Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 16, 2014

Exponential thinking in homeland security: what could it mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s just one example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N’est-ce pas?

December 12, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

December 11, 2014

Reasoning together

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

In regard to the Senate report on CIA interrogation practices, and the (non?) efficacy of the Grand Jury system, and action or inaction in Syria or Ukraine or the Ebola zone, and Central American poverty and violence, and border security, and mass surveillance, and inter-religious conflict, and… well, the list could easily continue… a few incomplete thoughts:

The inevitable hypocrisy, which is associated with all the collective activities of the human race, springs chiefly from this source: that individuals have a moral code which makes the actions of collective man an outrage to their conscience. They therefore invent romantic and moral interpretations of the real facts, preferring to obscure rather than reveal the true character of their collective behavior. Sometimes they are as anxious to offer moral justifications for the brutalities from which they suffer as for those which they commit. The fact that the hypocrisy of man’s group behavior… expresses itself not only in terms of self-justification but in terms of moral justification of human behavior in general, symbolizes one of the tragedies of the human spirit: its inability to conform its collective life to its individual ideals. As individuals, men believe they ought to love and serve each other and establish justice between each other. As racial, economic and national groups they take for themselves, whatever their power can command.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society

There are at bottom only three alternative routes or approaches to follow in making moral decisions.  They are (1) the legalistic; (2) the antinomian, the opposite extreme — i.e., a lawless or unprincipled approach; and (3) the situational.  All three have played their part in the history of Western morals, legalism being by far the most common and persistent.

Joseph F. Fletcher, Situation Ethics

The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law, it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete…. The absolutism of love is its power to go into the concrete situation, to discover what is demanded by the predicament of the concrete to which it turns.  Therefore, love can never become fanatical in a fight for the absolute, or cynical under the impact of the relative.

Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology

If you perceive something simple and/or obvious in any of the foregoing, please read again.  Then as the calendar continues into our hemisphere’s darkest of dark nights, consider please how we might more constructively engage together over treacherous issues of ethics and morality.  What do we ask? How do we ask it? What do we say (or write) and when do we remain quiet?

December 5, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

December 2, 2014

Security, Liberty and Architecture: Creating Safe—and Safe-Feeling— Public Spaces

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 2, 2014

Today’s post was written by Justin M. Schumacher, and first appeared on Medium’s homeland security site.





Open societies often struggle to balance values that can conflict with one another. Rights and responsibilities, freedom and equality, cohesion and diversity, openness and order are a few examples. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, one of the most prominent such struggles is the re-balancing of security and liberty.

Much of this fight is taking place behind the scenes, in political battles over the powers of law enforcement, legal arguments over automatic license plate readers’ data collection, executive orders on the detainment of terrorism suspects, or hacktivist protests to it all by groups like Anonymous. But I’d like to focus on one of the most visible aspects of this shifting mindset: what does a safe and secure public space look like?

In the United States prior to 9/11 fear of terrorism was almost nonexistent, and public spaces had far less security than they do today. Much of current security was installed rapidly on an ad hoc basis, resulting in airport screening systems established in awkward places and ugly jersey barriers placed around all kinds of sensitive buildings. All around the country, fueled by a flood of homeland security funding, public spaces became more and more securitized, usually according to assessments of criticality and threat.

Current US Embassy in London; built during the cold war to be imposing upon its neighbors, with piecemeal security features added over the years that enhance its unwelcoming nature.

A decade has now passed, and social scientists are asking questions about the effects this security is having on us, individually and as a society. Because we are relatively new to threats in the public sphere many are looking to the UK for lessons. Having endured bombings annually for a generation during the Troubles, British architects, security planners and sociologists have a lot to teach.

Early on, the British did much as we have done since 9/11, installing barriers and bollards anywhere they might save some lives. But as the years passed, their approach became much more nuanced as they realized that over-securitizing public spaces drives away the public, which increases crime. This appears to happen in part because security features lead people to believe that crime is commonplace and increasing even if it is rare and decreasing, and in part because simply seeing security features causes anxiety and discomfort.

This realization has led to a number of projects in cooperation with the government and academics like Jon Coaffee that try to determine how best to design public spaces so that they are both safe and welcoming. They’ve published many documents, both instructional and intellectual, that might be useful for American security planners. In particular, Coaffee describes a spectrum of visibility / hidden measures that should be considered to achieve the right level of security while maintaining the character of place.

justin s 1

When well implemented, these ideas can lead to security features that are not only unintimidating but truly add to what a place has to offer. One example is the new US Embassy in London, currently under construction and shown in a rendering at the top of this article. It stands in stark contrast to the current embassy (shown in the smaller image). The tiered gardens and water features will make working there or walking by a much more comfortable experience, but they are designed to provide even better security than the maze of fences and barriers around the building’s predecessor.

photo credit Populous Brand Activation

Perhaps the best example of this theory put into practice is Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal football (soccer) team, which includes features like the auto barrier shown at right. More effective than bollards or jersey barriers, this security tool has itself become a draw with fans often going out of their way to get their pictures taken with it. Coaffee and his allies point to Emirates as proof that one can implement measures that meet security goals without the negative effects that so often come with an overt security presence.

Britain first began suffering car bomb attacks from the IRA in 1969 (1971 on the British mainland) and it took decades before universal measures were in place to combine crime prevention, counter-terrorism, and social benefits in public space design. Today, in addition to just providing guidance like that linked above, every local police department has an architectural liaison officer to assist with just this on all public and private projects at no cost to builders. By linking architecture and urban planning with law enforcement and security planning, they are working to ensure that future construction will be both safe and welcoming.

The construction of public spaces can take generations, but we in the United States need not wait a few decades to get started on planning for what we want those spaces to look like in the future. We should learn from the experience of the UK, adapting their lessons and their tools to our own urban design initiatives. Doing so will help ensure that the public square of tomorrow will do more than just be safe; it will feel safe.

December 1, 2014

Serial Security Failures in Ferguson

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Nick Catrantzos on December 1, 2014

Is it only me, or does anyone else wonder how a governor can mobilize his state’s national guard and law enforcement, make highly visible preparations for an even more highly anticipated riot, and yet allow rioters to get away with torching two police cars and 25 businesses while looting and trashing other establishments they didn’t set ablaze? When did active security measures take a back seat to lofty pronouncements and highfaluting exhortations to please, oh, please, don’t express your understandable outrage in a violent and unproductive way? Ferguson, it seems, has become the poster child for how not to prevent a foreseeable riot.

What Could Anybody Do Anyway?

There are laws, specialized knowledge, and institutional memory available to use for anyone serious about preventing the kind of wanton destruction that went unchecked. Here follows a sampling to illustrate what was missing in the aftermath of the highly publicized and presumptive riot trigger that followed November 24th’s announced grand jury finding that there was insufficient cause to try Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.

1. Absence of leadership.

From Army Field Manual 19-15, Civil Disturbances, p. 2-2:

Leadership has a profound effect on the intensity and direction of crowd behavior…. The first person to give clear orders in an authoritative manner is likely to be followed.

COMMENT: Where was such leadership on the streets of Ferguson last week once crowds started turning aggressive?

2. Use of legal means to control crowds. There are usually options for dispersing volatile crowds before they turn into aggressive mobs. Declaring them unlawful assemblies is often a step in that direction, and the means to do that exists in public law. As an example, in California, public law offers value by setting forth clear definitions which authorities may use to get the upper hand on an unruly crowd before it gets out of control.

From California Penal Code:

404. (a) Any use of force or violence, disturbing the public peace, or any threat to use force or violence, if accompanied by immediate power of execution, by two or more persons acting together, and without authority of law, is a riot.

404.6. (a) Every person who with the intent to cause a riot does an act or engages in conduct that urges a riot, or urges others to commit acts of force or violence, or the burning or destroying of property, and at a time and place and under circumstances that produce a clear and present and immediate danger of acts of force or violence or the burning or destroying of property, is guilty of incitement to riot.

(b) Incitement to riot is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

406. Whenever two or more persons, assembled and acting together, make any attempt or advance toward the commission of an act which would be a riot if actually committed, such assembly is a riot.

407. Whenever two or more persons assemble together to do an unlawful act, or do a lawful act in a violent, boisterous, or tumultuous manner, such assembly is an unlawful assembly.

COMMENT: Doesn’t Missouri have similar, legitimate grounds for crowd dispersal? If so, why didn’t someone in authority declare an unlawful assembly and take prompt action to disperse the crowd before it wreaked havoc on shops and cars?

3. Factors to monitor and mitigate that were nevertheless ignored.

From Peter E. Tarlow, Event Risk Management and Safety (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002), pp. 98-99

Components of a Crowd Likely to Riot

1. Mainly young people.

2. Good weather.

3. Abundance of bored people.

4. Inadequate security — too little coverage in early stages.

5. Darkness.

COMMENTS: The last two items were particularly ignored at the expense of business owners and employees who saw the source of their livelihood go up in flames last week. Media coverage of law enforcement and national guard mobilization suggested that uniformed responders were being kept out of sight of protestors and news cameras, ostensibly to avoid inciting aggression. This was precisely the wrong thing to do. Instead, their protective value would have been in exercising a presence to deter lawlessness, particularly if led intelligently by experienced authorities who know the importance of keeping a crowd moving, keeping them engaged, and keeping the high ground in order to be able to exercise authority and rapidly disperse them (tactics addressed at greater length in Jane’s Facility Security Handbook, 2nd Edition, D. Shawn Fenn, et al, Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2006).

What about darkness? Timing last week’s announcement for the hours of darkness seemed unwise because darkness masks identities, which in turn encourages agitators, looters, and predators to strike with lower risk of being caught or stopped. Besides, there was an earlier signal that masking identity was going to be easy for thugs planning to mix among nonviolent protestors with little fear of being unmasked.

What was this signal? Well before the rioting, faces in the crowd were getting away with sporting Guy Fawkes masks, ostensibly in expressing solidarity with generic resistance movements. This transparent canard doubles as a test, and authorities failed. Anyone serious about keeping the peace while allowing for nonviolent demonstrations would not have hobbled police by timing the triggering event to take place in the hours of darkness or by allowing people to conceal their identities so openly.

Lessons We Don’t Learn

America is no stranger to peaceful protest and catastrophic riot alike. We should know better by now. Perhaps the day has passed when the likes of the Texas Rangers would allocate no more than a single ranger to quell a lynch mob. (How? They would have the ranger worm his way through the crowd until reaching the instigator who was busy inflaming the mob. Then the ranger would beat the living tar out of the instigator, and the mob, seeing this, would lose its motivation and self-disperse.) Today, times may be different, but crowd behavior remains predictable, hence capable of being managed.

Failure to check the violent and destructive force of the Ferguson mob was a foreseeable failure of management, of leadership. And it was probably a failure of top management, since there had to be someone in law enforcement with the experience and expertise to get better results with the right use of available resources.

And so, when cases like this suggest that failure is not an option, why does failure turn out to be standard equipment?

November 28, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

November 27, 2014

A context for thanks-giving

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 27, 2014

Many of us are cognitively — perhaps genetically — predisposed to romanticize the past and catastrophize the present.  Our expectations of the future are more malleable, but usually reflect how our internal narrative frames past and present.

Where have we been? How did we get here?  Where are we going?  A few personal snapshots, with a very wide lens:

1944: The year opens with Nazis controlling most of Europe. In the Spring the Soviet Army shifts from defense to offense. On June 6 the Allies launch the Normandy Invasion. In November 1944 the Auschwitz Concentration Camp is closed, after murdering over 1 million mostly Polish Jews.  Chechens are internally deported to Siberia. Over 100,000 Japanese-American citizens are interned for another year.  The Supreme Court avoids a substantive decision on internment, allowing the practice to continue. The Warsaw Massacre.  Paris is liberated.  Roosevelt is reelected for a fourth term.  The Senate consists of 57 Democrats, 38 Republicans, and one other.  The House is made up of 242 Democrats, 191 Republicans, and two others.  US GDP per capita in 2009 dollars: $16,181.

1954:  Crimea is transferred from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukranian SSR.  First mass vaccination against polio.  Puerto Rican nationalists open fire on the US House of Representatives, wounding five.  Army-McCarthy Hearings.  The French are defeated in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, leading several months later to the withdrawal of colonial forces and the creation of North and South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.  In Brown v. Board of Education the US Supreme Court unanimously finds that segregated schools are unconstitutional.  The Algerian War of Independence begins.  The Soviet Union for the first time tests a thermonuclear weapon.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average — for the first time — exceeds its previous peak achieved just before the crash of 1929.  In the newly elected Senate the Republicans and Democrats each have 47… with 2 others.  In the House there are 232 Democrats and 203 Republicans. US GDP per capita in 2009 dollars: $15,745.

1964: Plans are announced to build the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.  The 24th Amendment to the Constitution is adopted banning poll taxes. De facto segregation of New York City public schools prompts a boycott by most African American and Puerto Rican families.  The man later convicted of murdering Medgar Evars is freed as a result of a hung jury. The summer is punctuated by race riots in New York City, Rochester, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Martin Luther King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The New York Times reports that Kitty Genovese is murdered in plain sight while her neighbors refuse to get involved. Three civil rights workers are murdered in rural Mississippi by local Klansmen and a deputy sheriff. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 becomes law.  Berkeley Free Speech Movement.  Johnson wins a landslide against Goldwater.  The elections produce a Senate with 68 Democrats and 32 Republicans and a House with 295 Democrats and a 140 Republicans. US GDP per capita in 2009 dollars: $19,455.

1974:  First OPEC oil embargo ends. Oil prices are 4-times higher than when the embargo started.  Patty Hearst is kidnapped, later cooperates with Symbionese Liberation Army in bank robbery. Universal Product Code (UPC) is first used to sell a retail product. April Super-Outbreak of tornadoes kills over three hundred in the central US.  President Richard Nixon resigns.  Car bombs are used in Dublin, Birmingham and elsewhere as “The Troubles” escalate. World Trade Organization starts.  India joins the nuclear weapons club.  The annual inflation rate for 1974 is eleven percent. The mid-term elections return a Senate with 57 Democrats, 40 Republicans, and 2 others. US GDP per capita in 2009 dollars: $25,227.

1984: Hezbollah car-bombs the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut killing 24.  US Marines withdraw from Lebanon (following October, 1983 bombing that killed 241 US military personnel.) The Provisional IRA fails in an attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Thatcher and most of the British cabinet.  Prime Minister of India is assassinated, followed by sectarian strife with over 10,000 killed. Famine in Ethiopia threatens over ten million. A mentally ill man attacks a San Ysidro, California restaurant killing 21 and injuring 19 others. This year’s 4.3 inflation rate is down from 13.5 percent in 1980. Ronald Reagan wins in a landslide over Walter Mondale.  The new Senate consists of  53 Republicans  and 47 Democrats.  The House has 253 Democrats and 182 Republicans. US GDP per capita in 2009 dollars: $30,817.  Despite all, not nearly as bad as Orwell predicted.

1994: Northridge earthquake. Rwandan Genocide kills up to 1 million. Last Russian troops leave Germany and most of Eastern Europe. US and Russia agree to cooperate to  de-nuclearize Ukraine. NATO intervenes in Yugoslavian Civil War. Aum Shinrikyo launches sarin gas attack on Tokyo subway. Provisional IRA announces complete cessation of military operations.  Iraq threatens Kuwait, US deploys troops to Kuwait, Iraq withdraws military forces from border with Kuwait. Russian troops are ordered into Chechnya to quell insurgency. America Online offers “retail” access to the World Wide Web for the first time.  The elections give Republicans control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 1954: Senate 53-47, House 230-204 (plus 1). US GDP per capita in 2009 dollars: $37,598.

2004: Madrid train bombing kills 191. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia join NATO. NATO is fighting in Afghanistan. The European Union accepts ten new members: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus. Nick Berg is decapitated by a proto-ISIS organization in Iraq, a video of the execution shows Berg in an orange jump-suit. The US-led coalition transfers sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government.  Ground-breaking for Freedom Tower (replacing WTC).  Beslan school hostage-taking results in over 300 deaths and 700 serious injuries.  Orange Revolution in Ukraine.  Earthquake and tsunami kills over 180,000 across the eastern Indian Ocean.  George W. Bush defeats John Kerry for President.  The new Congress will consist of 55 Republican Senators and 44 Democrats (plus one other).  The House also has a Republican majority: 232-201.  US GDP per capita in 2009 dollars: $46,967.

You can take/make your own snapshot for 2014.  You know the election results.  Our current GDP per capita is $53,429 ($49,811 in 2009 dollars). This is a week when memories of Birmingham or Selma or the Summer of 64 weirdly echo.

We live in a time of profound and rapid change.  This is only a cliché if we fail to fully recognize its reality.  If we engage the reality, then we will also acknowledge that about the best most of us can do is surf the social-technological-economic tsunami on which we find ourselves.

There are certainly those who — for good cause — fear the water.  There are some who grandly presume to reverse the waves. Others retreat deep into the interior.  I empathize.  I do not crave the clash of currents and soaring crests that threaten to crush me.  But here I am.  With you.

How can I make the best of my circumstance?  How can we, together if possible, enhance our chances of getting safely to shore?  Even have some fun?

I give thanks.  This is, I am told, an attitude and habit that strengthens.  But whether or not this is true, I am authentically thankful.  I have not yet drowned.  The water is invigorating.  The waves are awe-inspiring.  I am constantly challenged to be better: physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.

I give thanks for prior challenges overcome by others.  I give thanks for the undeniable progress I have seen in a society becoming more diverse, inclusive, wealthier, more knowledgeable, and creative.

I give thanks for seemingly insoluble problems. These have often given me employment.  While the most rigorous waves usually swamp me, on rare occasions after a wild ride they bring me to some sandy shore for rest and recovery.  Occasionally the very worst waves — most fearsome problems — have scooped from the ocean floor or retrieved from a tidal cave priceless treasure.

Very best wishes for your own thanks-giving.

November 25, 2014

The world watches

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 25, 2014

F australian

Australian f


F al jazera


F bbc


F nigeria


F the times

F new zed

F mexico

F itv

F israel

F india

F germany

F france

F china

F canada

November 21, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

As part of my professional triage I will dispense with the natural, accidental and intentional antecedents for each Friday.  Starting next week I will just launch the post.

Bill Cumming — the originator of the Friday Free Forum — has suggested making some regular place for homeland security book reviews.   It seems to me Friday comments would be a good place.  A three sentence introduction, a positive or negative personal judgment, and a link to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the publisher would be great.

Over the last ten days I have had several meetings where regular readers of HLSWatch have introduced themselves.  All claimed to value the blog.  Even more impressive, each quoted from memory the principal themes of recent posts by Chris, Arnold or me.

Even for our less-than-mass-market readership, I did not hear from a statistically significant sample.  But I noticed when roughly four out of five also referenced a real regret that conversations were so seldom able to get going.

The whole field of homeland security missed an opportunity when earlier this year an effort here to host a meaningful discussion of the QHSR failed.  People were listening.  We did not advance the conversation.

So as I prepare to recede a bit over the next few weeks, I will offer:

  • Every post benefits from thoughtful questions
  • Every post benefits from real-world stories that confirm or challenge the post
  • Most comments benefit from being read and questioned or challenged or reconfirmed
  • Self-restraint, as in staying on topic and hoping for the good faith of another, is an attractive and constructive habit
  • Conversations unfold when a thought is heard, meaning is confirmed (not yet challenged), alternatives are politely offered, alternatives are heard and confirmed… you know the method.

In my experience real conversation requires real vulnerability.  To further explicate, below is a poem.

The backstory for this poem is relevant.  Last March I facilitated a multi-jurisdictional, private-public homeland security exercise. This was the culminating event for a process that had been underway for over a year. One of the public sector participants was inserted at the last minute. For almost everyone else this was the third (or more) event in a series.  We had already dispensed with a lot of dogma.  She arrived still believing in some federal processes that the private sector had previously persuaded the public sector participants were time-sinking dysfunctions.  I shut her down much too quickly and with a tone that was much too harsh.

Writing this poem was part penitence, part personal AAR.

Words rush forth untethered
Inflating this space between us
Where quiet might have

condensed our difference

Remaining asymmetrical
But also fully tangible
Undeniably actual
A warm body
Liquid eyes

Hearts contracting
Next expanding
Two independent
Yet syncopated rhythms
Rising to the same coda

Words can distance with
Anger disgust or fear
Disinterest irrelevance
Self-involved tedium
Pretentious posturing

Before I say anything
May I hear see touch
Taste feel the reality
Of you, the adventure
Of being here with you

Then may I choose
Words you will hear
As sure evidence
You have been heard

Words that even in
Listen with love

November 19, 2014

Origins of ISIS: a short cartoon

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 19, 2014

Via the Lawfare Blog, here is a short animated video narrated by terrorism expert Bruce Riedel explaining the history of what has become known as ISIS, ISIL, and/or the Islamic State.


November 14, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2014


According to my usual sources, November 14 seems to be less disastrous than most other days.  But above is a picture of the Caffe Chioggia in Venice on this day in 2012.

High water is not uncommon in Venice this time of year. There was flooding just last week. Venetian infrastructure and its people’s habits in many ways accommodate — and mitigate — the risk.  But  floods are recurring more often and tides seem to rising higher.   Will resilience be enough?

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

November 11, 2014

Remembering one veteran on Veteran’s Day.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 11, 2014

My father joined the Army on May 18, 1942. A little more than 5 months after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was a private.

His terms of enlistment still make an interesting read:

Enlistment For The Duration Of The War Or Other Emergency, Plus Six Months, Subject To The Discretion Of The President Or Otherwise According To Law

My father was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Both his parents were born in Italy.


Italy declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. There were millions of Italians and Italian-Americans in the USA in those days. Italians were the enemy. But they also were America’s largest ethnic group. So it was unclear what to do with millions of Italians.

By the end of the war, US government officials from approved ethnic backgrounds put a few thousand Italians (citizens and non-citizens) into American internment camps. Compare that with 11,000 Germans and 110,000 Japanese who were also interned.

Yes, people in the future. It can happen here. It already has.


I have two pictures of my father.  In one picture he’s in his Army uniform standing against a white background. In the other picture he’s sitting at a kitchen table. His head is sunburned from the radiation treatments that tried, unsuccessfully, to erase the cancer that eventually killed him. In the picture he’s smiling at the woman I would marry.


My father enlisted on a Monday. I never learned what he did the weekend before he signed up to fight the Germans and Italians and Japanese. I’d like to think he enjoyed himself the same way any 24 year old American male would before going off to war.

But also he was a Catholic, so I suspect church was a part of that last weekend. Don’t want to take any unnecessary chances with one’s immortal soul before going off to war.

I never learned what he experienced during the Second World War. I hear there are people who talk about what they did in a war. I can’t recall meeting many.


My father met my mother in England. She was in the women’s branch of the Royal Navy, called the Wrens. They were married in 1943, on Armistice Day. It’s called Veteran’s Day now.

I was born 9 months and 8 days after they were married. My mother might have been in the Navy, but she also was a proper English girl.

The marriage ended 11 or 12 years later. Being married to a career military spouse is hard on a family. Too many moves. Too many wars. Too many deployments. Too much time away.


My father left the Army shortly after Japan surrendered. He got a job driving a truck in New York City. But he missed the Army. So he re-enlisted.

He was patriotic without being loud about it. He valued serving his country. He stayed in the Army for 30 years and left as a Sergeant Major. He fought two years in the Korean War, four years in the Vietnam War, and wherever the Army sent him. He rarely spoke about any of those experiences.


A few weeks after I joined the Air Force, my father visited me at Lackland Air Force Base. For a few hours on that sun filled December Sunday in Texas we mostly just walked around the base, talking.

He had his Sergeant Major Army uniform on, I wore my slick sleeve Air Force blues. It was a good day. I don’t remember anything we talked about. I do remember people smiling at us. I remember being proud to be with him.


He left the Army in the early 1970s. He died in 1984. In his time most everyone smoked. Cigarettes were cheap in the military. When he retired, he had a physical and chest xrays taken at the VA at least once a year, just to be on the safe side.

The Veteran’s Administration found something on one of his lungs, but for some reason it took 9 months for the VA to notify him. By then the cancer had grown into his brain.

He tried radiation. He even quit smoking. But he died anyway.


I went to a Michael Moore movie with my brother in 2002, called Bowling for Columbine. Two thirds of the way into the movie, my 56 year old brother started to cry.

After the movie I asked him why he was crying. He said the movie reminded him that Gabriel – our dad – fought in three wars so his sons would not have to fight in any.


Gabriel Bellavita circa 1970

November 7, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 7, 2014

On this day in 1913 the Great Lakes Storm begins, by the time the blizzard ends over 200 have been killed.

On this day in 1940 the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (AKA Galloping Gertie) collapses. Video here, collapse sequence starts about 2:25.

On this day in 1919 the first Palmer Raid is conducted.  Over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists are arrested in over twenty US cities.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?


November 5, 2014

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Arnold Bogis on November 5, 2014



Thanks to Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare Blog for both reminding that blog’s readers that today is Guy Fawkes Day and for sharing the video below explaining the history of this holiday.

Many of you will recognize the picture of the Guy Fawkes mask above as worn by the group Anonymous and other protesters around the world.  I am not really sure how it came to be co-opted by these groups.

The title of this post comes from often repeated rhymes having to do with the holiday.  According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded version from 1742 read:

Don’t you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
‘Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made’em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away.

The story has to do with a plot to blow up Parliament with barrels of gunpowder hidden in the basement, with the aim to kill the King and Prince of Wales along with a large number of members.  The plotters were Catholics aggrieved by the anti-Catholic policies of the government.  Soooooo…..terrorists can be Christians?  Well how about that….

A day dedicated to a failed terrorist plot should merit some mention on this blog, no?

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.



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