Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 8, 2015

Yale University active shooter preparedness video

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on December 8, 2015

From the Yale University emergency management website:

This is an emergency preparedness video. This video guides people through the actions they would need to take if confronted by an active shooter. This video depicts fictional events on the Yale campus. Some content may be disturbing. It is intended as a learning tool.

You can watch the 8+ minute video at this link: http://emergency.yale.edu/be-prepared/active-shooterweapon  (not yet available on youtube).

Other examples of the expanding run-fight-hide video literature can be found at these links:

December 7, 2015

December 7, 1941

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 7, 2015

A President — and Paine — challenges the People

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 7, 2015

Sunday night the President outlined his approach to defeating ISIL.  There was nothing new, he did not attempt to make it sound new.  Mr. Obama summarized, “The strategy that we are using now—airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country—that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.”

The President called for narrow reforms related to visa screening and purchase of high-powered assault weapons.  He can implement most of the visa reforms on his executive authority.  Disallowing those on terrorist watch lists from purchasing weapons would require Congressional action.  As the President has argued previously, he called again for Congressional action to update and re-authorize use of military force against a terrorist threat that has morphed. The absence of a new AUMF has important constitutional implications, but probably no near-term practical effect.

As the President challenged Congress to act in ways he cannot, Mr. Obama also challenged the American people. He said:

We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world?—?including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans—of every faith—to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.

My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity—that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional.

There are some — perhaps one-quarter of our nation — who are predisposed to be against anything President Obama supports.  They are so personally offended by this President that they tend to embrace everything that is his opposite.  I hope the President’s embrace of religious pluralism, human decency, and fundamental equality does not increase suspicion of these propositions.

I anticipate there will be more attacks — both self-generated and coordinated.  I have long been surprised there have not been more.  As previously outlined, I understand the threat to go well beyond ISIS.  Given the fundamental nature of the threat any seemingly expedient solution is unlikely to work and may make things worse.

We have seen worse, but this will be plenty bad, day after infamous day. As Thomas Paine wrote so long ago, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”  A few lines later in The Crisis, Paine writes:

Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.

May our recent panic end. May our minds grow. May we assume a firmer habit than before.

December 5, 2015

San Bernardino

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2015

A still emerging major news story such as the bloodbath in San Bernardino is not well-suited for detailed attention by this blog, in my judgment.  But clearly the event and our eventual judgments regarding it are likely to  have important homeland security implications.

According to the Associated Press, “The Islamic State group’s official radio station has aired a statement saying the mass shooting in California was carried out by two “supporters” of the extremist group. While praising the attack, the group stopped short of claiming responsibility for it. The Al-Bayan report Saturday echoed a claim carried Friday by the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency.”

The Los Angeles Times is giving significant and sustained attention to the continuing investigation.  The reports are aggregated by The Times here.


The single best commentary I have so-far read on the implications of San Bernardino is by Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God and ISIS: The State of Terror.  In the Sunday New York Times she offers an empirically informed and thoughtfully framed analysis.

Germany in the mix

Filed under: Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2015

According to Deutsche Welle:

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency BND has released a disparaging report on Saudi Arabia. Their assessment says the country is destabilizing the Middle East with proxy wars in Yemen and elsewhere in the region.

The BND document entitled “Saudi Arabia – Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation” singled out Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as trying to strengthen his place in the royal succession while putting Saudi Arabia’s relationship with erstwhile regional allies in jeopardy.

“The careful diplomatic stance of older members of the Saudi royal family has been replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention,” the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) said.

The spy agency accused bin Salman, second in line to the throne, and his father, King Salman, as trying to create an image of Saudi Arabia being the leader of the Arab world. The BND added that bin Salman’s quest to cement his place in the nation’s leadership could also irritate other members of the royal family.

As another reason for the shift in policy, the BND also cited a perceived change in the role of the United States as the guarantor of stability in the face of growing influence exerted by Iran.

Since King Salman’s succession to power in January 2015, there’s been a more forceful response to the regional standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia largely set in motion by Prince Mohammed. The BND said that this could mainly be observed in Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen as well as its increased support for Syrian rebels in a bid to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since the limited release of the report on Wednesday (I have not yet found an original), the German Foreign Ministry has repudiated the BND findings.

According to a separate DW story:

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday it was crucial that Berlin has a “coherent position” on the role of Saudi Arabia in the region.

The assessments by the BND that were published do not reflect this coherent position,” Seibert said. “Those who want progress on the pressing issues in the region, and there are many, need constructive relations with Saudi Arabia.”

Friday the German parliament approved the deployment of up to 1,200 soldiers against the Islamic State. The government mandate was endorsed by 445 parliamentarians, with 146 others voting against and seven abstaining.  This week the British House of Commons also endorsed military action against the Islamic State in Syria, the RAF launched its first attack hours later.

December 4, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 4, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

December 3, 2015

Learning from Trump

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 3, 2015

Today three things converged in a way that is pushing a new — for me — perspective.  This is mostly a personal post, so you are warned and welcomed to click away.  It is also a new perspective that will, I expect, have an influence on how I contribute to Homeland Security Watch.  I am wanting to be transparent.

I expect today’s “injects” had amplified influence given the context of the San Bernardino bloodbath. Then in recent weeks I have also been considerably involved in both Central American and Syrian refugee issues.  The ongoing engagement with such extreme violence and its consequences has, undoubtedly, caused me to listen — to hear and to feel — differently than before.


Until this morning I had not heard what Donald Trump said yesterday, speaking to Fox and Friends.  This is the video at the top.  It is both what he said and how he said it that literally sickened me. It has long been clear that Mr. Trump is vulgar.  Prior comments have confirmed his ignorance, bigotry, and predisposition to violence.  In this Fox telephone interview he announces, “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” (The entire interview is disturbing, but it was about the 4:45 mark when I was physically repulsed.)


While on the train to Philadelphia I started getting emails from friends about Senator Lindsey Graham’s Thursday morning remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition.  The South Carolina Presidential candidate immediately followed Ted Cruz and had heard some of Donald Trump’s earlier remarks to the RJC.  Mr. Graham was apparently inspired to depart from his planned text.  Following is what my friends quoted to me (I have not fact-checked).

“ISIL loves Donald Trump” (responding to yesterday’s kill their families tactic). “He (Trump) knows how to empower their base.”

“Why we lose has nothing to do with not being hard ass enough on immigration.”

“Winning this election is about repairing the damage done by incredibly hateful rhetoric driving a wall between us and the fastest growing demographic in America,”

“I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party’s chance at winning an election we cannot afford to lose.”

Apparently Cruz was also hit hard on other issues.  One of my friends commented, “Finally authenticity attached to a functioning brain.”  What I took away from multiple reports is that Mr. Graham was arguing that fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are traps used by tyrants and those who want to be tyrants.  I still haven’t found a full version of the speech.  But this seems to coincide with news coverage.


I was still considering the contrast between the murderous vulgarity of Mr. Trump and Senator Graham’s experiment in spontaneity as I walked to my hotel.  That’s when the most important realization of the day hit me.

This morning, before catching the train, I was a panelist at a Washington DC policy discussion.  A woman for whom I have enormous respect was one of the principal organizers.  The speakers and other panelists were, like me, mostly the usual suspects: White House, DHS, FEMA, National Labs, academics, retired military, a few active, private sector.  A very large room was crowded.

The panelist who was at the other end of the table from me spoke second. I was fourth. His rhetoric and content was clearly not typical of Massachusetts Avenue panelists.  But I try to be atypical too.  It soon became clear that he perceives a catastrophic event is an issue of when not if.  He self-defined himself as a “prepper.”  Especially because all of this is not-typical (for DC), I was rather pleased he had been given a seat at the table.

But then he shared having had prior experience with a leading US bank where “at least a third of the executives were of Middle Eastern descent.” This was in the context of preconditions that he was setting out for catastrophic risk.  It quickly became clear that this is a man consumed by fear.

I was mostly embarrassed for my friend.  I wondered who had recommended this guy.

But no one challenged him. In particular, I failed to challenge him. Just as no one on Fox and Friends challenged Donald Trump on his readiness to purposefully kill women and children and others not known to be specific risks.

Where and when I was raised there was a well-known cohort of those in some way crazy.  Given that it was a very small town, in most cases the rest of us had an idea of what had driven them crazy. At some level — depending on the situation, more or less — we empathized.  In this context I was taught (perhaps learned too-well) to not respond directly to crazy talk.

In the case of this morning’s racist accusation I did not explicitly consider the option of challenging the comment until nearly three hours later, probably thanks to the bad example of Donald Trump and the good example of Lindsey Graham.  To notice the outrageous comment and not even consider responding is a complete ethical failure.

When and where I grew up public silence was combined with private engagement. This was a matter of dignity and diagnosis and social control. I’m sure it was sometimes abused.  But in my experience it mostly worked back then, back there.

Washington DC in 2015 is a very different place.

This is a time and place when fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are being very widely deployed.  There is a need for courage and inclusion, without self-righteousness.  I’m guessing the third characteristic could actually be the most challenging.

So here’s the deal: for at least five months I have been on the edge of walking away from Homeland Security Watch.  I don’t really have the time.  It is good discipline.  But it’s been a very long time since I enjoyed it.

Maybe today’s epiphany gives me good cause to continue.

I have always thought the blog should be mostly about amplification, aggregation and a bit of analysis.  I have mostly wanted to avoid specific advocacy.  I am still not interested in partisan advocacy.  But it seems as if courage and inclusion need more advocates, especially in the context of homeland security.


Je suis qui?

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 3, 2015

The deadly attack on the Colorado Springs clinic has prompted a wide-range of analysis.  Will the same range of opinion emerge from the San Bernardino bloodbath?

Writing in Slate, William Saletan notes, that Robert Lewis Dear is only the most recent of several male, white, Christian terrorists from North Carolina.  His argument is often ironic, but earnestly concludes:

This week’s carnage in Colorado brings the death toll from North Carolinian terrorists, including Eric Rudolph, to eight. That’s just one shy of the nine people murdered in Charleston. Throw in the work of a few lesser miscreants, and you’re looking at roughly 20 casualties inflicted by Carolina extremists. That doesn’t make the Christian states of North and South Carolina anywhere near as dangerous as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But it does make you wonder why, as we close our doors to refugees who have done us no harm, we pay so little attention to our enemies within.

David French writing in The National Review dismisses such comparisons, claiming it merely.

… tempt[s] Americans to take their eyes off the real threat to our security — a rapidly growing mass movement that is wholly and completely dedicated to violence. Our real worry shouldn’t be an alienated teenager with a Confederate flag or an angry hermit who hates the government. It should be the fully mobilized jihadist armies controlling nation-sized chunks of territory, the entire governments dedicated to the spread of jihad and seeking nuclear weapons, and their tens of millions of supporters and sympathizers.

Wednesday’s Washington Post featured an apparently uncoordinated presentation of alternative views by columnists Ruth Marcus and Kathleen Parker.

Marcus wrote, “…if initial reports of alleged gunman Robert Lewis Dear Jr.’s comments about “no more baby parts” prove true — and logic suggests that it was no mere coincidence the attack was at a Planned Parenthood clinic — Republican politicians who fueled the overwrought and unsupported controversy over selling baby parts bear some measure of responsibility.”

Parker, seemed to respond, but I perceive each were writing independently, ”

… as abhorrent as we find the shooter’s actions, we should tread carefully in assigning broader blame. One man may have heard fiery rhetoric and decided to kill people, but 320 million other Americans went about their day as usual. The rationale we seek for mass killings may ultimately be elusive because a variety of variables are usually in play. In time, perhaps the suspect will provide answers, which we can parse in search of helpful insights. So far, he’s been unhelpful. Saying “no more baby parts” may suggest a motive, but it is also nonsensical. There will be more baby parts as long as there are abortions. By his comment alone, one suspects that Dear is mentally incompetent, drunk, on drugs, off his meds or all of the above.

A provisional observation — perhaps a mere impression — entirely susceptible to empirical refutation: But in recently reading a bunch of analyses regarding Mr. Dear’s background, Dylan Roof (Charleston church shooter), Timothy McVeigh (Murrah Federal Building), James Holmes (Aurora movie theater), the Charlie Hebdo assailants and the perpetrators of the most recent Paris attacks… I seem to notice that whatever else the writer does, s/he makes a strong argument that the murderer/terrorist/some-other-designation is entirely unlike him or her.

I see the same pattern in the early profiles already emerging on Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik after the San Bernardino massacre.

It causes me to consider how our problem-diagnosis might be more productive if, instead, we started by asking, “How does this person remind me of myself?”

Je suis qui? Who am I?

December 1, 2015

Urgent versus Important

Filed under: Climate Change — by Philip J. Palin on December 1, 2015

We focus again on Paris to better understand the nature of contemporary risks. In his Monday opening of the long-planned United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the President of France said:

Today is a historic day. Never has a conference received so many officials from so many countries. Never, I say never, have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, for this is about the future of the planet and the future of life… I am not choosing between the fight against terrorism and the fight against global warming. We must leave our children more than a world free of terror, we owe them a planet protected from disasters, a viable, livable planet.

Another opening speaker said, the people of the planet have become “the architects of our own destruction” and warned of “impending catastrophe”. It could be asked, which threat — extreme violence or extreme weather — was he addressing?  Many of the speakers pivoted from terrorism to climate, with some pointing to potential intersections.

As dense smog, measuring twenty times worse than the safety threshold, enveloped Beijing, Shanghai and much of northern China, President Xi Jinping told delegates gathered at Le Bourget that addressing the risk of climate change ought not be allowed to dilute “the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve their people’s living standards.”

Indian Prime Minister Modi echoed Xi’s argument on behalf of economies still seeking to catch-up with the original industrial revolutionaries. He also said, “Over the next few days we will decide the fate of this planet.”

Three decades ago at a dinner in Paris a distinguished Swede asked me, “If you are presented two problems — one important, the other urgent — to which do you attend?”  My hesitation was a sufficient answer for him.  “The urgent emerged from prior neglect of something important.  Do not repeat the same mistake.”

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