Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 3, 2015

Don’t Sleep on MERS

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on June 3, 2015

In the wake of an overblown reaction to Ebola (in the U.S.), the public might be a little tired of hearing about the next dire threat to everyone’s public health.  Hopefully some are paying attention to the actions taken by the South Korean government in an effort to prevent a wide outbreak of MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in that country:

South Korea scrambled Wednesday to try to contain an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, a virus that has already claimed two lives in the country, with more than 1,300 people quarantined and upwards of 500 schools set to close their doors Thursday.

Two people have died from MERS in South Korea, while 28 others have been confirmed as having the virus, five of them on Wednesday alone. This makes the outbreak the largest outside Saudi Arabia, where MERS began three years ago, the World Health Organization said, warning that “further cases can be expected.”

Another 398 cases are suspected and a total of 1,364 more people have been quarantined, the vast majority of them at home.

As public health experts strained to explain during the height of Ebola concern in this country, and what was proven during the SARS outbreak earlier this century, it is impossible to close borders and prevent a disease from spreading globally.  On that scary notion, there is worry that MERS has spread to China:

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities quarantined 88 people, including 14 South Koreans, after a 44-year-old South Korean man, the son of one of the people who has contracted the virus, defied medical advice and flew to Hong Kong on May 26 while he had symptoms of the virus. He then traveled to the southern Chinese province of Guangdong by bus.

China informed WHO on May 29 that the man had tested positive for the virus and had been isolated at a hospital in Huizhou, Guangdong, while Chinese authorities try to track down other people who might have been exposed.

If you haven’t followed earlier news about this emerging infectious disease that originated in the Middle East, here is a little background provided by the CDC:

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness caused by a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). MERS affects the respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes). Most MERS patients developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. About 3-4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.

Health officials first reported the disease in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Through retrospective investigations, health officials later identified that the first known cases of MERS occurred in Jordan in April 2012. So far, all cases of MERS have been linked to countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula.

MERS-CoV has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. However, there is no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings.

MERS can affect anyone. MERS patients have ranged in age from younger than 1 to 99 years old.


Community Policing at Work in Boston

Obviously, there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding the Boston Police and FBI shooting of a suspected ISIS sympathizer. Recent reporting indicates he and co-conspirators were planning on attacking Boston police personnel, after discarding an earlier plot to behead anti-Islam political activist Pamela Geller.

Putting aside the details of a quickly evolving case (the specifics of which will likely take some time to become clear and final), what I found interesting about today’s development’s was the vivid dividends of Boston Police’s community outreach efforts.

Police showed a surveillance video of the shooting to Boston-area religious leaders Wednesday. They said in a news conference that they did not see Rahim shot in the back or talking on the phone.

“What the video does reveal to us very clearly is that the individual was not on a cell phone, was not shot in the back, and that the information presented by others not on the case was not accurate,” Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts said.

Other faith leaders said the video was not high quality, but that they could tell Rahim was pursuing the Boston police officer and FBI agent who had approached him.

Imam Abdullah Faaruuq of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah called the video “vague,” but said that at least part of the investigators’ account was supported.

This outcome is not a happy coincidence or random gathering of community leaders.  Instead it is the result of years of engagement by the Boston Police with various communities.  It is work that takes time, leads to little immediate results, but is vitally important in the long run for situations such as this.  A video of a portion of this press conference:


You can watch more of Boston Police Commissioner William Evans in the following talk on “Latest Trends in Big City Policing,” recently given at a conference hosted by Rave Mobile Safety. While I should warn you it is not the most succinct presentation, it manages to be both informative and funny.  Commissioner Evans talks a lot about community policing, sharing stories about Occupy Boston, the Marathon Bombings, and sharing his opinion on issues such as the use of body cameras.  He also might mention casing Patriot owner Robert Kraft’s house with the current Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh…


Erroll Southers reminds us that not all terrorism is related to Islam

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on June 3, 2015

Recent and not so recent events in Boston notwithstanding, I think it is important to be reminded that the definition of terrorism does not include “Islam,” “Islamic,” “radical Islam,” etc.  That is obviously not to say that there is no such things as Islamic terrorists, but it also means that you can have a wide range of actors such as Christian terrorists, racist terrorists, anti-government terrorists, environmental terrorists…well, you get the point.

However, I often worry that many in the media and even homeland security professionals have missed or forgotten this concept.  Earlier today the folks at Security Debrief pointed out a recent TED talk by homeland security expert Erroll Southers where he deftly makes the case for recognizing the wider nature, and danger, from homegrown violent extremism.  You can catch the highlights at Security Debrief or watch his entire talk below.

Just my opinion, but I would recommend sharing this with any colleagues, friends, and/or family that might think that if it ain’t related to Islam it’s not terrorism.


June 1, 2015

Rafe Sagarin: 1972-2015

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 1, 2015

In 2002, Rafe Sagarin worked in Washington, D.C. as a science advisor to a California Congresswoman.

Sagarin was a marine ecologist. He looked at the barricades, armed guards, and other security features of post 9/11 Washington through an ecological frame.  He described what he saw as an ecology of fear.

That observation led to one of the few fundamentally creative insights in homeland security thinking. Sagarin asked what biology had to contribute to homeland security. His answer: “plenty.”

Sagarin argued biology offers 3.5 billion years of experience and more than 20 million answers to the question of how one survives and thrives in a hostile and unpredictable world.

He wrote several books and numerous articles amplifying that theme. See, for example, “Learning From the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease,”  and an article in Foreign Policy called “Adapt or Die.”

Here’s an excerpt from an article he wrote for Homeland Security Affairs:

The most famous line of the 9/11 Commission report was that 9/11 represented a “failure of imagination” and this was certainly an apt description of the security situation up until 9/11. However, now that we imagine almost anything to be a threat to our security, a more pernicious problem faces all of our security systems: a failure of adaptation.

Adaptation is the process of changing structures, behaviors, and interactions in response to changing conditions in the environment. Adaptability is the capacity to adapt to these changes—something that despite an unprecedented amount of attention, financial resources and human lives sacrificed in the name of security since 9/11, has still largely eluded us.

Fortunately, we have at our disposal a vast storehouse of largely untapped knowledge that could guide us in developing adaptable security systems. It is a massive set of proven solutions, and teachable failures, to the very same problem that unites all of the threats we face—that is, how to survive and thrive in a risky, variable and uncertain world. Remarkably, this database is completely unclassified and free to use by anyone.

The solutions I’m referring to are all contained in the staggering diversity of life on Earth—millions of individual living and extinct species, and countless individuals within those species—which have been developing, testing, rejecting, and replicating methods to overcome the challenges of living on a continually changing planet. These organisms have been experiencing security challenges and developing solutions since long before the latest Presidential administration or Congress has been working on their security agenda, since long before 9/11 finally woke most of us to the new post-cold war reality, since long before industrialization pushed our biogeochemical cycles into chaos, and since long before humans ever walked the Earth.

Indeed, the 3.5 billion year history of life imbues biological systems with more experience dealing with security problems than any other body of knowledge we possess. And because we ourselves are biological creatures, our own species’ evolution and the modern manifestations of that evolutionary process, is not only an integral part of this natural database, but perhaps the most important set of data to consider.

This means that in addition to the ecologists, paleontologists, virologists and evolutionary biologists that have something novel to contribute to our security debate, so too do anthropologists, psychologists, soldiers and first responders who have extensive behavioral observations of people and societies under the stress of insecurity in an uncertain environment.

Last Thursday, Sagarin was riding his bicycle after work. He was hit by a truck and died.  He was 43 years old.

rafe sagarin

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