …

If your family and friends are shy and reserved types, keep the airing of grievances short, or possibly include a rule that the only personal grievances that can be aired must be directed to those who did not attend the gathering (fair game) or public figures such as politicians and celebrities (always fair game).

Of course DHS is required game – like putting up Christmas decorations while the children are out trick or treating.

For Festivus purposes, a grievance is “a complaint about a real or imaginary wrong that causes resentment and is grounds for action.” 

According to GAO, it has aired over 2100 grievances about the Department of Homeland Security: “GAO has made over 2,100 recommendations to DHS since its establishment in 2003 to strengthen its management and integration efforts, among other things.”

Do the research. Behind each of those recommendations hides one or more grievances that require airing.  Remedial action might follow.  But that’s not the point.  Or at least not as much of the point as the actual airing.

Done correctly and professionally, there is a subtlety about grievance airing. See if you can spot the disappointment, the sighs, even the sadness, in the following  selection of 2014 GAO report titles (and the occasionally excerpt).  Hear also the infinite echo of hopefulness that if DHS tries just a little more it could be doing just a little bit better.

The emphasis, in italics, is mine.

  1. DHS’s Efforts to Modernize Key Enforcement Systems Could be Strengthenedhttp://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-62
  2. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) role of collecting information and providing assistance on PII breaches, as currently defined by federal law and policy, has provided few benefits. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-34
  3. Until DHS … addresses the cybersecurity implications of the emerging technologies in planning activities, information systems are at an increased risk of failure or being unavailable at critical moments. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-125
  4. …DHS … officials acknowledge that they do not collect or assess data to determine whether the [Commercial Items] test program is used to the maximum extent practicable. As such, its limited use may indicate missed opportunities. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-178
  5. DHS Needs to Strengthen Its Efforts to Modernize Key Enforcement Systems http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-342T
  6. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has not identified or assessed fraud or noncompliance risks posed by schools that recommend and foreign students approved for optional practical training (OPT), in accordance with DHS risk management guidance. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-356
  7. GAO… has identified several key factors that are important for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement its partnership approach with industry to protect critical infrastructure. DHS has made some progress in implementing its partnership approach, but has also experienced challenges coordinating with industry partners that own most of the critical infrastructure. …more needs to be done to accelerate the progress made. DHS still needs to fully implement the many recommendations on its partnership approach (and other issues) made by GAO and inspectors general to address cyber challenges. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-464T
  8. DHS components have designed controls to help ensure compliance with the Department of the Treasury’s [Asset Forfeiture Fund] equitable sharing guidance, but controls could be enhanced though additional documentation and guidance. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-318
  9. DHS Could Better Manage Its Portfolio to Address Funding Gaps and Improve Communications with Congress http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-332
  10. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made progress in addressing high-risk areas for which it has sole responsibility, but significant work remains. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-532T
  11. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established mechanisms—including an intelligence framework and an analytic planning process—to better integrate analysis activities throughout the department, but the mechanisms are not functioning as intended. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-397
  12. DHS Needs to Better Address Port Cybersecurity http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-459
  13. DHS and CBP have established performance measures and reporting processes for the JFC and ACTT in Arizona and the STC in South Texas; however, opportunities exist to strengthen these [Southwest Border] collaborative mechanisms by assessing results across the efforts and establishing written agreements. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-494
  14. Continued Actions Needed to Strengthen [DHS] Oversight and Coordination of Research and Development http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-813T
  15. Improved Documentation, Resource Tracking, and Performance Measurement Could Strengthen [DHS Training] Efforts http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-688
  16. DHS Action Needed to Enhance Integration and Coordination of [Critical Infrastructure Protection] Vulnerability Assessment Efforts http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-507
  17. Additional Actions Needed to Determine Program Effectiveness and Strengthen Privacy Oversight Mechanisms http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-796T
  18. Federal Real Property: DHS and GSA Need to Strengthen the Management of DHS Headquarters Consolidation http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-648
  19. DHS OIG’s Structure, Policies, and Procedures Are Consistent with Standards, but Areas for Improvement Exist  http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-726
  20. Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Risk-Informed Covert Assessments and Oversight of Corrective Actions Could Strengthen Capabilities at the Border http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-826
  21. DHS Is Assessing Fusion Center Capabilities and Results, but Needs to More Accurately Account for Federal Funding Provided to Centers http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-155
  22. DHS Should Take Steps to Improve Cost Reporting and Eliminate Duplicate Processing http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-82
  23. Improvements Needed to Fully Implement the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-3
  24. Federal and Transit Agencies Taking Steps to Build Transit Systems’ Resilience but Face Challenges  http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-159 
  25. Continued Action Needed to Strengthen Management of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-95 
  26. Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Interagency Assessments and Accountability for Closing Capability Gaps http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-20 — better known as “U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack Or Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe GAO Says.”

The circle closes. The grievances have been aired.

Now on to the Feats of Strength.

Happy Festivus

festivus 1 frank-costanza

December 21, 2014

In Memoriam

Filed under: Radicalization,State and Local HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 21, 2014

Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu

From Commissioner Bratton’s Saturday evening press conference:

Today, two of New York’s Finest were shot and killed, with no warning, no provocation. They were, quite simply, assassinated – targeted for their uniform, and for the responsibility they embraced: to keep the people of this city safe.

At approximately 2:47 PM today, Police Officer Wenjian Liu and Police Officer Rafael Ramos were assigned to a Critical Response Vehicle, CRVs as we refer to them, in the confines of the 79 Precinct.

While CRV is traditionally used for counterterrorism operations, this past May we also assigned some vehicles to Housing Developments throughout the city, Developments that has seen an increase in violence in the early part of the year, like the Tompkins Houses where the officers were stationed.

While sitting in a marked NYPD police car, in full uniform, both were ambushed and murdered in front of 98 Tompkins Avenue in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York City.

Both officers are assigned to 84 Precinct, but were posted at this location as part of a Department crime reduction strategy to address the complaints of violence in the area of the Housing Developments in that area. Officer Ramos was in the driver seat, and Officer Liu was in the front passenger seat beside him.

According to witness statements, the suspect, who has been identified as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, walked up to the police car. He took a shooting stance on the passenger side and fired his weapon several times through the front passenger window striking both officers in the head.

Officer Liu and Officer Ramos never had the opportunity to draw their weapons. They may never have actually seen their assailant, their murderer.


December 19, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 19, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

December 18, 2014

We can see the future battle order

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

0210Russian Imperial Fleet under attack at Port Arthur (February 1904)

It sounds like a stupid film.  Good riddance.

But someone — almost certainly North Koreans, probably with paid help — successfully attacked and digitally destroyed a leading multinational corporation.

Then this week they made gratuitous threats of a Christmas Day kinetic attack.

Response so far: Basically total capitulation.

We have been warned of a Cyber-Pearl Harbor.

We probably just experienced our Battle of Port Arthur.  In making the comparison I do not predict the rise of an imperial Pyongyang.  But just as the Japanese showed the Russians (and others) that naval power was more than a European skill, we have been shown another powerful asymmetry arising.

Ebola update

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

The December 17, WHO situation update is available here.  According to this report, some progress is being made in Sierra Leone, which has replaced Liberia as the nation reporting the most incidents of transmission.

EVD transmission remains intense in Sierra Leone, with 327 new confirmed cases reported in the week to 14 December. While there are signs from the country situation reports that the increase in incidence has slowed and the incidence may no longer be increasing, the country reported the highest number of confirmed cases in epidemiological week 50. 

A major effort was undertaken this week in Sierra Leone to alter population behaviors that are contributing to continued transmission of the disease.  The Guardian (London) reports on some of the strategies being employed.

Reuters has an update on operations as of Wednesday.


On Friday the Washington Post — which has done distinguished reporting on  the Ebola outbreak in West Africa — published a big front page feature on the situation in Sierra Leone.

Also on Friday NPR interviewed the CDC Director who is the midst of a site visit to West Africa.  Dr. Thomas Frieden warns of the risk that the virus might become endemic and therefore a perpetual source of recurring spikes in transmission.

Soft targets

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

The Leopold Cafe reopened four days after several customers were killed during the November 2008 urban swarm attack on Mumbai.

The Lindt Cafe in Sydney will, I expect, also reopen.  Prior cases suggest a community’s sense of defiance is good for business.

Kabul’s La Taverna du Liban has not reopened after twenty-one were killed there last January.  Among those killed was the owner.

The Sandy Hill Elementary School has been demolished, so has the Beslan school.  It is too soon to anticipate what may be done with the Army Public School and College in Peshawar.

On the same day as the Peshawar attack fifteen Yemeni children were killed when their school bus happened to intersect a car bombing.

Does anyone else remember the bombing of the My Canh Cafe floating on the Sông Sài Gòn?  How about the 1984 purposeful use of food poisoning in The Dalles, Oregon? Last month a kosher restaurant in Paris was fire-bombed while patrons were eating. Just a small fire-bomb.  No one was killed.  C’est la vie?

Hotels and restaurants. Buses, trains, planes, and subways.  Markets, mosques (other places of worship), movie theaters, and schools. Even hospitals. These are notoriously difficult to secure.  To  impede entry and egress complicates the fundamental purpose of such places.

I am surprised it has not happened here more often.  It will almost certainly happen in the relatively near future.

Some trace the origins of modern terrorism to the 1894 bombing of the Terminus Cafe in Paris.  The target, according to the self-confessed anarchist, was bourgeois society.

The motivations of those involved in such attacks are often obscure. It is typically not a tactic in our usual use of the word.  The purpose is something other than competitive advantage. There is often an odor of delusions of grandeur.

In many cases the motivation may be usefully compared to a frantic outburst designed to attract attention to individuals or an organization, thereby externally validating their power and countering their own self-doubt.

While it is difficult and always context-specific, I hope when it happens here we can respond — and not respond — in ways that refuse to provide the reinforcement sought.

December 17, 2014

A new homeland security-related blog: The Bifurcated Needle

Filed under: Biosecurity,Media,Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on December 17, 2014

I fell behind on some work this week and am not likely to post anything substantial today, so unfortunately I cannot personally provide Phil reading material to go along with his (really early) morning coffee.

However, for his and everyone else’s reading pleasure I’d like to point out a new homeland security blog that has recently come to my attention: The Bifurcated Needle. Named for the needle used to administer smallpox vaccinations, technically it is a health security blog. Since it seems no one can agree on what means “homeland security” I’m eagerly dragging the “Needle” down to HLS Watch’s level.

It is published by the good, and very smart, folks at the UPMC Center for Health Security. Health security is not unlike homeland security in that it covers a vast intellectual space. They already have posts up covering topics such as measuring preparedness, the security risks involved in virus research, collateral benefits of nuclear power plant preparedness, and the difficulties of biological decontamination.

Very likely worth your time to check it out: http://www.bifurcatedneedle.com/



December 16, 2014

Exponential thinking in homeland security: what could it mean?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 16, 2014

In 1927, a New York Times reporter tried to explain quantum theory. He wrote “It is much like trying to tell an Eskimo what the French language is like without talking French.”

Over the years, one element of quantum theory – Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – has been translated, extrapolated, and culturally distorted into regular-person speak: “the act of observing alters the reality being observed.” One can measure the position of something, or the movement of something. But not both.

What is the status – the “position” – of homeland security? Lots of contemporary strategies, reports, exposés offer opinions on that question. For one example, see the September 2014 GAO report “DHS Action Needed to Enhance Integration and Coordination of Vulnerability Assessment Efforts.”

What’s happening to the movement of homeland security during the time it takes to produce what I’m terming “position descriptions”?

From the DHS response to the September GAO report (p. 65):

“The draft report contains six recommendations with which the Department concurs.”

The next three pages describes how DHS is already doing what the draft report said it should be doing – that is, “we’re already moving in the direction GAO wants us to go.”

That’s just one example.

The 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report offers another example. On page 29 it describes

“four potential ‘black swans’ that could materially change our assessment of overall homeland security risk and priorities over the next five years…. These changes are not planned for or expected in the next five years, yet if they were to happen, they would fundamentally alter the homeland security strategic environment described here.”

Three of the four potential swans have already happened. Maybe even all four.

Can’t measure position and movement at the same time. The world is not as linear as it used to be.

The argument I hear increasingly is the world has become exponential. (For brief illustrations see this video  or this one.)

Here’s Peter Diamandis  starting to explain the difference between linear thinking and exponential thinking (my emphasis).

As humans we evolved on this planet over the last hundreds of thousands of years in an environment that I would call local and linear.  It was a local and linear environment because the only things that affected you as you were growing up on the plains of Africa was what was in a day’s walk.  It was local to you.

Something would happen on the other side of the planet 100,000 years ago you wouldn’t even know.  It was linear in that the life of your great grandparents, your grandparents, you, your kids, their kids, nothing changed generation to generation.  It was pretty much the same.  You used the same stone tools.  You ate the same animals.  You pretty much lived in the same place.

Today we’re living in a world that is exponential and global. Something happens in China or Korea, it affects you in Manhattan literally minutes later, through stock prices, news, whatever it might be.  That’s a global planet we’re living on. The life of your grandparents, your parents, you, your kids is extraordinarily different in every possible way and we know this from going to Best Buy and finding a computer that is twice as fast or four times as fast for the same dollars as you bought it a year or two ago.  So we’re living in a world that’s exponential in that regard.

To give a visualization of this, if I were to take 30 linear steps, it would be one, two, three, four, five.  After 30 linear steps I’d end up 30 paces or 30 meters away and all of us could pretty much point to where 30 paces away would be. But if I said to you take 30 exponential steps, one, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two and said where would you end up? Very few people would say a billion meters away, which is twenty-six times around the planet.

That’s the difference between our ability to project linearly and project exponentially. It’s what’s really causing disruptive stress because as humans we think linearly, but the world is changing exponentially.

There are arguments against the exponential claim – such as it’s warmed over Malthusianism, or that it may only apply to the technological world, not the social world.

Linear thinking still works quite well in a lot of domains. I’m able to type words on a computer and place them on the internet because many people were very good at thinking linearly about circuit boards, databases, electricity, networks and wireless communication.

But I don’t think the argument is about replacing linear thinking. I believe it’s about augmenting linear thought.

If the exponential claims are correct, what are the implications for homeland security?

What does exponential thinking look like in homeland security? How does it differ from linear thinking?  What would a GAO report based on exponential thinking look like? How would one think exponentially about homeland security policy, strategy, law, threat, preparedness, leadership, education? Are there any advantages to thinking exponentially?

I don’t know. But like the uncertainty principle, it may be worthwhile to take the idea of exponential thinking and translate, extrapolate, and culturally distort it into homeland security speak.

N’est-ce pas?

December 12, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 12, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

December 11, 2014

Going the wrong way in Sierra Leone

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on December 11, 2014

Eboa 12_10

Ebola concentrations in West Africa.

The map comes from the December 10 WHO Situation Update.  Also from this report is a very troublesome finding, highlighted below.

Effective contact tracing ensures that the reported and registered contacts of confirmed EVD cases are visited daily to monitor the onset of symptoms during the 21-day incubation period of the Ebola virus. Contacts presenting symptoms should be promptly isolated, tested for EVD, and if necessary treated, to prevent further disease transmission.

During the week of 1 December, 95% of all registered contacts were visited on a daily basis in Guinea, 96% in Liberia, and 84% in Sierra Leone (a steady decline since week 44, during which 94% of registered contacts were reached). However, the proportion of contacts reached was lower in many districts. Each district is reported to have at least one contact-tracing team in place.

On average, 17 contacts were listed per new case in Guinea during the week to 1 December, 22 in Liberia, and 6 in Sierra Leone.

Resilience by Design

On Monday the Mayor of Los Angeles released a report entitled Resilience by Design.  It gives particular attention to how Los Angeles can take steps now to mitigate the consequences of major risks, especially an earthquake.

This is the kind of document that — too often — only appears after a major event.  It is significant that one of the first steps Mayor Garcetti took upon his election was appointment of a Science Advisor for Seismic Safety and tasking her to undertake this analysis.

The report gives particular attention to:

  • Resilience of building stock — It is interesting that this is treated as a matter of economic resilience as well as public safety.
  • Resilience of the water system — This is what worries me most regarding the vulnerability of the Los Angeles basin.
  • Resilience of the telecommunications systems — This is a key interdependency that can divide or multiply every other response and recovery capability.

There are, obviously, other crucial problems.  But too many of these kind of studies try to take-on too much.  If everything is a priority, really nothing is a priority.

These are three strategic elements within the ability of city government to seriously engage.  Enhancing the resilience of these three elements will improve the ability of the city and the whole community to address other challenges.

See the full report here.

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