Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 26, 2016

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 26, 2016

William R. Cumming Forum

February 22, 2016

Why people care more about preventing 1 death every 100 days than 105 deaths every day.

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on February 22, 2016

The short answer is emotion trumps probability.

There is a longer answer.

According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START),

80 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks from 2004 to 2013, including perpetrators and excluding deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, the majority of which are combat related. Of those 80 Americans killed, 36 were killed in attacks that occurred in the United States. [emphasis added]

That’s about 1 death in the United States every 100 days for the past 10 years.

Reporting on a study published in the journal Psychological Science, Julie Sedivy writes:

From 2002 to 2015, the proportion of Americans worried that they or someone in their family would become a victim of terrorism increased from 35 to 49 percent—despite the fact that since 9/11, Americans were less likely to have been killed by a terrorist than by furniture falling on them.

Compare terrorism with traffic deaths.

The  National Safety Council estimates that in 2015, “38,300 people were killed on U.S. roads, and 4.4 million were seriously injured, meaning 2015 likely was the deadliest driving year since 2008.”

That’s about 105 deaths and 12,000 injuries each day.

Imagine what life in the United States would be like if the deaths and injuries were the result of terrorism.

But as a nation we are resilient to vehicle carnage – “resilient” as defined by Presidential Policy Directive 21:

[The] ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions. Resilience includes the ability to withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.

Our national resilience allows us to absorb 105 vehicle deaths every day. Those deaths may be devastating for the families and friends involved.  But the nation carries on. (One could make a similar national resilience argument for the 36 gun deaths every day, but that’s for another time.)

Mueller and Stewart, in Chasing Ghosts – their latest effort to bring economic rationality to the domestic terrorism wars – estimated “the yearly chance an American will be killed by a terrorist within the country is about one in 4 million….”

The yearly chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident are about 1 in 9,000.

What might explain why the odds of being killed by a terrorist (1 in 4 million) creates more fear than dying in a vehicle accident (1 in 9,000)?

Cass Sunstein, in an essays titled “Why People Stay Scared After Tragedies Like Boston Attack,” relies on behavioral economics ideas for a plausible explanation.

Often [the] feeling of fear is far greater than reality warrants. This is so because of two facts about how human beings respond to risk. The first is that we often assess probabilities not by looking at statistics, but by asking what events come readily to mind…. [P]eople use the “availability heuristic,” which means that we assess risks by asking whether a bad (or good) event is cognitively “available.” It is hardly unreasonable to use the availability heuristic, yet we can be misled by it, and far more frightened than we need to be….

The second problem is that for some risks, we tend to focus mostly on the possible outcome, and not so much on the likelihood that it will actually come to fruition.  Much of the time … we really care about probability….  But when people’s emotions are running especially high, the outcome is the dominant consideration, and it can crowd out consideration of probability….

The lesson is straightforward. In situations that trigger strong negative emotions, people tend to focus on the very worst that might happen, and the question of probability turns out to be secondary….  When terrorists succeed in generating widespread fear, it is also because they get people to focus on terrible outcomes, and not on the likelihood that they will come about.  Because strong emotions are produced by the prospect of a terrorist attack, people might well become more frightened than reality warrants.




February 19, 2016

DHS Announces Funding Opportunity for Fiscal Year 2016 Preparedness Grants

Filed under: DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on February 19, 2016

On February 16th, DHS  announced the release of FY 2016 Notices of Funding Opportunity for ten DHS preparedness grant programs totaling more than $1.6 billion.

From the announcement:

  • Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG)—provides more than $350 million to assist state, local, tribal, territorial governments in enhancing and sustaining all-hazards emergency management capabilities.
  • Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP)—provides more than $1 billion for states and urban areas to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism and other threats.
    • State Homeland Security Program (SHSP)—provides $402 million to support the implementation of risk-driven, capabilities-based State Homeland Security Strategies to address capability targets. States are required to dedicate 25 percent of SHSP funds to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.
    • Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI)—provides $580 million to enhance regional preparedness and capabilities in 29 high-threat, high-density areas. States and Urban Areas are required to dedicate 25 percent of UASI funds to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.
    • Operation Stonegarden (OPSG)—provides $55 million to enhance cooperation and coordination among local, tribal, territorial, state and federal law enforcement agencies to jointly enhance security along the United States land and water borders.
  • Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program (THSGP)—provides $10 million to eligible tribal nations to implement preparedness initiatives to help strengthen the nation against risk associated with potential terrorist attacks and other hazards.
  • Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP)—provides $20 million to support target hardening and other physical security enhancements for nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack and located within one of the FY 2016 UASI-eligible urban areas.
  • Intercity Passenger Rail – Amtrak Program (IPR)—provides $10 million to protect critical surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and increase the resilience of the Amtrak rail system.
  • Port Security Grant Program (PSGP)—provides $100 million to help protect critical port infrastructure from terrorism, enhance maritime domain awareness, improve port-wide maritime security risk management, and maintain or reestablish maritime security mitigation protocols that support port recovery and resiliency capabilities.
  • Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP)—provides $87 million to owners and operators of public transit systems to protect critical surface transportation and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of public transit infrastructure.
  • Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGP)—provides $3 million to owners and operators of intercity bus systems to protect critical bus surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of bus transit infrastructure.

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 19, 2016

William R. Cumming Forum

February 17, 2016

Exploring the Dark: “Use an electron microscope to read the encryption key”

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Legal Issues,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on February 17, 2016

On February 16th, the United States District Court for the Central District of California issued an order compelling Apple to assist federal agents search an iPhone that belonged to one of the attackers in the San Bernardino shooting.  You can read the court’s three page order here:  https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2714005/SB-Shooter-Order-Compelling-Apple-Asst-iPhone.pdf.

Lawfare’s Robert Chesney describes the legal dynamics surrounding the order here:  https://www.lawfareblog.com/apple-vs-fbi-going-dark-dispute-moves-congress-courtroom.

On February 17th, Apple issued a public letter explaining why they will contest the court’s order.  That letter is here:  http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/

Trevor Pott, writing in The Register, explains why Apple’s argument is wrong.  That explanation is here:  http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/02/17/why_tim_cook_is_wrong_a_privacy_advocates_view/

A comment on Slashdot by someone named adamstew describes some of the technical details involved in doing what the court has ordered:  http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=8756397&cid=51524693

The subsequent comments bring the reader further down into a technology hole. The trip illustrates knowledge required to navigate this rapidly growing branch of homeland security.

For a conceptual end run around the usual cyber “going dark” arguments, see the Berkman Center for Internet and Society’s February 2016 report, “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate,” available here: https://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2016/Cybersecurity/Dont_Panic.

From the report:

In this report, we question whether the “going dark” metaphor accurately describes the state of affairs. Are we really headed to a future in which our ability to effectively surveil criminals and bad actors is impossible? We think not. The question we explore is the significance of this lack of access to communications for legitimate government interests. We argue that communications in the future will neither be eclipsed into darkness nor illuminated without shadow…. The report outlines how market forces and commercial interest … point to a future with more opportunities for surveillance, not less.

February 15, 2016

How to Save a Life – Bystander CPR

Filed under: Education,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Christopher Bellavita on February 15, 2016

[This post was written by Frank Leeb]

Earlier this morning, I was on the elliptical at the gym in my home town where I proudly serve as a volunteer firefighter. Like every call for help in my community, I received a text notification on my cell phone. This is the method used to notify volunteer firefighters to respond to calls for help. This particular text notification was for a reported person in cardiac arrest. I recognized the street address to be fairly close to the gym. I jumped off the elliptical, grabbed my belongings and hurried from the gym to the home address of the cardiac arrest. I arrive quickly; the home is less than one mile from the gym.

The paid district paramedic who is hired to quickly respond in a first responder vehicle was already on scene, along with one of the local police officers. They had assessed the scene and begun working on the patient – a young man – who was in arrest.  Work continued feverishly on the patient and the ambulance with additional help soon arrived. The patient was packaged and transported to the hospital where he is expected to survive.

Due to the heroic actions already in progress upon my arrival, I did not contribute much to the life saving efforts that occurred, however the fact that I was nearby and notified as a volunteer firefighter underscores the value that notification systems can have. I was notified because I was in the town where I am a firefighter. However, what if I were in a neighboring town? I would not have been notified that help was needed and therefore would have been unable to respond and possibly make a life saving difference.

This cardiac arrest call occurred less than 12 hours after I received my initial approval on my [Naval Postgraduate School] master’s thesis. Coincidentally, my thesis is about saving victims from cardiac arrest. The best way to save victims of cardiac arrest is to provide the victim with quick CPR. When a patient receives CPR in less than four minutes, the odds of survival are great; after four minutes the odds of survival quickly diminish. However, it is difficult for any response agency to arrive and begin CPR in under four minutes from the time a person stops breathing.

This is why the premise of my thesis research was on promoting and increasing bystander CPR. Bystanders as the “first” first responders have the greatest opportunity to perform CPR within the short four minute window of opportunity. There are many people trained in CPR throughout our communities. Many of them are members of the fire department. When these members are out of their town, they are out also out of their response areas, and therefore would not be notified if someone needed CPR.  Through mutual aid agreements and integrating existing technology, these barriers can be easily overcome and lives can be saved.

Additionally, the public can make a enormous difference. Today, bystander CPR consists of compression only. There is no longer the mouth to mouth component that prevented many bystanders from performing CPR in the past. Studies have shown that when a bystander performs CPR prior to the arrival of first responders, survival dramatically increases.

It is critical to spread the word:

  • Bystander CPR saves lives
  • 15 percent of all deaths in the U.S. occur from sudden cardiac arrest
  • Hands only CPR can be learned in minutes
  • More than half of all cardiac arrests occur at home, the life you save is likely to be a family member or other loved one.
  • Send someone to find the closest automated external defibrillator (AED)
  • Take 1 minute and 32 seconds to learn CPR – watch this video:

February 12, 2016

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2016

William R. Cumming Forum

February 11, 2016


Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 11, 2016

This post is to announce my departure.

For over seven years I have shared these screens with a wide range of people posting and commenting.  I have certainly benefited and hope to have returned the favor.

Three issues have converged to move me along.

First, Homeland Security has continued to so persistently fracture that I find it more difficult than ever to discuss it as anything but a rather arbitrary collection of functions.  It is a Rube Goldberg construction incorporating several individual bits performing practical services.  But as a whole, it seems to me less and less strategically — or conceptually — coherent.  This is frustrating to me and I don’t perceive my contribution at HLSWatch is helping close the gaps.  Perhaps the opposite.

Second, the coarsening of public discourse, our readiness to denigrate one another, and the emergence of anger as a recurring default is deeply distressing.  Various Vulgarian tribes are fighting over the remnants of the Republic.  A predilection for attack, rather than any serious attempt to understand, is epidemic. At HLSWatch I have failed to craft effective alternatives or even a meaningful defense. Both on the blog and in bilateral communications about terrorism, immigration, refugees, fear, and if or how to fight there is an explosion of stubborn factionalism that I find inherently self-destructive, probably for our polity… certainly for me.

Third — and thankfully — other aspects of my life are going rather well. I find that in other venues it is still possible to speak softly, listen carefully, work together to apprehend problems and opportunities, experiment with creative interventions, be kind to one another, and at the end of the day see that progress is often being made, even if many of us remain uncertain or disagree.  I want to focus more on where my investments generate positive returns, rather than digging a deeper deficit.


But you will not be surprised that as a parting “gift”, I  leave you with one more  potentially specious classical analogy.  Below is a passage from the Third Book of Thucydides “Peloponnesian War“.  Many traditional translations take the classical Greek word stasis and give us “revolution” or “civil strife” or something similar.  But I perceive Thucydides was quite intentional to signal “standing still” or even “locked in place”.  He describes a mutually reinforcing face-off between two roughly equal sides within several city-states, neither side typically willing to grant the other moral equivalence, each insistent on its moral superiority.

The sufferings which stasis entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases. In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants, and so proves a rough master, that brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes.

Stasis thus emerged in city to city, and the places where it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before carried to still greater excess the refining of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their conspiracies and the atrocity of their reprisals.

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence, became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense.

The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. To forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended, until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations… were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any ethical (or religious) sanction than upon complicity in crime.

The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first.

This ancient description of a society ripped-asunder seems entirely too familiar for my comfort.  The challenge — at least for me — presented by such extremes (and extremists) is to find where it is possible to productively focus any remaining constructive resources.  There are now, I perceive, other more fertile places.

February 5, 2016

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 5, 2016

William R. Cumming Forum