Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 29, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 29, 2014

On this day in 2005 Hurricane Katrina came ashore near Buras-Triumph, Louisiana.  The hurricane is implicated in the death of more than 1800 Americans and damages exceeding $100 billion.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

August 28, 2014

Reality is random

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 28, 2014

A quick review of the summer, now quickly closing:

So far the wildfires have been less destructive than I anticipated.  But worse is likely still ahead.  The exceptional drought in California and extreme drought in Nevada and Southern Oregon set-the-stage for a dangerous autumn.  Precisely when or where?

The hurricane season was predicted to be “below-normal” and results to-date track the projections.  But tomorrow we remember the ninth anniversary of Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana.  We know it will happen again in New Orleans or Houston or Miami or Hampton Roads or following the path of Sandy.

A powerful mid-August low pressure cell brought flooding from Detroit to Baltimore and into New England.  The long-standing record in Islip, New York for rainfall in a 24 hour period was seven inches.  On August 13 the city received nearly 13 inches. Detroit was hit again this week.   More extreme weather has been statistically confirmed.

The 6.0 earthquake in sparsely populated Napa is another proverbial wake-up call for the eventual hit on dense urban areas.  The 1906 San Francisco quake is estimated to have been a 6.8.  The Richter scale is a base-10 logarithmic, so the 6.8 earthquake is almost 16 times stronger than the 6.0.  The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was 9.0 or over 31,000 times stronger than a 6.0 (That’s not a typo.  You can do the calculations here.)  San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Memphis, Anchorage know it is just a matter of time.

Ebola is not casually transmitted.  It has usually been possible to contain it.  But the increasing number of Ebola cases since March highlights the challenges emerging from increased density and mobility. While the Ebola threat to the US is scant, implications for other novel viruses are worth keen attention.  In May several of us exercised a pandemic’s impact on the US supply chain.  As one grocery executive said, “There’s no real solution to this one.  It’s mostly a choice between very bad and awful.”

The March disappearance of MH370 and the shooting down of MH17 in July are each surreal in their own way.   In the last half of July three passenger planes crashed in an eight day period.  Aviation remains comparatively very safe and has consistently become safer over-time.  But with more people flying in more planes more accidents will occur even if the proportion of accidents declines compared to overall use.  Similar can be anticipated for transporting oil and hazardous materials by railway, pipeline, or truck.

Back in February I predicted Syrian-sourced terrorist attacks on Europe. There has been one.  A few more have been preempted.  Given what has happened this summer in Gaza and Northern Iraq, I am surprised we have not seen more attempts.  We will and in the US too.

The Nigerian girls continue to be held captive.  More have been captured.  More boys and girls have been killed.  Boko Haram has also declared creation of an Islamic State (whether related or not to the one in Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq is not yet clear).  Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Salafists control large swaths of Libya.  Al-Shabaab has lost ground in Somalia but is increasing its activities in Kenya, Djibouti, and Uganda. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to operate in Yemen and plot operations far-afield.  Religious differences amplify tribal conflicts across the Sahel. The summer months have not been encouraging in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Central Asia.  Political divisions have deepened.  Communal conflict has increased.  The same might be said for places and people closer-at-hand.

North American demand for drugs and Latin American suppliers (some with connections to Central Asia and terrorist-related distributors) continue to develop a thriving market for their dangerous products and associated violence.  As with any complex adaptive system the consequences are manifold and often unintended.  But we have seen across the United States and throughout Central America that children are frequently the innocent victims.

For any child of the enlightenment and every Type-A personality there is in this quick review strong motivation to identify causation.  Is there an epidemiology of evil?  Is there a target-zero?  Some sort of pump-handle to remove and thereby mitigate or prevent unnecessary death, injury and destruction?

Perhaps.  Certainly our retrospective forensic skills are often strong enough to recognize what we missed.  But prospectively?  There are many more of us interacting in many more ways and our connections are increasingly interdependent. The potentialities are as logarithmic as the Richter.  Reality is robustly random.  Extremes are not anomalies, they ought to be expected. But they cannot be precisely predicted.

Plenty of opportunities for October surprises.

We are left with what we can apply in the fleeting present: preexisting resources and relationships, a commitment to accurately observing unfolding reality, and a predisposition to positive — and if we can, collaborative — action.

August 26, 2014

In a democracy, the public’s responsibility is to challenge the police when they see misconduct (Part 2)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by David Gomez on August 26, 2014

[David Gomez is a retired FBI agent and current Homeland Security Consultant. This is part 2 of a 2 part post. You can read part 1 at this link.]

As a young police officer I was taught that the most important thing in police work was to go home to your family every night. That meant learning to use the training, tactics, and command presence that we all learned in the academy to remain safe. It didn’t mean shooting every person we came across that posed a threat. Rather we were required to memorize the 10 Management Principles of the LAPD.

Based on the Nine Principles of Policing developed by Sir Robert Peel in the 1800s, the one I remember most vividly to this day is the one that says:

“Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

Meaning that all police are all inherently part of the community they serve, even though they may live dozens of miles away. New York Police Commissioner and former LAPD Chief-of-Police William Bratton in this New York Times article recounted those management principles, first espoused by Sir Robert Peel in the early 1800s.

Those were the guidelines I followed early in my career until a certain level of cynicism overtook me. That police cynicism was hard to overcome, and didn’t leave until I had spent a significant amount of time in the FBI. Interestingly, the cynicism returned for a time after 9/11, when I saw all terrorists as personifications of evil, rather than merely as criminals to be investigated. The situation in Ferguson, MO., has once again brought that cynicism back to the forefront. But this time it is local police that are the object of my focus.

The images and conduct of police reported out of Ferguson are disheartening at best. First, there was an absence of any semblance of police strategy in dealing with both lawful and violent protestors. The police treated both equally badly, showing up in camouflaged combat gear and automatic weapons more suitable for jungle warfare than an urban environment, and arresting citizens, reporters, politicians, and criminals equally without regards to motive or intent. Tear gas was used indiscriminately to disperse crowds that were not attacking police, but merely protesting the death of one of their own at the hands of police. The right to peacefully assemble took a vacation from Ferguson for a few days last week.

Second, the manner in which the police chief, the mayor, and even the governor fumbled the narrative regarding what was happening in Ferguson was appalling. There were dueling press conferences, leaks of information, conflicting reports, and a total lack of comprehension about the role of the media during a homeland security crisis. As of this writing over two million tweets have been posted about the events in Ferguson, the majority of them negative recitations of police misconduct.  Whether about perceived or actual misconduct, these tweets drove the narrative of police conduct in Ferguson. In the 21st century, a comprehensive media strategy is an essential requirement of every homeland security professional’s compendium of tools.

Finally, the actions of a few rogue officers negatively influenced the perceptions of millions of viewers on television. Followers of social media who read and watched St. Louis area police officers posting racist comments on Facebook, or pointing loaded automatic weapons at lawful protesters and threatening to “f*cking kill” them if they didn’t move back was a public relations and policy nightmare.

In discussions about the police response in Ferguson, retired NYPD Lieutenant John Comiskey pointedly reminded me, “Police work is more like a humanitarian or peace keeping mission than a combat mission. It’s not about simply arresting people.” Or as another former police officer, Andrew Priest, put it, “Police work is 97% being a priest, 3% being a warrior.” Police work has also been described as ninety-nine percent boredom and one percent sheer terror.

In the city of Ferguson, however, for a time we saw no priests, no peacekeeping, and no humanitarians, only warriors. Sheer terror among the police officers seemed to have replaced common sense and effective police work.

Working as a rookie cop in Los Angeles, I may have felt closer to the South Central community where I worked than other cops, because I grew up just outside the city line. My sister—a nun—taught school in Watts, and my mother was a cafeteria worker at a public school there as well. I participated in the Basic Car Plan, which was that era’s community-based policing. For all the criminals I dealt with daily, I learned that there were plenty of families just like mine—only African American—living in Watts. Good people, fair, hard working, law–abiding people. People who supported the police, but were always wary of the rogue cop element that exists in every police department. While the LAPD developed in me an “us against them” survival instinct, the people I met in South Central helped me overcome the negative aspects of that instinct.

Ferguson, Missouri is not Mayberry, North Carolina. Neither is it South Central Los Angeles in the 1970s or even today. It is a town obviously polarized by race, politics and poverty. As events unfold over the shooting death of Michael Brown, Ferguson became a lightning rod and protest platform for political and social activists including anarchists, communists, the Ku Klux Klan and others. In a direct affront to Constitutional values, even members of the mainstream media have been harassed and arrested by police under the guise of maintaining civil order.

We can never return to Sheriff Andy Taylor and the Mayberry of television. But we—as law enforcement and homeland security professionals—can aspire to be Andy-like in our approach to lawful citizens protesting the questionable death of a young black man in their own town. That type of emotional-led police training and experience is what differentiates good, community-based policing from oppressive, us against them policing that has permeated the airwaves of late. Empathetic policing and emotional intelligence seem to be what are missing from the police department of Ferguson, Missouri and surrounding communities.

Sunnil Dutta is wrong. In a democracy, it is the public’s responsibility to challenge the police in the face of what they perceive as police misconduct. The police’s responsibility in turn is not to respond in kind. After all, an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind, even as it restores peace. I hope that is a lesson professor Dutta will now convey to his homeland security student’s at Colorado Technical University.

August 25, 2014

In a democracy, the public’s responsibility is to challenge the police when they see misconduct (Part 1)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by David Gomez on August 25, 2014

[David Gomez is a retired FBI agent and current Homeland Security Consultant. This is part 1 of a 2 part post.]

In the Andy Griffith Show, the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina served as the setting for small town sheriff Andy Taylor, his hapless but good-hearted deputy Barney Fife, and an array of citizen characters that represented life and policing in early 1960s small-town America. There was Floyd the talkative barber, Howard the county clerk, and Gomer and Goober Pyle. There was also a criminal element represented by Otis Campbell, the town drunk who let himself in and out of his cell when inebriated, and Ernest T. Bass, the local good-hearted troublemaker who like to chuck rocks.

Fast forward 50 years later, and police work is not so simple anymore. There are terrorists, anarchists, drug lords, and violent gang members to worry about. Not to mention the proliferation of legally and illegally armed citizens, some of who present a direct threat to the safety of the modern police officer. Mayberry was a fictional town, but today’s hometown security threats are real and omnipresent.

The question is how much has policing changed from the time of Andy Taylor?

On August 19th, Sunnil Dutta, commenting on police and protestor conduct in Ferguson, Missouri, wrote in the Opinion Section of the Washington Post, “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” Dutta, an adjunct professor of Homeland Security at Colorado Technical University and a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department went on to write,

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.

In the piece Dutta argues that the responsibility for not getting hurt by police lies with lawful protestors. The tag line of the article—and it is unknown if headline editors at the Washington Post added this—was: “It’s not the police, but the people they stop, who can prevent a detention from turning into a tragedy.” In effect, Dutta is saying, “Police are the real victims here; you made me do this, so it’s your fault.” Unfortunately, the “you made me do this” line is the same ‘blame the victim’ argument I frequently get from my six-year old twin boys.

As a former LAPD detective, and a fellow homeland security professional, I was saddened to read this. While most of Dutta’s comments about police work rang true, some did not. For example, Dutta writes, “cops are not murderers. No officer goes out in the field wishing to shoot anyone, armed or unarmed,” which is patently untrue. To deny that a rogue element exists among police officers is to deny the hard truth.

One need only look at the history of the LAPD and the Rampart police scandals to know these officers exist. I know because I worked in Rampart with some of those officers and others whose greatest desire was to become involved in a shooting. They were the exception, no doubt, but they exist.

In a similarly themed article, former patrol officer Justin Freeman, writing for PoliceOne.com in an article titled why people see cops as ‘arrogant’ stated:

…think about the workday of a police officer. Her job assignments consist, primarily, of being dispatched to successive 911 calls. When someone calls 911 for police service, there is a tacit admission by the caller that the situation at hand has deteriorated beyond his or her control, and police are needed in order to bring the situation back under control. That is the unstated assumption that the officer has going into each situation — not that a social equilibrium needs to be maintained, but that a situation needs to be quickly and efficiently brought back under control. Freeman’s article goes on to develop the theme that over time, and in response to all the calls for service, police officers develop a well-reasoned mistrust of the citizens they encounter on the job as a matter of officer safety.

To paraphrase Freeman with something I frequently heard on the LAPD, “there are three types of people in this city: Cops, people who love cops, and assholes.” If you are treated badly it’s because the police officer doesn’t know or trust you enough to discern if you are one of the first two types. Which to most cops is pretty much everyone they meet on a day-to-day-basis.

Was police work always like this? Or has 9/11, the threat of terrorism, and concerns over homeland security changed the nature of policing? Some argue that the police response to the public during homeland security incidents is a law enforcement education and training issue that police commanders have failed to pursue since 9/11. The responsibility to educate police on the public’s perception of them, demonstrate that police are a part of the community they serve, and hold police accountable to a higher standard of conduct is a managerial imperative that is not always followed (Comiskey, personal communication, 2014).

As a young police officer I was taught that the most important thing in police work … [to be continued on Tuesday, August 26th]

August 24, 2014

One day. Forty earthquakes. One story.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 24, 2014

Here is a map of the magnitude 2.5 or greater earthquakes reported by the United States Geological Survey on August 24, 2014. (The red lines are the plate boundaries.)

Global earthquakes 2.5+ August 24, 2014

And here’s a list of those earthquakes:

list of 8.24 14 earthquakes

And here’s a picture of a fire in the Napa, California mobile home park where my mother-in-law lives.

napa mobile home park

Her home did not burn. But almost everything inside was treated the way you might expect a 6.1 earthquake would treat the contents of a mobile home.

One story of one earthquake on one day.


August 22, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 22, 2014

On this day in 1949 an 8.1 earthquake struck a sparsely populated area off British Columbia and the Alaska panhandle.  There were no deaths.  But it demonstrated the potential energy of the Cascadia fault system.

On this day in 2008 a train derailed near Luther, Oklahoma.  Crude oil and ethanol being transported exploded.  The fire continued for over 24 hours.

On this day in 1831 Nat Turner led a slave rebellion in Southhampton County, Virginia.  Up to seventy died in the rebellion.  At least 100 were killed in the aftermath.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

August 21, 2014


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:


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?”


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


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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?


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?


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.”


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.

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