Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 4, 2014

And the Band Played On…

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jeff Kaliner on November 4, 2014

The other night I went to a high school football game.  Around me were many of the mothers and fathers of the boys who played on the field.  The parents watched as their young warriors relentlessly collided into one another. Occasionally they would cheer as bodies and heads were repeatedly smashed, banged, bruised and bashed.

It occurred to me that these children were being actively encouraged by their parents to engage in this violent and injury prone sport. The fierce and brutal actions taking place on the field were not just being condoned by their caretakers, they were being rewarded by hand claps and ovations.

As I watched these parents, I wondered how many of them would let these same children get anywhere near a returned Ebola health care worker who had tested negative for the disease and had shown no sign of the illness.


Several weeks ago a few headlines were made by the fact that three high school football players had died within days of each other.  Many of these articles cite a 2013 study from the American Journal of Sports Medicine that found football related fatalities in college and high school averaged 12.2 per year.  That averages out to about 1 per every 100,000 participants.

If we drill down a little further we find another 2013 study from the Institute of Medicine shows that high school football players suffer 11.2 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures (games or practices). Obviously these statistics do not include the thousands of high school football players who end up in the emergency department every year with dislocated shoulders and hips; broken bones; blown out knees and various other serious injuries.

Certainly Ebola has a much higher fatality rate than playing high school football. However, as it stands, the risk of contracting Ebola in this country is minuscule.  On the other hand, evidence with regards to the risks of high school football is increasing and yet only a muted outcry has reached the public through our media megaphone.  In other words, we know that putting our children on a football field is full of potential risk, both in the short and long term, and yet the band plays on.


At this point, evidence is suggesting that highly conservative quarantine measures for returning Ebola health care workers are unwarranted if proper protocol is exercised and actual cases are successfully isolated. Overly conservative quarantine measures may not only be medically unnecessary, they also have other possible unintended consequences: a threat to our constitutional liberties, economic disruption and the potential to limit the effort and ability of health care specialists to treat the outbreak where it is actually located.

Bumping up the incredibly small risk of contracting Ebola against the increasing risks of intentionally placing adolescents into a dangerous and violent contact sport is a fascinating riddle ripe with many of the problems that confront our current zeitgeist. For example, ignoring research findings that don’t agree with prevailing political ideology or concerns. Or, a cultural belief system that still places football in the same innocuous category as apple pie and Chevrolet. It also speaks to an ethical dilemma that puts profit over people.

On a hopeful note, the numbers seem to be shifting. There appears to be a downward trend in the amount of children participating in formal football programs.  Like the cigarette wars of decades past, the real threat posed by football to the masses will probably take many years to seep into our collective conscious. However, unlike the more hidden damage of threats like smoke and other inhaled pollutants on the body, the visceral effects of football are immediately discernible, real and deadly in both the short and long term.

So what’s the problem?


Donald Michael, in one of his many fascinating essays on meeting an increasingly complex future, posits that:

Arguably, the most profound threat to the development of a planetary civilization is the inability of leaders to admit that there are fundamental circumstances with which we must deal that cannot be acknowledged. In part this is because to do so would require confessing that, as of now, we do not know how to deal with them. What is more, this inability to acknowledge this mute state of affairs is also part of the situation that cannot be acknowledged. (Leadership’s Shadow: The Dilemma of Denial)

To be clear, I don’t necessarily believe the issue of high school football falls into this category. President Obama recently had the temerity to state that he would not let a hypothetical son play the game. However, he seemingly doesn’t know how to deal with the larger problem. Regardless, it’s far simpler to ring our collective hands about a scary and infotainment ready threat like Ebola than to deal with the complex machinations of the football industrial complex.

Ultimately, there is one given in my Ebola vs. high school football question.  Although parents cannot protect their children from the possibility of contracting the disease (however slight the risk) they can powerfully deal with the real short and long term ravages of the game.  They can simply “just say no”.


Jeff Kaliner is a public health emergency preparedness professional with twelve years in the field. As a child and adolescent he spent an unreasonable amount of time thinking about and playing sandlot and high school football. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Science in Education from Northern Illinois University.



October 31, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 31, 2014

On this day in prior years there have been horrifically deadly cyclones, propane tanks have exploded in the midst of a crowded fairground, and of course we have killed each other for various reasons and in a variety of ways.

It is also Halloween which is a curious — and an increasingly commercial — custom organized around otherness and fear and death.  In my tradition it is also known as All Hallows Eve when the community honors its dead.

Three years ago Chris Bellavita suggested I read Mary Ruefle’s essay on fear.  I did not entirely agree with her, but being in conversation with Ruefle may well have changed my life.  I have only realized the full impact rather recently.  You can also read her essay courtesy of the Poetry magazine website.

Ruefle ends her piece with a paragraph that strikes me as especially appropriate for those of us involved in homeland security:

What has life taught me? I am much less afraid than I ever was in my youth—of everything. That is a fact. At the same time, I feel more afraid than ever. And the two, I can assure you, are not opposed but inextricably linked. I am more or less the same age Emily Dickinson was when she died. Here is what she thought: “Had we the first intimation of the Definition of Life, the calmest of us would be Lunatics!” The calm lunatic—now that is something to aspire to.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

October 30, 2014

Follow the money

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014


The graphic shows the rough 2014 budget proportions for the Department of Homeland Security.  The $45 billion figure for the DHS budget is based on an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

Late last week I was showing this pie chart to some graduate students who are exploring homeland security. They are on the edge of completing their law degrees, PhDs, or graduate studies in other fields. But they are interested enough in homeland security to have competed for and been selected for a Graduate Fellowship program at Rutgers University.

I asked, “What do you see?”

“It’s mostly about the border,” said one.

“Excluding the other,” said another

“Fear of the other.”

“Fear of each other.”

A young lawyer suggested this was a narrative theme — an analytical predisposition — that frames how we experience and make sense of reality. He and most of his peers agreed there was some evidence to support the  narrative. But we allow it to shape our orientation well beyond the evidence.

This is not where I was planning to take the discussion.  I was better prepared for a wonky consideration of incremental budgeting, legacy missions, Congressional oversight, etc., etc…

But I did not try to redirect.  We went with “otherness” as a homeland security problem.  Look again, you will see what they saw. Even if you can see other things and offer other explanations, I suggest their fresh eyes are not inaccurate.

It’s an interesting angle on reality, especially coincident with enhanced security being announced — despite the lack of specific threat intelligence.

Toward the end of Jean-Paul Satre’s play “No Exit”, a character proclaims, “So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE! (“L’enfer, c’est les Autres.”)

Most of us have experienced this unhappy truth. But many of us have also experienced, “without a you and an I, there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love but “mine” and “yours”… This is indeed the case everywhere, but not in love, which is a revolution from the ground up. The more profound the revolution, the more complete the distinction…” (Søren Kierkegaard). Without the other we are profoundly diminished.

Two antithetical intuitions equally true, depending on our attitude and the situation. A wicked problem? If so, extending well beyond homeland security.

How can we reason together through this paradox? Without the skill, discipline, and ethic of social reasoning we must defer to the mercy of randomness. I have often found randomness quite generous. But I aspire to — and have experienced — much more.  I know something about social reasoning in small groups.  Elinor Ostrom and others have told me interesting things about social reasoning in larger groups.  Is facilitation of social reasoning an appropriate tool of homeland security?

October 28, 2014

Shooting ebola

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 28, 2014

“The worship of reason is… an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion. It’s the idea that reasoning is our most noble attribute….”

Jonathan Haidt wrote those words in his book, The Righteous Mind.

…we must be wary of any individual’s ability to reason.  We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron.  A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire a pulse along its axon.  A neuron by itself isn’t very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way, you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons…. But if you put individuals together in the right way…, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.

I don’t believe that emergence is happening yet.

Assuming ebola does not turn out to be the 21st century version of the Black Death, people are going to be studying the transmission of ebola fear, misinformation and ignorance for decades. (On that point, check out Irwin Sherman’s engagingly flat recitation of “Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World.”).

Some preliminary data points, from a pool too wide to sample, even superficially.

– What is the DHS Secretary’s “real motive in refusing to restrict travel from West Africa?”  A writer on a website that boasts it has been thinking for ten years discovers “a link” between DHS Secretary Jey Johnson and black power politics. The argument is painful to unpack (you can read it here ), but the conclusion is “…the long-dead communist [Stokely] Carmichael’s dream of sticking it to ‘whitey’ via the White House and its apparatchiks is coming true.”   Michelle Obama is also partially to blame; but I could not quite figure out how or why.

– From Harpers – Giant Microbes, a web retailer, reported that its $9.95 Ebola plush toy, whose product tag describes the virus as “the T. Rex of microbes,” had sold out worldwide. I checked.  It’s true.  Giant Microbes can’t start shipping  ebola plush toys until mid-November.

– And hold those holiday travel plans. North Korea – wanting to upstage the United States again -  plans to ban foreign tourists because they might spread ebola.

– The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt looks to save readers from researching who’s to blame for… well, ebola in America. Here’s what he’s gathered:

• President Obama, for caring about Africans more than he cares about us.
• Republicans, for starving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of funds so it could not prepare for Ebola.
• Michelle Obama, for tricking the CDC into promoting exercise and healthy eating instead of preparing for Ebola.
• Liberians.
• Republicans, for starving the National Institutes of Health of funds so that it could not discover a cure for Ebola.
• The NIH, for squandering the ample funds generously appropriated by Republicans on lazy bureaucrats and self-indulgent research.
• Democrats and Republicans, for forcing the NIH to spend money on illnesses with well-organized constituencies (e.g., cancer) and not in areas with the most potential return on investment.
• Sierra Leoneans.
• Republicans, for denigrating Washington so regularly that good people don’t want to serve in government.
• Democrats, for coddling government unions that drive good people out of government with mindless anti-meritocracy.
• President Obama, for not standing taller against denigration of government service or coddling of government unions.
• The World Health Organization, for missing the ball as the epidemic bloomed.
• Obama, for not listening to the World Health Organization’s warnings on Ebola.
• Anti-smoking activists, for pressuring the World Health Organization to detour from its core mission.
• Guineans.
• The National Rifle Association, for opposing a nominee for surgeon general because he wanted to reduce gun violence.
• Congress, for taking orders from the NRA.
• CDC Director Thomas Frieden, for not keeping that nurse off the airplane.
• NIH official Anthony Fauci, for not telling Frieden to keep the nurse off the plane.
• Obama, for not at least banning dogs with Ebola from airplanes ….
• Ron Klain. He was appointed Ebola czar …. Why hasn’t he solved the problem yet?
• Africans.

– Tara Haelle adds to the collection:

In one corner of the Internet, we learn that President Obama created the Ebola virus—or Obama-Ebola—to “infect the DNA of Christians and to destroy Jesus so that a New Age of Liberal Darkness can rise in America.” Obamacare, we are told, is the cover organization to find the cure, and the virus will infect all Americans in the next month.

In another corner, we learn that Ebola doesn’t actually exist at all. The disease currently raging through West Africa was brought there by the Red Cross, who injected people with an illness so that American troops could be sent to steal Nigeria’s oil and Sierra Leone’s diamonds. Another explanation is simple: All the negativity and selfishness in the universe caused Ebola. Yet another tells us that two women who died from Ebola have risen from the dead and that the zombie apocalypse is beginning….

Haelle claims the last rumor is not true.

– Andy Borowitz may have the most accurate reports.  Some of the headlines over his recent stories:

Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News

Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Quarantining Wolf Blitzer 

Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes

Christie Sworn in as Doctor  (Saying that he was “sick and tired of having my medical credentials questioned,” Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) had himself sworn in as a medical doctor on Sunday night.)

– Here’s something not as amusing. It’s from Mark Thiessen in the Washington Post:

Ebola has up to a 21-day incubation period — more than enough time for terrorists to infect themselves and then come here with the virus. In a nightmare scenario, suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place — say, shopping malls in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta — spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids….  Or, the virus could also be released more subtly. Terrorists could collect samples of infected body fluids, and then place them on doorknobs, handrails or airplane tray tables, allowing Ebola to spread quietly before officials even realize that a biological attack has taken place.

There’s lots more of this “fearbola”.  But that’s enough for now.


We will all die.  Something’s going to get us at some point.  But what are the odds?

Justin Schumacher summarizes data from the National Safety Council on the odds of people in this country dying from a variety of causes.  His full list is here.    Some excerpts:

  • 1 in 5 [deaths]—Heart disease
  • 1 in 7 —Cancer
  • 1 in 23 — Stroke
  • 1 in 67 — Influenza, i.e. the flu
  • 1 in 112 — Car accident
  • 1 in 2,000,000 — Ebola (worldwide odds, so far)
  • 1 in 3,700,000 — Bitten by a shark
  • 1 in 10,000,000 — Hit by falling airplane parts
  • 1 in 20,000,000 — Killed by a terrorist

Not that data means that much to anyone whose mind is made up.


Three more children died in a school shooting on Friday.

It’s the 50th shooting this year and the 87th since the December 12, 2012 killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Also on Friday, two California sheriff’s deputies were murdered.

In 2011, 32,351 people died from firearms, that’s roughly 88 people a day.

… Gun violence — in schools, in workplaces and across our communities — has become virtually normal in America,” writes Eric Liu

It should not be. It cannot be. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to have over 30,000 gun deaths a year. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to expect educators and parents and first responders to have plans at the ready for a shooting at their school. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to assert that the best solution to gun violence is for more people to have more access to more guns.


I know a guy whose 13 year old son, in passing, mentioned something about another boy in his class.

“Stacy said ‘It would be really easy to kill someone.  All you’d have to do is take a gun, pull the trigger, and there’s a bullet in their head’.”

Not a big deal.  My friend’s son didn’t feel threatened.

“He’s always saying stuff like that.  He likes to shock people. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”


So, what is a delusion?  Haidt again:

…a false conception and persistent belief unconquerable by reason in something that has no existence in fact.




October 24, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2014

On this day in 2008 several leading stock exchanges experienced sharp declines that continued for a period of several months.  Was this a Black Swan?  Was this a Lévy flight?  Was this an expression of Self Organized Criticality?  Are catastrophic cascades the inevitable outcome of dense interdependencies in any system?  Electrical grids… supply chains… watersheds… fisheries… human populations?

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

October 22, 2014

Terror comes to Ottawa

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on October 22, 2014

The terrible tragedy that unfolded today in Canada’s capital has yet to be fully resolved.  The identified gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was killed at the scene, reportedly by the Sergeant-at-arms of the Canadian parliament Kevin Vickers. Preliminary reports suggested there were additional shooters, though by the close of the day the idea that it was only the one was gaining traction.

Most tragically, that one terrorist killed a Canadian Forces member on duty as an honor guard at the National War Memorial close to the parliament complex.  That member, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist from Hamilton, Ontario was only 24 years old. He leaves behind a son.

This story is still developing.  It will take time to learn the motive and motivation for this attack, the existence of connections foreign or Canadian, and the impact on Canadian (and American) security policies. For the best coverage, I would suggest following Canadian news sources:

A few initial, and random, thoughts not directly related to the Canadian security situation:

  •  As I watched the initial news coverage, I was dismayed to listen to several anchors across different networks speculate that this attack was terrorism.  Of course it was – an armed attack on the symbols of a nation’s government.  My displeasure came from the overtly implied definition of terrorism – that it must involve a nexus with Islamic fundamentalism.  In this case assumed to be ISIS.  Indeed, by the end of the day that connection became a little more concrete.  However, at the start of events it was described as the act of a gunman or gunmen either crazy or motivated by unknown drivers OR it had a connection to ISIS/Al Qaeda/Islamic fundamentalism and such considered terrorism.  I genuinely fear that in the popular conception, terrorism is no longer an act used to achieve political ends (intimidate or terrorize a population or coerce government policy) but intrinsically tied to Islam. So all violent, criminal acts carried out by Muslims is terrorism (e.g. the recent beheading in Oklahoma) while any violent act that is directed toward government agencies by non-Muslims is just a criminal act (e.g. flying a small plane into an IRS station or ambushing state patrol officers).


  • During the first press conference of the various security agencies I found it interesting that the official advice to the population of Ottawa was something along the lines of (paraphrasing here): “if you are not already downtown, stay away; for those in downtown, listen to your building managers as to what to do.” There was no direct order to shelter-in-place.  Instead, a seeming trust in the actions and advice of civilian liaisons was assumed.  I’ve heard of a similar relationship in the City of London, where the police have a close relationship with the businesses that make up London’s financial district in which they are considered partners in security preparedness.  But I was a little surprised, and impressed, by the example shown in Ottawa this afternoon.


  • The founder of this blog (is it appropriate to refer to him as the Blog Father?), Christian Beckner, presciently posted last night at the Homeland Security Policy Institute Blog on “Fear Canada? Examining the Border-Counterterroism nexus.” While it did not directly address the events of today, it certainly reminded readers that terrorist threats have arisen before in Canada and can pose a threat to the United States.


  • Finally, the video posted below of the reaction of security forces inside Canada’s parliament to the first sounds of gunfire has been played countless times on cable news.  It still never ceases to amaze me how brave first responders all around the world run toward danger instead of away from it.

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

“I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear… Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”

Marilynne Robinson

Quoted in the New York Times Magazine, October 1, 2014

October 17, 2014

The Ebola Czar and the missing Homeland Security Council

Filed under: Biosecurity,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on October 17, 2014

The President has announced the appointment of Ron Klain as his new “Ebola czar”, as numerous news outlets have reported this morning. From the New York Times:

President Obama will appoint Ron Klain, a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joseph R. Biden Jr., to manage the government’s response to the deadly virus as anxiety grows over its possible spread, a White House official said on Friday.


Mr. Klain will report to Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser, and Susan E. Rice, his national security adviser, the official said. His appointment was first reported by CNN.

The official praised the work already done by Ms. Rice and Ms. Monaco, but said that Mr. Klain would provide “additional bandwidth” in the fight against Ebola, which is important because the two women have to manage other national and homeland security issues.

I view this appointment of an “Ebola czar” and the need for such “additional bandwidth” as a symptom of a broader problem within the policy-making apparatus at the White House, due in part to the decision in 2009 to merge the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council staffs into a single integrated “National Security Staff” (since renamed the “National Security Council staff”).

Prior to the integration of the HSC and NSC staffs, the Homeland Security Council played a very active role on pandemic planning and response issues. It issued the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza in November 2005, and the subsequent Implementation Plan for that strategy in May 2006, and a progress report on implementation in 2007. During the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, the Homeland Security Council was utilized as a primary convening mechanism by the White House.

But since the end of the H1N1 crisis in late 2009, the Homeland Security Council (which was retained as a policy-making entity, in part because it was mandated in law in Title IX of the Homeland Security Act) has almost entirely disappeared from view. From January 2010 to the present, I can find only one public record of the Homeland Security Council being convened: a meeting in July 2014 to address the unaccompanied minor issue on the southern border. (It is possible that there have been additional meetings of the HSC during the last five years, but there is no public record of it).

These concerns about homeland security issues being downgraded were predicted by opponents of HSC-NSC integration at the time. In February 2009, I helped to staff a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing where we heard a variety of opinions on the potential HSC-NSC merger, including from former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, who was critical of a potential merger. His prepared remarks highlighted biosecurity as a particular area of concern, and are prescient in light of today’s decision to appoint an Ebola czar (emphasis added):

From HHS to Energy to DOD to the FDA and elsewhere – more than 30 departments and agencies have homeland security functions. Take biosecurity, for example. What the United States needs to do to improve our biosecurity against major biological threats is complex. Biosecurity depends on different programs managed by different agencies – there is no way to simplify it. DHS is in charge of the biological risk assessment that analyzes biological threats. HHS is responsible for the research and development of medicines and vaccines. DOD does its own R&D. The Food and Drug Administration has its role. Let’s not forget NIH. CDC is responsible for our national stockpiles and for coordinating the grant program and technical assistance to state and locals. The intel community is responsible for assessing the biological threats posed by our adversaries. Without close White House coordination, our bio programs will move in different directions to different goals and different timelines. Putting this and other challenges under the NSC’s purview would only complicate the NSC mission and the HSC’s ability to receive adequate attention from a Council that already has Iran, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan-India, the Mideast and other matters in its inbox.

There have been some benefits as a result of integrating the HSC and NSC staffs, in terms of breaking down domestic vs. international policy stovepipes and allowing for integrated decision-making on transnational issues such as cybersecurity. But I have become increasingly concerned over the past few years that the downsides of HSC-NSC integration are outweighing its benefits, largely due to the “bandwidth” issue highlighted in this post, but also because of the decreased public visibility into homeland security decision-making at the White House due to the adoption of NSC protocols, as I discussed in a blog post last year.

In the near-term, the focus needs to be on dealing with the Ebola pandemic, but these broader structural issues also deserve to be reviewed during the last two years of this Administration and/or by the next Administration, whomever is elected President in 2016. And in light of the Homeland Security Council’s statutory role, this is an issue that Congress should also take a fresh look at, including by convening hearings and requesting information on the activities of the Homeland Security Council since 2009.

(Note: this commentary is cross-posted by the author from the site HSPI.org)

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2014

On this day in 1091 an estimated F4 tornado strikes London, England. Two are killed. London bridge is destroyed.

On this day in 1989 the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake strikes the Bay area killing over fifty and causing extensive damage.

On this day in 1966 twelve FDNY firefighters are killed while responding to a fire at 7 East 22nd Street.

On this day in 2012 Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis is arrested for attempting to detonate a vehicle bomb at the New York Federal Reserve office.  He is captured as part of a law enforcement “sting” operation.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

October 14, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way out of Fargo, through the American Terrordome, and into the 2014 Playoffs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 14, 2014

Flying News

— Brian Schmidt won the 2011 Nobel Physics Prize for his co-discovery of dark energy. He went to Fargo, North Dakota to show the prize – a half pound medal, made out of gold – to his grandmother.

As he was leaving Fargo, with the medal in his laptop bag, he had an encounter with airport security:

[As the bag] went through the X-ray machine. I could see [security agents] were puzzled. [The medal is] made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it’s completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.
“They’re like, ‘Sir, there’s something in your bag.’
I said, ‘Yes, I think it’s this box.’
They said, ‘What’s in the box?’
I said, ‘a large gold medal,’ as one does.
So they opened it up and they said, ‘What’s it made out of?’
I said, ‘gold.’
And they’re like, ‘Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?’
‘The King of Sweden.’
‘Why did he give this to you?’
‘Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.’
At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?’”

— In other flying news, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown of Portland, Oregon ruled that

…people placed on the [No Fly] list have a constitutionally protected interest in traveling by air, and the right to due process when its denied.

Seven American citizens were part of an ACLU lawsuit. They wanted to be taken off the No Fly list or told why their names were on it. The government decided to take them off the list.  According to news reports, this was “the first time the United States has ever informed someone whether they are or are not excluded” from the list.  “This is huge in terms of the secrecy regime, and a regime of unconstitutional unfairness crumbling,” said an ACLU lawyer.

— In still more news about flying rights, the Association of Flight Attendants wants the FAA to stop people from using portable electronic devices during take off and landing.  Again. Apparently people are ignoring the how to use a seat belt and oxygen mask speeches. Besides, devices could turn into projectiles.

— Tom McHale, at mygunculture.com, complains that TSA is forcing gun owners to violate federal laws (Title 49: Transportation, Parts 1540 and 1544) when they make travelers flying with firearms surrender gun case keys to security inspectors.

— In a related story, TSA continued its unbroken streak and found 50 more firearms in carry on bags last week.

Privacy News

— Edward Snowden told a New Yorker crowd that people who argue “if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t mind a little government intrusion every now and then” have it backward:

You’re inverting the model of responsibility for how rights work… When you say, ‘I have nothing to hide,’ you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this right.’ You’re saying, ‘I don’t have this right, because I’ve got to the point where I have to justify it.’ The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights.”

— Robert Turner - writing in the August/September issue of (the consistently informative) Homeland Security Today Magazine – believes “Snowden is a pathetic, narcissistic, high-school dropout… [who] may very well [be] the most injurious traitor in American history.” Turner also writes that he does not see how NSA is violating the Constitution. The NSA is not “spying” [sic] on hundreds of millions of Americans. It is collecting information like telephone records so a computer [sic] can scan through vast amounts of data….”

— Glenn Greenwald gives a 20 minute TED talk presenting his reasons why privacy matters.  Most of the argument seems to be a synthesis of chapter 4 in his book No Place to Hide.

Fear News

— Tom Englehardt continues his quest to convince people we’ve moved way beyond Stupid with the fear business.  His latest example is the ISIS hysteria: Inside the American Terrordome.  After giving a few examples of the current soundtrack of terrorism fear, he writes:

You can repeat until you’re blue in the face that the dangers of scattered terror outfits are vanishingly small in the “homeland,” when compared to almost any other danger in American life.  It won’t matter, not once the terror-mongers go to work….

Let’s be honest.  Post-9/11, when it comes to our own safety (and so where our tax dollars go), we’ve become as mad as loons.  Worse yet, the panic, fear, and hysteria over the dangers of terrorism may be the only thing left that ties us as a citizenry to a world in which so many acts of a destructive nature are being carried out in our name….

Terror-phobia, after all, leaves you feeling helpless and in need of protection. The only reasonable response to it is support for whatever actions your government takes to keep you “safe.” Amid the waves of fear and continual headlines about terror plots, we, the people, have now largely been relegated to the role of so many frightened spectators when it comes to our government and its actions. Welcome to the Terrordome.

 Data News

— Speaking of things to be afraid of, the 2013 National Health Security Preparedness Index is available at this link. Called “a new way to measure and advance our nation’s preparedness,” the Index charts the health preparedness of the states.  Says the website, “The NHSPI™ applies the National Health Security Strategy definition of national health security: the state in which the Nation and its people are prepared for, protected from, and resilient in the face of health threats or incidents with potentially negative health consequences.”  I have no clue why the Index is trade marked

Climate News

— A British company, Shoothill, has an online tool called GuageMap that can (eventually) send messages to interested parties when one of the 2,400 rivers in England and Wales is either threatening to flood or is becoming dangerously low.

— The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society issued a report titled ”Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective.” One conclusion: “Climate change influenced several of the world’s most extreme weather events of 2013, including heat waves in Australia, Europe, China, Japan and Korea.”  The report is available at this link.  Said one government research meteorologist (in a USA Today story about the report), “It’s a granted that climate change is influencing all manner of weather….” This report looks not if climate change influenced weather, but how it did – trying to quantify the influence….”

— Speaking of the weather, NASA confirmed there is a “vast methane cloud over the southwestern U.S.” “[The] 2,500-square mile methane cloud over the region where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet traps more heat in a year than all the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Sweden,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. Scientists first noticed the methane data several years ago but ignored it because the readings were so extreme.

Homeland Security Baseball News

– The Kansas City Star reports:

It had been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals made it to the postseason and no one in town wanted to miss the end of what turned out to be their thrilling 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

No one – not even the police department.

The Kansas City Police took to Twitter with a message for folks across the city, and it was hard to believe that anybody disobeyed the request:

“We really need everyone to not commit crimes and drive safely right now. We’d like to hear the Royals clinch.”

October 12, 2014

Evil as complexity denied

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

Over the last few weeks I have tried to listen as others have claimed evil as a justification for a variety of homeland security related missions.  I have appreciated your indulgence — and in some cases, important contributions — to this process.  Following are concluding personal reflections on this exploration.


In the myths of many cultures and the precepts of several religions and across a range of philosophical systems the first step from good to bad begins with failing to listen.

The protagonist is so distracted or deluded or self-consumed that truth — while knowable or even well-known — is neglected or rejected in favor of a rendering that better suits the hero’s (or emerging villain’s) internal narrative, unrestrained by external evidence.

I was recently standing in line for a train.  So was a young mother (or aunt or such) with a three or four-year-old boy, who she had harnessed to a seven or eight foot tether.  He was entertaining himself while she was on her cell-phone.  I don’t know how long they had been there when I arrived.  For the first ten minutes all was fine.  Then he increasingly sought her attention.  She continued on the phone.  He increased his attention-seeking behavior. She interrupted her conversation to sharply admonish. This became an rapidly escalating cycle to the dismay of everyone nearby.

While observing this scene unfold, I happened to read about the President calling the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee to ask for additional funds to be included in the Continuing Resolution to support anti-ISIL training of “moderate” Syrian opposition forces.  It was apparently the first time President Obama had made such a call.  Chairman Rogers seemed both pleased and more than a bit annoyed. The very first call since Rogers was elected Chairman in 2011?

This was in early September, at the time I was working with an on-again off-again client who was not acknowledging my emails or returning my phone calls.  When he did finally schedule a meeting, I was prepared to resign… and probably in a bit of a huff.  Similar to the four-year-old, I was feeling neglected.

The client began our meeting by describing a problem that was clearly commanding his attention.  The same issue had been the topic of my unread emails. But I listened and as I listened I better understood his angle on reality and adjusted accordingly. After listening to him I was much better prepared to speak in a way that would be heard.  And he was  ready to listen.  The problem has since been mostly solved.  We continue in relationship. (I even allowed him to preview this post.)

I was about to end the relationship because I felt he was not listening.  My ego was bruised. My time was wasted.  He was being an ignorant, arrogant jerk, and I was tempted to respond in kind. The relationship was renewed by an opportunity for me to listen and then reflect back what I heard.  As helpful to the client as anything else was the ability to hear his own situation reported back to him.

Our English word relationship is derived from a Latin construct meaning to carry back or bring back.  We bring back our story and relate it to others.  In this way a relationship can be strengthened. But telling depends on being heard.  If we offer our story and are not heard — neglected or rejected — we are inclined to deny being in relationship with those who are dismissively deaf.

As noted in my post last Thursday, I mostly neglected early reports of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I have given very little attention to the extraordinary story of corruption, criminality, and violence emerging from several Central American states.  Yesterday I counted twelve homeless in a brisk walk of three blocks. They were wanting to talk. I noticed but did not listen.

There is a tendency not to notice until a connection to our self-interest is made explicit: until Ebola is in Dallas, until an American is beheaded, until children appear on our doorstep.  And even then we can be quite adept at not seeing — much less hearing — what is immediately before us.

This is, I suggest, how evil emerges: in narrow self-interest, in neglect of others, in rejected relationships, and with these preconditions it is easy to slip toward anger, abuse, and violence.

This is hardly a new insight. But disciplined practice of an alternative ethic is challenging.  Even between individuals, but especially on the macro-scale.  It is one thing for parent and child or Executive and Legislator or counsel and client to learn to listen.  It is a different category of action to “hear” the voices of victims hundreds and even thousands of miles distant.

Yet more than ever before we are being told their stories.  They know we have been told.  They can also discern our response or non-response.  One of the most damning discoveries I made during this exploration was a Google-spawned link to a post from February 2012 that I had entirely forgotten.  I heard. But did very little. Nothing at all effective.

So… for reasons set out previously and above I perceive that evil is a meaningful concept, worth much more than the self-indulgent rhetorical references that are too often applied.  Evil is a consequence of failing to honor the reality of our neighbor.  It is stubborn unwillingness to listen. It is denial of reality. It is angry self-assertion when our delusions are threatened.

I expect this deeply dysfunctional behavior to continue.  Evil will not be prevented.  But it can be mitigated and we can better prepare ourselves to more effectively respond to the emergence of evil and recover from it.  It is the privilege of homeland security professionals to focus on these opportunities.

Emerging from this series of blogs, my contribution will include giving more time and attention to listening to family, friends, clients, students, colleagues, you, and others with whom I am in obvious relationship.  Yesterday I sent a sizable gift to an organization that listens and works with others with whom I have a less obvious relationship.  I have committed myself to regularly engaging with this organization. I’m still not sure what to do as I encounter the homeless (and many other voices I tend to exclude), but I will experiment with options.

Complex problems — such as evil — are seldom solved. But they are sometimes more or less resolved through spontaneously self-organizing individual behavior. The good and bad news is that we are in relationship and the actions and inaction of each of us have an influence… in ways we cannot always predict.

October 10, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 10, 2014

On and about this date in 1780 the “Great Hurricane” kills more than 20,000 in the Caribbean.

October 10 was the third day of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

On this date in 2009 terrorist militants attacked and held hostages at the Pakistani army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

October 7, 2014

On plastic volcano drones, iPhones, Guantanamo medical care videotapes, Ebola and other outbreaks

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 7, 2014


…Wired treats viewers to a minute and a half closeup video of lava eruptions in the Bardabunga volcanic system in Iceland. The video was taken by a quadcopter drone. (The music was added – I hope.)


… Eighteen months ago, blueprints for creating a gun with a 3D printer were downloaded over 100,000 times in two days.  Last month, Wired wrote about researchers at the University of Virginia who used a 3D printer to make a drone for the Department of Defense. [video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwRD7UBGecg] The drone can carry a 1.5 pound payload. It can be printed in a day for around $2,500. It can fly 40 miles and hour for 45 minutes; an earlier version of the plane reached speeds over 100 miles per hour. “3-D printing is at the phase where personal computers were in the 1980s,” the project director said “The technology is almost unbounded.”

… Speaking of guns and drones, On The Homefront notes an FBI report “Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013″ [that] shows an annual increase in active shooter threat. In the first 7 years of the study, an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually and in the following 7 years that number jumped to 16.4.  The report is available here: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/september/fbi-releases-study-on-active-shooter-incidents/pdfs/a-study-of-active-shooter-incidents-in-the-u.s.-between-2000-and-2013.  I did not see anything in the report about shooters using drones.

… Schneier On Security  dismisses law enforcement officials’ concerns that Apple’s new iPhone encryption will open a carnival for kidnappers, sexual predators, terrorists and worse. Schneier write “…You can’t build a backdoor that only the good guys can walk through…. You’re either vulnerable to eavesdropping by any of them, or you’re secure from eavesdropping from all of them. Strong encryption protects us from a panoply of threats. It protects us from hackers and criminals. It protects our businesses from competitors and foreign spies. It protects people in totalitarian governments from arrest and detention. This isn’t just me talking: The FBI also recommends you encrypt your data for security.”   The New York Times has one of their “Room for Debate” debates about Apple’s encryption move at this link http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/09/30/apple-vs-the-law (subscription might be required).

The Security Law Brief reports without comment that a federal judge ordered the US government to release videotapes [is the government still using videotapes?] of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner being force-fed.  An attorney for the prisoner said “we are very gratified by this decision, which will enable the American people to see with their own eyes the sorts of abuses that are being heaped on these peacefully hunger-striking detainees…. Once the truth is fully brought to light, we believe these terrible practices will come to an end….”  A former commander at Guantanamo told the court “even though the forced cell extraction videos are lawful, humane and appropriate, they ‘are particularly susceptible to use as propaganda and to incite a public reaction because of their depiction of forcible … guard interaction with detainees.’ The videos that also contain footage of forced-feedings could be used ‘to foment anti-American sentiment and inflame Muslim sensitivities as it depicts … personnel providing medical care to a detainee while he is restrained…’.”

… Speaking of medical care, Recovery Diva links readers to a U.S. National Library of Medicine cite providing Information Resources for the 2014 Ebola Outbreak.

… Dr. Will Pilkington’s Medium Post about Ebola  also reminds readers how the New York Times’ Brian McFadden sees outbreaks in America.

outbreaks in america

October 3, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 3, 2014

On this date in 1974 an 8.1 earthquake hit Peru, including metropolitan Lima, killing over seventy, injuring more than 2000, and leaving tens-of-thousand homeless.

On this date in 2013 a trawler carrying African migrants caught fire off Lampedusa (Italy).  Over 360 died.

On this date in 1993 eighteen Marines and over 1000 Somalians are killed during a US effort to capture or kill insurgent forces in Mogadishu.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

September 30, 2014

The one percent doctrine and a 45 percent unemployment rate

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

The unemployment rate during the great depression was 25%.

If we knew, today, that within 20 years there was a chance the US unemployment rate could be 45%, would we do anything about it?

The One Percent Doctrine – invented by Dick Cheney – asserted that

If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.

It’s not about the analysis.  It’s about the response.

What if there were a one percent chance of a 45% unemployment rate by 2034? Or a 40% rate? Or 25% unemployment?  Is our policy system capable of responding – today – to a threat like this?

Or would it be treated, like climate change, as the inverse of Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine: If there’s a 1% chance the threat won’t materialize, ignore it.  Maybe it will go away.

Or maybe it will generate homeland security problems — and opportunities — for the next decade.

It’s not about the analysis.  It’s about the response.

C.P.G. Grey, in a video seen by over 2.5 million people, describes a nation where automation takes over the jobs robots can do more effectively than humans can.  The video is not about the future. It is about what’s happening now.

[It’s] easy to be cynical of the endless, and idiotic, predictions of futures that never are. So that’s why it’s important to emphasize again this stuff isn’t science fiction. The robots are here right now. There is a terrifying amount of working automation in labs and wearhouses that is proof of concept.

We have been through economic revolutions before, but the robot revolution is different.

Horses aren’t unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they’re unemployable. There’s little work a horse can do that do that pays for its housing and hay.

And many bright, perfectly capable humans will find themselves the new horse: unemployable through no fault of their own.

But if you still think new jobs will save us: here is one final point to consider. The US census in 1776 tracked only a few kinds of jobs. Now there are hundreds of kinds of jobs, but the new ones are not a significant part of the labor force.

Here’s the list of jobs ranked by the number of people that perform them – it’s a sobering list with the transportation industry at the top.

humans need not apply occupations


Going down the list all this work existed in some form a hundred years ago and almost all of them are targets for automation. Only when we get to number 33 [computer programmers] on the list is there finally something new.

Don’t think that every barista and white collar worker need lose their job before things are a problem. The unemployment rate during the great depression was 25%.

This list … is 45% of the workforce. Just what we’ve talked about [in this video], the stuff that already works, can push us over that number pretty soon. And given that even our modern technological wonderland new kinds of work are not a significant portion of the economy, this is a big problem.

This video isn’t about how automation is bad — rather that automation is inevitable. It’s a tool to produce abundance for little effort. We need to start thinking now about what to do when large sections of the population are unemployable — through no fault of their own. What to do in a future where, for most jobs, humans need not apply.”

Here’s the video.  It takes 15 minutes to watch.  The analysis takes longer.

It’s not about the analysis.  It’s about the response.


September 26, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

On this date in 1959 the strongest typhoon to ever hit Japan comes ashore killing more than 4500 and leaving over 1.6 million homeless.

On this date in 2002 a ferry capsizes off Gambia killing more than 1000.

On this date in 1980 a suspected neo-Nazi bomb attack on Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich kills 13 and injures over 200.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?


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