Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 9, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

January 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will be…interesting.

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

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

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

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

January 2, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Happiness is an acquisition.” Adagia by Wallace Stevens

December 31, 2014

What was the most significant homeland security development of 2014?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I am more than happy to consider other alternatives.

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

December 30, 2014

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

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

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

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


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

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

“All that happens must be known.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new clarity spread.

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

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

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

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

The result in Egger’s world?

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


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

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

Remember to breathe.
———
[thanks dwl]

December 26, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

December 23, 2014

Celebrating Festivus by airing GAO’s grievances with DHS

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

I believe that characterization is unkind.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The emphasis, in italics, is mine.


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

The circle closes. The grievances have been aired.

Now on to the Feats of Strength.


Happy Festivus

festivus 1 frank-costanza

December 19, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

December 16, 2014

Exponential thinking in homeland security: what could it mean?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

That’s just one example.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

N’est-ce pas?

December 12, 2014

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

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.

 

NewImage

 

 


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

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