Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 24, 2015

Empowering positive narratives

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 24, 2015

Friday after lunch Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, recommended that a collection of social media firms could (ought to) establish a joint funding mechanism and otherwise collaborate to work with specific communities to provide training and other support to facilitate the communication of positive narratives.  I could not really tell how the other panelists or audience reacted.  There was no substantive follow-on.

Mr. Leiter suggested this would be an appropriate way for private sector technology firms to take some responsibility for their unintended role in online terrorist operations.

I could not tell if this concept was related to Secretary Johnson’s Thursday comments (see prior post) or is a parallel emergence. But this is the first glimmer of a bit of convergence.

It is interesting that there seems to be an assumption that more expansive online involvement would tend to marginalize the terrorist trolls and trawling.  I’m not sure, but I hope the assumption is true.


Since the four paragraphs above I have had a conversation with two people especially knowledgeable regarding online behavior within the Islamic community.  (For a variety of reasons, I will not name them.)  It is also their assessment that private efforts to encourage more American Muslims to use social media would serve to suppress the attraction and effectiveness of the terrorists.  One quoted some statistics that suggest an even greater youth-versus-other gap among American Muslims than is typical.  More Muslim presence in social media will, he claimed, serve to innately give rise to more positive narratives… and more effective counter-messaging.

Given my own experience of wide-spread non-listening online and regular digital yelling, I may still be a bit skeptical.  But I am very pleased to report these alternative judgments.

Counterterrorism: counter-messaging, counter-narratives, counter-ideology; but not hearing much very positive

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 24, 2015

So far I am not hearing much evidence that Secretary Johnson’s advocacy of a positive counter-narrative was really heard here in Aspen.  I’m glad he confirmed my understanding, otherwise — based on the comments of others — I might decide I had heard what I wanted to hear.

The best opportunity for a reinforcing follow-on has been Friday’s morning session: Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (just finished as I write this).  It was a good panel discussion, but they focused on something very different — if complementary — to what the Secretary said on Thursday morning.

Rashad Hussain, Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications at the State Department, outlined his current content-strategy for countering the self-proclaimed Islamic State as:

  • The principal victims of ISIL are Muslims
  • Providing communications platforms for ISIL defectors to tell their stories
  • Demonstrating that the international coalition against ISIL is being increasingly effective (Jane Harmon, also on the panel, offered “to win the war of ideas, it would help to win the war.”)
  • Highlighting the tough living conditions of ISIL fighters (Juliette Kayyem, also on the panel, emphasized the need to counter ISIL’s projection of a “terrorist chic” brand.)
  • Amplify credible anti-ISIL voices, such as those who have suffered under ISIL’s rule.

To his credit, Mr. Hussain situates these tactics as near-term counter-messaging, something different than a mid-term serious engagement with narratives or addressing long-term ideological challenges.

But most — perhaps all — of these panelists seemed to suggest that it is very difficult, often inappropriate or even illegal for governments to go beyond rather narrow rebuttals of terrorist arguments.  In a question for the panel, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States characterized the panel’s approach as very “responsive” and wondered (worried?) if the West had the will to engage more fundamental issues.

At least in regard to the ability of terrorist organizations to “inspire” Americans, I heard the Secretary suggesting a much more proactive and positive approach.  I’ll be here another day.  Will continue to let you know what I’m hearing.

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 24, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

July 23, 2015

Threat, risk, and opportunity at Aspen

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 23, 2015

Wednesday night Jim Comey, the FBI Director, provided an update on the terrorist threat to the United States.  As has been well-reported elsewhere (and here), he gave particular attention to the convergence of social media and ISIL’s ambitions.  I did not hear anything we have not heard  and seen and understood for several months.

Thursday morning a discussion with Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, picked up where the FBI Director had left off.  Here’s the video archive for all the Aspen discussions.   This morning I heard something, if not exactly new, an angle less often considered.

Ryan Lizza’s opening question to the Secretary asked the former DoD Chief Counsel to contrast his experience being on counter-terrorism offense at the Pentagon to being on the “defensive” squad at Nebraska Avenue. Over the remainder of the interview — in a very thoughtful, nuanced, and lawyerly way — the Secretary countered the predicate at the heart of the question (again and again).

The crowd at the annual Aspen Security Forum can be a bit treacherous.  Almost everyone looks familiar.  But this familiarity ranges from a few who you really know, to many with whom you have only seen at other meetings, and at least as many you have only “met” on television.  It is easy for your facial recognition synapses to get confused.  It is also — increasingly — much more a national security crowd than a gathering of homeland security players.

Appropriately, I think, this configuration influenced the Secretary’s answers.  This is an audience oriented to external threats. He did not want to suggest he does not share their concerns.  There are real external threats.

But in a very cogent manner Jeh Johnson suggested there is a significant difference between a terrorist who is “directed” and one who is “inspired.”   What I heard — with my homeland security ears on — is an argument that policy, strategy, and tactics that will work to counter-inspiration is going to be very different than what may be effective against directed attacks.  I wonder if this is what the national security mavens heard?

The Secretary even went so far as to suggest that our ability to counter narratives that inspire violent extremism in the United States will have to involve positive alternatives that are persuasively communicated and enabled by those outside the government.  As reasonable as this might sound to many, I wonder what this sounds like to long-time government officials, former officials, and national security contractors?

I was encouraged by the Secretary’s comments.  I will be at the Aspen Security Forum for two more days, I’ll try to let you know what others heard… and their reaction.


Mid-afternoon I took the opportunity to speak briefly with the Secretary.  He was seated alone during a break between panels.  Mr. Johnson confirmed what I outlined above as the importance of a positive counter-narrative… or counter-narratives.

In our conversation I suggested his comments were very “homeland security” for a national security audience.  The Secretary disagrees with my distinction between homeland security and national security.  I did not try to argue the issue again.  Those of us who perceive a valuable distinction, lost that policy-argument a long time ago.  Besides, by advocating a strategy involving  a compelling (even Kantian) “civic” counter-narrative, the Secretary is making the essential homeland security case.

In retrospect, I should have said something about how effective the Coast Guard can be in understanding and helping shape the narratives of port communities.   It is a great analogy — even model — for how public sector agencies can behave to “deploy” the values, social relationships, and competence of whole communities.

July 17, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 17, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

July 10, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 10, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

July 4, 2015

“We hold these truths to be self evident….”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Dan OConnor on July 4, 2015

“Active Shooter Confirmed in DC Navy Yard.”

“Shots Confirmed, Gunfire Reported Inside the Building.”


We now live in a tyranny of fear.  We are a fearful nation.  The United States: afraid of everything.  Land of the free and home of the helicopter parents and politicians.

Say it’s not so?

Let’s look at what unfolded Thursday morning.

The mere words; “I thought I heard gunshots” sent a dizzying panic through the nation’s capital.  Morning News shows steeped in monophonic Gregorian chants about the presidential elections quickly changed gears and had the scoop: a shooter at the Navy Yard, again.  The city went into lockdown, nervous leaders calling their security personnel demanding action against the terrorists.

Alas, there was none.

There was no shooter.  There was no terrorism.  There was a histrionic, knee jerk reaction to a phantom.

Quickly thereafter the news shifted back to the chanting and refocusing on ISIS, ISIL, Al Qaeda et al.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States. That’s how serious this is,” said Michael Morell the former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Clearly he would know.  But he didn’t make his assessment in his former capacity.  No, Mr. Morell made his assessment as the security correspondent on CBS. So my question is what will be the surprise about next week if nothing happens?

Waiting to exhale, crisis averted, lets focus on some more conjurings.

This is America in 2015, the 239th year of our Independence.

We record everything that takes place.  We spy on our own people.  We spent trillions of dollars we don’t have on a threat that is less likely to kill you than getting hit by lightning.  In fact Americans are 69 times more likely to die in their tubs than at the hands of the maniacal evil genius terrorists.

I cannot help but be sarcastic.  We are quickly becoming a half assed nation.  No real strategy, no discipline, no resilience; a weak nation.

And now General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tells us his guidance from the honorable Mr. Carter is to prepare for the long war.  The U.S. military needs to reorganize itself and prepare for war that has no end in sight.  We have been at war — hot, warm, and cold — since 1941.

Um, that’s like 75 years…so what is long? And gentlemen, what does victory look like?

We’re screwed.  We can no longer even let our kids play in a park or walk home.  Not because of the threats.  No, it is because of the mere idea there is danger everywhere…danger and legislation.

When we are attacked again, because clearly that is likely, what limited civil liberties we do still have will be usurped not by evil geniuses wearing turbans but by Americans wearing Brooks Brother suits.  And it will be done in the guise of our safety and security.

If I save money every pay period in the form of cash and then go to redeposit, I am suspected of nefarious activity.  If my tracked behavior changes in any way, I am highlighted.  If I purchase one way tickets via air, rail, or bus or simply travel too much, or post anything derogatory against the prevailing culture, meme, or trend, I am dangerous.  Before my eyes I am seeing a nation that “had it all” piss it away.  We have lost our moxie and courage and live for the sound byte.   A bit of hyperbole on my part, but it is required to illustrate our current state.

We are fearful.  And, we have become diagnostically insecure.

In one sense, security is the measured resistance to or protection from harm.  Security is also a state of mind, a physiological/psychological symbiosis. We have spent much treasure trying to quantify what is difficult to qualify.  If security is a biological state of being and a relational state in ones environment than how can it be quantified?  This is where we find ourselves now.

This is becoming a bad Seligman and Maier’s experiment where our perpetual learned helplessness is resulting in the realization that we have little of control over the outcome or state of affairs we find ourselves in and are constantly bombarded with conditioning to be afraid.

“Fatigue gentlemen, makes cowards of us all.” Vince Lombardi

Being constantly consumed with the idea that at any moment an existential threat will evaporate the United States is fatiguing; so much so that we begin to exist in a chronic state of fear.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Let us remember this Independence Day that the very idea of Independence — freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others — must be embraced and cultivated and not taken for granted.  It is a quintessential American ideal: to be independent.  Independence is not being influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc. It is thinking and acting for oneself.

Independence is not yielding to another’s authority or jurisdiction.  It is not influenced by the thought or action of others: Independence is possessing competence.

Fear negates all the aforementioned.  Fear drives wedges, undercuts, and dissipates. Fear makes cowards of us all.  Therefore, let’s all remind one another that we are a Nation that declared themselves free of fear, tyranny, and oppression.  Let’s also remind ourselves that if being afraid is our method for preserving our independence, than we have summarily lost it.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln.

Happy Independence Day.


July 3, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 3, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

June 26, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 26, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

June 25, 2015

Security Mom Podcasts: Michael Chertoff on risk communication and Jessica Stern on radicalization

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Media,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on June 25, 2015

These are a little bit old, but interesting enough to share nonetheless.

Juliette Kayyem’s podcast “Security Mom” in the not-so-distant-past (a few weeks ago), focused on crisis communication with former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and radicalization/ISIS recruitment with terrorism expert Jessica Stern.

The Chertoff conversation I found especially interesting.  It took what seems like an old issue, the color coded homeland security threat level system, and turns it into a serious discussion of risk communication.  You can find it here:


From the show’s website, here is a bit of the transcript with Chertoff explaining his issues with the color scheme:

Green was a theoretical baseline of world in which there’s no terrorism. That’s not gonna happen. So then you had yellow and orange. Yellow being kind of some level of threat, orange being a heightened threat. And then you had red. And the problem is it was very difficult to define to define what red was. Did red mean an attack is literally gonna happen like tomorrow? Did it mean an attack already happened? Once you’re at red, how do you come down from red? So, we realized pretty quickly that essentially you’re really dealing with two states. Yellow is your base. And orange is your elevated. And then we tried to be focused on, again, particular regions or particular types of threats.

In an other episode, Juliette talks with Jessica Stern about radicalization, in general, and ISIS in particular. It is a wide ranging conversation, but I’ll share one of her conclusions regarding the threat that ISIS poses to Americans here at home that gets back to risk communication from the Chertoff discussion:

For a police officer, for the FBI, for the president, for people working in government — this should be keeping them up at night. But for a person sitting at home in Brighton or Cambridge —  for any given individual, you’re more likely to die from a beesting than you are in a terror strike. You’re probably more likely to die in your bathtub.

You can listen to it herehttp://wgbhnews.org/post/inside-minds-isis-members

Or by clicking on this link:

Stern ISIS MIX 1

June 23, 2015

Another essay about eliminating the Department of Homeland Security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 23, 2015

Matt Mayer, who worked at the the Department of Homeland Security nine years ago, wrote an essay for Reason  (Free Minds and Free Markets) called “Why We Should Eliminate the Department of Homeland Security. Let’s dismantle the Frankenstein monster and divide its responsibilities more effectively.”

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, President George W. Bush rightly resisted Congress’ urge to create a new federal department charged with the homeland security mission. Bush believed the federal government could protect America with a strong homeland security council managed by the White House, similar to the National Security Council. Following relentless pressure, he acquiesced and the federal government gave birth to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 1, 2003.

The new department largely consists of agencies and offices pulled from other existing cabinet departments. After twelve years of mediocre-to-poor operations and countless scandals, it is clear President Bush’s initial instinct was right. The core functions overseen by DHS can be managed more effectively elsewhere, especially where territorial battles undermine operational efficacy.

It is time to eliminate DHS and put the various components where they are a better fit. Eliminating DHS would result in annual fiscal savings of more than $2.5 billion, with 4,000 fewer employees. Those reductions, however, only represent part of the rationale for eliminating DHS. The other reasons to do so are that DHS is riddled with performance inefficiencies and that its existence creates inefficiencies in other federal entities due to the need to coordinate across organizational boundaries. America can’t afford more of the same as terrorist threats reemerge….

The essay is worth reading.

I’m guessing that somewhere in the editing process the original title of Mayer’s essay may have been changed.  The url link to the article is http:… president-bush-was-right-before-he-was-w

Free minds at work.

(h/t doc)

June 22, 2015

Contents: Current issue of Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 22, 2015

Volume 12, Issue number 2 of the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was released today.  The articles are behind a paywall, but you can see the abstracts by going to the Journal’s site. You also may be able to find the Journal in an academic library.

Here are the contents of the latest issue, with links to the abstracts:

Quadrennial Homeland Security Reviews: What Value for Whom?
Kahan, Jerome

Fixing a Failure to Identify Intelligence in the Domestic Setting: Aligning Collection and Analysis to Address an All-Hazards Mission
Tromblay, Darren E.

State Intervention During Public Health Emergencies: Is the United States Prepared for an Ebola Outbreak?
Maras, Marie-Helen / Miranda, Michelle D.

Coerced Confusion? Local Emergency Policy Implementation After September 11
Hildebrand, Sean

A Medical System for Supporting Civilian Crisis Response
Ren, Chiang H. / Smith, William K. / Christensen, James

The Response Phase of the Disaster Management Life Cycle Revisited Within the Context of “Disasters Out of the Box”
De Smet, Hans / Schreurs, Bert / Leysen, Jan

Understanding Risk Communication Gaps through E-Government Website and Twitter Hashtag Content Analyses: The Case of Indonesia’s Mt. Sinabung Eruption
Chatfield, Akemi Takeoka / Reddick, Christopher G.

A Spatial and Longitudinal Analysis of Unmet Transportation Needs During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
Joh, Kenneth / Norman, Alexandria / Bame, Sherry I.

A Two-level Agent-Based Model for Hurricane Evacuation in New Orleans
Liang, Wei / Lam, Nina S.-N. / Qin, Xiaojun / Ju, Wenxue

June 19, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 19, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

Emanuel shooting victim’s son speaks of his mother

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 19, 2015

June 18, 2015

Emanuel: God with Us

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 18, 2015

Late last evening Chris Bellavita wrote encouraging a delay in my hiatus in order to comment on the shootings in Charleston.  I wrote back,  but did not intend to post anything here.  This morning, after listening to some of the news coverage and comments by others, I have — for better or worse — copied below how I responded to Chris.

While I have never intended to obscure my own spiritual predispositions, I am of the opinion that in a secular, pluralistic, potentially post-modern culture, it is more helpful to use language that is less loaded  and, perhaps, simpler than religious lexicons.  But this may be an instance where to do so is to dishonor the victims.   At least that is my self-justification for bending that principle here.

After writing Chris and Arnold I visited the Emanuel AME website.  I wanted to know what parts of scripture the Wednesday evening Bible Study was considering.  I did not find that, but I did find this quote:

Jesus died a passionate death for us,  so our love for Him should be as passionate.

Sister Jean German Ortiz



I will be in Charleston most of next week.  I have visited Mother Emanuel.  Given the prominence of church spires on it’s skyline, Charleston is sometimes called the “Holy City”.

Especially since the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston the city has been very proactive in its engagement with the black community. Paradoxically, this event will, almost certainly, further advance that sometimes difficult-to-sustain process.

As you know, there is an ancient tradition of Christian martyrdom. In this tradition the martyr is a person of faith whose unjust death serves to inform and empower the potential for justice.  Martyrdom challenges the living to recognize and respond to the call for justice with justice and compassion and courage and love.

At least in the Christian tradition — and especially in the churches founded by slaves and former slaves — the core of our faith is to be vulnerable… to each other, to the whole of reality. Recently I heard Sister Simone Campbell say, “We would be better off if we made peace with insecurity. We’re all vulnerable. Security is all illusion.”  I would not be surprised that many of those killed during their Wednesday evening worship were in those pews precisely because of this awareness.

If Jesus is God and the crucifixion is fact then the central act of any authentic Christianity is to be vulnerable: To know that even God is vulnerable. If the Easter narrative has any meaning, we will be surprised by how being vulnerable to love — as well as all the rest — can overcome injustice and is the foundation of profound community.

Especially within the orthodoxies of Homeland Security, these are counter-cultural claims.  Even among most who call themselves Christians to be this vulnerable is often beyond our ability. But in this inability is an invitation to another paradox: Emanuel is derived from the Hebrew meaning “God is with us”… especially in our weakness, especially in our vulnerability, especially in failure, pain, and death.  In these arid places, especially God is there.

I would never have written anything like this for HLSWatch, but I will write it to you and Arnold… and myself.


June 17, 2015

Three new articles from Homeland Security Affairs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 17, 2015

The June 2015 issue of Homeland Security Affairs published an article “examining the threat posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and current policy responses to that threat…, an essay examining the need for [an] integrated response paradigm for fire services and law enforcement, [and an essay examining] the use of lean technology in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.”

In “UAS on Main Street” Alison Yakabe analyzes the threat to strategic infrastructure and public safety posed by the proliferation of unmanned aircraft systems in the U.S. The article provides a thorough assessment of existing federal and state legal and policy responses to the problem, and recommends a number of more effective legal and policy approaches.

Michael Marino et al. assess the emerging threat of active shooter attacks and fire as a weapon in “To Save Lives and Property: High Threat Response”, and argue that the fire service and law enforcement have been slow to adapt to the threat. They recommend a set of reforms that would result in the development of an integrated response paradigm which would position the fire service and law enforcement to respond more effectively to these kinds of attacks.

In “The Continued Relevance of the November 2008, Mumbai Terrorist Attack: Countering New Attacks with Old Lessons,” Shahrzad Rizvi and Joshua Kelly analyze the use of lean technology by the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. They offer a series of recommendations that will help public safety and counterterrorism managers to counter these kinds of attacks more effectively in the future.

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