Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 25, 2011

Ten years’ worth of state of the union words about homeland security

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on January 25, 2011

I wonder what the president will say about homeland security-related issues in his state of the union address tonight.

For context — and a  trip through history — here are  excerpts about homeland security from the past nine state of the union addresses.  (You can read the full speeches at this link.)  Number 10 starts tonight at 6PM, Pacific time.

January 29, 2002

As we gather tonight, our Nation is at war; our economy is in recession; and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet, the state of our Union has never been stronger….

We last met in an hour of shock and suffering. In 4 short months, our Nation has comforted the victims, begun to rebuild New York and the Pentagon, rallied a great coalition, captured, arrested, and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps, saved a people from starvation, and freed a country from brutal oppression…. Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay. And terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own…. Our cause is just, and it continues. …

We have seen the depth of our enemies’ hatred in videos where they laugh about the loss of innocent life. And the depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the destruction they design. We have found diagrams of American nuclear powerplants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world….Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on September the 11th were trained in Afghanistan’s camps, and so were tens of thousands of others. Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking timebombs, set to go off without warning. Thanks to the work of our law enforcement officials and coalition partners, hundreds of terrorists have been arrested. Yet, tens of thousands of trained terrorists are still at large. These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield, and we must pursue them wherever they are….

Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun. This campaign may not be finished on our watch; yet, it must be and it will be waged on our watch…. Homeland security will make America not only stronger but, in many ways, better…. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life. Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom’s price. We have shown freedom’s power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom’s victory.

January 28, 2003

There are days when our fellow citizens do not hear news about the war on terror. There’s never a day when I do not learn of another threat or receive reports of operations in progress or give an order in this global war against a scattered network of killers. The war goes on, and we are winning…. All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States … and  our allies…. We have the terrorists on the run. We’re keeping them on the run. One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice…. This Government is taking unprecedented measures to protect our people and defend our homeland. We’ve intensified security at the borders and ports of entry, posted more than 50,000 newly trained Federal screeners in airports, begun inoculating troops and first-responders against smallpox, and are deploying the Nation’s first early warning network of sensors to detect biological attack. And this year, for the first time, we are beginning to field a defense to protect this Nation against ballistic missiles…. Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power…. Since September the 11th, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have worked more closely than ever to track and disrupt the terrorists. The FBI is improving its ability to analyze intelligence and is transforming itself to meet new threats. Tonight I am instructing the leaders of the FBI, the CIA, the Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center, to merge and analyze all threat information in a single location. Our Government must have the very best information possible, and we will use it to make sure the right people are in the right places to protect all our citizens….

Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power…. The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal–Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups…. We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.

January 20, 2004

As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American service men and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror. By bringing hope to the oppressed and delivering justice to the violent, they are making America more secure….. Each day, law enforcement personnel and intelligence officers are tracking terrorist threats; analysts are examining airline passenger lists; the men and women of our new Homeland Security Department are patrolling our coasts and borders. And their vigilance is protecting America…. Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people. Twenty-eight months have passed since September the 11th, 2001– over 2 years without an attack on American soil. And it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting–and false. The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombasa, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Baghdad. The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated…. Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give our homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the PATRIOT Act, which allows Federal law enforcement to better share information to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists….  America is on the offensive against the terrorists who started this war. Last March, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a mastermind of September the 11th, awoke to find himself in the custody of U.S. and Pakistani authorities….  We’re tracking Al Qaida around the world, and nearly two-thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or killed. Thousands of very skilled and determined military personnel are on the manhunt, going after the remaining killers who hide in cities and caves, and one by one, we will bring these terrorists to justice….

Tonight I also ask you to reform our immigration laws so they reflect our values and benefit our economy. I propose a new temporary-worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing employers when no Americans can be found to fill the job. This reform will be good for our economy because employers will find needed workers in an honest and orderly system. A temporary-worker program will help protect our homeland, allowing Border Patrol and law enforcement to focus on true threats to our national security.

February 2, 2005

In the 3\1/2\ years since September the 11th, 2001, we have taken unprecedented actions to protect Americans. We’ve created a new Department of Government to defend our homeland, focused the FBI on preventing terrorism, begun to reform our intelligence agencies, broken up terror cells across the country, expanded research on defenses against biological and chemical attack, improved border security, and trained more than a half million first-responders. Police and firefighters, air marshals, researchers, and so many others are working every day to make our homeland safer, and we thank them all….

Our Nation, working with allies and friends, has also confronted the enemy abroad with measures that are determined, successful, and continuing. The Al Qaida terror network that attacked our country still has leaders, but many of its top commanders have been removed. There are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists, but their number has declined. There are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction but no longer without attention and without consequence. Our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many and intimidate us all, and we will stay on the offensive against them until the fight is won….

In these 4 years, Americans have seen the unfolding of large events. We have known times of sorrow and hours of uncertainty and days of victory. In all this history, even when we have disagreed, we have seen threads of purpose that unite us. The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom’s power to change the world. We are all part of a great venture: To extend the promise of freedom in our country, to renew the values that sustain our liberty, and to spread the peace that freedom brings.

January 31, 2006

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us. Fortunately, this Nation has superb professionals in law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and homeland security. These men and women are dedicating their lives, protecting us all, and they deserve our support and our thanks. They also deserve the same tools they already use to fight drug trafficking and organized crime, so I ask you to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act….

It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our Government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to Al Qaida operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack–based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute–I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected Al Qaida operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and Federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate Members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaida, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again….

Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our Nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border….

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency, and stays at it until they’re back on their feet. So far the Federal Government has committed $85 billion to the people of the gulf coast and New Orleans. We’re removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We’re providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived.

January 23, 2007

Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America, with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we are doubling the size of the Border Patrol, and funding new infrastructure and technology. Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border, and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won’t have to try to sneak in, and that will leave border agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists. We will enforce our immigration laws at the work site, and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers, so there is no excuse left for violating the law. We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. We need to resolve the status of illegal immigrants who are already in our country, without animosity and without amnesty….

For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We have had time to take stock of our situation. We have added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us, unless we stop them. With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled, that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free-flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same. Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevents, but here is some of what we do know: we stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the west coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terrorist cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them.

Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that is the case, America is still a Nation at war. In the minds of the terrorists, this war began well before September 11 and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past 5 years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy.… Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi:  “We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse.” And Osama bin Laden declared: “Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us.” These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement….

In the sixth year since our Nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers had ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people…. This war is more than a clash of arms. It is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our Nation is in the balance. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred, and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come and kill us. What every terrorist fears most is human freedom, societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments.

January 28, 2008

Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined…. And on a clear September day, we saw thousands of our fellow citizens taken from us in an instant. These horrific images serve as a grim reminder: The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists, evil men who despise freedom, despise America, and aim to subject millions to their violent rule…. Since September 11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists. We will stay on the offense, we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to our enemies…. We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear. Yet in this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. That is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to the people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories. And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom….

America needs to secure our borders, and with your help, my administration is taking steps to do so. We are increasing worksite enforcement, we are deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings, we have effectively ended the policy of  “catch and release” at the border, and by the end of this year, we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents. Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy. This will take pressure off the border and allow law enforcement to concentrate on those who mean us harm. We must also find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally. Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals….

By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden extremists, strengthen Iran, and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies, and our homeland. The enemy has made its intentions clear….

On the homefront, we will continue to take every lawful and effective measure to protect our country. This is our most solemn duty. We are grateful that there has not been another attack on our soil since 9/11. This is not for a lack of desire or effort on the part of the enemy. In the past 6 years, we have stopped numerous attacks, including a plot to fly a plane into the tallest building in Los Angeles, and another to blow up passenger jets bound for America over the Atlantic. Dedicated men and women in our government toil day and night to stop the terrorists from carrying out their plans. These good citizens are saving American lives, and everyone in this Chamber owes them our thanks. And we owe them something more: We owe them the tools they need to keep our people safe.

One of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning. Last year, the Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, the Congress set the legislation to expire on February 1. This means that if you don’t act by Friday, our ability to track terrorists’ threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. The Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We have had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.

February 24, 2009

For 7 years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price. We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibility [sic] ends this war. And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away….

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned….

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend–because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists–because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

January 27, 2010

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who is to blame for this, but I’m not interested in relitigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our Nation and forge a more hopeful future–for America and for the world….

That’s the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our Nation. We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed–far more than in 2008…. And in Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghanistan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans–men and women alike….

There will be difficult days ahead. But I am absolutely confident we will succeed. As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi Government as they hold elections, and we will continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home….

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade….But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment–to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

January 25, 2011

To be determined.

June 16, 2010

Let Me Be Clear, Make No Mistake

Filed under: Events,Humor — by Mark Chubb on June 16, 2010

As I listened to President Obama’s Oval Office address last evening, I was struck by his recurrent use of a familiar idiomatic expression. He often prefaces important points with the statement, “make no mistake.” His speeches have become so peppered with this interjection that it has almost acquired, at least for me, the air of a phonic tic.

Why does this bother me? For starters, as someone who admires and supports the President, it draws attention to the tendency of other people who neither trust the government nor support the President’s policies to question his confidence and competence to handle their problems. “Make no mistake,” is another way of saying “trust me, I know what I am talking about.” But too many people don’t trust him, and need a better reason to do so than his assurances and repeated statements that he is in control of the situation.

The President rarely has difficulty convincing people that he understands the situation. They often concede he has a clear vision of the future. But they often express profound reservations about his plan for getting from where we are to where he wants to take us. And too many people are not yet prepared to go along for the ride.

President Obama is not the first president to exhibit vague vocal stylings. When he was president, Bill Clinton was prone to saying, “Let me be clear,” when he wanted to make an important point. He had no reason to ask our permission to make a point, much less make it clearly, but his habit of doing so was far less annoying or cloying because it suggested he had our interests at heart. As we all came to find out, Bill Clinton was an expert at making connections with people, and had a very practical and direct approach to doing so.

Is it a mistake for President Obama to try to reassure us? By no means, no. But he should give us better reasons for backing his positions. That will require him to ask more of us as citizens, particularly when it comes to seeing our interests aligned with the national interest and his vision of the future. He can do this by making the small but specific tasks we can perform on behalf of our country a bigger part of his policy pitch.

If this is a war, as the President suggests, it will require sacrifices of us all. As such, I hoped he would have found a more appropriate metaphor. But then again he may be right that the only way we can win the war against al Qaeda is to see the Deepwater Horizon crisis as another frontier in a long and bitter campaign that has its origin in our own misadventures as well as the government’s when acting on our behalf.

We could begin making sacrifices by expecting a lot less of our leaders and more of ourselves. Let me be clear, as a nation we would make no mistake if we interpreted the situation in the Gulf of Mexico not as a question of Presidential action and corporate accountability, but rather as a call to individual action, a message to our nation to start taking specific and measurable steps to matching our energy appetites with our abilities and our resources.

Is the Battle Already Lost?

Filed under: Catastrophes,Events,General Homeland Security,Risk Assessment — by Mark Chubb on June 16, 2010

Presidents typically address the country from the Oval Office only in times of crisis. On such occasions, the office serves as a metaphor and communicates a sense of gravitas, decisiveness and authority unique to the presidential office. President Obama’s use of the office tonight for his address on the response to the Deepwater Horizon crisis was consistent with this metaphor in every respect. Sadly, I believe it was the wrong approach, and will do little if anything to restore confidence here or abroad that recovery is coming much less possible.

Crises differ from disasters and catastrophes not so much in terms of their scope or scale as they do in the extent to which they cause us to question either our confidence in our leaders or their competence resolving the situation. This particular tragedy involves both elements. Public confidence in government has rarely been lower, and even his allies have begun to openly question the capacity of this President and his administration’s competence when it comes to the core functions of governing.

Like past presidential addresses from the Oval Office, this one framed the challenges confronting the country as a battle to be won. The use of militaristic rhetoric implies an enemy exists that we can defeat if only we exhibit sufficient resolve. While many people no doubt see BP as the enemy in this instance, it should have been made clear that this catastrophe is not only about the hubris and bumbling of BP as it as about how we as a nation have managed our destructive addiction to oil. Either way, a resolution to this crisis is not simply a question of technical prowess.

In the one instance during his address in which he used the word resilience (and even then only in the penultimate paragraph), President Obama employed it in a manner given the context of his earlier remarks that implied it was synonymous with ingenuity. This stands in stark contrast to the National Security Strategy he released at the end of last month, which used the term in a manner more consistent with robustness.

For sure, conventional notions of resilience emphasize both qualities: robustness and resourcefulness. Some add a third, redundancy and redesign, but these are often understood as extensions of rather than alternatives to the other two concepts. As Phil Palin noted in his post regarding the implications of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe on our understanding of resilience, the concept of resilience should and could mean so much more to us.

By committing himself and his administration so completely to a particular view of success — stopping the oil and remediating the damage — the President has so far failed to address the important part we all play in this recovery operation. Having shouldered the burden for success or failure, despite warning us that success would not come easy or fast, he has suggested in no small way that Gulf Coast residents (and to some extent the rest of us too) will be relieved of the burden of adapting to the new realities this catastrophe will almost certainly create.

Some time ago, I suggested that recovery affects us at a material and rational level on the one hand and on an emotional and moral level at another. We often experience and interpret these dimensions of crisis through the twin prisms of time and value. The longer it takes for us to appreciate the full extent and long-term implications of a crisis, the less likely it is we will have confidence that the same leaders who got us in the mess will help us get out. The same cannot always be said for our commitment to the assumptions and ideals that create the blind spots we share with them.

Ideally, a crisis of the scope and scale presented by the Deepwater Horizon disaster will force us to question our understanding not just of the situation, but also of the nature of understanding itself. That said, understanding is not only a question of rationality, but also of morality.

This brings us back to the question of responsibility. In an op-ed for CNN, Julian Zelizer made the observation in respect of the way off-shore drilling was regulated and supervised before the disaster, “Engineers have dominated decision-making over the scientists.” The professionals who self-identify with these two tribes debate the question who belongs to each of them all the time, but it is unusual for someone else to make such a distinction especially in response to a question of policy which cannot rightly be considered the primary province of either profession.

I suppose that Zelizer intended to imply that one focuses on knowledge and the other on its application. That is another way of saying one is interested in knowing and the other is focused on doing. One engages in an epistemic quest, a search for knowledge; the other is occupied with its ontological implications, with what is and what we can do with it. No matter how salient these distinctions may seem, both occupations remain firmly committed to a common world-view that holds that the path to what is true and right rests upon and is informed by the human faculty of reason.

In this instance, the nation is left wondering, though, what’s reasonable about this situation? How can we rationally reconcile ourselves with the knowledge that our appetites and our actions — even if they were executed by others on our behalf — led to this disaster without also accepting that it is also our responsibility to do something about it? The answer to this question does not rely on rationality. We often accept responsibility not because it is pleasing or rewarding to do so, but because the rightness and justness of such actions have the capacity to inform our intellect and our emotions, and in doing so imbues our circumstances in crises with meaning and purpose.

By reassuring us that he had the situation in hand and was sparing no effort to bring the situation to a successful conclusion on all fronts, President Obama required too little of us beyond our patience. But our understanding does not depend on patience, it depends on purpose. We will not win this so-called war if all we do is defeat ourselves. We cannot think our way of of the mess we have made. Neither can we afford to leave the thinking to others, even if they are cleverer than us.

If President Obama really wants to use this crisis as an opportunity to restore our sense of national purpose and pride, he needs to challenge us — all of us — along with his administration. We can all make a contribution, but only if we are willing to make sacrifices. We can begin by sacrificing the contradictory assumptions and expectations that suggest government is responsible for all that ails us and all that heals us.

May 5, 2010

Attacking Ambiguity

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Mark Chubb on May 5, 2010

Steve Coll of The New Yorker offers an interesting perspective on the prospective relationship between the alleged Times Square terrorist Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban. Writing for the same magazine’s May 10 issue, Coll’s colleague, Malcolm Gladwell, offers an interesting and oddly congruent account of the ambiguities arising from espionage activities that could be said to apply equally to the relationship between terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Several media outlets quoting well-placed but anonymous intelligence or law enforcement sources have reported that Shahzad traveled to and from Pakistan frequently over the eleven years he lived in the United States legally since entering the country as a student in 1998. Within the past few months, Shahzad allegedly attended a terrorist training camp, where is he is said to have learned to assemble improvised explosive devices.

Soon after a smoking vehicle packed with a crude assortment of incendiaries was discovered, talking heads noted that the bomb’s construction bore striking similarities to the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) used to mount crude attacks on the Glasgow International Airport in June 2007. The next day, media reports carried news that the Pakistani Taliban were claiming credit for mounting the failed attack. While not disavowing these claims, officials quickly indicated that they had no evidence to support them either. They would consider every possibility and pursue every lead we were repeatedly and reassuringly told on Sunday morning.

From the outset, officials noted the amateurish nature of the attack. Loaded with liquefied petroleum gas containers, gasoline cans, consumer-grade fireworks, an alarm clock, crude wiring, and steel box containing fertilzer, the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder had little chance of actually exploding, although it would have produced a rather impressive and nonetheless dangerous fire.

It now seems the inadequacies of Shahzad’s plot did not end with the poor design and deployment of his weapon. Within a very short time, law enforcement officials identified the vehicle despite efforts to conceal its ownership and tracked down the former owner who provided details of the recent cash transaction that led to Shahzad taking possession of it. Shahzad arranged the transaction after scanning online classified ads. He made little effort to conceal his identity when making the transaction, corresponding with the former owner from an easily traceable email account. Although he used a prepaid cellphone to arrange the final meeting where he paid for and took possession of the Pathfinder, it too proved easy enough to trace.

These were not the only cyber-fingerprints Shahzad left. It seems he, like many others in his age cohort, liked to share his exploits using social media. A YouTube channel claiming credit for attacks on “Satan’s USA” was created by as yet unidentified individuals in Connecticut the day before the attack, but has now been removed.

The picture now emerging of Shahzad seems not altogether unlike others we have heard before. He was of upper-middle class status, reasonably well-educated in a technical discipline but certainly not a high-achiever. He had few connections with the broader community, and had encountered financial difficulties having defaulted on his mortgage. This may strike some as the perfect profile of a terrorist, but it is not so unlike the profile of many other criminals either, particularly those whose crimes are intended to attract attention.

Federal law enforcement officials took Shahzad into custody last night after he boarded an Emirates flight headed to Dubai. Soon after his arrest we learned he paid cash for a one-way ticket he reserved while en route to JFK International Airport, and paid cash at the ticket counter to secure his seat. The fact he was able to board the plane at all has raised more than a few eyebrows since his name was added to the no-fly list earlier in the day. It now seems Emirates had not updated its ticketing services to reflect recent changes in the list.

Shortly after taking Shahzad into custody, we are told, he admitted involvement in the incident and disclosed ties to terrorist training camps back in Pakistan. He continued to talk to investigators even after being read his Miranda rights as required when any  U.S. citizen is held under suspicion of committing a crime.

Officials acknowledge that claims of a Pakistani Taliban connection now appear more plausible. But as Steve Coll and Malcolm Gladwell’s pieces point out vividly, the terrorists in Pakistan may be not only be our enemies, but they may also turn out to be our best allies. When confronted by an eager young volunteer fresh from the United States, those building and controlling terrorist networks have to question whether the recruit can be trusted. “How do we know he is not a plant sent to infiltrate our organization and disrupt our activities?”,  they must ask themselves.

Presented with such ambiguities the terrorist handlers find themselves with little choice but to proceed cautiously. What better way to go forward than to provide only cursory training with little or no intelligence value. If the recruit turns out to be an agent under the control of a counter-terrorism agency, little is lost. If he turns out to be a valuable asset, all the better.

Taken together, Faisal Shahzad’s rather haphazard planning and execution coupled with his effort to return to his homeland and his willingness (even eagerness?) to admit his role seem to suggest a desire to demonstrate his value and earn the trust of others; if not the reluctant handlers from whom he obtained his initial training back in Pakistan, then the U.S. authorities who took him into custody. For all we know, this was something he considered possible if not plausible right from the start.

For our part, how do we know his pledge to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States in the oath of naturalization he took just over a year ago wasn’t genuine? Perhaps young Faisal Shahzad fancied himself a double-agent?

April 19, 2010

15 Years Later: Remembering Oklahoma City…

Filed under: Events — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on April 19, 2010

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.  At 9:01 am on April 19, 1995, a 20-foot Ryder truck filled with approximately 5,000 pounds of explosives blew up outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  One hundred and sixty eight people, including several children, died.   Almost 700 people were injured.  President Obama has signed a proclamation designating today as the National Day of Service and Remembrance for Victims and Survivors of Terrorism.

Sadly, in looking through this morning’s homeland security news and summaries, there was scant mention of the attack or today’s anniversary.  Online, there were a few analysis, but it took some searching to find, with the exception of CNN, which ran a front page analysis and commentary on the attack.  Over the weekend, some stories picked up tidbits from an interview from former President Bill Clinton, who noted that today’s political and cultural environment mirrors that that existed in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols carried out their attack.

What does this all mean? Have we forgotten Oklahoma City or have we,  nine years after 9/11, after Ford Hood, the Austin IRS plane crash, and numerous-failed attempts and threats, become less sensitized to attacks?  At least some polls would say differently.  A CBS News poll found that “nearly 40 percent of Americans now believe domestic terrorism is a bigger threat than international terrorism.”

The definition of domestic terrorism, as this blog has explored in the past, remains one that is not easily defined.  The line between criminal act and terrorism, especially when dealing with lone wolf types, is not easily defined.

That said, there are many lessons learned from the Oklahoma City bombing that we cannot forget if we are to advance our nation’s homeland security efforts.

  • The threat of domestic terrorism remains as real as international terrorism. The threat from domestic extremists – whether left, right, or center is real.   The bombing fifteen years ago made that clear.  The arrest several weeks ago of members of the Michigan supremacist Militia group “Hutaree,” which had planned to kill police officers and then attack again at their funerals, tell us that the threat remains.

Whether one agrees with Clinton on the parallels between now and 1995, we know that there has been a dramatic growth of hate groups and anti-government groups, brought on in part by the nation’s economic turmoil and an outside-the-beltway frustration with Washington, D.C. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of paramilitary patriot groups increased from 42 to 127 between 2008 and 2009.  The number of hate groups grew to 932 in 2009.

  • First Preventers and Responders are Critical.  As much funding we put into our national and federal homeland security efforts, terrorism is local.  The first individuals on the scene will be the fire fighters and EMTs  who live in the community, who will be the hardest hit as the victims will likely be family or friends.  The investigators who will likely gather the first pieces of evidence are likely to be the local cops on the beat.  Preparing these individuals with the intelligence, communications tools, cooperation capabilities, and knowledge to combat terrorism – regardless of its origin – is critical.
  • Awareness is Still Key. While none of us should live in a state of panic or full of anxiety over potential attacks, we all must balance staying aware and being prepared with the daily things we do.   It is a balance that is not easily found but one that is necessary.

About an hour ago, the Annual Remembrance Ceremony at the Oklahoma City National Memorial began.  The name of the 168 people who perished that day will be read.  Secretary Napolitano will offer remarks about the state of the nation’s terrorism efforts.   Hopefully all of us will remember the lessons learned and honor the lives of those affected that day.

February 12, 2010

The 21st Olympic Winter Games- Coordinating Security

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on February 12, 2010

At 7:30 pm (EST) this evening, the 21st Olympic Winter Games will start with the official Opening Ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Olympic Cauldron will be lit and each delegation will enter in alphabetical order (except for Greece, which always enters first and Canada who, as host, enters last).

For the opening ceremony, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will lead the American delegation, which will include Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, and gold medalists Mike Eruzione, Peggy Fleming, and Vonetta Flowers.

For the next 16 days, athletes from around the globe will compete in 15 sports.  Several weeks later,  Vancouver will host the best of the best in five sports during the Paralympic Games.

While much attention has been paid to the preparations – both in Canada and among athletes – leading up to the games, many forget that the games also come with a significant amount of security preparations and diligence.  Currently, there are no credible threats against the Vancouver Games, according to U.S. and Canadian officials.

That said, organizers are very aware of the symbolism of the games – as well as the historic need for strong security.  The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany were scarred by the kidnapping and murder of some Israeli Olympic team members by the militant group Black September.  The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta saw the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park by Eric Rudolph, which killed one person and injured 111.

For the games starting tonight, Canada has put together its biggest domestic security operation in its nation’s history – a $900 million endeavor that covers more than 3,860 square miles, requires screening of 1.6 million ticket holders, and provides protection for 5,500 athletes and officials, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition, DHS estimates that nearly 300,000 people might cross the border to attend events or participate in the Olympic happenings.  Given this number, Customs and Border Protection issued a release on Tuesday reminding travelers to  have approved travel documents to speed up their trip across the border.

The proximity to the U.S. border means that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local officials in Washington state also must be prepared. Much attention has been focused on Bellingham, Washington, which is home to  the $4 million Olympics Coordination Center, where law enforcement, security, health and military experts from more than 40 agencies are stationed at the center to watch for potential threats and ensure that travelers can move across the border effectively and safely.  Customs and Border Protection helicopters will stream live video from their patrols into the Center.

Other security measures include:

  • NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is providing air and marine surveillance in both the U.S. and Canada.   NORAD is enforcing a 30-mile airspace restriction around Vancouver.  Canadian CF-18 Hornets will be on call to intercept any aircraft that might wander into the restricted airspace.  In addition, all private aircraft traveling from the U.S. to Vancouver will be sent through 16 U.S. gateway airports for customs checks.
  • Last week, Secretary Napolitano issued a joint release with the Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews announcing a Shiprider pilot program designed to bolster cross-border security operations between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the U.S. Coast Guard to allow for cross-training, shared resources, and personnel.
  • DHS will have more than 200 additional personnel along the Northern border.
  • Military divers have set up security zones along the waterside surrounding the Olympics.
  • Cruise ships are housing a number of the security personnel assigned to the games.

These are but a few of the public efforts we know that the U.S. and Canadian governments (as well as other nations around the world) are taking to prepare for the games.  Tellingly, Secretary Napolitano will be heading the U.S. delegation attending the closing ceremonies.  While those performing “security” details for the Olympics will not leave the games with medals or honors, they certainly are owed accolades for all they have done leading up to the games and will do during the games leading up to those closing ceremonies.

January 20, 2010

Values vs Value: Making Our Efforts Count

Filed under: Events,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on January 20, 2010

The Haiti earthquake response, now in its eighth day, has already begun to illustrate the difficulties confronting American leadership in the Information Age and the Age of Terrorism.  These two great trends, both prone to exploitation by extreme points-of-view and over-the-top rhetoric, put the United States in an unenviable damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t position.  As such, a commitment to our values matters more than ever.

During a BBC news broadcast yesterday, callers from around the world offered deeply divided opinions of the response effort and the United States’ role in it so far. More than a few offered their own interpretations of the motivations behind these actions, which, it is safe to say, vary substantially from official accounts.

Mainstream U.S. media have been quick to criticize too, quickly highlighting what they consider both the extreme highlights and lowlights of the response efforts so far. Perhaps the most counterproductive of these efforts has been the tendency of media to compare and contrast the responses of different international teams.

I have been particularly struck by the effort to paint the United States response as lumbering, self-serving, obstructionist, and over-the-top.  In contrast, some international teams have been lauded as nimble, quick, precise, and caring.

As William Cumming noted in his comment on my last post, this is a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Both Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami pale in comparison. In the first instance, not due to the scale of the destruction but in the lower death toll. In the latter, not due to the immense human toll but in the widely distributed scope of the damage.

Port-au-Prince encompasses the worst aspects of both of these disasters: The earthquake wrought devastation that is both immense and intense because it is concentrated in such a small and densely populated urban area already affected by great deprivation.

Such a massive disaster requires an equally massive response. But this poses another difficult dilemma. I say dilemma not problem, because it cannot be easily solved. As American task force commander LTG Ken Keen put it, getting aid to Haiti is like “pushing a bowling ball through a soda straw.”

No one, not the United Nations nor even the United States, can erase the disadvantages accumulated in Haiti over time that complicate and indeed compromise the response there. A massive disaster requires a massive response. But it also requires understanding that this equation will remain unbalanced in proportion to the scope and scale of the catastrophe even as our compassion seems equal to the task at hand.

Quick, nimble, and precise responses, like those exemplified by teams from our allies Israel, Italy, and Germany will produce striking successes, but always on an isolated scale. Meeting lingering challenges requires logistical muscle and concerted coordination efforts.

And this is precisely where value-focused and battle-tested leadership is most important. In a disaster, when the normal order is so suddenly and completely disturbed and the senses of place and purpose become disrupted, command and control strategies may seem appropriate but they do little good when no one is in a fit condition to respond or lacks the capacity to do so.

Coordination requires a different set of skills. In military circles, we often talk of C4I: Command, Control, Communication, Cybersystems, and Intelligence (emphasizing analysis). These elements still have a role, but disaster response has a flip side that requires us to employ these resources differently. In disasters like Haiti, we need to think and act in terms of a different C4I paradigm: Clarification, Creativity, Collaboration, Commitment, and Intelligence (emphasizing synthesis).

Our values, not just the value we commit in terms of human, financial and material capital (which has been substantial, if not unprecedented), make the most difference in a disaster. When we resist the temptation to engage unproductive emotions by criticizing the efforts of others and instead take the opportunity to work with anyone else willing to lend a hand, we can achieve great things, if only on a small scale. Criticism requires no special skills, but neither does caring. If you can only do a little, make it sure counts.

January 1, 2010

Homeland Security: What’s In and Out for 2010

Filed under: Border Security,DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 1, 2010

Happy New Year or Happy 20-10 if you prefer.  I would say welcome to a new decade but having read that there is a debate going on on whether the decade ended yesterday or a year from yesterday, I’ll leave that one alone.

It has been a busy year on the homeland security front, starting with a new President and Secretary of Homeland Security and ending with lots of politics surrounding a Christmas Day thwarted terrorism attack.   For a  quick view of the top stories of 2009 and what to expect in 2010, here is an overview of what we can expect to be in and out on the homeland security front for 2010.

OUT

IN

Across the Spectrum, Praise for DHS Nominee Napolitano

Republican Criticism of Secretary Napolitano

Subpoenas for White House Gatecrashers Salahis To Appear on January 20th in Congress

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Prosecution in Federal Court

Privacy

Full-Body Scanners

System Failure (Again) of Intelligence Information Sharing

Connecting the Dots

Iraq

Afghanistan

Border Enforcement Only

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity

H1N1

Next Pandemic?

Hold on Appointees at DHS

New TSA Administrator, Other Appointments

Homeland Security- Bipartisan Kinda?

The Blame Game

December 30, 2009

“The operation was a failure, but the patient lived.”

Filed under: Aviation Security,Events,General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on December 30, 2009

“Politically correct” means constraining the way one behaves or uses language because one is afraid to violate powerful orthodoxies.

President Obama has officially declared that “a systemic failure has occurred,” and he considers it to be “…totally unacceptable.”

Obviously, when a system fails in a technologically advanced society, the only politically correct thing to do is fix it.

One fixes system failures by identifying the offending elements and replacing them with elements that are not going to fail.

It is irrational to do anything other than that.

But what if this was not (except with hindsight) a preventable systemic failure?  What if it is in the nature of complex systems to “self organize” and every now and then  just fail?

On this point, see “Complexity, contingency, and criticality,” by Bak and Pakzuski (originators of the sandpile avalanche metaphor — i.e., “for a wide variety of phenomena, there are no deep underlying causes, just an accumulation of tiny accidents.”).

Less technical treatments of the idea can be found in Charles Perrow’s , “Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies;Mark Buchanan’s Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen;” or Joshua Cooper Ramo’s, The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It.”

If you have time for only one of these, I’d recommend Buchanan’s book, Ubiquity.  Here is an excerpt from Edward Skidelsky’s review of Ubiquity:

Applied to history, this theory suggests that … [significant events] demand no explanation beyond a narration of the precise chain of events that compose them. In the sand pile, it is impossible to specify the cause of a huge avalanche other than by tracing its exact progress right back to the original grain that triggered it all off. There are no “laws of avalanches” distinct from the laws governing the movement of the individual grains. And any grain … can, if it falls at the right time and place, start an avalanche. The only way to understand the history of the sand pile is to recount it; old-fashioned narrative history turns out to be the most scientific of all.

The vision of history that emerges from Ubiquity is tragic. It is the vision of the Iliad. History stands permanently poised on the brink of catastrophe; the abduction of one woman can lead to the destruction of cities. Instability is an inalienable feature of human life. We flatter ourselves that we have overcome it through the development of rules and institutions, not realising that those very rules and institutions are equally subject to its depredations…. [my emphasis]

———————–

From the  perspective of “self organized criticality,” what has been termed “system failure” is not always a problem that can be fixed.  Sometimes it’s a terrain feature one has to adapt to.

It may be politically correct to use the “fix it and move on” language.  But defaulting to such correctness may constrain useful thinking about alternatives.

[Mark Chubb's very thoughtful piece earlier today illustrates such alternative thinking.]

Resilience is premised on the idea that sometimes bad stuff happens.  And when it does, you get back up.

One does not encourage resilience by placing blind faith in the perfectibility of complex systems — particularly systems whose complexity is generated by people and technology.  One’s faith is better placed in the knowledge that complex systems will fail, so what happens when they do?

Questions like that outline a path toward resilience.

———————–

Here’s an image of the TSA system emerging orthodoxy says “failed:”

tsa-layers-of-security-vertical

Maybe political correctness demands there should be more or better pieces, or sub-pieces, or links, or procedures added to the complexity of the 20 layers and the unfathomable environment that surrounds those layers.

But you will note that “Passengers” are part of the current system.

As Mark notes, Flight 253 did land safely. Abdulmutallab failed.

Some element in the homeland security enterprise ought to get credit for the success.  The passengers did not sit quietly and wait for the bomber to try again amidst the smoke and smell.  They acted.

It is trite to say, but homeland security, including aviation security, is not simply the government’s job.  It is everyone’s responsibility — not in theory, but in fact.

It is politically incorrect to think otherwise.




December 23, 2009

2009: Time to Laugh It Off

Filed under: Events,Humor — by Mark Chubb on December 23, 2009

I am sure you have noticed a decided departure from the usual gloom and doom in this week’s contributions to HLSwatch.com. Even when they seem otherwise inappropriate in the circumstances, laughter and humor serve as powerful analgesics. If only they could inoculate us from pain altogether!

As we prepare to close the books on a spectacularly dour year, it’s worth noting that plenty of things have happened, which in retrospect, should have made us laugh if only to keep us from crying. Here’s my Top 10 list, with apologies to David Letterman:

10. Tareq and Michaele Salahi tested the White House policy of openness by inviting themselves to a state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which once again proved it’s not what you know that’s important, it’s how desperate you are to get your own reality television show.

9.  In a spectacular demonstration of democracy-in-action, the Afghan people held an election the likes of which made people in Chicago and Florida proud of our country’s efforts there. Meanwhile, in a display of grassroots activism reminiscent of Tiananmen Square, the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran displayed the kind of technological savvy usually reserved for voting for American Idol finalists or regaling friends with news about what you’re having for dinner to muster a succession of impressive flashmobs that displayed their general displeasure with the outcome of the election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power there.

8.  Delegates from more than 190 nations met in Copenhagen to forge a global agreement curbing human activities that contribute to climate change; in the end, their success was marked by a communiqué outlining their commitments to offset the carbon emissions from their lengthy discussions by producing a succinct and largely unimpressive agreement the printing of which will produce virtually no impact on the world’s forests.

7.  In an act of irony (absent the taint of cynicism, but nevertheless displaying a deep sense of humility), the likes of which would have made Gen. Curtis “Peace Is Our Profession” LeMay either immensely proud or insanely jealous, Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway just days after committing tens of thousands more American troops to the war in Afghanistan.

6.  American forces, largely through the successful deployment of Predator and Reaper drones, managed to kill several top al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban operatives despite a startling security deficiency that broadcast unencrypted footage of their surveillance and targeting activities along with hundreds of Three’s Company, Baywatch, and Knight Rider reruns to anyone on the ground with a YouTube or Hulu account.

5.  Amidst speculation about a potential succession crisis and rising tensions surrounding his hermitic country’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-il dispelled any lingering concern that poor health would keep him from rattling nuclear sabers and unsettling western nerves for another year by engaging in frenetic whirlwind of activity that led some observers to wonder aloud whether he was maneuvering to replace Paula Abdul as the third judge on American Idol.

4.  As the world looked on with a mixture of apprehension and apathy, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of H1N1 influenza first detected in Mexico in March a worldwide pandemic; as millions fell ill and thousands died, the United Nations demonstrated once again its profound ability to reflect a sense of urgency by drawing attention to a problem without really solving it, which called to mind both its past efforts to stop the spread of other deadly illnesses such as malaria and polio and seemed to indicate the sort of success its sister UN agencies would produce during the Copenhagen climate summit.

3.  The arrests of three people in Denver, Colorado and New York on charges of plotting attacks against targets in New York City; seven men in North Carolina said to have sought training at terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan; the unsealing of indictments against eight people in Minneapolis, Minnesota linked to the disappearances of Somali youth thought to have been recruited to fight in the civil war there and the attack at Fort Hood’s soldier readiness center attributed to Major Malik Nadal Hasan that left 13 soldiers dead stoked fears of homegrown terrorism. However, with the Obama Administration working feverishly to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval station, it’s more likely that these budding reality show superstars will play feature roles in a new television drama just entering pre-production called Survivor: Thomson, Illinois (aka Guantanamo North).

2.  President Obama with the help of Congress and the Federal Reserve mounted a seemingly successful last-ditch effort to stave off a Chernobyl-like meltdown of the world economy by pumping more $1.6 trillion dollars into the economy; the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 saved or added an estimated 600-700,000 jobs to the economy this year alone while leaving more than 15 million Americans unemployed, another 9 million underemployed, and upwards of 2 million marginally employed.  As the official unemployment rate leveled off at 10 percent and the economy started growing again at a rate of 2.2 percent per annum, people opened their wallets and handed over what little cash or credit they had; what had in other years had been described as an orgy of spending ended up looking more like a sordid ménage à trois in some seedy motel that rents rooms by the hour.

20091216-1-granlund-tiger-afghan-soliders1

1.  In a test of our ability to look closely and deeply at ourselves, warts and all, the nation’s gaze remained firmly focused as the year came to a close on the actions of an infidel and his self-professed but as yet unconfirmed infidel-ities. In what some reports have described as an impressive use of long irons, Mr. Woods’ estranged wife Elin Nordegren made short work of Tiger as he beat a hasty retreat from the family home in a gated Florida community after being confronted about his alleged nocturnal wanderings while on tour. After witnessing her impressive use of both soft and (mostly) hard power, administration officials have started making discrete inquiries into whether Ms. Nordegren is available to advise special forces operators hunting Osama bin Laden and his compatriots in the lawless Af-Pak border region.

Here’s hoping 2010 gives us more to laugh at. If not, we have no one to blame but ourselves. While we’re waiting, please take a moment to share something that made you laugh this past year or tell us what would make you particularly happy in the year ahead.

November 13, 2009

RECAP/ANALYSIS: A Discussion on Immigration Policy with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Filed under: Events,Immigration — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 13, 2009

Trust.

We are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.

Everyone recognizes that our current system is not  working and our system needs to be changed.

Those were the central themes this morning when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on immigration.  As the Obama Administration’s go-to on immigration reform, she has a daunting task ahead as the Administration and Congress tackle an issue that evokes strong positions from Congress, law enforcement, business, labor, religious leaders, and advocates -both pro and anti- across the country and political spectrum.

There is no question that Secretary Napolitano’s creds on immigration are second to none.  As Governor of Arizona, she gained hands-on experience on balancing the conflicting complex needs and interests of various interests and organizations.  Arizona, after all, is 30% Latino, shares a 370 mile border with Mexico (which includes the  Tohono O’odham Nation that crosses the border and numerous National Parks) and has such characters as the controversial Mariposa Sheriff Joe Arpaio.   While Governor, she did a tremendous job of balancing the economic, enforcement, and family issues surrounding the border. On one hand, she once criticized the wall-only approach of many in Congress by saying “You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.”  On the other, she was the first Governor to declare a state of emergency and call for the National Guard to patrol the border.  Having worked on the issues since 1993, Secretary Napolitano gets that immigration is a hard and politically volatile issue.

Her remarks today, however, made it clear that the Obama Administration believes it can make progress on the immigration debate.   The Secretary’s remarks were especially timely as immigration reform is expected to be the next big issue to be tackled by Congress and the Administration after health care  (somewhere in the past month it snuck past climate change, another Administration priority, in the lineup).

In her remarks, Secretary Napolitano made it clear that this was more than just about immigration. She started her speech by talking about a “new foundation for growth and prosperity,” mentioning health care, climate change and educational reform.  Immigration was the fourth item of that foundation, she said, in the Obama Administration’s determination “to deal with long lingering problems.”

She noted that immigration has been a problem that been punted year to year, Congress to Congress,  Administration to Administration.  The Secretary said that the immigration story is one we all know. People sneaking across the border for jobs and economic relief.  Select employers flaunting laws by offering subwages to illegal workers, and a resulting population living in the shadows.  From a national security perspective, she said that the Department of Homeland Security needs reform to do its job of enforcing the law and keeping our country secure.  “Laws need to be reformed.”

The Secretary described immigration reform as a three-legged stool:

  • First, it requires serious and effective enforcement
  • Second, it must address the legal flows for family and workers
  • Third, it must deal with those here in the country illegally

By addressing these three items, the Secretary indicated the government could build responsibility and accountability into the process.  The three-pronged stool, she noted, also required three participants – employers, immigrants, and government.

The Secretary noted that the last big immigration effort – in 1986 – failed, in part, because it promised enforcement but could not deliver.  She said “it would not happen again” and that “America needs enforcement.”  She indicated that the Administration fully intended to pursue reforms that address both immigration and enforcement.

She then alluded to the 2007 attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform by the Bush Administration (ironically, led by her predecessor Secretary Michael Chertoff, who also faced an uphill battle).  She noted that since then the immigration landscape has changed.   She went on to cite the progress that had been made in a number of areas at the Department of Homeland Security, including:

  • The Southwest Border Initiative announced last March by President Obama which includes assets from DHS, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice.
  • Increased focus on inspection and detection technology.
  • 100% screening of Southbound rail shipments.
  • And increased focus on manpower, technology, and infrastructure.

The Secretary stated that these items are ones that Congress said were lacking in 2007 when immigration reform fizzled and she believes that the needed progress has been made and that the Administration is showing that it is serious and strategic in its approach to enforcement.  Among some things she said shows progress are:

  • The government has replaced policies that look tough with policies that are designed to be effective;
  • The government has redesigned state and local arrangements to attack the serious criminal alien problem;
  • DHS has expanded Secure Communities;
  • ICE has increased auditing of companies suspected in hiring illegal aliens;
  • DHS has been encouraging workplace compliance by expanding and improving E-Verify; and
  • DHS has expanded use of new biometrics technology that has helped increase the government’s ability for countering immigration fraud.

So what can we expect in the near year?  Based on the Secretary’s comments today, here are the priorities for the legislation, which she deems a “sensible solution:”

  • Tougher smuggling laws;
  • An update of laws that don’t cover new means of moving stuff by bad actors (stored value cards were given as an example);
  • Interior and worksite enforcement law changes;
  • Changes to provisions relating to immigration-related fraud; and
  • a legal foundation to bringing illegal immigrants out of shadows.

On this last point, the Secretary emphasized that our nation  won’t have a secure law enforcement/national security system if we have a significant segment of the population that remain in the shadows.   As part of that legal foundation, she would expect that there would be a number of requirements that would need to be met for individuals to gain legal status, including:

  • Registration Requirement
  • Fines
  • Criminal Background Check
  • Requirement to Pay Back Taxes
  • A Requirement to Learn English

The Secretary made it clear that the effort should not just be an enforcement solution and that the reform must address families, businesses, and workers needs.  In sum, she made it clear – just as when she started – that “immigration must be fixed.”

While most of the ideas described by Secretary Napolitano are not new and have been tackled in the past,  her outlined approach, while seemingly heavy on enforcement details, is certainly comprehensive.

What comes next will be the real challenge. Will there be enough “immigration” in the proposed bill to win the support of advocates and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus?  Will there be enough enforcement to win over many of the “enforcement only” or “enforcement first” Members of Congress? Will it be able to maintain the support of a mosaic of business interests (tech companies, agriculture and seasonal employers, etc)?  Will it address the moral and ethic issues that many religious leaders, including the Evangelical right, feel need to be addressed? How does next year being a potentially volatile election year affect the proposed reform, especially for moderate and conservative Democrats (a group that would extend beyond the Blue Dogs, based on 2007 observations and statements)?

If immigration reform is to be a success, the Administration needs a weathered professional who has seen what the fight ahead looks like.  It appears that they may have found their woman in the desert of Arizona in Secretary Napolitano.

October 12, 2009

Homeland security this week

Filed under: Events — by Philip J. Palin on October 12, 2009

Following are a few homeland security events for the coming week.  For more information access the embedded links.  Please use the comment function to identify other events you would like to bring to readers’ attention.  If you are attending or monitoring any of these events, please use the comment function to report out to the rest of us.

Monday, October 12

The National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) annual conference opened in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday and continues through Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 13

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum hosts a special exhibit on Reporting Terrorism.  The exhibit examines “how acts of terrorism are covered and conveyed” by the news media.  The exhibit continues through the end of November.

Wednesday, October 14

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officers (ASTHO) annual meeting opens in Vienna, Virginia and continues through Friday.

11:45  am (eastern) Washington DC, The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a lecture on Global Health in the 21st Century: Identifying the Big Priorities.

8:00 pm (eastern) Davidson, North Carolina, Davidson College hosts a lecture on Can a Counterterrorism Policy be both Successful and Moral?

Thursday, October 15

The 2009 Cyber Security Expo opens at the University of Memphis with a focus on Global Cyber Security.

The University of Maryland will conduct an emergency vaccination drill.

Friday, October 16

150 years ago today, John Brown and nineteen followers captured the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, (then) Virginia.  Was old John Brown a terrorist or freedom fighter? Both?

john-brown1 …. Mural of John Brown from the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

October 5, 2009

Homeland security this week

Filed under: Events — by Philip J. Palin on October 5, 2009

Following are a few homeland security events for the coming week.  For more information  access the embedded links.  Please use the comment function to identify other events you would like to bring to readers’ attention.  If you are attending or monitoring any of these events, please use the comment function to report out to the rest of us.

Monday, October 5

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. The Brookings Institution hosts an assessment of US policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police opened on Saturday in Denver.  The conference will continue through Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 6

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. The Brookings Institution hosts a discussion on breaking the stalemate on immigration policy.

Wednesday, October 7

On this day in 2001 British and US forces began air operations against al-Qaeda camps and the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan.

Thursday, October 8

3:30 pm (pacific) Palo Alto, California – The Freeman Spogli Institute hosts a lecture on Mapping Terrorist Organizations.

6:00 pm (eastern) Atlanta, Georgia – The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs hosts a lecture on Nanotechnology for Defense and Homeland Security

Friday, October 9

September 22, 2009

Cover Your Cough With the Internet (Or Phone)

Filed under: Events — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 22, 2009

Federal News Radio continued its reporting yesterday regarding the Department of Homeland Security mandate for a department-wide telework and COOP review this week. The article quotes Elaine Duke, the Undersecretary for Management, saying:

We have some specific concerns about the potential of H1N1 to make its next surge in the United States, potentially next month, and this fall. One of the things we want to be ready for is potential absenteeism among our federal workforce. And with the telework week, we are asking that each employee who is on a telework agreement, who is on a telework agreement as part of our continuity of operations planning, or COOP planning, to telework, to test it, to make sure they have the right connectivity, the right equipment, to make sure they can work from home.

Teleworking to counter a pandemic is not a new idea. Indeed, the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan discusses how teleworking can help slow the spread of pandemic influenza through social distancing (i.e. coughing over the Internet or phone instead of face to face).  As telework.gov notes, the key to successfully using teleworking to fight off H1N1 (or any pandemic) requires a systematic approach to teleworking with roles and responsibilities understood by all.   DHS’s announcement this week is especially welcome as it is testing its agencies systems in a moment of calm instead of a time of crisis.

That said, as DHS and other agencies look to teleworking this fall, they should not only be testing for access and connectivity, but for security.  While security training and configuration have been key parts of the government’s telework program, it is imperative that they are stressed to the potential newbies who will be signing up to avoid the H1N1 spread. There is a level of trust when teleworking becomes the norm. That trust, with regards to security, requires extensive training and understanding of the “dos and don’ts” of being online.  The more people who sign up to work from home, the more risks of security breaches, whether from unencrypted data being stolen remotely off a compromised system or a laptop disappearing from the backseat of a car.

NIST has recognized the need for telework security. This past June it revised its guidance in the area in Guide to Enterprise Telework and Remote Access Security, Revision 1.  NIST noted in the Executive Summary:

The nature of telework and remote access technologies—permitting access to protected resources from external networks and often external hosts as well—generally places them at higher risk than similar technologies only accessed from inside the organization, as well as increasing the risk to the internal resources made available to teleworkers through remote access.

In its findings, NIST made the following recommendations to agencies on steps to take to ensure that employees and contractors have improved security for teleworking and remote access:

  • Plan telework security policies and controls based on the assumption that external environments contain hostile threats
  • Develop a telework security policy that defines telework and remote access requirements.
  • Ensure that remote access servers are secured effectively and are configured to enforce telework security policies.
  • Secure telework client devices against common threats and maintain their security regularly.

Given today’s increased cyber threat, these steps, while seemingly common sense, are critical, especially if we see an influx of new teleworkers.

Another issue to consider is whether the bandwidth for increased teleworking, especially in the DC area, is available.  The tests run by DHS this week are good but will not go to demonstrate whether bandwidth needs can be met if a significant number of government employees are working from home in the event of a pandemic.  On September 4, the FCC put out a notice on this issue, asking what kind of bandwidth and speed will be needed to support teleworking.  The notice also asked what is needed to support government workers at home in a time of emergency.  The FCC will use the comments and its findings as part of its National Broadband Plan, due to Congress on February 17, 2010.  Obviously, that plan will not be out before this fall’s potential H1N1 outbreak, though the telecommunications carriers have been preparing for this issue nonetheless.

While this post has focused on government’s systems,  the same issues are relevant to the private sector.  Like the government, the private sector has seen an increased reliance on teleworking to counter pandemic incidents.  Jeff Goldman wrote an interesting piece on this phenomenon on Wi-Fi Planet back in May entitled Pandemic Preparedness: Teleworking Best Practices, which details the steps to take for implementing teleworking.  Interestingly, one of the potential issues he points out is the need for enabling broadband access in remote locations.  Broadband and net neutrality issues, especially in a time of crisis, could fill a separate post but are especially worth noting given at Brookings yesterday by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on the topic.

August 3, 2009

A Web 2.0 Dialogue on QHSR

Filed under: DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 3, 2009

In furtherance of the Obama Administration’s tech-saavy, public-friendly approach to governance, DHS unveiled its “National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review” today at http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org.   DHS is inviting the public to give its opinions between today and August 9 on proposals made by QHSR study groups in four different study areas and two process study areas, including:

Mission Studies:

  • Counter-terrorism and Domestic Security Management
  • Securing Our Borders
  • Smart and Tough Enforcement of Immigration Laws
  • Preparing for, Responding to, and Recovering from Disasters

Process Studies:

  • Homeland Security National Risk Assessment
  • Homeland Security Planning and Capabilities

This is the first of  three “dialogues” with the American public to be held during the summer and fall.  Dialogue 2 is scheduled for August 31-September 6 and will have more information and content from the QHSR study groups on the mission and process concepts.  Dialogue 3, scheduled from September 28 through October 4, will give the public and stakeholders one more opportunity to review and offer comments on the “refined mission goals, objectives, key strategic outcomes and enhancements” to the six priorities.

According to DHS officials, the dialogues are intended to transform how the agency engages the American public with regards to an all-hazards approach to homeland security and counter-terrorism. They are also intended to meet the consultation mandate included in 2007′s 9/11 bill (aka “The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007″).  That bill required the Secretary to conduct the QHSR  in consultation with

  • the “heads of Federal Agencies” (including the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretaries of State, Defense, Health & Human Services, Treasury,  and Agriculture);
  • key officials of DHS; and
  • other relevant governmental and nongovernmental entities, including State, local, and tribal government officials, members of Congress, private sector representatives, academics, and other policy experts.

Overall, the Web 2.0 idea  is a fresh approach to communicating to and with the public (at least the connected public) on addressing homeland security issues. The website, hosted by the National Academy  of Public Administration, is easy to navigate and provides a mission statement on each item, as well as goals.   Reviewers who log in are giving the opportunity to rate whether they agree with the overall statements and provide comments. Additionally, participants can suggest their own ideas and alternative proposals for the six study areas.  To date, it appears that between 9 and 44 persons have logged in to provide ratings and comments.

The real test of the success of the dialogues will come over the next several days when we see how many citizens log in and upload thoughts and ideas for DHS.  Even a bigger test will be whether those who do offer opinions are “outside the Beltway,” offering local perspectives from New York, Atlanta, Houston, Peoria, and beyond.  Input from those communities would strengthen the QHSR and be in line with Secretary Napolitano’s comments last week at the Council of Foreign Relations that communities are our “greatest asset” and “you are the ones who know if something is not right in your communities.”

I would encourage anyone reading this to check out the site and offer your thoughts on the goals and priorities of the QHSR. Even better, once you finish doing that, share the site with a few (or few hundred) of your friends around the country so they can do the same.

July 23, 2009

If a dog barks on the internet …?

Filed under: DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on July 23, 2009

If you are interested enough in homeland security to be reading this, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Academy of Public Administration want you to participate in something called the National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR). Information about the Dialogue can be found at this link.

The first “meeting” is scheduled for August 3 through 9.  It is intended to be a “conversation between you, other Homeland Security stakeholders, and DHS on an innovative web-based platform.” (One hopes the “you” might also include unaffiliated people with a point of view about homeland security.)

The first dialogue “will seek your opinion on general priorities of different Homeland Security mission areas. During this session, you will be able to evaluate the missions and goals proposed by DHS study groups, and rate, tag, and suggest your own alternative proposals.”

Two additional dialogues are scheduled for later in 2009.  The QHSR has to be turned in to Congress on Thursday, December 31, 2009.  Presumably by the close of business, before everyone leaves for the long weekend.

Yes, this whole National Dialogue could turn into another one of those anemic “we involved our stakeholders” justifications slogged out with the National Response Plan, Target Capabilities List, Universal Task List and their mechanical cousins.

But it might also be an opportunity for well-intentioned people to discover how broad collaboration, Web 2.0, social networks, mashups, and lord knows what else can contribute to a homeland security future worth creating.

You can sign up on the www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org website to receive emails for “news and announcements about the National Dialogue, and be notified when each Dialogue is live.”

I am persuasively informed that signing up does not put you on any of the special “lists” that may or may not be maintained by agencies that may or may not exist.

Besides, as we learned during the Web 1.0 days:internet_dog1

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