Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 29, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 29, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

May 28, 2015

2015 National Preparedness Report

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on May 28, 2015

The 4th edition of the National Preparedness Report was released on May 28th.  The Report is available at this link: https://www.fema.gov/national-preparedness-report.

Major findings include:

· Recent events, including the epidemic of Ebola virus disease, have highlighted challenges with coordinating the response to and recovery from complex incidents that do not receive Stafford Act declarations.

· Businesses and public-private partnerships are increasingly incorporating emergency preparedness into technology platforms, such as Internet and social media tools and services.

· Environmental Response/Health and Safety, Intelligence and Information Sharing, and Operational Coordination are additional core capabilities to sustain, which are capabilities in which the Nation has developed acceptable levels of performance for critical tasks, but which face potential performance declines if not maintained and updated to address new challenges.

· Cybersecurity, Housing, Infrastructure Systems, and Long-term Vulnerability Reduction remained national areas for improvement, and Economic Recovery re-emerged as an area for improvement from 2012 and 2013. Access Control and Identity Verification is a newly identified national area for improvement.

· Perspectives from states and territories on their current levels of preparedness were similar to previous years. All 10 core capabilities with the highest self-assessment results in 2012 and 2013 remained in the top-10 for 2014; Cybersecurity continues to be the lowest-rated core capability in state and territory self-assessments.

· While Federal departments and agencies individually assess progress for corrective actions identified during national-level exercises and real-world incidents, challenges remain to comprehensively assess corrective actions with broad implications across the Federal Government.

Exploring a possible strategic analogy: Density = Mass/Volume

Over the last many days an extraordinary volume of water has encountered the structural and human density of the fourth largest city in the United States.  The Greater Houston metropolitan region has a population of 6.22 million and a population density of 630.3 persons per square mile.

During the month of May over twenty inches of rain has fallen across much of East Texas.  In the Houston area on Monday night over ten inches fell in a period of only six hours. Rain continued to fall on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This quantity of rain in a comparatively contained space over such a short period of time would profoundly challenge the equilibrium of most natural environments.  The built environment on which humans depend is seldom as resilient. Pack millions of humans into a dense urban environment and whatever our individual resilience, there will be a range of interdependencies that increase everyone’s risk. We can be surprised.

Extraordinary external volume can seldom be entirely avoided.   This is true for potential threats  beyond precipitation. Denial of service attacks, mass suicide bombings, and uncontrolled oil spills are other examples. Unusual volume, concentrated in time and/or repeating time after time, disrupts and destroys.

Urban population density is a choice, but for the last two centuries it has also been a persistent — and accelerating — choice.  There are real benefits.  Density is likely to increase in the years ahead.

Given the loss of life, destruction of property, and the extent of human misery caused, I am sure some will be appalled at my lack of apparent empathy, but the floods in Texas and Oklahoma have — among other things — reminded me of some junior high physics problems.

Density Volume Mass

If density and volume are each highly elastic and mostly beyond our control, we seem to be left with mass as the input with which we might still hope to influence outcomes.

In seventh grade I was taught that mass is the property of a body which determines the strength of its mutual gravitational attraction to other bodies and its resistance to being accelerated by a force, such as a volume of water. Generally we protect populations and the built environment by increasing the size and weight of dams, walls, and other “resistance” structures that retain, divert, disperse or otherwise reduce the force of any threatening volume.

At least here on earth, we don’t always give much attention to gravity because there’s not much we can do about it.

Mrs. Holman taught me that gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear.  Yet despite its comparative weakness, gravity is absolutely necessary to the universe as we know it.  Both gravitation and electromagnetism act over infinite distance to mediate diverse actions.

Both as a matter of physics and as a metaphor for broader application, gravity determines mass through interactions and relationships among multiple bodies.  In addition to adding size and weight to strengthen the built environment, what ought we do in regard to interactions and relationships to reduce the risk of volume and density converging?

In the midst of the flooding in Oklahoma and Texas, as in the recent earthquake in Nepal, as in the aftermath of Sandy and Katrina, and in the ongoing recovery from the Triple Disaster in Japan, there has been a tendency to emphasize “weighty” engineering solutions. Good. Great.

But interactions and relationships are also an important part of the formula.

May 27, 2015

Belatedly Recognizing EMS Week

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on May 27, 2015

Last week was actually EMS Week, but I thought it is never too late to recognize the job that EMTs and Paramedics do during disasters, such as the flooding in Texas and Oklahoma, and everyday when they treat and transport a family member who’s fallen or had a heart attack.

The  National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) provides a little background on EMS Week:

In 1973, President Gerald Ford authorized EMS Week to celebrate EMS, its practitioners and the important work they do in responding to medical emergencies. Back then, EMS was a fledgling profession and EMS practitioners were only beginning to be recognized as a critical component of emergency medicine and the public health safety net.

A lot has changed over the last four decades. EMS is now firmly established as a key component of the medical care continuum, and the important role of EMS practitioners in saving lives from sudden cardiac arrest and trauma; in getting people to the hospitals best equipped to treat heart attacks and strokes; and in showing caring and compassion to their patients in their most difficult moments.

Whether it’s the team at Grady EMS in Atlanta who had the expertise to transport the nation’s first Ebola patient, the volunteer firefighters and flight medics called to search for and rescue survivors in the Everett, Wash. mudslide or the thousands of EMS responses that happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and don’t make the news, EMS is there for their communities at their greatest time of need.

Below I’ve posted a short video featuring Kevin Horahan, a paramedic as well as a Senior Policy Analyst within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  He quickly spans EMS from the everyday response to their role in the healthcare system and role they play in helping to foster resilience.

May 26, 2015

Annotated Worldwide Threat Assessment 2015

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on May 26, 2015

The “CHDS/Ed” website hosts learning materials used by various Center for Homeland Defense and Security programs.  One of those items is a multi-media annotated version of the 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment.  It is available at this link –  https://www.chds.us/coursefiles/NS4156/WWTA_digital_publication/WWTA_2015/index.html

Here’s what CHDS/Ed says about the threat assessment:

The Worldwide Threat Assessment has been presented to Congress annually by the Director of National Intelligence; and before that office was created, it was presented by the CIA Director in his position as the Director of Central Intelligence. This annual threat assessment testimony, published as text, is one of the most informative top-level products of the U.S. Intelligence Community that is publicly available. Since 2014, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School has produced and provided a multi-media enhanced, annotated version of the text document.

The text version of the 2015 Assessment is available at this link: http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Unclassified_2015_ATA_SFR_-_SASC_FINAL.pdf

May 25, 2015

“Let no vandalism of avarice … testify … that we have forgotten….”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 25, 2015

memorial day

memorial day 1

memorial day 6

memorial day 4

memorial day 5

memorial day 2

May 22, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 22, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

May 19, 2015

Two homeland security – related courses; mostly online

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on May 19, 2015

Two homeland security – related online (mostly) course offerings:

“The Master of Public Health Program at Missouri State University is now offering three graduate certificates in public health.  The three certificates are (1) the Public Health Core, (2) Public Health & Health Administration and (3)  Public Health & Homeland Security.  The latter certificate can be completed online.

The Public Health & Homeland Security certificate was created as a workforce development tool because several county health departments noted a need for people with the background to do emergency planning for public health emergencies.  Each certificate requires five courses (15 graduate hours).

The Public Health & Homeland Security certificate requires 3 courses in public health and 2 courses in homeland security or emergency management.   A full description of all three certificates can be accessed on the program web page at http://www.missouristate.edu/mph/ .  For questions, you may contact David Claborn at davidclaborn[at]missouristate.edu.”

Virginia Tech is offering a “special 7 week summer course …. [It] begins Monday June 1 and ends on July 20 with a full day class on Saturday June 20 at the Alexandria, Va campus site.”

VA tech summer course

May 18, 2015

“Such unpredictability has happened not in spite of technological progress, but because of it.”

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Christopher Bellavita on May 18, 2015

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3 in Stanley McChrystal, et al.’s new book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.  The book is well worth reading if you’re interested in exploring ways of working and leading within a complex environment – like homeland security. 

“The year is 1882. Halfway around the world from [Frederick] Taylor and his factories, the Ottoman governor of Damascus has decided to implement major educational reforms. Tarek, a poor, pious Muslim who resents the reforms, goes down to the town square, gets on a soapbox, and begins to agitate against the government.

“Do the authorities need to worry about him? Perhaps. In all likelihood, the Ottoman regime knows almost nothing about him personally because he is not well connected or aligned with any of their institutional enemies. But even without knowledge about Tarek as an individual, the regime can anticipate that the number of people who might turn out to see him preach is small— only people who are within daily communication and traveling radius of his soapbox will be aware of his protest. Moreover, the town square lies within government control. If things get out of hand, they can shut down the operation almost instantly. Maybe they will arrest him, or maybe they will let him say his piece and leave. Either way, they can predict with some accuracy that he does not represent a threat to the state.

“Fast-forward to 2010 and Tarek is standing on the street in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. He is shouting at the top of his lungs about local police corruption. With access to his data trail, twenty-first-century Tunisian authorities may know a lot about Tarek: where he shops, what he likes to buy, what Web sites he visits at the Internet café, who his Facebook friends are, what kind of religious and political beliefs he holds. With simple study and a basic computer, they can come to far more refined conclusions about him than the Ottoman governor in 1882 could have. But in 2010 the range of outcomes that this Tarek can generate is far greater than his government can anticipate, because he lives in a vastly more complex world.

“The first Tarek is fictional. The second is Tunisian fruit vendor Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, and when he douses himself with gasoline and self-immolates, events spiral out of control at breakneck speed: A crowd protests his death, and his cousin records the scene on his iPhone. Videos appear on YouTube within two days, along with a picture of Tarek, aflame and dying. More protests erupt. Videos of those protests wind up on Facebook. Arabs everywhere see their Tunisian brethren in the streets. Not only Al Jazeera, but The New York Times and The Guardian make trips to the small town of Sidi Bouzid. Within three months, the thirty-year reign of Hosni Mubarak is brought to an end some 1,400 miles away in Cairo, Muammar Gaddafi starts losing control of Libya after four decades in power, and Syria begins its descent into intractable civil war.

“Despite having more data about Arab societies— and about individuals like Tarek— than at any time in history, no government, search engine, or social media platform foresaw Tarek’s self-immolation or the impact it would have.

“The two Tareks illustrate the contradiction between the tremendous technological progress witnessed during the past century, and our seemingly diminished ability to know what will happen next. Though we know far more about everything in it, the world has in many respects become less predictable. Such unpredictability has happened not in spite of technological progress, but because of it. The technological developments of recent decades are of a fundamentally different variety from those of Taylor’s era. While we might think that our increased ability to track, measure, and communicate with people like Tarek would improve our precise “clockwork universe” management, the reality is the opposite: these changes produce a radically different climate— one of unpredictable complexity— that stymies organizations based on Taylorist efficiency.

“It is because of these changes that the [US military’s Joint Special Operations] Task Force’s “awesome machine,” excellent by all twentieth-century metrics, was failing. Understanding specifically what had changed, why it reduced predictability, and how that impacted management would prove critical to solving our problem. And we weren’t alone. In our later analyses, we found that phenomena we witnessed on the ground in Iraq had been observed in a wide variety of domains, from agronomy to economics.”


CHAPTER 1: Sons of Proteus
CHAPTER 2: Clockwork
CHAPTER 3: From Complicated to Complex
CHAPTER 4: Doing the Right Thing

CHAPTER 5: From Command to Team
CHAPTER 6: Team of Teams

CHAPTER 7: Seeing the System
CHAPTER 8: Brains Out of the Footlocker
CHAPTER 9: Beating the Prisoner’s Dilemma

CHAPTER 10: Hands Off
CHAPTER 11: Leading Like a Gardener

CHAPTER 12: Symmetries


May 15, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 15, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

May 13, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 6

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 13, 2015

Tuesday several strong aftershocks hit Nepal. One measured 7.3 on the Richter Scale.  The new quakes come after a 7.8 earthquake on April 25, sixteen intervening seismic events measured above 5.0, and three days of significant rainfall.  Tens of thousands are living without shelter or under tarpaulins.

(As I post this on Tuesday night a US Marine helicopter that was operating in Nepal is missing along with its crew of six and two Nepalese soldiers.)

The death toll from these earthquakes will almost certainly exceed 10,000.  According to the Government of Nepal over 280,000 homes have been destroyed and nearly as many have been seriously damaged.  The lack of shelter and sanitation pose an urgent threat to public health that will only increase as the monsoon season begins in the next two to three weeks.

The April 25 earthquake was centered northwest of Kathmandu.  The epicenter of Tuesday’s earthquake was northeast of the capital.  In each case, there has been especially significant destruction and disruption at higher elevations.  Stone and masonry structures have collapsed.  Landslides have covered entire villages.

The modern transportation network in Nepal is mostly contained in the more urban valleys, and has, so far, survived mostly intact. As you ascend into the Himalayas scattered settlements are often connected by very primitive roads or foot-paths. In many cases these networks have been seriously disrupted and are simply unknown to outsiders.

Most of the highland inhabitants are subsistence farmers.  The Spring harvest of wheat and barley has been interrupted by these disasters.  The rice crop needs to be planted in the next three weeks or so.  Storage and seed stocks have been decimated.  The government of Nepal — operating largely through the Nepal Food Corporation — has long provided subsidized access to supplementary foodstuffs through a diverse locally-driven distribution system.  The NFC has continued to operate, but it’s current capacity and effectiveness are not clear.

In the immediate aftermath of the April 25 event there was significant hoarding of food.  In the first week both private and public relief efforts delivered resources wherever possible. Some of the hardest hit areas were not accessible. Hoarding behavior continued and resulted in accessible areas accumulating a significant stock of food.  Some estimate that many communities immediately west of the capital may have received up to six months normal supply in the ten days after the initial quake.

It is my impression that relief supplies were just beginning to systematically penetrate the most remote regions in the last five days or so.

India has been very forward leaning in providing resources.  So has the United Nations, China, United States, United Kingdom, international NGOs, and multinational corporations.  Writing in the Kathmandu Post Shujeev Shakya describes how Nepalese are responding as individuals:

It was really interesting to see volunteers purchase their own food and water, fill up their fuel tanks with their own money, and make zero overhead relief work possible… Most of the volunteerism was a spontaneous networking to get through to the supply chain, demand identification, and get zero overhead delivery right. The processes were transparent, as most of the demand and supply was broadcasted over social media, taking accountability and transparency to the next level.

As usual for a hard-hit like this, there does not seem to be a systemic shortage of supply (supply is more often a problem with slow-onset disasters, such as drought or ongoing extreme violence).  There are, however, a whole host of  very serious distribution problems.

Serving the immediate needs of survivors usually requires the intervention of significant and specialized logistics. This is especially the case where preexisting supply capacity — in the form of roads, warehouses, retail outlets, trucks, truckers, fuel, availability of cash and/or household inventory — has been destroyed.

But the bigger the event — bigger in terms of time, space, and population affected — the more necessary it becomes to quickly restore some semblance of pre-existing supply chains and/or allow complex-adaptive behavior to emerge (such as those described by Shujeev Shakya).  We know how to feed the nodes. Connecting the nodes with those who urgently need the supplies in order to be fed is even more complicated.

A key issue is how the technical capacity of humanitarian (or commercial) logistics can be integrated with the social connections that are innate to communities and regularly operating supply chains.  In many major disasters the biggest deficits are not related to supply capacity, but instead involve a lack of knowledge related to demand: who, where, what and — especially in Nepal — how to get there.

Based on observations in Haiti, Japan, and other post-disaster contexts, Professor Jose Holguin-Veras, Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, describes this phenomenon as “a crisis of connectivity, not of supply.”

I also like how Shujeev Shakya, a businessman in Kathmandu, describes it as “networking to get through to the supply chain.”  This is different than procurement and delivery of  humanitarian logistics.  The use of social media for “demand identification” — even in Nepal, even after a major earthquake — is, for me, both fabulous and a bit scary.  How much worse it could have been if the telecommunications network had collapsed. (More on the social media aspect at Wired.)

None of this is meant as a critique of humanitarian logistics. But it is meant to suggest a potentially important complementary strategy of giving more attention to “networking to get through to the supply chain” both before and after a major disaster. Especially before.  And networking not just as a social activity but a socio-technical activity.

This is not, by the way, just an issue for a poor country like Nepal.  The triple disaster in Japan demonstrated many of the same lessons.  It would be helpful for the US to learn these lessons before the New Madrid or San Andreas faults decide to take us to the school of hard knocks.


UPDATE: OCHA released a situation update late on May 13.  It is available here.

A personal impression: I do not yet have sufficient evidence.  But based on several media reports and official documentation, I perceive more and more priority is being given to the replacement shelter “pipeline”.  This suggests sufficient food supplies are available (if not necessarily distributed to the most remote locations).  This signals that some form of the preexisting food supply chain is being reestablished.  The preexisting pipeline — different than supply chain or supply and demand network — for tarpaulins and other components of emergency shelter barely pre-existed at all. So this is a supply system that must be created from scratch… and with great difficulty.  If any of these early observations have any accuracy, they suggest the potentially differentiated role — and sequencing — of humanitarian logistics in combination with supply chain resilience.

May 12, 2015

The Evolving Islamic State Threat

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Mike Walker on May 12, 2015

Note: The following is based on a May 11, 2015, series of tweets by Mike Walker who tweets as @New_Narrative

Former CIA acting director Mike Morell says it is only a matter of time until the Islamic State (IS) attempts another 9-11.  He is correct. It is also past time for policymakers to level with Americans about the true nature of the IS threat.

Last year, when the IS took a swath of territory in Iraq & Syria the size of the UK, analysts said we had nothing to fear here in the United States.  They believed IS to be a regional Middle Eastern threat focused solely on advancing their so-called “caliphate”.  Based on that analysis, policymakers embarked on a slow-motion air war that would not defeat IS for years.

Unfortunately the analysts were wrong.  The IS group is not only focused on building and sustaining their caliphate; they are especially focused on creating an apocalyptic clash of civilizations.  Last August, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said IS leaders have an “end of days” strategic vision.

Based on centuries-old prophecy, IS leaders foresee a coming final battle with “infidel” forces at Dabiq in northern Syria.  They even named their English language magazine “Dabiq” to emphasize their commitment to this apocalyptic vision.

In recent months, IS has rapidly expanded outside their self-proclaimed caliphate, establishing cells in more than a dozen countries.  They are even challenging the Taliban in Afghanistan; and growing strength in Libya from where they plan to attack Europe.

Here at home, in just the last 4 months, more than 30 people have been arrested on IS terror-related charges.  Analysts who earlier said IS was only focused on building its caliphate are now saying “lone wolves” are the problem.

The DHS secretary warned Sunday that lone wolf attackers could strike the US at any time without warning.  No doubt, there will be more Garland-type attacks.  The IS has been promoting homegrown terror in the US for some time.  In fact, the FBI director says IS recruiters could now be in touch with thousands of potential followers inside the US.

But promoting self-starting lone wolves is only one aspect of an evolving Islamic State threat.  Jihadist ideologue Abu Mus’ab al-Suri wrote the blueprint for a global jihadist movement in 2005.  Central to his voluminous doctrine was a message to the West that “you cannot defeat us if we are everywhere”.  It is clear the IS group is unleashing an “everywhere” strategy.

Al-Suri also said that encouraging self-starters was only part of a global plan for violent jihadist victory.  He also supported accelerating the apocalypse, and criticized bin Laden over 9-11 because the attack wasn’t big enough.

Today, Western policymakers have wisely decided not to put our own “boots on the ground” against the IS.  The IS group wants the West to intervene on the ground so they can fulfill that prophecy.  No doubt IS leaders have looked at the history of global violent jihad and concluded that 9-11 was a watershed event.  They may now believe the US would respond to another 9-11 with boots on the ground like we did in 2001.

Yet, Western analysts insist the real threat to the US homeland continues to be al-Qaeda (AQ) and its affiliate, AQAP.  No doubt AQ would like to be the main threat to the United Stays, but they are way short of financial resources and talent.  And our counter-terrorism war against AQ overseas has greatly diminished their capacity to effectively attack.

Today, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist threat is far more complex than it was after 9-11.  In 2015, it is the IS that is well funded and has captured the imagination of a new generation of eager violent jihadists.  Thousands of Western Europeans and perhaps hundreds of Americans have already joined the IS cause.

Last week, the IS claimed to have sleeper cells in 15 American states poised to strike.  That’s IS propaganda for sure, but a well-financed group with a growing cadre of Westerners cannot be discounted.

In recent weeks we have also been seeing an IS social media campaign entitled #WeWillBurnAmericaAgain.  Words are cheap, but you don’t have to be an analyst to understand they are talking about another 9-11.

Of course, the next 9-11 doesn’t have to be a spectacular attack like 2001, but could be simpler attacks in many locations.  All terrorists need today are assault rifles and a little luck.  Would such a terrorist swarm equal another 9-11?

The FBI has honestly reported they worry about what they don’t know.  It is a matter of resources.  The reality is that “thousands of contacts” cannot be monitored in real time as we saw in Garland, Texas.

Rumor has it that the IS leader, al-Baghdadi, has been severely injured and has named a temporary successor.  If true, it demonstrates the continuing durability of the IS group, not its fragility.  And if the interim leader is indeed Abu Alaa Afri, the future of the IS group could become even more interesting.

Not much is known about Afri, but he is believed to have had the confidence of Osama bin Laden himself.  Bin Laden is revered in the IS group as he is in al-Qaeda.  In fact, IS insists AQ’s leaders have betrayed bin Laden.

Few believe a merger between al-Qaeda and the IS group is very likely.  Some very hard feelings have yet to soften.  IS may not need such an alliance, anyway, as they are gaining supporters from even AQ’s closest affiliate, AQAP.  But analysts cannot completely rule out some sort of an alliance, perhaps with AQ’s al-Nusra in Syria.

Some say the IS threat to the US homeland is being overblown, despite IS’ ability to attract thousands of followers.  Many believe the IS cannot pull off the equivalent of another 9-11, and that they are already being rolled back in Iraq.  Yet, most analysts do agree on one thing: the IS group will not be defeated in Iraq for years, if ever in Syria.  As long as the IS group holds territory and maintains the facade of a caliphate, they will represent a growing threat.

If the FBI is maxed out, will state and local law enforcement be able to prevent an Islamic State 9-11?

More broadly, how do we defeat the IS group without putting “boots on the ground” as IS leaders want us to do?

And if we defeat IS militarily overseas, how do we prevent another al-Qaeda or Islamic State from rising up again?

Policymakers should address these important questions before the next successful attack.

(Mike Walker is a former acting secretary of the Army and former deputy director of FEMA)







May 11, 2015

“Please Tase Me, Bro”: Could American Police Give up the Gun?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 11, 2015

This post was written by Eagle Eggs, and originally appeared at this link: https://medium.com/homeland-security/please-tase-me-bro-could-american-police-give-up-the-gun-a2b8f19461de

600 years ago the Japanese gave up the gun…could American police?

Firearms came to Japan in 1543 via Portuguese traders. “The gun,” says technological historian David Nye “would appear to be the classic case of a weapon that no society could reject once it had been introduced. Yet the Japanese did just that.” Japanese manufacturers began producing high quality weapons, they proved decisive in key battles, and yet the Japanese abandoned them for almost two hundred years, until Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan to the West in 1853. The reason for this rejection was cultural. The efficiency of the gun did not align with the samurai class notions of honor, and the gun vanished from Japanese culture for more than 300 years. The social meanings of technology, it seems, matter as much as technology.


16th C. German Firearm


Weapons are an expression of the cultures that produce them. As instruments of violence, they tell us about the values and structures of the societies that invent them. In the hands of police officers, they are about the way a culture authorizes its agents of order to use force, and the tools it permits them to use. Where the 16th century Japanese did not accept firearms, guns evidently reflect American values, and are attuned to the rhythms of American culture. Perhaps guns are as integrally American as Sikh chakrams (hoop-like throwing knives worn around the turban). No turban, no chakram.


A Sikh, with a Chakram, like a boss


This year in Garland, Texas, a badly outgunned traffic cop with a Glock heroically took down two would be mass murdering terrorists packing assault rifles and body armor. Scarcely a month earlier, a police officer in Charleston South Carolina shot and killed an unarmed man in the back after a traffic stop.

 These two episodes display an American bargain: lethal force authorized, used for good, and abused. And each highlights the central role of the firearm in American policing.


But what about non-lethal force?

 In feudal Japan, Samurai police officers carried specialized, non-lethal tools for controlling suspects. Check out the sodegarami (sleeve entangler) below. It looks sinister, but it was a non-lethal control weapon. An old timey taser. And it is uniquely reflective of Japanese culture — designed specially to be thrust into kimono sleeves and twisted to control the subject and distance the police officer. The spikes on the shaft prevent the subject from disentangling himself. The use of swords was highly regulated in Japanese society as well, making the sodegarami, and other control weapons essential alternatives for Samurai.

Japanese sodegarami

 Like the Japanese sodegarami, the taser was designed as a non-lethal alternative. But not as part of a strictly regulated culture of honor. Jack Higson Cover invented the taser stun gun in 1972 as a means to save lives. It is a weapon that expressed a value. But the thing that Americans seem to dislike about the taser is also contained in its non-lethality. If it does not kill, perhaps the bar for using it is considerably lower. In other words, police will use a taser a lot more than they would a lethal weapon precisely because it isn’t lethal. And we don’t like that. Do we like the alternative?


The X26 Taser


A May 2011 study by the Department of Justice found that using controlled energy devices (like tasers) reduced injuries in both suspects and officers.

So what makes a culture accept or reject a weapon? History is instructive. The crossbow was widely used in medieval warfare, but very little was said about it. You won’t find accounts of knights using it in battle (though they almost certainly did) or of the numbers killed by crossbow. According to historians, that’s because it was considered a shameful, and even sinful weapon.

The moral objections, according to sociologist Rodney Stark, were about social class. Says Stark:

“…this revolutionary weapon allowed untrained peasants to be lethal enemies of the trained soldiery. It took many years of training to become a knight, and the same was true for archers.”

Weapons like this are great democratizers. And this may explain part of the reason that the firearm is so quintessentially American. It’s a democratic weapon. Like the American preference for the automobile over the train, the gun is a tool of the individual, an asset and armory to personal responsibility, self direction, liberty.

Guns have been an integral part of the American experiment, and with good reason — they were tied to both liberation from tyranny and survival. But it’s worth asking, even in a culture that values guns, why we insist that our police officers have them. The Japanese emphasis on the sword included limitations on the kinds of weapons police carried. Can our culture imagine an America where the police do not carry guns? Probably not. The bad guys have guns.

Still, the use of lethal police force is under intense scrutiny at the moment, in the wake of horrifying and highly publicized fatalities. In some ways, it seems that our national relationship with non-lethal means of police control is more complicated than the way we think about police having guns.

America is a gun culture. Is it also a taser culture? The taser, like the baton or the sodegarami, is a tool of control. Perhaps perversely, this is somehow less American than the authorization to use lethal force. What meanings are we going to give to relatively new technologies, and what will we make of older ones? If we can properly understand what guns and tasers mean to our culture, then we’ll better understand whether our police should have them.


May 10, 2015

Nepal Humanitarian Logistics: Number 5

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 10, 2015


On Saturday Rajesh Khanal reported in the Kathmandu Post on the “logistical nightmare” that is causing deadly delays in resupplying remote areas hit hardest by the April 25 quake.  Instead of summarizing or cherry-picking quotes, I encourage reading the full report.

I will provide some context:

The “worst affected” area shown above is roughly comparable to Washington DC to New York east of Interstate 81.  This encompasses very rugged terrain.  Kathmandu sits at 4900 feet above sea level.  Many of the most remote villages are at 10,000 feet or higher.  Of the 3.5 million survivors in need of sustained support, roughly 20 percent (perhaps more) are not directly connected to commercial centers by all-weather roads.

The earthquake hit areas and populations that are typically not food sufficient and depend on supplies of grain, especially rice, from the Nepal Food Corporation (NFC). This is a government owned and controlled entity that buys and sells food commodities with the aim of providing affordable foodstocks to the most vulnerable populations in Nepal. Before the earthquake, roughly 15-to-20 percent of Nepali’s were considered “food insecure.”

According to Ansu Tumbahangfe’s 2010 thesis at Erasmus University,

Once the grains are procured, they along with food aid supplied by donor countries are stored amongst the 155 godowns or storehouses owned by the NFC. In total these godowns have a capacity of 94,770 MT . From there, the grains are then transported through via private transport operators to various parts of the country, through various modes such as air lifting, roads and even mules . For remote areas, which have been classified as “inaccessible” by the GoN, transport subsidies are provided.

The report in the Kathmandu Post suggests the NFC was ill-prepared for a disaster of this scope and scale. Structural reforms of the NFC since 1999 may have undermined the capacity of the organization in a disaster. The organization is also criticized for a lack of creativity and urgency since the earthquake.

I will also note that as I have tried to monitor OCHA, Logistics Cluster, and NGO response documentation (Examples: Logistics Cluster, May 8 minutes and the USAID 5/8 SitRep), I have not seen any mention of coordination or collaboration with the Nepal Food Corporation.  Perhaps it is a sufficiently dysfunctional organization that it is wise to avoid it.  Even more likely, my modest efforts at a distance have missed what is going on. But it is also my observation that too often disaster logistics is organized to replace — rather than restore and reinforce — existing supply chains.  Supplementation is typically needed.  But full-replacement is — it seems to me — mostly an expediency that serves the interests of external parties more than survivors and an expediency that can suppress effective long-term recovery.

That’s not — yet — a conclusion related to the situation in Nepal.  It is a hypothesis to test.

May 8, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 8, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

May 7, 2015

Section 215 does not authorize bulk collection

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues — by Philip J. Palin on May 7, 2015

Earlier today the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit released a decision that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act cannot be used as the legal basis for bulk collection of domestic calling records.  This would seem to put the entire program in legal jeopardy.  A copy of the decision is available here.

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