Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 23, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 23, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

January 20, 2015

“Why has American national security policy changed so little from the Bush administration to the Obama administration?”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 20, 2015

That’s the question Michael J. Glennon asks in his book “National Security and Double Government.”

His answer: national security policy is determined largely by “the several hundred managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies who are responsible for protecting the nation and who have come to operate largely immune from constitutional and electoral restraints.” The president, congress and the courts play largely a symbolic role in national security policy, Glennon claims.

You can read a Harvard National Security Journal article that outlines Glennon’s argument at this link: http://harvardnsj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Glennon-Final.pdf.  The paper is not an especially easy read, but I found it to be well researched and – for  me – persuasive.

His book adds more analysis to the argument, using (from Graham Allison’s Essence of Decision) the rational actor model, the government politics model, and the organizational behavior model. Glennon extends that framework by discussing culture, networks, and the myth of alternative competing hypotheses.  The book is richer, in my opinion.  But the core of Glennon’s position is in the paper.

This link takes you to a video of Glennon talking about his book at the Cato Institute: http://www.cato.org/events/national-security-double-government (the talk starts at the 5:20 mark).

From the Cato site:

In National Security and Double Government, Michael Glennon examines the continuity in U.S. national security policy from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. Glennon explains the lack of change by pointing to the enervation of America’s “Madisonian institutions,” namely, the Congress, the presidency, and the courts. In Glennon’s view, these institutions have been supplanted by a “Trumanite network” of bureaucrats who make up the permanent national security state. National security policymaking has been removed from public view and largely insulated from law and politics. Glennon warns that leaving security policy in the hands of the Trumanite network threatens Americans’ liberties and the republican form of government.

Some blurb reviews:

“If constitutional government is to endure in the United States, Americans must confront the fundamental challenges presented by this chilling analysis of the national security state.”
Bruce Ackerman

“Glennon shows how the underlying national security bureaucracy in Washington – what might be called the deep state – ensures that presidents and their successors act on the world stage like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”
John J. Mearsheimer

“National Security and Double Government is brilliant, deep, sad, and vastly learned across multiple fields–a work of Weberian power and stature. It deserves to be read and discussed. The book raises philosophical questions in the public sphere in a way not seen at least since Fukuyama’s end of history.”
David A. Westbrook

“In our faux democracy, those we elect to govern serve largely ornamental purposes, while those who actually wield power, especially in the realm of national security, do so chiefly with an eye toward preserving their status and prerogatives. Read this incisive and richly documented book, and you’ll understand why.”
Andrew J. Bacevich

“…Michael Glennon provides a compelling argument that America’s national security policy is growing outside the bounds of existing government institutions. This is at once a constitutional challenge, but is also a case study in how national security can change government institutions, create new ones, and, in effect, stand-up a parallel state….”
Vali Nasr

“Instead of being responsive to citizens or subject to effective checks and balances, U.S. national security policy is in fact conducted by a shadow government of bureaucrats and a supporting network of think tanks, media insiders, and ambitious policy wonks. Presidents may come and go, but the permanent national security establishment inevitably defeats their efforts to chart a new course….”
Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer

I’ve spoken to three people I consider to be members of the “shadow national security state.”   One person said Glennon’s argument is nothing new.  The second told me he’s got it exactly right.  The third said it’s even worse.

 

 

January 19, 2015

“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 19, 2015

MLK day 2015 2

January 16, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 16, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

January 14, 2015

A MOOC: Central Challenges of American National Security

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 14, 2015

This is an opportunity not directly related to homeland security.  However, I thought some of topics addressed by this course will be of interest to this blog’s readership.

For all the details, see: https://www.edx.org/course/challenges-of-american-security-harvardx-hks211-2x#.VLcv-SvF-Sr

The instructors are impressive.  A former DOD official, and more importantly, the man who built the current Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  And of course a major New York Times  reporter.

You can audit this course for free.  For a small fee, you can get a certificate  that indicates you did the work. Unfortunately, you are not going to get “Harvard” credit…

About this Course

How can Iran be stopped from getting a nuclear bomb—negotiations, sanctions, or military action? As a participant in this course, you will advise the president in deciding whether, and how, the U.S. should act. Once you’ve made your assessment, you will move on to wrestle with other scenarios preoccupying policy makers. Between the Assad regime and ISIS, civilians in Syria and Iraq face unimaginable atrocities. Should the U.S. intervene? China’s rise is rattling capitalist economies and a half-century of Pacific peace. What counterbalancing actions should Washington take? Leaks are a fact of life — but why do they happen? Who gets them, and why? Should journalists publish or withhold them? Does legal accountability lie with the leaker—or the journalist?

This seven-week course casts you as advisors on the hardest decisions any president has to make. We will go behind the veil to see the dynamic between the press and the U.S. government, to explore these dilemmas. We will also have to contend with the reality that government secrets rarely stay that way. Participants will learn to navigate the political landscape of an era in which private remarks become viral tweets, and mistakes by intelligence agencies become front-page stories.

Weekly assignments require strategic thinking: Analyzing dynamics of challenges and developing strategies for addressing them.  Students will learn to summarize their analyses in a succinct “Strategic Options Memo,” combining careful analysis and strategic imagination with the necessity to communicate to major constituencies in order to sustain public support. They will also examine how policymaking is affected by constant, public analysis of government deliberations.

 

January 9, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 9, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

January 7, 2015

Is climate change a homeland security issue? Is the Pope Catholic?

Filed under: Climate Change,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 7, 2015

Thanks to a post by the Recovery Diva last week, I learned that the Pope plans on issuing an edict on climate change this year. According to the Guardian:

But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

This will be…interesting.

This is intrinsically a homeland security issue. Perhaps not the work on the inputs, but the outputs certainly affect the work across any number of homeland security areas.

In theory, homeland security practitioners desire, encourage, and even plan on non governmental participation in their work. Right? There is a particular push for involvement and cooperation with religious groups.

So how exactly will this anticipated call from one of the world’s great religious leaders be heard?  Will it be recognized or ignored?

So many questions…so few answers…so little personal Papal infallibility…

January 2, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 2, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 1, 2015

Happiness is, it seems to me, a secondary (tertiary?) consequence of a certain calibration of experience, observation, expectation, and insight. Happiness, when worth the word, must reflect reality. It may be most commonly experienced when giving close attention to a very specific reality or – moving to the opposite extreme – assuming an especially broad perspective.  In between seldom seems a happy place.

Three observations that may, depending on your expectation and insight, start the New Year on a happy note:

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has been much more effectively contained than many expected as recently as September. I am surprised it was possible to so quickly contain the virus in Lagos and so dramatically beat-it-back in Monrovia. The recent progress in Sierra Leone is encouraging. There are many components to this good news, but especially important has been the ability to stimulate and organize voluntary behavioral change mostly through neighbors working with neighbors. There are still serious risks – both local and global – but we ought not deny nor minimize the considerable progress achieved in the midst of a very tough context and dealing with a terrible disease.

The 2014 holiday supply chain did not collapse. In late 2013 multichannel demands and overwhelmed distribution nodes showed us how a complex adaptive system can cascade close to full-stop at just the worst time. What has happened for toys and electronic gadgets is also possible for food, pharmaceuticals, and fuel. Some have worried the contemporary supply chain may be approaching its outer limits. Well, apparently not yet. The strains are still significant. The risks are real. But some lessons were learned and effectively applied, including crucial aspects of competitive self-restraint.  Last year a new generation of supply chain leaders encountered a latter-day Jacob Marley.  They have not yet experienced the want and ignorance of Christmas-future.  There is much yet to learn. Still, Christmas-past has engendered some healthy self-criticism.

As ISIL, ISIS, Da’ish rolled through Mosul and rapidly down the Tigrus some saw a new powerhouse of terrorism emerging. It remains a threat, but is considerably less potent than was sometimes perceived last summer. Moreover, its brutal methods have been so offensive to millions of Muslims that – whatever the occasional tactical success – the Caliph wanna-be has already been widely rejected. From every corner of the Umma and nearly every Ulema such violent extremism is branded as Haram. While predators troll the Internet for the disaffected, the vast majority of faithful are motivated to words and action that clearly communicate whatever ISIL may be, Islamic it is not.  The worst is sometimes required to compel the best to action.

2015 is unlikely to be any easier than 1915, 1815, or most any leap back. Whether it is better or worse is mostly up to us, as individuals and together. For better and worse, there are many more of us and what once was distant can now seem quite close.

“Happiness is an acquisition.” Adagia by Wallace Stevens

December 31, 2014

What was the most significant homeland security development of 2014?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on December 31, 2014

I woke up this morning thinking that it would be nice to write a post looking back on 2014 in terms of homeland security-related events.  Then I realized I should have started reviewing posts, news, and other sources days ago to refresh my memory about everything that occurred over the last 12 months.

So instead I am going to take the easy way out and ask a question of you: in your opinion, what was the most significant homeland security-related development of 2014?

It could be positive, negative, or to be determined.

Personally, I’m nominating Ebola’s appearance in the United States – keeping the focus “homeland” related, not neglecting the horrific impact of the disease in West Africa nor the importance of putting an end to the outbreak at its source.  I think I think this because of the reaction to the disease, not the direct impact of the organism itself.

Flu has already claimed more lives inside the U.S., as did the recent record breaking snow near Buffalo, New York.  What (I hope) Ebola did was bring attention to the importance of public health to a broad range of groups — politicians, policy makers, media, and the general public. Not holding my breath, I can dream that federal monies flow again to public health preparedness and local and state budgets for the same are increased.  Again hoping, it may underscore both the degree to which we are interconnected with the rest of the world and the risk that the lack of public health capacity and capability elsewhere poses to us at home. As with illegal immigration, we are long past the point that building higher walls will provide any commensurate increase in security.

But I am more than happy to consider other alternatives.

What do you consider the most significant homeland security-related development of 2014?

December 30, 2014

“All that happens must be known”- What’s good for cops should be good for elected officials.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 30, 2014

A Washington Post-ABC News poll learned that “86 percent of Americans support requiring patrol officers in their areas to wear small video cameras while on duty.”

In the words found within David Egger’s book, The Circle, “All that happens must be known.”


In other routine news, a congressman resigns after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion charges.  A former governor is found guilty of 11 counts of public corruption.  Four of the last seven governors of another state spent time in prison.  It happens to mayors too.  And judges. And to numerous federal officials.

Every profession has bad apples. So, if it’s good for cops to wear cameras while on duty, why not elected and appointed officials?

“All that happens must be known.”


David Egger’s utopian/dystopian novel (it sort of depends where you sit) is centered on a mega corporation, called the Circle. The Circle is used for 90% of all internet searches, but it’s also a technology company.

As we join this excerpt, one of the Circle’s founders – Stenton – is giving an Idea talk in the Great Room of Enlightenment.

“As you know…, transparency is something we advocate here at the Circle.  We look to a guy like Stewart as an inspiration…. [Stewart wears a video device on his chest; he has been recording and sharing every moment of his life for the past five years.]

“…There’s another area of public life where we want and expect transparency, and that’s democracy.  We’re lucky to have been born and raised in a democracy, but one that is always undergoing improvement.  When I was a kid, to combat back-room political deals, for example, citizens insisted upon Sunshine Laws….  And yet still, so long after the founding of this democracy, every day our elected leaders still find themselves embroiled in some scandal or another, usually involving them doing something they shouldn’t be doing.  Something secretive, illegal, against the will and best interests of the republic.  No wonder public trust for Congress is at 11 percent….  Your occupation could be dropping human feces on the heads of senior citizens … and your job approval would be higher than 11 percent.

“So what can be done? What can be done to restore the people’s trust in their elected leaders?

“I’m happy to say that there’s a woman who is taking all this very seriously, and she’s doing something to address the issue.”

Stenton then introduces Congresswoman Olivia Santos.  Santos is at the Idea talk to announce “a very important development in the history of government.”  She acknowledges that all citizens have the right to know what their elected leaders are doing, who they are meeting with, talking with, and what they’re talking about.

“We’ve all wanted and expected transparency from our elected leaders,” Congresswoman Santos says, “but the technology wasn’t there to make it fully possible.  But now it is.  As Stewart has demonstrated, it’s very easy to provide the world at large full access to your day, to see what you see, hear what you hear, and what you say….”

At this point it’s obvious what Santos is going to announce.

“Starting today. I will be wearing the same device Stewart wears.  My every meeting, movement, my every word, will be available to all my constituents and to the world.

And the Idea talk audience rose to their feet in the Great Room of Enlightenment cheering, whooping and whistling their approval.

When Santos first announced what became known as “the new clarity,” there was a bit of media coverage, but not much.

“But then, as people logged on and began watching, and began realizing that she was deadly serious — that she was allowing viewers to see and hear precisely what went into her day, unfiltered and uncensored — the viewership grew exponentially…. [Soon] there were millions watching her.”

The new clarity spread.

“By the third week, twenty-one other elected leaders in the U.S. had asked the Circle for their help in going clear…. By the end of the first month, there were thousands of requests [for the Circle's help] from all over the world…. By the end of the fifth week, there were 16,188 elected officials… who had gone completely clear, and the waiting list was growing.”

Like police departments that tried to resist in-car cameras, and who may initially balk at requiring officers to wear cameras, resistance for the politicians in Egger’s world was futile.

“The pressure on [politicians] who hadn’t gone transparent went from polite to oppressive.  The question, from pundits and constituents, was obvious and loud: If you aren’t transparent, what are you hiding?  Though some [people]… objected on grounds of privacy, asserting that government, at virtually every level, had always needed to do some things in private for the sake of security and efficiency, the momentum crushed all such arguments and the progression continued.  If you weren’t operating in the light of day, what were you doing in the shadows?”

Back to real life for a moment, “in the first year after .. cameras [were introduced in the Rialto, CA police department] … the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.

The result in Egger’s world?

“Within weeks, the non-transparent [elected] officeholders were treated like pariahs.  The clear ones wouldn’t meet with them if they wouldn’t go on camera, and thus these leaders were left out. Their constituents wondered what they were hiding, and their electoral doom was all but assured.  In any coming election cycle, few would dare to run without declaring their transparency….  There would never again be a politician without immediate and thorough accountability, because their words and actions would be known and recorded and beyond debate.  There would be no more back rooms, no more murky deal-making.  There would be only clarity, only light.”


Several people have mentioned to me that in 2015 we will be as far away from the year 2030 as we are from the year 2000.  That does not seem all that long ago.  But so much unpredictability has reshaped the world and this nation in those mere 15 years.

Who dares predict what will emerge in the next 15 years? Let alone what 2015 will bring.

Remember to breathe.
———
[thanks dwl]

December 26, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 26, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

December 23, 2014

Celebrating Festivus by airing GAO’s grievances with DHS

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 23, 2014

Today, December 23rd, is when we celebrate Festivus. There is much to be learned about how to celebrate this day by reviewing how the Government Accountability Office treated DHS in 2014.


Here’s the headline that dragged me reluctantly into the Festivus spirit: “U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack Or Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe GAO Says.”

What in the name of all that is peace-and-goodwill-toward men could it possible mean to be “fully prepared for a nuclear terrorist attack?” How about being fully prepared for a “large scale natural catastrophe?” How do you do that? If you’re prepared, is it really a catastrophe?

True, it’s the Huffington Post’s headline writer not GAO that ruled on the nation’s inability to be ready for the end of the world.  GAO’s actual headline is much more unassuming: “Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Interagency Assessments and Accountability for Closing Capability Gaps.”

If you read between the lines (and the report) you could see how the Huffington Post (and the dozens of other outlets that jumped into the story) could semi-plausibly, though not helpfully, reach the conclusion that life as we know it will end soon if we don’t get going on those capability gaps.

But an overt hatchet job is not GAO’s style.


A Washington friend once described the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as an agency that bayonets the wounded.

I believe that characterization is unkind.

GAO has a job to do. They watch things for Congress. They are not brutal. They are persistent, particular and as far away from petulance as it’s possible for one agency to be. There is a nobility to what they do and to how they express what they discover.

This is the time of year when we could all benefit from listening to what GAO has to teach about the right way to celebrate Festivus. Or at least what is arguably the most important part of Festivus: the “Airing of Grievances”.

The celebration of Festivus — according to Festivus officials — begins with the “Airing of Grievances”, which takes place immediately after the Festivus dinner has been served. It consists of each person lashing out at others and the world about how they have been disappointed in the past year.

If you are shy, anonymously write your grievances on a sticky note and post the note to the Festivus Pole. …

If your family and friends are shy and reserved types, keep the airing of grievances short, or possibly include a rule that the only personal grievances that can be aired must be directed to those who did not attend the gathering (fair game) or public figures such as politicians and celebrities (always fair game).

Of course DHS is required game – like putting up Christmas decorations while the children are out trick or treating.


For Festivus purposes, a grievance is “a complaint about a real or imaginary wrong that causes resentment and is grounds for action.” 

According to GAO, it has aired over 2100 grievances about the Department of Homeland Security: “GAO has made over 2,100 recommendations to DHS since its establishment in 2003 to strengthen its management and integration efforts, among other things.”

Do the research. Behind each of those recommendations hides one or more grievances that require airing.  Remedial action might follow.  But that’s not the point.  Or at least not as much of the point as the actual airing.

Done correctly and professionally, there is a subtlety about grievance airing. See if you can spot the disappointment, the sighs, even the sadness, in the following  selection of 2014 GAO report titles (and the occasionally excerpt).  Hear also the infinite echo of hopefulness that if DHS tries just a little more it could be doing just a little bit better.

The emphasis, in italics, is mine.


  1. DHS’s Efforts to Modernize Key Enforcement Systems Could be Strengthenedhttp://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-62
  2. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) role of collecting information and providing assistance on PII breaches, as currently defined by federal law and policy, has provided few benefits. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-34
  3. Until DHS … addresses the cybersecurity implications of the emerging technologies in planning activities, information systems are at an increased risk of failure or being unavailable at critical moments. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-125
  4. …DHS … officials acknowledge that they do not collect or assess data to determine whether the [Commercial Items] test program is used to the maximum extent practicable. As such, its limited use may indicate missed opportunities. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-178
  5. DHS Needs to Strengthen Its Efforts to Modernize Key Enforcement Systems http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-342T
  6. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has not identified or assessed fraud or noncompliance risks posed by schools that recommend and foreign students approved for optional practical training (OPT), in accordance with DHS risk management guidance. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-356
  7. GAO… has identified several key factors that are important for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement its partnership approach with industry to protect critical infrastructure. DHS has made some progress in implementing its partnership approach, but has also experienced challenges coordinating with industry partners that own most of the critical infrastructure. …more needs to be done to accelerate the progress made. DHS still needs to fully implement the many recommendations on its partnership approach (and other issues) made by GAO and inspectors general to address cyber challenges. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-464T
  8. DHS components have designed controls to help ensure compliance with the Department of the Treasury’s [Asset Forfeiture Fund] equitable sharing guidance, but controls could be enhanced though additional documentation and guidance. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-318
  9. DHS Could Better Manage Its Portfolio to Address Funding Gaps and Improve Communications with Congress http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-332
  10. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made progress in addressing high-risk areas for which it has sole responsibility, but significant work remains. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-532T
  11. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established mechanisms—including an intelligence framework and an analytic planning process—to better integrate analysis activities throughout the department, but the mechanisms are not functioning as intended. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-397
  12. DHS Needs to Better Address Port Cybersecurity http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-459
  13. DHS and CBP have established performance measures and reporting processes for the JFC and ACTT in Arizona and the STC in South Texas; however, opportunities exist to strengthen these [Southwest Border] collaborative mechanisms by assessing results across the efforts and establishing written agreements. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-494
  14. Continued Actions Needed to Strengthen [DHS] Oversight and Coordination of Research and Development http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-813T
  15. Improved Documentation, Resource Tracking, and Performance Measurement Could Strengthen [DHS Training] Efforts http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-688
  16. DHS Action Needed to Enhance Integration and Coordination of [Critical Infrastructure Protection] Vulnerability Assessment Efforts http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-507
  17. Additional Actions Needed to Determine Program Effectiveness and Strengthen Privacy Oversight Mechanisms http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-796T
  18. Federal Real Property: DHS and GSA Need to Strengthen the Management of DHS Headquarters Consolidation http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-648
  19. DHS OIG’s Structure, Policies, and Procedures Are Consistent with Standards, but Areas for Improvement Exist  http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-726
  20. Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Risk-Informed Covert Assessments and Oversight of Corrective Actions Could Strengthen Capabilities at the Border http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-826
  21. DHS Is Assessing Fusion Center Capabilities and Results, but Needs to More Accurately Account for Federal Funding Provided to Centers http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-155
  22. DHS Should Take Steps to Improve Cost Reporting and Eliminate Duplicate Processing http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-82
  23. Improvements Needed to Fully Implement the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-3
  24. Federal and Transit Agencies Taking Steps to Build Transit Systems’ Resilience but Face Challenges  http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-159 
  25. Continued Action Needed to Strengthen Management of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-95 
  26. Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Interagency Assessments and Accountability for Closing Capability Gaps http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-20 – better known as “U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack Or Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe GAO Says.”

The circle closes. The grievances have been aired.

Now on to the Feats of Strength.


Happy Festivus

festivus 1 frank-costanza

December 19, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 19, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

December 16, 2014

Exponential thinking in homeland security: what could it mean?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 16, 2014

In 1927, a New York Times reporter tried to explain quantum theory. He wrote “It is much like trying to tell an Eskimo what the French language is like without talking French.”

Over the years, one element of quantum theory – Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – has been translated, extrapolated, and culturally distorted into regular-person speak: “the act of observing alters the reality being observed.” One can measure the position of something, or the movement of something. But not both.


What is the status – the “position” – of homeland security? Lots of contemporary strategies, reports, exposés offer opinions on that question. For one example, see the September 2014 GAO report “DHS Action Needed to Enhance Integration and Coordination of Vulnerability Assessment Efforts.”

What’s happening to the movement of homeland security during the time it takes to produce what I’m terming “position descriptions”?

From the DHS response to the September GAO report (p. 65):

“The draft report contains six recommendations with which the Department concurs.”

The next three pages describes how DHS is already doing what the draft report said it should be doing – that is, “we’re already moving in the direction GAO wants us to go.”

That’s just one example.

The 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report offers another example. On page 29 it describes

“four potential ‘black swans’ that could materially change our assessment of overall homeland security risk and priorities over the next five years…. These changes are not planned for or expected in the next five years, yet if they were to happen, they would fundamentally alter the homeland security strategic environment described here.”

Three of the four potential swans have already happened. Maybe even all four.

Can’t measure position and movement at the same time. The world is not as linear as it used to be.


The argument I hear increasingly is the world has become exponential. (For brief illustrations see this video  or this one.)

Here’s Peter Diamandis  starting to explain the difference between linear thinking and exponential thinking (my emphasis).

As humans we evolved on this planet over the last hundreds of thousands of years in an environment that I would call local and linear.  It was a local and linear environment because the only things that affected you as you were growing up on the plains of Africa was what was in a day’s walk.  It was local to you.

Something would happen on the other side of the planet 100,000 years ago you wouldn’t even know.  It was linear in that the life of your great grandparents, your grandparents, you, your kids, their kids, nothing changed generation to generation.  It was pretty much the same.  You used the same stone tools.  You ate the same animals.  You pretty much lived in the same place.

Today we’re living in a world that is exponential and global. Something happens in China or Korea, it affects you in Manhattan literally minutes later, through stock prices, news, whatever it might be.  That’s a global planet we’re living on. The life of your grandparents, your parents, you, your kids is extraordinarily different in every possible way and we know this from going to Best Buy and finding a computer that is twice as fast or four times as fast for the same dollars as you bought it a year or two ago.  So we’re living in a world that’s exponential in that regard.

To give a visualization of this, if I were to take 30 linear steps, it would be one, two, three, four, five.  After 30 linear steps I’d end up 30 paces or 30 meters away and all of us could pretty much point to where 30 paces away would be. But if I said to you take 30 exponential steps, one, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two and said where would you end up? Very few people would say a billion meters away, which is twenty-six times around the planet.

That’s the difference between our ability to project linearly and project exponentially. It’s what’s really causing disruptive stress because as humans we think linearly, but the world is changing exponentially.

There are arguments against the exponential claim – such as it’s warmed over Malthusianism, or that it may only apply to the technological world, not the social world.

Linear thinking still works quite well in a lot of domains. I’m able to type words on a computer and place them on the internet because many people were very good at thinking linearly about circuit boards, databases, electricity, networks and wireless communication.

But I don’t think the argument is about replacing linear thinking. I believe it’s about augmenting linear thought.


If the exponential claims are correct, what are the implications for homeland security?

What does exponential thinking look like in homeland security? How does it differ from linear thinking?  What would a GAO report based on exponential thinking look like? How would one think exponentially about homeland security policy, strategy, law, threat, preparedness, leadership, education? Are there any advantages to thinking exponentially?

I don’t know. But like the uncertainty principle, it may be worthwhile to take the idea of exponential thinking and translate, extrapolate, and culturally distort it into homeland security speak.

N’est-ce pas?

December 12, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 12, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

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