Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 28, 2010

Department of Homeland Security Cologne

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on September 28, 2010

From the intrepid marketing experts at The Onion:

If you smell something, say something.

The exotic essence of the Far East is absolutely nowhere to be found in this almost inescapable new Department of Homeland Security fragrance.
Formulated by the personal perfumier to Janet Napoloitano, DHS contains essential oils of capsacin, sandalwood, eagle tears, non-Lebanon cedar, and guns. Notes of vigilance, musk, tonka bean, and black cordura pat down the senses to preserve comforting overtones of vanilla. And a cool, commanding base of conditioned orange infusions evoke the powerful agency’s message that, while all may be serene for now, the future almost certainly holds a seductive hint of menace.

July 13, 2010

Patriotic Stories from the Onion (America’s finest news source)

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on July 13, 2010

My July 1, 2010 issue of the Onion arrived Monday.  Surprisingly, the Onion actually prints a more-or-less weekly newspaper, and it is made out of paper.

I do not recommend the paper to children or anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to name a government program “Perfect Citizen.”

This week’s “the Onion” was “The Patriotism Issue.”

Here are some headlines and excerpts from top stories.

(According to the Onion, this news is “only visible to real Americans.”  And you know who you are.)

Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be

Spurred by an administration he believes to be guilty of numerous transgressions, self-described American patriot Kyle Mortensen, 47, is a vehement defender of ideas he seems to think are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and principles that brave men have fought and died for solely in his head.

“Our very way of life is under siege,” said Mortensen, whose understanding of the Constitution derives not from a close reading of the document but from talk-show pundits, books by television personalities, and the limitless expanse of his own colorful imagination. “It’s time for true Americans to stand up and protect the values that make us who we are.”….

New Poll Finds 86 Percent Of Americans Don’t Want To Have A Country Anymore

A Gallup/Harris Interactive poll released Monday indicates that nearly nine out of 10 Americans are “tired of having a country.”

Among the 86 percent of poll respondents who were in favor of discontinuing the nation, the most frequently cited reasons were a lack of significant results from the current democratic process (36 percent), dissatisfaction with customer service (28 percent), and exhaustion (22 percent).

“I don’t want to get bogged down in the country anymore,” Wilmington, DE accountant Karie Ashworth said. “I’m not up in arms or anything, I’m just saying it’d be a lot easier for everyone if we just gave it up.”

Of those who were against maintaining an American nation, 77 percent said they believe that having a country is “counter to the best interests of Americans.” Twelve percent said “the time and effort citizens spend on the country could be better spent elsewhere,” and 8 percent said they just didn’t care.

Roughly 3 percent said we ceased to have a country years ago, and explained that they had been stockpiling weapons to protect their independent compounds….

Communists Now Least Threatening Group In U.S.

According to a report released Tuesday …, Communists rank last on a list of 238 threats to national security. “Communists may now safely be ignored,” [the] Secretary of Defense … said. “The Red Menace has been surpassed by militia groups, religious extremists, ecoterrorists, cybercriminals, Hollywood producers, and angry drivers.” Other groups deemed more threatening than Communists include rap-metal bands (#96), escaped zoo animals (#202), and Belgians (#237).

Nation Secretly Hoping 9/11 Becomes A Day Off Soon

After spending another anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks at work, many across the country have begun to secretly hope that the date will soon become a federally mandated day off. “We’ll have it off in 25 years anyway, so why not just start now?” said a Des Moines–area citizen who wished to remain anonymous….

Special ‘Framers’ Cut’ Of Constitution To Feature Five Deleted Amendments

The National Archives and Records Administration announced plans Monday to release a special “framers’ cut” of the Constitution featuring five bonus amendments deleted from the original. According to NARA head John Carlin, the new document includes “more than the 35 lines of never-before-seen provisions sure to thrill history buffs.”….

Little League Coaches’ World War II-Themed Speeches Leave Players Confused, Frightened

Though coaches for both the United States and Japanese Little League teams attempted to inspire their young squads before Sunday’s championship game by evoking the memories of those who fought and died for their respective countries in World War II, the coaches’ descriptive tales of conflict, suffering, and mass death left players almost incapable of taking the field….

U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion

The U.S. economy ceased to function this week after unexpected existential remarks by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke shocked Americans into realizing that money is, in fact, just a meaningless and intangible social construct.

What began as a routine report before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday ended with Bernanke passionately disavowing the entire concept of currency, and negating in an instant the very foundation of the world’s largest economy….

8-Year-Old Accidentally Exercises Second Amendment Rights

Gun owners nationwide are applauding the patriotic, though accidental, exercise of Second Amendment rights by 8-year-old Timothy Cummings Tuesday.

“Timothy is a symbol of American heroism,” said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre from Cummings’ bedside at Norfolk General Hospital, where the boy is in serious but stable condition from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “While praying for his recovery, we should all thank God that his inalienable right to keep and bear arms has not been infringed.”…

40-Foot American Flag Pin Welded To Statue Of Liberty

But seriously, “Perfect Citizen?”

June 16, 2010

Let Me Be Clear, Make No Mistake

Filed under: Events,Humor — by Mark Chubb on June 16, 2010

As I listened to President Obama’s Oval Office address last evening, I was struck by his recurrent use of a familiar idiomatic expression. He often prefaces important points with the statement, “make no mistake.” His speeches have become so peppered with this interjection that it has almost acquired, at least for me, the air of a phonic tic.

Why does this bother me? For starters, as someone who admires and supports the President, it draws attention to the tendency of other people who neither trust the government nor support the President’s policies to question his confidence and competence to handle their problems. “Make no mistake,” is another way of saying “trust me, I know what I am talking about.” But too many people don’t trust him, and need a better reason to do so than his assurances and repeated statements that he is in control of the situation.

The President rarely has difficulty convincing people that he understands the situation. They often concede he has a clear vision of the future. But they often express profound reservations about his plan for getting from where we are to where he wants to take us. And too many people are not yet prepared to go along for the ride.

President Obama is not the first president to exhibit vague vocal stylings. When he was president, Bill Clinton was prone to saying, “Let me be clear,” when he wanted to make an important point. He had no reason to ask our permission to make a point, much less make it clearly, but his habit of doing so was far less annoying or cloying because it suggested he had our interests at heart. As we all came to find out, Bill Clinton was an expert at making connections with people, and had a very practical and direct approach to doing so.

Is it a mistake for President Obama to try to reassure us? By no means, no. But he should give us better reasons for backing his positions. That will require him to ask more of us as citizens, particularly when it comes to seeing our interests aligned with the national interest and his vision of the future. He can do this by making the small but specific tasks we can perform on behalf of our country a bigger part of his policy pitch.

If this is a war, as the President suggests, it will require sacrifices of us all. As such, I hoped he would have found a more appropriate metaphor. But then again he may be right that the only way we can win the war against al Qaeda is to see the Deepwater Horizon crisis as another frontier in a long and bitter campaign that has its origin in our own misadventures as well as the government’s when acting on our behalf.

We could begin making sacrifices by expecting a lot less of our leaders and more of ourselves. Let me be clear, as a nation we would make no mistake if we interpreted the situation in the Gulf of Mexico not as a question of Presidential action and corporate accountability, but rather as a call to individual action, a message to our nation to start taking specific and measurable steps to matching our energy appetites with our abilities and our resources.

April 15, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Homeland Security TV

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on April 15, 2010

Every time a lawyer show comes on television, my husband likes to remind that there are no shows that focus on engineers, his chosen profession.  He concedes that there are a number of shows on channels like Discovery, History, and Science, but argues that those are not the same as being featured as a wheeler and dealer or hero on prime time. Phil Palin’s post yesterday, Farewell Jack. Welcome to Treme, got me thinking about what my husband has said about engineer-hero shows and whether, beyond 24 and Jack Bauer, any shows exist out there that show the best and worst of homeland security.

The result: a list of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Homeland Security-inspired television.  In compiling this list, I have left out made-for-TV movies or mini-series.  A few reality shows sneaked on the list, but not in a good way.  I did not limit the possible candidates to contemporary programs or programs focused on counterterrorism, choosing instead to include programs that date back more than 40 years and focus on homeland security as broadly defined.  I have also included series that have significantly dealt with homeland security issues but may not be solely focused on them.

The Good – 10 Shows That Matter

Fringe – A show that features “mad” scientist Walter Bishop, civilian DHS consultant Peter Bishop, FBI agent Olivia Dunham, and DHS Special-Agent-in Charge Phillip Broyles, and their investigations into fringe science occurrences and an alternate universe.   The show has featured the pseudo-terrorist organization ZFT, aka Zerstörung durch Fortschritte der Technologie (Destruction Through Technological Progress), which has cells throughout the globe that trade science and technology secrets.  In the first episode, Broyles makes the proclamation Although this is a joint task force, you are all reporting to the Department of Homeland Security.”

The  Law And Order Franchise- The three NY-based shows making up the franchise, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent,  and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, have all addressed terrorism and homeland security in significant ways.  Law & Order features Detective Cyrus Lupo, who previously worked in the intelligence division of the NYPD.  In addition, it routinely addresses terrorism, privacy, and issues relating to Muslim civil rights.  In one episode, it even attempted to put on trial a lawyer/scholar who had written memos while employed at the Justice Department that were used to justify torture in the Middle East. Special Victims had a series of episodes in Season 8 revolving around Detective Olivia Benson and ecoterrorists  and several of its episodes have featured Immigration & Customs Enforcement, though usually in a manner that is interfering with the NYPD’s investigations.  In its latest episodes, Criminal Intent focused on piracy, Somalia, and attempts to arm possible terrorist cells in Africa.

Lie to Me – Featuring the Lightman Group, the program focuses on a consulting firm that uses microexpressions and body language to determine whether people are telling the truth.  Granted, the series is more of a police drama, but it makes the list because it features  Ria Torres, who honed her skills at perceiving deception while working as a TSA agent.  Her natural ability to tell the good from the bad travelers led to her being recruited to join the mostly high-brow intellectual types at the firm.

Third Watch – Running from 1999 to 2005, the show featured first responders and preventers in New York City who worked the “third watch” shift (3pm-11pm).  Unlike many programs that featured only one type of first responder, the program had the triumvirate –  police, EMTs, and firefighters.  The show received wide acclaim for its programming portraying the 9/11 attacks and how it affected the  NY first responder/preventer community.

The Agency – Airing from 2001-2003, the program featured real footage of the CIA and focused on the agency’s mission in modern times.  Terrorism, Anthrax,  Assassinations, Leaked Classified Information, Congressional Inquiries – the show featured many of the same issues that Washington D.C. has tackled post-9/11.

Rescue Me – A series on the FX network, Rescue Me focuses on the Ladder 62/Engine 99 firehouse in New York City.  In its early days, the show dealt with the emotional effects of the 9/11 attacks on the firefighters at the firehouse.  The show is scheduled to end next year, around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Emergency! – Reaching back into the archives, I would be remiss to not include Emergency!, the first program (that I know of it) to feature paramedics and their work. Airing from 1972 to 1977, the show featured firefighters and hospital emergency room staff in Los Angeles.  The show featured its first responders doing their thing with a number of real-world disasters, including the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and the 1973 Palos Verdes fire.

Mission: Impossible –   Before there was Jack Bauer, there was Jim Phelps and the Impossible Mission Forces.  While very Cold War-influenced, the show features secret agents taking covert assignments against global bad guys, including corrupt dictators and evil organizations.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. –  Another early spy program, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. looked to the remnants of the Nazi empire for its bad guy.  U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) is a global international law-enforcement agency (Interpol, anyone?) fighting against THRUSH (the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity) and its efforts to take over the world. The series makes the list as it is a favorite of the government.  Allegedly, the show has a spot at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the CIA’s museum.

Tiger Team – This short-lived (2 episode) series from TruTV (better known as Court TV) probably is better classified as a mini-series or special but there has been constant chatter about its possible re-birth so I decided to include it on my list.  The show followed a team that is hired to test the IT security of various organizations.  The ethical hackers demonstrated weaknesses in security using social engineering, hard core hacking, and breaking into buildings physically.  The show allowed geeks around the world to be proud of their own kind.

The Bad – 3 Shows That We Could Have Done Without

Homeland Security USA –  Only 13 episodes of this reality tv show featuring DHS employees doing their job to protect the nation aired.  The show featured real employees from CBP, ICE, TSA, and the Coast Guard and was shot in coordination with DHS.  Low ratings and claims that the show was no more than propaganda led to its demise.  A good premise – highlighting those on the front line – but bad execution.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Some may be surprised that I’ve put one of American’s favorite children icons on the list of bad tv.   G.I. Joe is as American as apple pie and how could anyone be against an animated series that began each episode with:

G.I. Joe is the code name for America’s daring, highly-trained, Special Mission force. Its purpose: To defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

Like almost every kid out there, I played with my share of G.I. Joe action figures, borrowing them from my brother’s collection. That said, a television show designed mostly if not solely to peddle children’s toys rightly deserves a spot on the bad list.

A Man Called Sloane–   Since the “good” list featured some classics, I had to dig back to find a show from earlier eras that could made the not-so-good list.  A Man Called Sloane, which aired in 1979-80 and was canceled after a few episodes seemed to fit in well with this category.  The show attempted to be a combination of every spy show that preceded it and featured Thomas R. Sloane III, a spy who kind of worked for UNIT, a secret American intelligence operation run by someone called the Director.  As with all spy shows, the UNIT had an evil counterpart – the KARTEL. The show just never took off, though a made-for-tv movie called Death Ray 2000, featuring the never-aired  pilot of the show did make it on the air a year or two later.

The Ugly – Who Could Have Possibly Thought This Was A Good Idea?

Gana la Verde or Win the Green – The winner of the ugly homeland security-inspired program award goes hands down to this program.  A reality show that aired on Spanish television stations in the Southwest in 2004-2005, Gana featured immigrants competing in “Fear Factor” inspired contests in the hopes of gaining immigration advice. At one point, the show suggested that the winner would receive a green card, a claim that led ICE to point out that the program is not sanctioned by or connected to the agency.  Among the challenges given to contestants – eating cockroaches and worms, being attacked by dogs, cleaning the windows of a high-rise building, and running in between semi-trucks.  The show was largely criticized by immigration groups, who argued that the program was humiliating and gave false hopes of citizenship to contestants.

February 10, 2010

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Is Not Being Held at Alice’s Restaurant

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Mark Chubb on February 10, 2010

The Tea Party Movement – or at least a significant part of it – gathered in Nashville late last week for its first convention. Like an earlier assembly on the National Mall shortly after President Obama’s inauguration it attracted a large, angry, mostly white crowd. The Republican right’s effort to win over the movement’s adherents reflects the concern both major political parties have over its sudden emergence and their own unease about the future of conservatism (compassionate or otherwise).

Under ordinary circumstances, calls by the movement’s leaders for a new American Revolution might be seen as little more than a rhetorical flourish, a bit of hyperbole. Whether they imply something more sinister, even seditious deserves careful consideration.

As evidence of the nation’s deteriorating fortunes at home and abroad emerged from 2006 onwards, then-Senator Barack Obama tapped into the fuming sentiments of national disquiet he sensed on the campaign trail and vaguely if boldly branded himself the candidate of change. But now a significant number of Americans seem convinced that the change they got was not what they wanted. Did one or both of them mistake the other’s intentions or expectations?

Judging by the signs displayed at rallies around the country (and the firearms carried openly at others), the movement’s sympathizers seem concerned about more than taxes and deficits. They clearly see the election of Barack Obama as something more threatening, if not sinister, than a change in power from one major party to the other.

Before the election, the ill-conceived grounds for war in Iraq, the lingering threat posed by Al Qaeda and its confederates and the erosion of American prestige among the family of nations loomed large. As the election approached and economic fortunes flagged, jobs were lost, banks teetered on the brink and concern shifted to the home front. Not the homeland, but the home front; the one where families discuss their finances over the kitchen table and worry about their futures in both the short and long term.

As the depth and breadth of the financial crisis became clear, a rare, fragile and ephemeral bipartisan consensus bloomed around the idea that the situation required drastic action to avoid another Great Depression – or worse. Billions of dollars in cash and credit guarantees flowed into the fragile markets. Some banks lived, others died. Although many tears were shed, there was no time to mourn, and for some no time even to sleep. The crisis surrounding the risks posed by zombie banks produced zombie policy-makers who although aware of the unease created by their presence and actions were both unmoved by and unable to respond to it in any meaningful way.

Deep structural flaws persist in our economy. Not the least of these is the fact that the net worth of the top one percent of wage earners is more than twice that of the bottom 80 percent combined. Despite this yawning disparity and growing evidence of its adverse impacts on our health and national well-being, a large cross-section of the masses, now disabused of the notion that what’s good for General Motors is good for America, nonetheless sees no need for the government to level the playing field for the little guy. Indeed, laissez faire capitalism and democracy have become so conflated in the minds of Americans that a large segment of the polity seems content to live in poverty or at risk of entering poverty simply because it has become incapable of properly distinguishing it from liberty.

The invective directed at his two most recent predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, certainly got personal from time-to-time, as it does with all presidents, or, for that matter, leaders in general. But the broadsides directed at President Obama go beyond attacks on his personality, character or competence, and question his nationality, religion and patriotism, despite the ample evidence available to refute each element of the grand conspiracy theory.

Seemingly in defiance of reason, a surprising number of Americans believe the Office of the President is now in the hands of a Muslim terrorist with Bolshevik sympathies who favors the interests of fat-cat Wall Street bankers over those of Main Street merchants, family farmers and the hard-working, God-fearing Americans who believe they and their ancestors built this great and glorious country with their bare hands and innate ingenuity. This proposition would seem laughable on its face if were it not so firmly and fiercely held in whole or part by more than a select few Americans.

Like those afflicted by the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Tea Party sympathizers seem particularly incapable of retaining in their short-term memories salient facts about the conditions in which they find themselves. At the same time, what they take for long-term memories often emerge clouded in a fog of nostalgia that provokes a fondness and a fervor that betrays a misplaced faith that things are what they seem now as opposed to how they really were. This is especially true of their recollections regarding the beliefs of the republic’s founders and the circumstances of our nation’s revolutionary birth.

It might surprise more than a few Tea Party activists to learn that Adam Smith (1723-1790) was not among the Founding Fathers. He did have a powerful influence on their thinking, but probably through his earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) rather than his now more oft-quoted edition, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter work’s publication coinciding with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, it hardly seems likely it exerted any influence at all on Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton or their compatriots. Far from being a believer in unbridled capitalism and unrestrained free markets, Smith saw both a more sanguine and salutary side to human nature than self-interest alone could accommodate and a clear and complementary role to that of markets for government as both a provider and protector of the public good.

The more I see and hear from the Tea Party activists the less they remind me of our forefathers in Boston Harbor and the more they bring to mind the gathering of the Mad Hatter and his fellows in the 1865 Lewis Carroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Those in attendance have many and mixed motives, and nothing is as it appears.

As President Obama has discovered, appearances matter and one must take matters as they are not as we might wish them to be. Taking things as they come leaves little room for idealism. Governments have only two options when dealing with an economy. They can regulate or they can participate. Lofty principles and fine rhetoric do little or no good. (Perhaps this helps explain why the Supreme Court of the United States considers money spent advocating or opposing a political position protected speech.) In almost every instance, a delicate balance of both is required.

Those who cleave to former Republican standard-bearer, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s exhortation, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!” would do well to recall the other half of that prescription: “Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Not so long ago, when the nation was mired in another war in a far-off land, great debates arose in all quarters about the country’s future. In his ironic masterpiece, which became a counter-culture anthem, Arlo Guthrie (Woody‘s boy), sang about the tendency of authority and conformity to overwhelm common sense at every level of government. The long ballad was neither a call to arms nor a longing ode for a socialist utopia. It gently urged us to recall what was important, and suggested the answer might be found dining together at Alice’s Restaurant – “where you can get anything you want” (except Alice, of course).

I increasingly find myself isolated from the political views of my family and close friends with whom I grew up in the Midwest. The estrangement is real and growing, and makes me wonder whether it bears any resemblance to the feelings that divided families whose members found themselves on different sides in the Civil War.

The call for a new American revolution has affected me. I get it. People are angry.  But I am revolted.

If anyone from the Tea Party comes looking for me, they can find me at Alice’s. If they agree to behave themselves (and leave their guns outside), I’ll buy the tea (and leave the tip). I just hope they like chamomile with a bit of honey.

January 7, 2010

Borowitz: Full Body Scans to Double as Annual Checkups

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on January 7, 2010

From today’s Borowitz Report (at borowitzreport.com) — sometimes he’s even better that The Onion

Solution to Airport Security, Health Care Woes

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) In what some in the White House are calling a “win/win” solution to the nation’s airport security and health care reform problems, starting next month U.S. airports will begin conducting full body scans that will double as annual physical checkups.

President Obama announced the breakthrough solution, telling reporters, “With this all-purpose exam, we will be able to find everything from a hidden weapon to a spot on your lung.”

After scanning a passenger, Mr. Obama said, “We will either give you a clean bill of health or wrestle you to the ground.”

The President added that instituting the body scan/checkup could ward off some terrorists right from the start, “because a lot of them will balk at the $25 co-pay.”

But according to Davis Logsdon, who studies terrorism and health care reform at the University of Minnesota, the body scans may attract more terrorists than they deter: “If there’s one complaint that terrorists have about al-Qaeda it’s that they have lousy benefits.”

December 23, 2009

2009: Time to Laugh It Off

Filed under: Events,Humor — by Mark Chubb on December 23, 2009

I am sure you have noticed a decided departure from the usual gloom and doom in this week’s contributions to HLSwatch.com. Even when they seem otherwise inappropriate in the circumstances, laughter and humor serve as powerful analgesics. If only they could inoculate us from pain altogether!

As we prepare to close the books on a spectacularly dour year, it’s worth noting that plenty of things have happened, which in retrospect, should have made us laugh if only to keep us from crying. Here’s my Top 10 list, with apologies to David Letterman:

10. Tareq and Michaele Salahi tested the White House policy of openness by inviting themselves to a state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which once again proved it’s not what you know that’s important, it’s how desperate you are to get your own reality television show.

9.  In a spectacular demonstration of democracy-in-action, the Afghan people held an election the likes of which made people in Chicago and Florida proud of our country’s efforts there. Meanwhile, in a display of grassroots activism reminiscent of Tiananmen Square, the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran displayed the kind of technological savvy usually reserved for voting for American Idol finalists or regaling friends with news about what you’re having for dinner to muster a succession of impressive flashmobs that displayed their general displeasure with the outcome of the election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power there.

8.  Delegates from more than 190 nations met in Copenhagen to forge a global agreement curbing human activities that contribute to climate change; in the end, their success was marked by a communiqué outlining their commitments to offset the carbon emissions from their lengthy discussions by producing a succinct and largely unimpressive agreement the printing of which will produce virtually no impact on the world’s forests.

7.  In an act of irony (absent the taint of cynicism, but nevertheless displaying a deep sense of humility), the likes of which would have made Gen. Curtis “Peace Is Our Profession” LeMay either immensely proud or insanely jealous, Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway just days after committing tens of thousands more American troops to the war in Afghanistan.

6.  American forces, largely through the successful deployment of Predator and Reaper drones, managed to kill several top al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban operatives despite a startling security deficiency that broadcast unencrypted footage of their surveillance and targeting activities along with hundreds of Three’s Company, Baywatch, and Knight Rider reruns to anyone on the ground with a YouTube or Hulu account.

5.  Amidst speculation about a potential succession crisis and rising tensions surrounding his hermitic country’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-il dispelled any lingering concern that poor health would keep him from rattling nuclear sabers and unsettling western nerves for another year by engaging in frenetic whirlwind of activity that led some observers to wonder aloud whether he was maneuvering to replace Paula Abdul as the third judge on American Idol.

4.  As the world looked on with a mixture of apprehension and apathy, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of H1N1 influenza first detected in Mexico in March a worldwide pandemic; as millions fell ill and thousands died, the United Nations demonstrated once again its profound ability to reflect a sense of urgency by drawing attention to a problem without really solving it, which called to mind both its past efforts to stop the spread of other deadly illnesses such as malaria and polio and seemed to indicate the sort of success its sister UN agencies would produce during the Copenhagen climate summit.

3.  The arrests of three people in Denver, Colorado and New York on charges of plotting attacks against targets in New York City; seven men in North Carolina said to have sought training at terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan; the unsealing of indictments against eight people in Minneapolis, Minnesota linked to the disappearances of Somali youth thought to have been recruited to fight in the civil war there and the attack at Fort Hood’s soldier readiness center attributed to Major Malik Nadal Hasan that left 13 soldiers dead stoked fears of homegrown terrorism. However, with the Obama Administration working feverishly to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval station, it’s more likely that these budding reality show superstars will play feature roles in a new television drama just entering pre-production called Survivor: Thomson, Illinois (aka Guantanamo North).

2.  President Obama with the help of Congress and the Federal Reserve mounted a seemingly successful last-ditch effort to stave off a Chernobyl-like meltdown of the world economy by pumping more $1.6 trillion dollars into the economy; the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 saved or added an estimated 600-700,000 jobs to the economy this year alone while leaving more than 15 million Americans unemployed, another 9 million underemployed, and upwards of 2 million marginally employed.  As the official unemployment rate leveled off at 10 percent and the economy started growing again at a rate of 2.2 percent per annum, people opened their wallets and handed over what little cash or credit they had; what had in other years had been described as an orgy of spending ended up looking more like a sordid ménage à trois in some seedy motel that rents rooms by the hour.


1.  In a test of our ability to look closely and deeply at ourselves, warts and all, the nation’s gaze remained firmly focused as the year came to a close on the actions of an infidel and his self-professed but as yet unconfirmed infidel-ities. In what some reports have described as an impressive use of long irons, Mr. Woods’ estranged wife Elin Nordegren made short work of Tiger as he beat a hasty retreat from the family home in a gated Florida community after being confronted about his alleged nocturnal wanderings while on tour. After witnessing her impressive use of both soft and (mostly) hard power, administration officials have started making discrete inquiries into whether Ms. Nordegren is available to advise special forces operators hunting Osama bin Laden and his compatriots in the lawless Af-Pak border region.

Here’s hoping 2010 gives us more to laugh at. If not, we have no one to blame but ourselves. While we’re waiting, please take a moment to share something that made you laugh this past year or tell us what would make you particularly happy in the year ahead.

December 22, 2009

HR 8791 — Protecting Underground Birthing Centers from Flesh Eating [REDACTED]

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on December 22, 2009

A colleague brought HR 8791 (The Homeland Terrorism Preparedness Bill) to my attention last week.

Although the legislation was in play last year, much of the proposal still remains classified so as not to tip off state, local, tribal, private sector, or other stakeholders about the proposed federal response to [redacted].

However, thanks to America’s finest news source – The Onion – additional details about the proposed legislation are available.

You can watch the video of Representative John Haller, from Pennsylvania’s 12th District, outlining the bill to Congress by clicking on the picture below.  If you have trouble viewing the video, you can read Congressman Haller’s remarks, reprinted at the end of this post.



Preliminary transcript of Representative Haller’s occasionally redacted remarks:



[By the way, Happy Day-After-the-Winter-Solstice, if that’s one of the holidays you celebrate.]

December 18, 2009

Holidays and Homeland…

Filed under: Humor — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on December 18, 2009

On December 16th, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave remarks highlighting DHS’ Major Accomplishments in 2009.  Below is a very liberal summary/interpretation of the speech.  Have a great holiday. = JRHF

‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the House
Not a person was stirring, not even a spouse.
The recess was called by Pelosi with care,
In hopes that Denmark would be quick by the air.

The Senate was huddled and focused on meds
As visions of health care danced in their heads.
“Yes” Nelson was voting, the bill was a wrap
As the Hill buckled down for a cold winter snap.

When away from the Floor there arose such a clatter,
All sprang to their desks to see what was the matter.
As they got on the Net, they just could not wait,
Flipped over to Facebook to see the updates.

YouTube showed the mall with tourists all aglow
They were walking and talking of sites to forego
When, what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But some Secret agents, with a piece in each ear,

With a new Secretary, so smart and intent.
I knew in a moment it must be Janet.
She was not by herself, her deputies came,
And she laughed and smiled as she called them by name:

Here’s Heyman! Here’s O’Toole, Here’s Fugate, and Morton!
See Allen, See Wiggins, see Rand Beers and Bersin!
Here we come from the NAC! To the top of St. E’s!
Now what a year! What a year! Don’t you agree?

As spring led to summer and hurricane season
DHS met obstacles with toughness and reason,
So up to the White House, the change has been coming
And homeland security is one thing that’s humming.”

She started explaining, for all the viewers
“The letters and hearings of our reviewers
Kept us all on our toes, on the Hill at all hours
We were wishing one Committee had all the powers.”

She was dressed all in pink, from her head to her foot,
And to her side was her second, Jane Hall Lute.
A binder of notes sat in front of the two
And we all just kept watching, until they were through.

The speech – how we twittered! Keeping up was a fright…
As she noted and quoted each thing DHS did right
She spoke of the year, and how things turned around,
“With “one DHS” we did build something sound…

We are strong and focused, from FEMA to border,
All in our efforts to keep civil order.”

She spoke of the progress, and what lies ahead,
Not a program’s merits was left unsaid.

“Progress- what success! Confront and defeat!
Securing the border is not a small feat!
Fusion centers improve information flow
Keeping states and localities in the know!

H1N1 we tackled with rapid response;
In the Gulf, I saw rebirth and a renaissance;
We started WHTI at ports of entry,
And of course, lets not forget Global Entry.

We took on the Drug Cartels down in Mexico,
Seized up the guns, the cash and the blow!”
A wink of her eye as she spoke of how hard
CIS has been working to distribute green cards.

Her words let me know I had nothing to dread;
As she spoke a little more about how DHS had led.
“The Coast Guard excelled at their missions,
But I must say – what to do with acquisitions?”

Her speech ended with the note “success belongs to us,
And I promise you that there will soon be more to assess.

And I heard her exclaim, as she walked out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

July 6, 2009

Mexico builds border fence

Filed under: Border Security,Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on July 6, 2009

Another point of view about border security, from the Onion News Network: “America’s Finest News Source.”

Mexico builds border wall

June 4, 2009

Mr. Brennan comes to dinner

Filed under: Humor,Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 4, 2009

dinner  Steve Flynn, Philip Palin, and John Brennan at Virtual Citronelle

As expected, Mr. Brennan was a bit late to arrive.  Steve Flynn joined me at the glittering, probably digitally enhanced, table.

“Your pitch has been vague Phil, what are you planning tonight?” Steve challenged.

“Whaddya  suggest?”

“Seems to me the context has seldom been better for American grit, volunteerism, and ingenuity in the face of adversity,” Flynn replied.

“And that’s not vague?” I asked smiling. “I’ve read your testimony and your books Steve, I expect Brennan has too, what’s new?  What’s the take-away?”

“Can I bring you a drink or an appetizer?” the waiter offered soothingly.  Flynn ordered a red wine.  I demurred wanting every synapse to fire as cleanly as possible.

Steve continued, “We have to gather and share as much threat, response, and recovery information as possible with private industry and state and local emergency responders. At the same time, it must place far greater emphasis on informing and engaging the American public. The key is to target the relevant audience with threat information that is matched with specific guidance on how to respond to the threat.”

“Psychological readiness is key,” I agreed nodding.  “The more we  think about a potential catastrophe, the less likely we will perceive the actual event as catastrophic.  The more we anticipate the worst, the more quickly and fully we bounce back.”

I’d lost him.  Steve was fixed on something over my left shoulder.  Virtual Citronelle is an immersive virtual space that mimics a real dining room. Sort of a flight simulator for policy wonks. 

“Hey Steve, good to see you,” Mr. Brennan reached out and they shook hands.  “So you’re Palin.  Ruchi says you’re not related to the Governor.”  Brennan’s digital handshake was more a quick grab than a welcome.

“Not in the last three generations,” I replied.  “I thought of Ruchi when I saw the proposal to spin-out long-term recovery.  Will that be her assignment?”

“Not my call.  I understand you think resilience is the solution to all my problems?”  His tone signaled impatience.

“Any chance of a dotted line between the Resilience Policy Directorate and OIRA (Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs)?” I asked. 

“No,” Brennan answered, looking slightly annoyed.

In my experience directly launching a policy pitch typically fails.  It sets up a kind of seller-buyer dynamic.  And most Washington policymakers use caveat emptor as their mantra, whether or not they practice yoga.  If there is some way to actually have a conversation substantive progress is much more likely.

“How much of the current thinking on resilience draws on the British model?” I asked.

“None, as far as I know.  If Randy and Michele looked across the pond they didn’t tell me.”

“It’s a good place to look,” Steve interjected. “Whitehall defines resilience as an integrated approach to anticipation, assessment, prevention, preparation, response and recovery. Those first three steps are too often left out of our approach. We talk about preparedness, but we’re usually just preparing to respond.  Resilience is also preventative.”

“Back in 04 parliament passed a Civil Contingencies Act that fundamentally reconceived and reorganized what we would call homeland security,” I added.  My voice goes a little high and fast when nervous. “Crucially, they reconceived and reorganized around resilience.  We’re not there yet.  But  the results of PSD-1 could push us that way.”

“The Brits are doing a good job on going public in a rigorous way with real risk assessment and the beginnings of serious risk-informed decision-making,” Steve said with the calm of a more experienced hand. “It’s not a panacea, John.  But it’s a practical model that is in place and from which we can learn alot.”

Brennan was sitting back, a little more relaxed.  My shoulders loosened.

“That’s why I asked about OIRA — or really about Cass Sunstein.  If Sunstein is too busy, we need to get one or two of his best acolytes assigned to the RPD,” my voice had returned to it’s typical baritone. “What Cass sets out in Worst Case Scenarios and in Nudge is the why and how of an American approach to resilience.”

“Are you ready to order?” the waiter asked.  We were not.  But Brennan picked up the menu.  Looks like he will continue the conversation.  A small victory.  Maybe I will have a drink.

(This is most definitely a fiction. Apologies may be in order to Steve Flynn, John Brennan, and — perhaps most of all — to Chef Michel Richard.  Please see many substantive comments by readers by scrolling below, but especially here and here and here.)

April 25, 2009

DHS, St. Elizabeth’s, and Ezra Pound

Filed under: Humor,Organizational Issues — by Philip J. Palin on April 25, 2009

In a speech on Wednesday Secretary Napolitano mentioned — mostly in passing —  how the Department’s currently scattered state makes coordination a challenge.  She told the Anti-Defamation League, “In a few years we will be headquartered in what is currently St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which is going to be totally renovated and really converted into a lovely campus for the Department of Homeland Security with money that was contained in the stimulus bill that the Congress just passed.”

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital is the site of a long-time government insane asylum.  The potential for mordant humor abounds and, no doubt, will be bountifully shared whenever the Department makes its move.  Like an earthquake,  mordant humor cannot be prevented but it might be mitigated.  Response is often non-productive and full recovery is very difficult.

St. Elizabeth’s was the long-time home of the poet Ezra Pound.  Born in Idaho and raised in Philadelphia, he relocated to Europe following the First World War, eventually settling in Rapallo, Italy.  During World War II Pound authored a series of pro-Mussolini, anti-Semitic, and anti-communist radio broadcasts and newpaper articles.  After the Allied victory he was charged with treason. Pound’s lawyers mounted a successful insanity defense and he was committed to St. Elizabeth’s, where he lived from 1946-1958.

While living at St. Elizabeth’s, Ezra Pound continued to write, including perhaps:

What thou lovest well remains,
                              the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                         or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee


During his twelve years at St. Elizabeth’s Pound hosted many of the best poets of the Twentieth Century, including Robert Lowell, Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop, who wrote Visits to St. Elizabeth’s as a memoir. While Pound was in residence, Southeast Washington D.C. became a veritable poetic Lourdes.

Claiming this poetic legacy would be an effective humor mitigation device.  Each DHS meeting should begin with poetic verse. Congressional reports could be written as sonnets.  Oral testimony might become ad hoc poetry slams.  Could intelligence reports be so carefully crafted as to be nominated for literary recognition?  The  Poet Laureate would finally be recognized for his/her contribution to national resilience. How about awarding DHS employees an annual Ezra Pound Prize for Unconventional Thinking?  

Certainly such a strategy would  reduce gratuitious zings about the insane asylum.  I was glad to see that Philip Mudd fully qualifies for membership in the Professional Organization of English Majors (P.O.E.M.).  He is clearly the man to lead this mitigation mission.

April 13, 2009

Sylvester still harassing Tweety bird

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Humor — by Philip J. Palin on April 13, 2009


Twitter — the messaging service with which users send each other “tweets” — was hit by a series of worm attacks over the weekend and early today.  According to a story in Computerworld, “Twitter again emphasized that while the worm attacks have been a nuisance, they haven’t stolen any user account information.”  But sounds like  it was a long weekend worthy of Looney Tunes. (Apologies to Bob Clampett and Warner Brothers)

UPDATE: According to the BBC, “Twitter has been given the all clear after a worm infected ‘tens of thousands of users’. But experts say the attack could have been much worse.”

April 11, 2009

“Man-caused disasters”

Filed under: Humor — by Philip J. Palin on April 11, 2009

Regular readers have referred to my ready use of the alliterative… with both raves and ridicule.   So you will not be surprised that when rating risks, I often write of, “natural, accidental, and intentional” origins.

Secretary Napolitano’s stubborn avoidance of “terrorism” in her prepared  testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee did not, as a result, especially trouble me.  But her choice of  “man-caused disaster” did strike me as an awkward replacement.

I was not alone.  The following rumination by William Safire will appear in tomorrow’s Sunday Times Magazine.  It is part of a longer column really worth a fun-filled read.

WAR ON MAN-CAUSATION  by William Safire

When Janet Napolitano, the new secretary of homeland security, testified before Congress, she caused a stir by ostentatiously avoiding the use of a certain familiar word central to the mission of her department: terrorism. A reporter for the German magazine Der Spiegel asked, “Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?” Napolitano replied, “I presume there is always a threat from terrorism,” and also noted that she had referred to “man-caused disasters.” She added, “This is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear.”

The Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan commented: “Ah. Well, this is only a nuance, but her use of language is a man-caused disaster.” Noonan makes an excellent point of light: a word is not the thing itself. (That was the message of the general semanticist Alfred Korzybski, famous for “a map is not the territory.”) Renaming terrorism “man-caused disaster” does not begin to deal with the real thing that is terrorism.

Napolitano, however, is to be hailed for breaking the taboo that has afflicted the word man. Political correctness, driven by the abhorrence of sexism in language, has banished such phrases as the forgotten man, man on horseback, century of the common man, even man in the arena. The adjective manly is forbidden and mankind is out, replaced by humanity. Chairman finds its substitute in chairperson or plain chair (although The Times requires a writer to choose between chairman and chairwoman). The only acceptable use of man is when it is introduced by hu.

Not anymore! Thanks to the vocabulary policy adopted at the cabinet level by the Obama administration, long-awaited change has come to lexical misanthropy. With the start of what phrasemakers could call “War on the Word ‘Terrorism,’ ” Napolitano’s coinage of the compound euphemism man-caused shows we finally have a top-level politico who can do nuance.

November 26, 2008

Chertoff, TSA Chief Hawley Convene Blogger Roundtable

Filed under: Aviation Security,Humor — by Jonah Czerwinski on November 26, 2008

On November 17, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and TSA Administrator Kip Hawley convened the next blogger roundtable, this time at TSA Headquarters. Topics covered Secure Flight, general aviation security regulations, holiday security measures, technology investments, and other issues. This may have been the final roundtable Secretary Chertoff convenes with the bloggers. However, it was the first time HLSwatch.com was singled out by the Secretary for a recent post with which he took issue. After the usually round-the-table introductions, S1 said the following with a smile:

Mr. Czerwinski: Jonah Czerwinski. Good to see you again, Mr. Secretary.

Secretary Chertoff: By the way I’m going to call you out on one thing. So you disagree with my saying that when I do risk, I put the most weight on consequence? And you said, but on Wall Street they disagree with that. They think it’s more a matter of probability than consequence. I rest my case.

Mr. Czerwinski: They may not be the people to watch–

Secretary Chertoff: Right. It was my position on consequence, which I’ve articulated for a couple years now, is what I’ve now learned that in the trade they call it the fat tail. If you read Black Swan so it’s inside baseball.

Mr. Czerwinski: I noted that, thank you.

Secretary Chertoff: All right, shoot.

Sheesh. Chertoff was referring to my 29 OCT 08 post entitled Chertoff Addresses the Beta, in which I suggest that he described risk assessment in his speech to the Wharton School in such a way that could trigger extremes of excessive caution or excessive spending. I made the ill-timed analogy of how risk is assessed on Wall Street. Oops. The full roundtable transcript is available on the TSA blog.

Fortunately, we won a small victory after that playful jab at my criticism of the Secretary’s risk assessment formula. The roundtable concluded as follows:

Secretary Chertoff: I have to say, people say, why do you do blogging? I’m not saying this to feed your egos. I said, I thought that by and large, in terms of focused, sustained, engaged, and knowledgeable questions, the bloggers who cover us regularly do a great job, and it is useful for me to get feedback because I actually do read these – I read the good ones, I don’t read the nutty ones – to get feedback about stuff that is working and not working, and I think that it is a great way for us to communicate, because we do get, you know, good questions come from a knowledge base. You guys do follow this stuff on a regular basis.

Mr. Czerwinski: When you hand over the “Leadership Journal,” can we get you to guest blog at some point?

Secretary Chertoff: Yeah, I probably will.

Fellow bloggers in attendance included:

Rich CooperSecurity Debrief

Barbara Peterson – Conde Nast Traveler & Daily Traveler

Matt Phillips – Wall Street Journal & The Middle Seat Terminal

Tom Smith – ACI-NA

Benet Wilson – Aviation Week & Towers and Tarmacs

Chad Wolf – Security Debrief

Have a great Thanksgiving everybody. I’ll keep up with developments and update HLSwatch.com over the long weekend if something is time sensitive. If, however, the next few days are as uneventful as I hope, I’ll see you on DEC 1.

April 11, 2008

Filed under: Humor — by Jonah Czerwinski on April 11, 2008


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