Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 21, 2014

Tyranny

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 21, 2014

In mid-June the wife of my long-lost cousin wrote to her Facebook friends:

To encourage and reward lawlessness by refusing to enforce the will of the people as proven by laws passed by our political representatives is the signature of a tyrant. In this case, Obama’s refusal to enforce immigration laws and his blatant suggestion that his chosen illegal activity will be rewarded are proof of his tyrannical tactics.

Sarah Palin is certainly not alone in this judgment of the current President. A frequent commentator to this blog writes:

A White House who believes it can use its pen and phone without ramification and a Congress and constituents who continue to allow such outrageous behavior – how dare you folks allow this continuing weakening of our established procedures by a WH and AG who could give a damn about our laws and enforcing them… The real question, will it be domestic terrorism we need to truly be concerned about, or a government who cannot adhere to the checks and balances placed before us by our forefathers to guard against possible breach of faith and in the words of Frederick Douglass, the following: “Find out just what People will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

Award-winning screenwriter and playwright David Mamet agrees that President Obama is a tyrant.

He’s a tyrant and I give him great credit. He’s always said that his idea was to reform the United States. And, you know, like many tyrants, like Wilson and like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he believes that his way is the right way and that he’s going to implement his vision of the world, and many agree with him. And he’s acting in concert with his conscience. And I applaud him for that. I just disagree with everything he’s done.

New York Times writer C. Gerald Fraser has called Mamet the “Aristophanes of the inarticulate”. Aristophanes was a writer and director of biting politically-charged comedies. Plato suggests that his play The Clouds set-the-stage, so to speak, for the prosecution and execution of Socrates. No wonder Plato mistrusts poets.  Plato also suggested Aristophanes plays to non-Athenians as a way of better understanding the complex culture of the city-state.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Aristophanes’ The Wasps:

BDELYCLEON

Everything is now tyranny with us, no matter what is concerned, whether it be large or small. Tyranny! I have not heard the word mentioned once in fifty years, and now it is more common than salt-fish, the word is even current on the market. If you are buying gurnards and don’t want anchovies, the huckster next door, who is selling the latter, at once exclaims, “That is a man whose kitchen savours of tyranny!” If you ask for onions to season your fish, the green-stuff woman winks one eye and asks, “Ha, you ask for onions! are you seeking to tyrannize, or do you think that Athens must pay you your seasonings as a tribute?”

XANTHIAS

Yesterday I went to see a whore about noon and told her to get on top; she flew into a rage, pretending I wanted to restore the tyranny of Hippias.

This play was first performed in 422 BC. It describes an Athenian democracy degraded by a populist authoritarian executive and a banal, self-indulgent, litigious, and often vengeful populace. A long war and related economic decline have generated widespread cynicism. Bdelycleon, above, is a protagonist for reclaiming the joy of life… partly by putting aside anti-social conventions and adopting a rather refined, yet still spontaneous conviviality.

Mamet’s use of tyrant surprises me.  But I expect that was his goal.  He once told some interviewers, “In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to while away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously. That’s probably where my ability was honed.”

Vicious, as Mamet knows, is related to vice, suggests cruelty, and signals faulty, defective, corrupt.  The opposite of virtuous.

If you have ever seen a Mamet play — Glengarry Glen Ross or Sexual Perversity in Chicago — you might agree the playwright is masterful in exposing how language can be used to misdirect others and, especially, self-deceive.

Vigorous language is needed.  It both seeds and weeds our thinking.  But it seems to me vicious language is a threat to real thought.  Shedding humility the vicious communicator is exposed as anorexically prideful.  The language is chosen to intimidate or, failing that, confuse.  At the very least vicious language renders a real conversation practically impossible.  Dangerous in a want-to-be (need-to-be?) democracy.

– Parabasis –

This post is I readily admit very close to off-topic.  Given what continues along our border, what is emerging in North Africa and Southwest Asia, and various domestic threats, it is rather weird to quote a Fifth Century BC dramatist regarding the tendency to socially scripted over-statement.

But it also seems to me the situation in Ferguson has exposed an unbridged abyss between homeland security tactics and strategy.  Especially treacherous is where rhetoric is inclined to rock-slides.  Too many of the players in Ferguson have performed as if they were reading from (badly written) scripts.  Catch-words, platitudes, stock-phrases, pseudo-slogans, clichéd complaints have been repeatedly deployed on all sides; which one or more of many sides receives as proof that others are not listening.  So each retaliates on each with a barrage of their own bromides. Absurdly farcical possibilities unfolding into tragedy. Words replaced with other weapons.

Aristophanes — no friend of his city’s authoritarian ruler — strongly suggests that the principal source of tyranny is our individual and collective tendency toward non-thinking.

I have experienced the wisdom of crowds, especially if the crowd is listening and in meaningful discussion. I want to be in conversation with you.  When our digital “talks” get going — when we listen and build on the wisdom of each other — it is noticed.  Then our words have influence.  Especially when we are not repeating scripts but actually thinking, listening, and exploring — together — about tough issues that are, we demonstrate, abundant in ambiguity and ambivalence.

August 20, 2014

William Cumming on emergency management as an organizational process in governance

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues,Resilience — by Arnold Bogis on August 20, 2014

Long time (perhaps the longest?) HLSWatch commentator William Cumming has a guest blog up on Eric Holdeman’s Disaster Zone blog. And he doesn’t nibble around the edges:

Increasingly, I am supportive of the notion that emergency management is not a contrived subject or profession but in fact underlies much of organizational process that leads to various forms of governance.

I’m not sure if I accept this notion, but it is a big idea. However, I do think his opinion on the use of the military in most other nations for emergency management responsibilities is an important insight.

Well in my opinion, emergency management is the worst form of organizational response to crisis management and resilience (that includes elements of preparedness, planning, prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery) except all others. What alternative choices are there?

One big one is a military command and control system that actually can prevent effective collaboration and cooperation, whether among individuals, NGOs, governments or other spontaneously developing post-disaster organizations. Since more than 90 percent of the nation-states have vested their EM function in their military, organizationally designed to inflict maximum organized violence on some other group or nation-state, I find that this approach is largely vested in a leadership’s desire for control and resurrecting the status quo ante. These factors are not absent from emergency management but seem more likely not to dominate when the civil sector is dominate.

He goes on to provide five building blocks for emergency management going forward.  Please see Holdeman’s blog for the full text as it is well worth your time to read. It is also worth pointing out here his summary:

In summary, perhaps the system of emergency management must promote collaboration and cooperation so that the system is supportive of the best resilience. And while individual brilliance will from time to time appear and needs to be utilized, systems and processes must reflect the collective wisdom of those involved with the emergency management process in any crisis or disaster.

What I like here is the focus on process and system.  Often, at least it seems to me, leadership development and education is held up as the holy grail of homeland security development.  I believe Bill is pointing out that while when you get exceptional, or even adequate, leadership good things follow but the most important thing is to develop an overall system within which best practices are developed, shared, and implemented.

August 19, 2014

What Law Enforcement Needs to Understand about Ferguson

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 19, 2014

Today’s post was written by Max Geron

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The tweet read:

“Honestly, of all the people that should be upset about #Ferguson, why aren’t the other police who actually do “protect & serve” speaking up?”

It came from one of the people who follows me on twitter and while not directed specifically at me, it was directed to me. It is an excellent question and speaks to what I think needs to change about law enforcement.

It’s not simply about social media use by law enforcement, although in my view that needs to improve. It’s actually how we talk about and how we respond to protest. Law enforcement officers are often quick to say that we are here to protect the rights of those who want to express dissent as well as the rights of those against whom the protest is directed. As true and simple as that statement is, the reality of it is exponentially more complicated.

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The images from Ferguson, Missouri are disturbing and disappointing to those who recognize their role in law enforcement as servants of the public as opposed to strict enforcers of the law, maintainers of order or members of a paramilitary organization. While enforcing the law is a primary function and order maintenance is a part of that job, they are but components of the larger public servant role. Additionally, while police agencies are paramilitary in nature, law enforcement leaders now, more than ever, need to guard against the increase of militarization currently underway.

I’m disheartened that police unions and associations across the country are concerned about citizens photographing police while in public and have no qualms about speaking out against it. This adds to the concern of the public that we are moving more towards a police state and slowly eroding the freedoms we should cherish in this great nation.

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So what?

Law enforcement leaders must guard against applying “best practices” to fluid and dynamic incidents with which they have only limited experience such as protests. They must also recognize that deploying a SWAT team is, in and of itself, a use of force and not appropriate in all circumstances – response to peaceful protests being one of those inappropriate uses.

Sometimes the most difficult thing for leaders, especially law enforcement leaders, to do is nothing or doing less. This is often what is called for, and now apparently happening in Ferguson. When the Missouri State Police reported to Ferguson, they did so reportedly without donning riot gear, which appears to have contributed to a much softer reception and peaceful march on Thursday evening.

Officers often point to the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle as justification for wearing riot gear. A segment of those demonstrators refused to engage in the negotiated management tactics employed at the time by Seattle police. Scholars have argued that a failure by Seattle PD to plan for that refusal is what added to the reasoning for the militarized response and therefore increased the resistance. [See Patrick F. Gillham and Gary T. Marx, “Complexity and Irony in Policing and Protesting: The World Trade Organization in Seattle,” Social Justice 27, no. 2 (80) (June 1, 2000): 212.]

Interspersed with the rioting came the reports of media personnel being threatened with arrest and being ordered to stop filming. Little does more to incense the media, especially the television media than ordering them to stop filming when that order is not based in the law. Compound that with arrests of some journalists and the problems were exacerbated. In very few circumstances can civilian police make such a demand of citizens (another blog post/topic altogether).

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Long before Michael Brown was shot, the Ferguson police department seems not to have recognized that they were in a precarious position for several reasons. Their minority representation was not reflective of the community they were policing. In the language of social identity theory, the police in Ferguson, Missouri are a 53 person out-group with the ability to take not only the freedoms of the in-group but their lives as well. Much work must be done in that department and community to repair the perceived injustices. Police need to do more to recruit candidates that are more representative of the population they serve, while at the same time making inroads to the citizens with their current cadre of officers.

Their strategy for policing protest, if they had a formal one, seems to indicate a lack of understanding of the effect that a strong show of militarized force can have on a community that believes they have been disenfranchised by their police department. By being members of the “out group”, they were incapable of understanding the impact such a tactical display would have on the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri. Furthermore, their initial refusal to release the name of the involved officer supports the theory that they were unable to understand how that could be perceived as an inability to be objective and impartial in their investigation.

This repair effort must come not only from the police leaders in Ferguson but also from the civic and community leaders. They must come together and have the critical conversations necessary to establish expectations and understanding on how things must change to rebuild trust and increase transparency in their government.

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Finally, do not make the mistake thinking this is solely a Ferguson issue, a Missouri issue or mid-West issue. This is a homeland security issue and was evidenced in the responses to the Occupy Movement in 2011 across the country. The increase in militarization is a national issue only thrust into the forefront of the American awareness by the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. The withdrawal of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan has left thousands upon thousands of former soldiers looking for work. For law enforcement agencies looking to hire qualified candidates, former soldiers appear to be outstanding recruits.

We are only beginning to consider the implications of the flood of former military personnel joining the ranks of civilian policing. I submit that more study into this phenomenon is needed. The issue of militarization of American policing is not just the acquisition of military equipment; it is the infusion of so many former soldiers into the ranks of the civilian police.

For American police, retention of the “servant” mindset is more critical than that of the “warrior” mindset.

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Max Geron is a senior executive in a major urban police department and, according to the Washington Post, a security studies scholar.”  He is the author of “21st Century Strategies for Policing Protest: What Major Cities’ Responses to the Occupy Movement Tell Us About the Future of Police Response to Public Protest,” which can be found at this link: https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=753807 .  The views expressed in this post are Geron’s; they do not represent the opinions of any agency or organization.

 

August 18, 2014

Hero or Victim: Encouraging Self-Dispatching of Off-Duty Police Officers to Active Shooter Incidents

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on August 18, 2014

Today’s post was written by Matthew Hanley.

Officer Smith receives the call he has been dreading his entire career, an active shooter at the local elementary school.

The 911 dispatcher provides the only description available of the shooter – a white male wearing a black shirt.  Officer Smith arrives in just under 2 minutes.

As he exits the vehicle, he hears a series of shots ring out.  He makes the decision to enter the school alone.  Down the first hallway he encounters the gunman – white male, black shirt, handgun.  He instinctively fires 3 rounds and the suspect falls to the floor.

As Officer Smith approaches the suspect, he recognizes the man as an off-duty police officer.

Shots continue to ring out in the gymnasium.

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This is precisely the scenario that could play out across the country if a new mobile phone application called Hero911 becomes widely adopted.

Hero911 is meant to reduce law enforcement response time to active shooting incidents at schools.  Schools purchase a service called SchoolGuard ($2500 setup fee and $99/mo).  Police officers voluntarily download the free Hero911 “social protection network” application.  (By the way, the phrase “social protection network” is trademarked.)

When an active shooter incident occurs, the school activates SchoolGuard (also trademarked) which immediately notifies nearby police officers, both on-duty and off-duty, of the incident.

(The Hero911 app is clearly meant to be used only by sworn police officers or “a qualified retired law enforcement officer.”  But one of the people who recommends the app on the Hero911 website — “To all sheepdogs, the Hero911™ Network can save lives, please put the app on your phone, I did.” —  is Lt Col (retired) Dave Grossman.  Grossman is a former Army Ranger, teacher, consultant, and author of On Killing, On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs, and other publications.  He does not appear to be an active or retired police officer.  One wonders how many other knowledgeable, experienced, and weapons-smart non-police officers might also “put the app on” their phone.)

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Cleary seconds count when responding to active shooter incidents and law enforcement agencies should be exploring ways to expedite that response.  But these types of incidents are extremely chaotic and the response must be conducted in a coordinated manner utilizing best practices.

Encouraging the self-dispatch of off-duty officers is potentially dangerous.

Without the ability to communicate via radio, off-duty officers are not able to receive accurate suspect/incident information or able to communicate their location to other responders.  Without a uniform or clothing identifying the individual as a police officer, the likelihood of the off-duty officer being mistaken for a suspect is real and potentially deadly.

Hero911 does briefly address these concerns – somewhat –  on their website (FAQs).  Here’s an example (my emphasis):

Officers without proper training, skill and identification should not respond, but remain vigilant after receiving the alert. ….All laws, home agency policies and protocols must be followed.

Officer safety is a major concern during these catastrophes. Please consider purchasing a well-stocked “Go-Bag” for your personal vehicle. Hats and vests with bold POLICE markings are strongly recommended.

Applications like Hero911 are well intentioned and could potentially reduce response times to active shootings by creating a direct link between school officials and nearby police officers.

However, before law enforcement agencies endorse the use of such applications, policies and training should be developed to address the self-dispatching of off-duty officers.

Additional information can be found at www.hero911.org.

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Matthew Hanley is a senior executive in a state police agency.  The views expressed in this post are Hanley’s; they do not represent the opinions of any agency or organization.

August 15, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 15, 2014

On this date in 2007 an 8.0 earthquake in the Pacific off Peru devastates several coastal communities killing more than 500 and injuring more than a thousand.

On this day in 1935 Wiley Post and Will Rogers were killed in the crash of a private airplane. (Sort of interesting that spill, fire, explosion, and other search terms mostly found individual car crashes and other transportation-related accidents. Nothing really big.)

On this day in 1998 a car bomb exploded in Omagh, Northern Ireland killing twenty-nine and injured more than 200.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

August 12, 2014

Obesity, Homeland Security, and the National Preparedness Goal

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 12, 2014

Here’s the national preparedness goal:

“A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.” 

Some people (e.g., several hundred retired admirals and generals) argue obesity threatens both the security and resilience of the nation.

A few years ago, in a document titled Too Fat to Fight, they claimed

Being overweight or obese turns out to be the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service. Today, otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too overweight….

[At] least nine million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States are too fat to serve in the military. That is 27 percent of all young adults. Obesity rates among children and young adults have increased so dramatically that they threaten not only the overall health of America but also the future strength of our military. 

Obesity threatens more than the nation’s ability to staff its armed forces. It’s an economic threat. And, as the 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review report points out (p. 31), “homeland security is inseparable from economic security.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (still acronymized as CDC):

• More than one-third (or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese.

• Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.

• The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

What can be done to “prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover” from obesity?

Among the hundreds of answers offered to that question, here a suggestion from a 1:41 youtube video I saw a few weeks ago.

Homeland security starts at home.

 

August 8, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 8, 2014

On this day in 2007 an EF2 tornado struck Brooklyn, New York. (Swiss Re recently published a study of the tornado threat to US urban areas.)

On this day in 2009 a small plane and a tour helicopter collided over the Hudson River between Hoboken and Manhattan.  Nine died.

On this day in 2013 a suicide bombing at a funeral in Quetta, Pakistan kills over thirty.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

August 5, 2014

65 years ago today: the Mann Gulch Fire

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 5, 2014

A man named Robert Sallee died on May 26th of this year. He was the last survivor of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire. 

Today is the 65th anniversary of the Montana wildfire that killed 13 firefighters.

Here’s the story of what happened, based on Karl Weick’s summary of Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire.  You can find Weick’s analysis of the fire in his Administrative Science Quarterly article titled “The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster.”

… at its heart, the Mann Gulch disaster is a story of a race. The smokejumpers in the race (excluding foreman “Wag” Wagner Dodge and ranger Jim Harrison) were ages 17-28, unmarried, seven of them were forestry students, and 12 of them had seen military service. They were a highly select group and often described themselves as professional adventurers.

A lightning storm passed over the Mann Gulch area at 4 p.m. on August 4, 1949 and is believed to have set a small fire in a dead tree. The next day, August 5, 1949, the temperature was 97 degrees and the fire danger rating was 74 out of a possible 100, which means “explosive potential”.

When the fire was spotted by a forest ranger, the smokejumpers were dispatched to fight it. Sixteen of them flew out of Missoula, Montana at 2:30 p.m. in a C-47 transport. Wind conditions that day were turbulent, and one smokejumper got sick on the airplane, didn’t jump, returned to the base with the plane, and resigned from the smokejumpers as soon as he landed.

The smokejumpers and their cargo were dropped on the south side of Mann Gulch at 4:10 p.m. from 2000 feet rather than the normal 1200 feet, due to the turbulence. The parachute that was connected to their radio failed to open, and the radio was pulverized when it hit the ground.

The crew met ranger Jim Harrison who had been fighting the fire alone for four hours, collected their supplies, and ate supper. About 5:10 p.m. they started to move along the south side of the gulch to surround the fire. Dodge and Harrison, however, having scouted ahead, were worried that the thick forest near which they had landed might be a “death trap”. They told the second in command, William Hellman, to take the crew across to the north side of the gulch and march them toward the river along the side of the hill. While Hellman did this, Dodge and Harrison ate a quick meal.

Dodge rejoined the crew at 5:40 p.m. and took his position at the head of the line moving toward the river. He could see flames flapping back and forth on the south slope as he looked to his left. At this point the reader [of Young Men and Fire] hits the most chilling sentence in the entire book: “Then Dodge saw it!”.

What he saw was that the fire had crossed the gulch just 200 yards ahead and was moving toward them. Dodge turned the crew around and had them angle up the 76-percent hill toward the ridge at the top. They were soon moving through bunch grass that was two and a half feet tall and were quickly losing ground to the 30- foot-high flames that were soon moving toward them at 610 feet per minute.

Dodge yelled at the crew to drop their tools, and then, to everyone’s astonishment, he lit a fire in front of them and ordered them to lie down in the area it had burned. No one did, and they all ran for the ridge.

Two people, Sallee and Rumsey, made it through a crevice in the ridge unburned, Hellman made it over the ridge burned horribly and died at noon the next day, Dodge lived by lying down in the ashes of his escape fire, and one other person, Joseph Sylvia, lived for a short while and then died.

The hands on Harrison’s watch melted at 5:56, which has been treated officially as the time the 13 people died.

After the fire passed, Dodge found Sallee and Rumsey, and Rumsey stayed to care for Hellman while Sallee and Dodge hiked out for help. They walked into the Meriwether ranger station at 8:50 p.m., and rescue parties immediately set out to recover the dead and dying. All the dead were found in an area of 100 yards by 300 yards.

It took 450 men five more days to get the 4,500-acre Mann Gulch fire under control. At the time the crew jumped on the fire, it was classified as a Class C fire, meaning its scope was between 10 and 99 acres.

The Forest Service inquiry held after the fire, judged by many to be inadequate, concluded that “there is no evidence of disregard by those responsible for the jumper crew of the elements of risk which they are expected to take into account in placing jumper crews on fires.” The board also felt that the men would have been saved had they “heeded Dodge’s efforts to get them to go into the escape fire area with him”.

Dodge apparently invented the escape option on the spot. As Weick notes, the crew refused “to escape one fire by walking into another one that was intentionally set.”  It simply went against all their training and all their commonsense. They died, by following their training and by doing what their commonsense told them to do.

The Weick article about Mann Gulch introduced me to the idea of sensemaking, the notion that reality is not always something that exists outside the observer.  Reality can be constructed — i.e, made sense of — in ways that help and hinder effective action.

Weick notes two lessons learned from Mann Gulch I believe retain their usefulness for homeland security leaders trying to make sense of what they are asked to do every day.

1. Improvisation and bricolage — Creativity is “figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you currently think.” Dodge was able to improvise a way to survive the fire because “he was what we now would call a bricoleur, someone able to create order out of whatever materials were at hand.”

2. The attitude of wisdom – “To be wise is not to know particular facts but to know without excessive confidence or excessive cautiousness. … Wisdom is an attitude taken by persons toward the beliefs, values, knowledge, information, abilities, and skills that are held, a tendency to doubt that these are necessarily true or valid and to doubt that they are an exhaustive set of those things that could be known. In a fluid world, wise people know that they don’t fully understand what is happening right now, because they have never seen precisely this event before.”

 

August 1, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 1, 2014

On this day the Great Flood of 1993 is thought to have peaked along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  Thirty-two died.  Over $15 billion in damages.

On this day in 2007 the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing thirteen and injuring over 140.

On this day in 2013 the Department of State closed several US diplomatic missions across the Middle East and North Africa.  The official announcement noted, “Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

July 29, 2014

“Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” – a disappointing sequel

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 29, 2014

“Nobody pays any attention to these reports. But you still keep printing them.”

The quote is from a prominent (former) intelligence official. He was talking about the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. But he could have been referring to the “Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” released last week (available at this link: http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/report/rising-terrorist-threat-9-11-commission)

One wishes to be fair to the people who wrote the Reflections. No doubt it was as well intentioned as any sequel. But in my opinion it doesn’t come anywhere close to being a worthwhile read. The assertions and arguments in Reflections are as fatigued as the authors claim the America people are.

And that’s unfortunate.

The Commission missed an opportunity to help reinvigorate the homeland security project they were instrumental in shaping.

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The 9/11 Commission Report (available here: http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/) starts with the most memorable sentence of any government report I’ve ever read:

“Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the Eastern United States.”

Here’s the opening sentence in Reflections:

“With temperatures in the low 50s, April 15, 2013, promised to be an almost ideal day for the 23,000 runners competing in the 117th Boston Marathon.”

This artless effort to draw a parallel between the Boston Marathon and the September 11 2001 attacks comes off sounding, at best, tone deaf. At worse, offensive.

But it’s only the start.

Instead of the thoughtfulness, balance, and bipartisanship of the original 9/11 Commission Report, we get a repetitive rehash of banal assertions: The terrorists are coming and they are really dangerous. Cyber threats are growing and they also are really dangerous. Congress is dangerous too. Their refusal to reduce the number of homeland security oversight committees is making the country less safe.

And by the way, the Director of National Intelligence (not dangerous) should control the budget of the Intelligence Community.

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Unlike the hundreds of thorough and informative endnotes supporting the claims in the 9/11 Commission Report, Reflections backs up its assertions with a handful of anecdotes, a few charts, some quotes from unnamed experts and eight seemingly haphazardous endnotes.

The 9/11 Commission Report did not shy away from discussing at length alternative interpretations of “facts” they uncovered. See, for example, the extensive discussion of the intelligence wall.

That balance and realism is missing in Reflections on every significant issue discussed.

Is there no credible argument that the nation continues to overblow the terrorist threat? How about this one: http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Security-Money-Balancing-Benefits/dp/0199795762

Assuming the nation will not take the cyber threat seriously until we have a cyber version of the 9/11/01 attack, what can we do now to mitigate that attack?

Is there a case for having 92 congressional committees looking at homeland security issues? Are all those committees unnecessary?  Did Reflections speak with anyone who defends the current congressional oversight structure? Could it be an example of the messiness that is republican democracy? Is DoD really the efficiency model to be emulated by homeland security?  Are there no substantial downsides to having only a handful of committees looking at Defense matters?

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I appreciate this was not supposed to be another 9/11 Commission Report. But I’m guessing – hoping? – it was supposed to be a serious analysis.

The commission members were “struck by how dramatically the world has changed” in a decade.

Struck? When was the last time a decade went by without dramatic world changes?

What about the current terrorist threat? It’s evolving, says Reflections.

“The forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade…. The absence of another 9/11-style attack does not mean the threat is gone: As 9/11 showed, a period of quiet can be shattered in a moment by a devastating attack.”

Reflections continues to press the importance of connecting dots, even if one has to wait years. They ask,

Is the April 2013 rifle attack on an electrical substation in Metcalf, California, a harbinger of a more concerted assault on the national electrical grid or another component of critical infrastructure? What might we be missing today that, three years from now, will prove to have been a signal, a piece of a larger mosaic?

What if it’s not? Or is this report only reflecting things to be afraid of?

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If you stop reading after the first two dozen pages of Reflections you’d think the nation is hanging by an existential thread, worse off now then it was ten years ago.

You have to get to page 25 of the 44 page report before learning:

There is no doubt that the country is better equipped to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks than in 2001. …The mass-casualty attacks many feared in the wake of 9/11 did not materialize. Today, in large part because of … many [security-related] reforms, the United States is a much harder target.

Senior leaders agree that America’s layered approach to homeland defense, which recognizes that no single security measure is foolproof, has improved our security….  At its best, a layered system integrates the capabilities of federal, state, and local government agencies. America’s resilience has improved as well. Federal, state, and local authorities have absorbed and applied the lessons of 9/11 over the last decade…. The country must continue to prepare for the unforeseen, but it appears to be moving in the right direction….

I think that’s called “burying the lede.”

Later:

There is a consensus among the senior officials with whom we spoke that information-sharing has improved significantly since 9/11.

And right before Reflections concludes (page 37):

As we reflect on the last ten years, we believe the government’s record in counterterrorism is good. Our capabilities are much improved, while institutional vigilance and imagination are both far better than before 9/11. Good people in government have absorbed the lessons of the 9/11 attacks, are tracking the evolving threat, and are thinking one step ahead in order to prevent the next attack.

Lest one think that gives us permission to be complacent, Reflections ends with this less-than-upbeat anecdote:

One former senior national security leader told us recently that he expects that his children and grandchildren will be carrying on this fight.

I wonder if there is another former senior national security leader, somewhere, who thinks about his children and grandchildren the way John Adams did:

I must study … war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

If there are any such national security leaders, they were not interviewed for Reflections.

Young Americans need to know that terrorism is not going away. And they need to know that many of our military personnel, intelligence officers, and diplomats on the front lines in the most dangerous parts of the world are like them—young people with dreams of bright futures.

——————————

In addition to the full court press strategy (that includes a congratulations-9/11-Commission youtube video from tired-looking President Obama: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIA2iiWkvKY), how are young Americans and the rest of the nation to learn “how dramatically the word has changed?”

It’s simple, says Reflections.

Senior leaders, including the President, have to make the case about terrorism and cyber threats and all the myriad things that go (or might go) bump in the night “in specific terms, not generalities.”  

One hoped Reflections would model some of the transparent specificity they want others to provide. Instead, what we get are statements like this one:

“If the American people hear what we have heard in recent months, about the urgent [cyber] threat and the ways in which data collection is used to counter it, we believe that they will be supportive.”

——————————

Don Marquis wrote that “a sequel is an admission that you’ve been reduced to imitating yourself.”

I found Reflections to be a disappointing sequel.

July 25, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 25, 2014

Since we opened the Friday Free Forum it has been my practice to tee-up the discussion with brief historical references to natural, accidental, and intentional events that happened on the same date.  The cumulative effect on me has been reassuring.  Bad — very bad — stuff happens, always has.  Despite my cognitive inclination to catastrophize the present, it is not necessarily worse than it has ever been.

This week my scan for July 25 has not quickly turned up the typical collection of calamities. (Deeper digging might find them.)  But right now we are dealing with:

A deadly intersection of drought and wildfire across the Western United States.

The unfolding consequences — human, political, and much more — of the downing of MH17. Beyond the debris field in Ukraine it has been a very bad week for commercial aviation.

Serious challenges to several nation-states by non-state and pseudo-state actors and the sustained use of state violence against several civilian populations, religious communities, and targeted ethnic groups.  A spillover to the US domestic context is already happening and is likely to increase over-time.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

July 23, 2014

See something say something goes awry?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Infrastructure Protection — by Arnold Bogis on July 23, 2014

Boston_gas_tank

["Boston gas tank" by Lasart75 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boston_gas_tank.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Boston_gas_tank.JPG]

It’s rare that a big, albeit colorful, gas tank becomes a local landmark. But that is the case in Boston, where the tank pictured above sits just off of Interstate 93 on the southern approach to the city. Lots of people take lots of photos of this particular piece of critical infrastructure.  Apparently, one got in a lot of trouble for it. Boston.com reporter Roberto Scalese has the story:

We’re not sure what professional photographer James Prigoff called the tank in 2004, when he decided to photograph it from public property. In a post on the ACLU’s website, Prigoff recalled the security guards who demanded he stop taking the photos, saying the tank was on private property. After that encounter, he went home to California and found a Joint Terrorism Task Force agent’s business card on his front door.

There is some simple beauty to the “see something, say something” message, however there are inadvertent negative consequences as well. What some may deem suspicious, the photographing of critical infrastructure for example, others deem art.  In fact, I would argue that for every terrorist plot alleged to have been uncovered since 9/11, I could find you two artists within the Greater Boston area alone who photograph, draw, paint, sketch, or otherwise utilize images of what is considered critical infrastructure in their work. Should they all be registered with the government?

If this was simply the case of some over zealous security officers, I could understand.  But according to the ACLU, this type of thing stays on your permanent record:

SARs can haunt people for decades, as they remain in federal databases for up to 30 years. An individual who is the subject of a SAR is automatically subjected to law enforcement scrutiny.

Somewhat disturbing, right?

July 22, 2014

“Terrorism has entered a new and dangerous phase,” says the 9/11 Commission

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 22, 2014

From their press release:

This morning, the members of the 9/11 Commission, led by Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, released a new report reflecting the evolving and dangerous terrorist threat facing the nation. Ten years after the release of the commission’s original report, with mounting threats from the resurgence and transformation of al Qaeda, the situation in Syria and a rapidly changing cyber landscape, the commission’s new report calls for a vigorous and proactive counterterrorism effort. The report comes from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which reconvened the 9/11 Commissioners to develop their updated recommendations.

A copy of the report is here:  http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/%20BPC%209-11%20Commission.pdf

 

July 18, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 18, 2014

On this day in 1995 the Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat erupted.  It has continued volcanic activity ever since leaving more than half of Montserrat uninhabitable, destroying the capital city, and causing about two thirds of the population to evacuate the Caribbean island.

On this day in 1945 the Bedford Magazine fire and explosions began causing widespread damage in the Nova Scotia communities of Bedford, Halifax, and Dartmouth.

On this day in 1994 the Argentine Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed killing 85 and injuring 300.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

 

July 15, 2014

Why DHS is cleaner than DoD

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 15, 2014

I think I understood most of the 2014 QHSR.  But there’s one piece I did not get.

Today’s post is about my effort to discover what a “clean audit opinion” means.  In 2013, DHS received a clean audit.  The Department of Defense has never had a clean audit.  Never.  But I believe it hopes to have a clean audit in 2017, when it turns 70 years old.

That’s basically what I have to say today.  The details follow.

———————————————————————

“It is also worth noting that, in late 2013, DHS received its first unqualified or ‘clean’ audit opinion; this occurred just 10 years after the Department’s formation, which was the largest realignment and consolidation of Federal Government agencies and functions since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947.”

This 49 word sentence appears twice in the 2014 QHSR.

It sounded like accounting language. I had no idea what it meant. But it seemed like a big deal. So I tried to find out.

The QHSR says DHS got the clean opinion in late 2013. I searched and found a GAO report published on November 15, 2013. That counts as “late 2013″ to me.

The report did not appear to confirm the “DHS is Clean” claim: [my emphasis]

GAO reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made considerable progress toward obtaining a clean opinion on its financial statements…. DHS has a goal of achieving a clean opinion for fiscal year 2013. However, the DHS auditors’ report for fiscal year 2012, the most recently completed audit, indicated that DHS continues to rely on compensating controls and complex manual work-arounds to support its financial reporting, rather than sound internal control and effective financial management systems.

…GAO also reported that DHS had made limited progress in establishing effective controls to obtain a clean opinion on its internal control over financial reporting.

…DHS has plans to resolve the remaining five material internal control weaknesses, with a goal of achieving a clean opinion on internal control over financial reporting for fiscal year 2016. DHS will continue to face challenges in attaining a clean opinion on its internal control over financial reporting, as well as obtaining and sustaining a clean opinion on its financial statements, until serious internal control and financial management systems deficiencies are resolved.

The GAO report seemed so antithetical to the DHS is Clean assertion that I had to be missing something.

I kept searching and found a DHS press release  that proclaimed “DHS Financial Statements Earn a Clean Audit.”

The release was dated December 12, 2013. You could not get much deeper into “late 2013″ than that. So this is probably what the QHSR statement meant.

The press release said [my emphasis]:

This year, the Department of Homeland Security reached a major goal by achieving a clean audit opinion of the Department’s financial statements by an independent auditor. Simply put, the clean audit is in line with our ultimate goal to increase transparency and accountability for the taxpayer resources entrusted to the Department. …

In order to achieve a clean audit opinion, DHS worked across the entire Department to complete a comprehensive inventory process of its property for the financial statements…. This enterprise-wide approach made it possible for the Department to account for an additional $8 billion in property, which was the last factor we needed to earn a clean audit.

In less than a month, DHS apparently went from not having a chance of getting clean “until serious internal control and financial management systems deficiencies are resolved” to receiving “a clean audit opinion of the Department’s financial statements.”

That is a remarkable achievement.

So remarkable that I must still be seriously not understanding what any of this means.

I located a December 11, 2013 DHS Office of Inspector General report that contained the “independent audit” referred to in the DHS press release.

The IG document did confirm the cleanliness of the audit.

Sort of.

The Department continued to improve financial management in FY 2013 and has achieved a significant milestone. This is the first year the Department has received an unmodified (clean) opinion on all financial statements.

OK, so “unmodified” is a synonym for “clean.” It was starting to become clear to me. I continued reading the IG summary: [my emphasis again]

 However, KPMG [the independent auditor] issued an adverse opinion on DHS’ internal control over financial reporting of the FY 2013 financial statements. Further, as stated in the Secretary’s Assurance Statement, the Department has material weaknesses in internal control over financial reporting. In order to sustain the unmodified opinion, the Department must continue remediating the remaining control deficiencies. 

More accounting speak, I assume. Unmodified means clean. And while phrases like “adverse opinion on DHS’ internal control over financial reporting,” and “material weaknesses in internal control” may appear to my untrained eye to modify “unmodified opinion,” they apparently don’t.

So it’s all still clean. I guess.  And probably transparent. And definitely accountable.

Here’s more confusion on my part: I don’t quite get the “independent auditor” business.

The November 2013 report came from GAO.  Does that mean GAO is not independent because it is an arm of Congress?

Why are we supposed to believe the firm that conducted the audit reported in December 2013 is independent? Because it doesn’t report to Congress?

Who does it report to?

The company, KPMG, received its auditing contract from the DHS.

That’s what the DHS Office of Inspector General wrote when the auditor’s  report was released in December 2013: “We contracted with the independent public accounting firm KPMG LLP (KPMG) to perform the integrated audit.” 

The KPMG tagline is “cutting through complexity.”  Maybe creating unmodified opinions that are modified by other opinions is one way of cutting through complexity.

I know these are all cheap shots on my part. My confusion is undoubtably caused by not speaking Accountantese.

I found a source that did speak like an accountant, or an accountant who was good at translating accounting speak into English. I conducted what in this context might be called an “unmodified interview” [the unmodified emphasis is mine]:

Q: First, what’s an “unmodified opinion?”

A: An unmodified auditor’s report effectively states the auditor believes the financial statements present a true and fair view, and are in accordance with accounting standards and relevant legislation. This is sometimes also called an “unqualified” or a “clean” audit opinion.

Q: Great. Does a clean auditor’s report mean a clean bill of health…?

A: Auditor’s reports are intended to increase the degree of confidence users have in the information in financial statements – not about the state of the [organization] itself …. An unmodified auditor’s report means … stakeholders can make an assessment of the [organization] based on its financial statements, with a higher degree of confidence that the information is materially correct and unbiased.

If I’m understanding this correctly, then, a “clean opinion” does not say anything about efficiency, effectiveness, or  other significant output or outcome measures. It basically means what you see in the financial statements accurately represents financial reality.  [Correction, suggested by Phil Palin: "It basically means what you see in the financial statements is coherent and consistent with widely accepted standards of accounting."

[Where does one go to find these widely accepted standards of accounting? "The most authoritative source of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) developed by FASAB {Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board} for federal entities is contained in The FASAB Handbook of Accounting Standards and Other Pronouncements, As Amended...."  Here's a link to that Handbook:  http://www.fasab.gov/pdffiles/2013_fasab_handbook.pdf.  It is 2,129 pages. The phrase "clean opinion" appears once, describing how to issue a clean opinion even if there are problems.  I am way out of my depth here.]

The 2014 QHSR believes it is worth noting that for the first time in DHS history, its books are in order.

Is that really a big deal?

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman, Tom Carper, thinks it is a big deal.

“Given the size of the Department, the fact that it encompasses 22 separate agencies, and the scope and importance of its mission, producing a clean financial audit is no small task. I credit the Department’s past and current leadership for making financial management a priority and taking the steps necessary to realize this important goal.”

So – returning to the title of this post – how does all this circuitousness make DHS cleaner than DoD?

Senator Carper again [with my emphasis],

“By earning this clean bill of health from an independent auditor, DHS is now in compliance with this law and is on track to continue to do so. The Department of Defense is now the only large federal department that is unable to conduct a financial audit.”

It only took 10 years for DHS to figure out what’s on its books. The Department of Defense has been around for close to 70 years and it still can’t figure out what is on its books.

Maybe DoD can learn something from DHS for a change.

July 11, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 11, 2014

Today Typhoon Neoguri is expected to continue on a northeasterly path following the Japanese coast.  It is no longer a so-called “super typhoon”, but heavy rains are forecast.

On this day in 1978 a truck carrying liquid gas crashes and explodes in Tarragona, Spain killing more than 200.

On this day in 2006 more than 200 are killed in the Mumbai training bombings.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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