Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 31, 2015

El Niño begins

Filed under: Disaster,Mitigation,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 31, 2015

According to Reuters:

With further rain looming, more families abandoned their homes on Sunday in Paraguay, the country hardest hit by the worst flooding in decades in the area bordering Uruguay and Argentina, which has already forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate.

The El Niño weather phenomenon has exacerbated summer rains, swelling rivers in the region. The River Paraguay, which flows by the country’s capital, Asuncion, has already reached 7.82 meters (25.66 feet), its highest level since 1992.

According to The Age (Sydney):

A massive firefighting effort continued on Monday to combat the [Otways] blaze. The resources included 397 staff (including 273 firefighters), 69 four-wheel drive vehicles with water tanks 11 fire tankers, bulldozers and six aircraft.

“This fire will be with us for a period of time. People need to be ready to respond to any messages from authorities, and need to have a plan for the possibility of this fire growing in size,” Mr Rourke said.

The fire has been burning since December 19, when it was sparked by a lightning strike. It has now burnt about 2300 hectares. It destroyed 116 houses in the communities of Wye River and Separation Creek.

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology:

Australia’s weather is influenced by many climate drivers. El Niño and La Niña have perhaps the strongest influence on year-to-year climate variability in Australia…most major Australian droughts have been associated with El Niño.

According to The Guardian (Manchester)

From some of the worst floods ever known in Britain, to record-breaking temperatures over the Christmas holiday in the US and and forest fires in Australia, the link between the tumultuous weather events experienced around the world in the last few weeks is likely to be down to the natural phenomenon known as El Niño making the effects of man-made climate change worse, say atmospheric scientists…“What we are experiencing is typical of an early winter El Niño effect,” said Adam Scaife, the head of Met Office long-range forecasting.

According to the United Nations:

Some 2.3 million people in Central America will need food aid as the current El Niño weather pattern, one of the strongest on record, exacerbates a prolonged drought, the United Nations warned today in the latest alert on the impact of the phenomenon which causes floods in parts of the world and drought in others.

“Unfortunately, another dry spell in 2015, this time exacerbated by El Niño, has again caused significant losses during the first crop cycle, the Primera season,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Miguel Barreto said in Panama…

The WFP alert came just two days after UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake warned that 11 million children are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water due to El Niño in eastern and southern Africa alone.

Mr. Barreto said $75 million is needed in Central America, where the drought has already lasted two years in the Dry Corridor that stretches from Guatemala to Nicaragua, but resources are being depleted. 

 On Monday December 28, the Dallas Morning News headline read “TOTAL DEVASTATION” and reported:

Hundreds huddled in shelters Sunday while trying to add up the damage to their homes, churches and schools caused by deadly storms that blew through North Texas.

Eleven people, including an infant, were killed in Dallas and Collin counties, and as many as 11 tornadoes were reported to the National Weather Service.

According to USA Today:

Hardest hit Saturday was Garland, Texas, a city of 230,000 people 20 miles northeast of Dallas, where eight people died and 15 were injured, police Lt. Pedro Barineau said. Most of the fatalities occurred on highways as multiple cars became caught in the severe weather, and several vehicles plunged as far as 17 feet from a bridge, authorities said. Barineau said 600 homes and businesses were damaged…

The tornadoes that roared through Texas reached as high as EF-4, with winds reaching 175 mph, Oram said. This is the USA’s first EF-4 tornado to strike in December in 15 years. It is also the farthest west a tornado of that strength has formed in December, according to the tornado research site U.S. Tornadoes.

Until the holiday season outbreak, only 10 people had died in tornadoes across the nation this year, the fewest number on record. Wiley blamed the rare run of December tornadoes in part on a strong El Niño that has been pushing spring-like temperatures across much of the North and East. El Niño also can take some blame for the snowstorm — another trait of the system is colder than normal temperatures in parts of the South, Wiley said.

According to The Weather Channel:

Today the Mississippi River at St. Louis is expected to crest close to its second highest level on record, the April 28, 1973 flood crest (43.2 feet). This is still short of the record 1993 crest (49.6 feet)… The St. Louis crest will then combine with the rain-swollen Ohio River and move downstream into the Mid-South and Lower Mississippi Valleys later next week and into mid-January.

According to AccuWeather:

Since December and November have been so warm and so wet, the atmosphere and watershed are behaving more like the spring. Temperatures over much of the Mississippi Valley have averaged 8-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal and featured highs in the 60s and 70s during December. During November and December, frequent storms loaded with abundant moisture have delivered rainfall well above average to much of the Mississippi Basin. The pattern is typical of an El Niño, but rainfall of this magnitude has crossed into uncharted territory for the region.

According to Scientific American:

The Amazon forests of Central and South America are at increased risk of fires in 2016 due to the ongoing El Niño, according to NASA scientists.

This El Niño, which has helped trigger more than 100,000 fires in Indonesia and spewed an estimated 1.75 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the atmosphere, will next threaten tropical forests in Southeast Asia and in southern Mexico, Guatemala and other countries in Central America, said James Randerson, an Earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine.

The higher fire risk in the tropics is one of many of El Niño’s impacts that scientists are observing. In rain-starved California, models are projecting that the weather phenomenon, which is the strongest seen since 1997-98, will likely include heavy precipitation beginning in mid- to late December.

As previously reported by HLSWatch, since at least October FEMA and NOAA have encouraged Californians, in particular, to recognize the risk presented by this year’s El Nino.

December 20, 2015

Saturday night in New Hampshire

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 20, 2015

The three candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination met in New Hampshire on Saturday night, four days after a Republican debate in Las Vegas.  Both sessions focused significant attention on terrorism.  The Democrats shared a stage at Saint Anselm College.  The Republicans met at the Venetian Hotel and Casino.  The content for the two events was as differentiated as the venues.

Here’s a transcript from Saturday night.  More later.

–+–

A few excerpts from St. Anselm (added to this post early on Monday morning, December 21):

The former Senator and Secretary of State said:

I have a plan that I’ve put forward to go after ISIS. Not to contain them, but to defeat them. And it has three parts. First, to go after them and deprive them of the territory they occupy now in both Syria and Iraq.

Secondly, to go after and dismantle their global network of terrorism. And thirdly, to do more to keep us safe. Under each of those three parts of my plan, I have very specific recommendations about what to do.

Obviously, in the first, we do have to have a — an American-led air campaign, we have to have Arab and Kurdish troops on the ground. Secondly, we’ve got to go after everything from North Africa to South Asia and beyond.

And then, most importantly, here at home, I think there are three things that we have to get right. We have to do the best possible job of sharing intelligence and information. That now includes the internet, because we have seen that ISIS is a very effective recruiter, propagandist and inciter and celebrator of violence.

That means we have to work more closely with our great tech companies. They can’t see the government as an adversary, we can’t see them as obstructionists. We’ve got to figure out how we can do more to understand who is saying what and what they’re planning.

And we must work more closely with Muslim-American communities. Just like Martin, I met with a group of Muslim-Americans this past week to hear from them about what they’re doing to try to stop radicalization. They will be our early warning signal. That’s why we need to work with them, not demonize them, as the Republicans have been doing…

You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state from perhaps additional attacks. One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

The Senator from Vermont said:

Number one, our goal is to crush and destroy ISIS. What is the best way to do it? Well, I think there are some differences of opinion here, perhaps between the secretary and myself. I voted against the war in Iraq because I thought unilateral military action would not produce the results that were necessary and would lead to the kind of unraveling and instability that we saw in the Middle East.

I do not believe in unilateral American action. I believe in action in which we put together a strong coalition of forces, major powers and the Muslim nations. I think one of the heroes in a real quagmire out there, in a dangerous and difficult world, one of the heroes who we should recognize in the Middle East is King Abdullah II of Jordan. This small country has welcomed in many refugees.

And Abdullah said something recently, very important. He said, “Yes, international terrorism is by definition an international issue, but it is primarily an issue of the Muslim nations who are fighting for the soul of Islam. We the Muslims should lead the effort on the ground.” And I believe he is absolutely right.

The former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland said:

We have invested nowhere near what we should be investing in human intelligence on the ground. And what I’m talking about is not only the covert CIA intelligence, I’m also talking about diplomatic intelligence. I mean, we’ve seen time and time again, especially in this very troubled region of nation-state failures, and then we have no idea who the next generation of leaders are that are coming forward.

So what I would say is not only do we need to be thinking in military terms, but we do our military a disservice when we don’t greatly dial up the investment that we are making in diplomacy and human intelligence and when we fail to dial up properly, the role of sustainable development in all of this. As president, I would make the administrator of USAID an actual cabinet member. We have to act in a much more whole of government approach, as General Dempsey said.

And I do believe, and I would disagree somewhat with one of my colleagues, this is a genocidal threat. They have now created a safe haven in the vacuum that we allowed to be partly and because of our blunders, to be created to be created in the areas of Syria and Iraq. We cannot allow safe havens, and as a leader of moral nations around this Earth, we need to come up with new alliances and new ways to prepare for these new sorts of threats, because Martha, this will not be the last region where nation-states fail.

And you’ve seen a little bit of this emerging in the — in the African Union and the things that they have done to better stabilize Somalia. We need to pay attention here in Central America as well. So this is the new type of threats that we’re facing and we need to lead as a nation in confronting it and putting together new alliances and new coalitions.

Lot’s more in the transcript.  Substantive discussion and distinctions, mostly coherent consideration of real issues and a couple of worthwhile positions well-outside conventional wisdom.

December 17, 2015

Talking terrorism

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2015

vegas-debate

Tuesday evening in Las Vegas the Republican presidential candidates all had something to say about terrorism… and immigration, refugees, cyber-war and whether or not we are already engaged in World War III. The following focuses on what I heard regarding terrorism.

Senator Paul said, “If we truly are sincere about defeating terrorism, we need to quit arming the allies of ISIS. If we want to defeat terrorism, the boots on the ground — the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots on the ground.” He also said,”every terrorist attack we’ve had since 9/11 has been [the result of] legal immigration… I want more rules, more scrutiny, and to defend the country, you have to defend the border.”

Senator Cruz said, “If I am elected president, we will hunt down and kill the terrorists. We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness. Rather, we will speak the truth. Border security is national security and we will not be admitting jihadists as refugees. We will keep America safe.”

Mr. Bush said, “We need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That’s — that should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there, which means we need to have a no-fly zone, safe zones there for refugees and to build a military force. We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?The Kurds are the greatest fighting force and our strongest allies. They’re Muslim.”

Governor Kasich said, “Then here at home, there are things called the Joint Terrorism Task Force, headed by the FBI, and made up of local law enforcement, including state police. They need the tools. And the tools involve encryption where we cannot hear what they’re even planning. And when we see red flags, a father, a mother, a neighbor who says we have got a problem here, then we have to give law enforcement the ability to listen so they can disrupt these terrorist attacks before they occur.” In regard to operations against ISIS, the Governor said, “This is not going to get done just by working with the Sunnis. And it is not going to get done if we just embed a few people. We have to go massively, like we did in the first Gulf War where we destroyed Saddam’s ability to take Kuwait. We need to have a coalition that will stand for nothing less than the total destruction of ISIS and we have to be the leader. We can’t wait for anybody else.”

Ms. Fiorina said, “Why did we miss the Tsarnaev brothers, why did we miss the San Bernardino couple? It wasn’t because we had stopped collected metadata it was because, I think, as someone who comes from the technology world, we were using the wrong algorithms.”

Senator Rubio said, “ISIS is a radical Sunni group. They cannot just be defeated through air strikes. Air strikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force. And that ground force must be primarily made up of Sunni Arabs themselves, Sunni Arabs that reject them ideologically and confront them militarily. We will have to embed additional American special operators alongside them to help them with training, to help them conduct special missions, and to help improve the air strikes… And beyond that, I would say we must win the information war against ISIS. Every war we have ever been involved in has had a propaganda informational aspect to it. ISIS is winning the propaganda war. They are recruiting people, including Americans, to join them, with the promise that they are joining this great apocalyptic movement that is going to defeat the West. We have to show what life is really like in ISIS territory, and we have to show them why ISIS is not invincible, by going out and conducting these attacks and publicizing them to those who they recruit.”

Governor Christie said, “What we need to do… is restore those tools that have been taken away by the president and others, restore those tools to the NSA and to our entire surveillance and law enforcement community. We need a president who is going to understand what actionable intelligence looks like and act on it.” The Governor said or suggested much more, but mostly by criticizing what others have done or propose to do and promising he will be stronger.

Mr. Trump‘s comments were, at least to me, incoherent. Every quote I begin to cut and paste seems ridiculous.  I sort of know what he means, but only by finishing sentences for him.

Much more was said, the Washington Post provides an annotated transcript.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio broadcaster, who CNN had asking questions initiated an exchange with Ben Carson regarding the role of healing violence. This is not the term used in Las Vegas by either man, but the work of surgeons, such as Dr. Carson, is sometimes described with this phrase. The pediatric neurosurgeon responded that in fighting terrorism he is prepared to practice extreme triage. Here’s one part of the exchange:

HEWITT: So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians? It’s like…

CARSON: You got it. You got it.

Dr. Carson and most of the other Republican candidates — many others as well — have situated the current terrorist threat as a particular thing in a particular place or places.  This diagnosis drives the treatment: complete eradication.

There is an abiding sense of terrorism as an external epidemic or an internal cancer — perhaps some weird hybrid of both — that will continue to threaten if it is not entirely exterminated.  Dr. Carson is not alone in deciding that the threat is self-evidently sufficient to justify the most heart-wrenching triage.

Is a chronic coronary condition the more accurate analogy? There is a significant weakness in our global circulatory system. Blockages tend to form, threatening various ruptures that could kill us. This sort of diagnosis would tend to drive wellness, reinforcing therapies, and less drastic surgical interventions. Triage is much less relevant to this diagnosis.

Earlier in the evening at the undercard debate Senator Graham said, “This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do: Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just don’t believe in dancing. This is a coup for them.  And to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt: I am sorry. He does not represent us. If I am President, we will work together and with people of faith all over the world to destroy this radical ideology. Declaring war on the religion only helps ISIL.”

Senator Graham is still using the language of destruction. But what I hear him describing is much more a matter of building up the strength of a whole system, not just for some to survive but for everyone to thrive.

–+–

UPDATE:  Mid-day on Thursday the President visited the National Counterterrorism Center.  His remarks on the terrorist threat can be found here.

December 7, 2015

A President — and Paine — challenges the People

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 7, 2015

Sunday night the President outlined his approach to defeating ISIL.  There was nothing new, he did not attempt to make it sound new.  Mr. Obama summarized, “The strategy that we are using now—airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country—that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.”

The President called for narrow reforms related to visa screening and purchase of high-powered assault weapons.  He can implement most of the visa reforms on his executive authority.  Disallowing those on terrorist watch lists from purchasing weapons would require Congressional action.  As the President has argued previously, he called again for Congressional action to update and re-authorize use of military force against a terrorist threat that has morphed. The absence of a new AUMF has important constitutional implications, but probably no near-term practical effect.

As the President challenged Congress to act in ways he cannot, Mr. Obama also challenged the American people. He said:

We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world?—?including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans—of every faith—to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.

My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity—that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional.

There are some — perhaps one-quarter of our nation — who are predisposed to be against anything President Obama supports.  They are so personally offended by this President that they tend to embrace everything that is his opposite.  I hope the President’s embrace of religious pluralism, human decency, and fundamental equality does not increase suspicion of these propositions.

I anticipate there will be more attacks — both self-generated and coordinated.  I have long been surprised there have not been more.  As previously outlined, I understand the threat to go well beyond ISIS.  Given the fundamental nature of the threat any seemingly expedient solution is unlikely to work and may make things worse.

We have seen worse, but this will be plenty bad, day after infamous day. As Thomas Paine wrote so long ago, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”  A few lines later in The Crisis, Paine writes:

Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.

May our recent panic end. May our minds grow. May we assume a firmer habit than before.

November 20, 2015

Clinton at CFR

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 20, 2015

Yesterday Hillary Clinton gave a speech and answered questions at the Council on Foreign Relations.  A transcript and video is available at the CFR website.

Here’s how she set up her remarks:

ISIS is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group’s momentum, and then its back. Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS but to defeat and destroy ISIS.

But we have learned that we can score victories over terrorist leaders and networks only to face metastasizing threats down the road. So we also have to play and win the long game. We should pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, one that embeds our mission against ISIS within a broader struggle against radical jihadism that is bigger than any one group, whether it’s al-Qaida or ISIS or some other network.

An immediate war against an urgent enemy and a generational struggle against an ideology with deep roots will not be easily torn out. It will require sustained commitment in every pillar of American power. This is a worldwide fight, and America must lead it.

Our strategy should have three main elements: one, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilities the flow of fighters, financing arms, and propaganda around the world; three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.

Mrs. Clinton proceeds with detailed, balanced, and well-argued analysis and recommendations.  Even one well-known conservative commented, “Candidate Clinton laid out a supple and sophisticated approach.”  It is worth reading — or at least listening — carefully.

While she did not give major attention to the issue of the US receiving Syrian refugees, given the political climate the presidential candidate’s comments could even be characterized as courageous. Below is part of what she said:

Since Paris, no homeland security challenge is being more hotly debated than how to handle Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States. Our highest priority, of course, must always be protecting the American people. So, yes, we do need to be vigilant in screening and vetting any refugees from Syria, guided by the best judgment of our security professionals in close coordination with our allies and partners. And Congress needs to make sure the necessary resources are provided for comprehensive background checks, drawing on the best intelligence we can get. And we should be taking a close look at the safeguards and the visa programs as well.

But we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations. Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee—that is just not who we are. We are better than that. And remember, many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who threaten us. It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes, and then also prevent them from ever finding new ones. We should be doing more to ease this humanitarian crisis, not less. We should lead the international community in organizing a donor conference and supporting countries like Jordan, who are sheltering the majority of refugees fleeing Syria.

And we can get this right. America’s open, free, tolerant society is described by some as a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism, but I actually believe it’s one of our strengths. It reduces the appeal of radicalism and enhances the richness and resilience of our communities.

–+–

A personal addendum: I have always wondered — worried, really — what I might have done (or perhaps not done) if I had been in Germany when the Nazis began their fear campaign against the Jews (and others), or if I could have encouraged the United States to accept more European refugees in the late 1930s, or if I had been in California when Americans placed fellow citizens of Japanese descent in our own concentration camps.  Right and wrong is so much easier retrospectively.

The House of Representatives has already voted to reject the victims of tyranny, hatred and war.  This is not surprising.  It reflects popular fear and the House was designed to mirror such sentiment.  We are certainly no better than our grandparents. I hope the Senate will act with wider and wiser consideration. But it will, apparently, be a close vote.  Courage and conscience are not major voting blocks.

In regard to receiving refugees, fear and concern ought not be dismissed.  But these are not our only or best options. American neglect and rejection of victims did not help avoid World War II and may have even encouraged those intent on the massacre of innocents.  The victimization of our own citizens was simply unnecessary and profoundly wrong.  In the current context, much of the ISIS strategy depends on the US and rest of the West rejecting the refugees and intimidating our Muslim citizens.

A world in which the stranger, widow and orphan are rejected is a place where none of us are safe.

November 19, 2015

Naming the enemy

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 19, 2015

Karen Armstrong and others have argued that great religions and ethical systems — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, classical Greek philosophy and more — arose in the Axial Age as universalist efforts to contain increasingly deadly tribal conflict. The goal was to extend common values across tribal boundaries. Christianity, Islam, and others have emerged from similar need.

The Westphalian Consensus might be summarized as European elites deciding their wars of religion — outbreaks of tribalism within a universalist construct — were entirely too costly.  An increasingly fractured universal claim was succeeded by cults of dynastic and/or national sovereignty. Confessional diversity and various tribal identities would be tolerated if subordinated to the State. While never entirely successful, the risks seemed manageable until 1914-1945, when the mitigation process dramatically failed.

Emerging from this failure, two large post-Westphalian States competed to offer alternate visions of universalist ascendance: capitalism or communism.  (Each offer complicated — occasionally enhanced — by tribal particularities of the USA and USSR.)

Since the end of the Cold War, various kinds of capitalism — rarely pure, sometimes state-sponsored, usually mixed — have made their bid for universal influence. It is typically a creed of consumption, near-term gratification, supply chain efficiency, creative destruction, constant change, the next new thing. Many have benefited.  Millions have been pulled out of poverty.  But costs, both direct and indirect, are steep and are accumulating.

I am a Capitalist and an alleged Christian. I am an active citizen of a post-Westphalian nation-state that has proudly (at times earnestly) aspired to be post-tribal. Universalism is my cultural and personal comparative advantage.  But from time to time, even I feel the litany and logic of universalism to be manipulative, inhumane, and vulgar. Others, for whom tribe is source of identity and sustenance, — and those with no meaningful identity — often find my universalist values unnatural and frightening.

Some have credibly demonstrated our species emerged no less than 60,000 years ago and can be traced even further back.  For at least two-thousand generations tribe has been hearth, health, and all that is holy; universalism a very recent, comparatively abstract addition. Tribal relationships continue to enrich. A drought of tribal connections and continuity leaves many thirsty.

ISIS, al-Qaeda and similar movements — Islamic and not — attempt to fuse the promise of tribal roots and universal relationship. Despite the stonings, beheadings, bombings and mayhem their ultimate goal is said to be comprehensive peace and fraternity, within reassuring boundaries of their own tribal traditions.

Rather than atomistic consumers competing for the greatest new thing, they promise a global community of loving faithful no longer tempted by Satanic notions of self-indulgent, ephemeral, and empty consumption. With the wholeness of creation re-formed, peace will characterize the inner and outer lives of all, they promise.

In the specific case of ISIS, members of the cult are self-persuaded that Jews and Christians — and hypocritically modern Muslims — destroy and defile traditional truths and obscure the path of Ultimate Reality with gross materialism and a pernicious tolerance of evil.  To overcome this challenge ISIS has been explicit regarding a strategy to unify Muslims by causing the West to exclude and abuse them.  The Paris attack was designed specifically to prompt such responses.  The National Front and others — including governors of several of these United States — are ready to oblige.

ISIS has also communicated it desires to battle the Crusader nations, especially the United States, France, and Britain, in Northern Syria specifically at Dabiq.  Many in the ISIS leadership understand that this military encounter will initially bring it considerable success, followed by enormous losses, but in any case will inaugurate the end-days, the second-coming of Jesus, and divinity’s direct rule.  Once again several, including Senators Sanders, Graham and Cruz and President Hollande, seem ready to make a date for Dabiq.

ISIS, like al-Qaeda before it, is expert in manipulating tribal tendencies to its particular notion of strategic advantage.

The attacks in Paris were horrific. As we have seen in Mumbai and now again, a small team very modestly organized can do terrible harm. I expect we will see similar attacks in other cities: Rome, Istanbul, and London are at the top of my list.  ISIS has apparently called out Washington DC and New York as targets.

These sort of attacks do not reflect an existential threat to a great nation. But it is very difficult to imagine any government so disciplined and stoical as to make this argument.  A more robust military response, one way or another, eventually will come.

Despite the Dabiq prophecy, I expect a coalition of regional and Western forces will “destroy” the current Raqqa regime.  Given their threats, demonstrated capability, and bloody ambition this probably will now happen sooner than later. Given what we have heard from inside the self-styled Caliphate, maybe this time victorious troops will actually be greeted as liberators. (Probably not.)

But what then?

We can transfer, try to proactively avoid, and reduce the risk posed by ISIS.  But we live in an era when, I suggest, the risk itself will persist. The underlying threat will not be destroyed. Whether the West and/or modern Muslims wage war or peace, the perceived divide is too great to be reconciled any time soon. Given global proximity, even intimacy, the conflict will continue and probably escalate… regardless of what we do or don’t.

The risk cannot be destroyed and must be ruefully accepted because ISIS is merely the most recent reflection of a 2500 year plus contention between forces of tribalism and universalism.  Across all these centuries and most of our cultures there has been a recurring effort to contain the deadly pride of tribe versus tribe.  In many times and places universalism has claimed the cultural high ground.  But tribal insurgencies have always retained the emotional commitment of many.

Tuesday I complained that our current threat had been reduced to an indefinite plural pronoun.  I have heard many insist that we must be explicit regarding the proper noun.  But most of the names offered have been those of a weaker progeny of a primordial power that the best men and women of our species — some would claim an authority even greater than this — have failed to destroy and seldom enough contained.

What then, shall we do?

I have just exceeded my thousand word limit, so I will conclude with three questions that may be worth regularly asking:

  • Does my (our, this nation’s, this culture’s) action inflame or contain tribe-vs-tribe tendencies?
  • Is my action coherent with some version of the other-as-self ethic of reciprocity?
  • Will my action increase or decrease the likelihood of future pain and suffering, for me and for most others as well?

November 18, 2015

Protection and Recovery

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 18, 2015

November 17, 2015

Terrorism and the global war against indefinite pronouns

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 17, 2015

HLSWATCH_DES MOINES DEBATE

The word-cloud was generated from a transcript of Saturday’s debate in Des Moines.

The “debate” was originally intended to focus on the economy. Given Friday night’s attack in Paris, the first twenty-five minutes were focused on the implications of that attack. The word-cloud pulled only from this initial portion. I also excised participant names and prepositions to highlight substance.

A contemporary political debate is not a graduate seminar.  It is not even a blog that can, if it decides, allow a couple of days for review, reflection, and revision.

But given the importance of this issue, with barely 24 hours elapsed between attacking and talking, the experience and aspirations of the three candidates, and the chance for an authentic exchange of views among them, Saturday night may be the best we get to assess how a large slice of the American political class frames the challenge.

What issue?  What challenge?  This remains unclear.

ISIS (not ISIL, btw) was the specific concern on Saturday.  Secretary Clinton said, “we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network.” Senator Sanders said, “Together, leading the world this country will rid our planet of… ISIS.”

Governor O’Malley did not disagree and emphasized, “ISIS, make no mistake about it, is an evil in this world.”   Mrs. Clinton was a bit more programmatic in her characterization, referring to “radical jihadist ideology.” Mr. Sanders offered, “I agree with much of what the secretary and the governor have said.”  He added (and then Mr. O’Malley piled on) that ISIS is the bastard child of the US invasion of Iraq.  Well, actually he said, “I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now.”

I’m not sure that Mrs. Clinton disagrees, but she was keen to point to other contributing factors: “The Shia– Sunni split, the dictatorships that have suppressed people’s aspirations, the increasing globalization without any real safety valve for people to have a better life. We saw that in Egypt. We saw a dictator overthrown, we saw Muslim Brotherhood president installed and then we saw him ousted and the army back. So I think we’ve got to understand the complexity of the world that we are facing and no places more so than in the Middle East.”  There was even a point where the former Secretary of State may have been about to diagnose the origins of “jihadi extreme terrorism”, but I perceive she thought better of it and rather awkwardly turned another way.

This admittedly apophatic analysis is reinforced by a question the moderator, John Dickerson, posed to Mrs. Clinton a few minutes later: “You gave a speech at Georgetown University in which you said that it was important to show– quote– respect even for one’s enemy. Trying to understand and in so far as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view. Can you explain what that means in the context of this kind of barbarism?”

Given the context, I do not blame the candidate for choosing to emphasize, “… it’s very difficult when you deal with– ISIS and organizations like that whose–whose behavior is so barbaric and so vicious–that it doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than lust for killing and power.”  Indeed, given the context, I have some reluctant respect for her use of lawyerly qualifiers.

–+–

I could continue.  Linguistic analysis is a weird personal pleasure.  But if you did not inherit the gene, I recognize it soon becomes tedious. So some resulting judgments:

  • My initial impression of the Saturday performance was deep disappointment, almost disgust.
  • But careful sifting and reading exposed more coherence than a first hearing found.
  • In reading what was said it is possible to conceive — though seldom to confirm — presuppositions and predispositions that enlarge what was said.   In these between-the-line harmonies I encountered something much more complicated than the bombastic melody.
  • Nonetheless it remains a war march.  Whether the United States is leading or supporting and how differs with the specific composer.  But — as we see in the word-cloud — the consistent theme is: The World is at War with ISIS.
  • Moreover, this is — it seems to me — a rather old-fashioned composition:  Good versus Evil, us versus them, unconditional surrender, total victory, the score reaching a satisfying C major climax.  As Senator Sanders said, “they are a danger to modern society. And that this world with American leadership can and must come together to destroy them.”

I perceive this statement — which many other candidates Republican and Democrat echo — demonstrates a dangerous lack of understanding regarding the plural pronoun; something I have found treacherous in every language I have ever attempted. On Thursday I will try to make better sense of this indefinite.

–+–

On Monday at Versailles President Hollande sang a song very similar to Senator Sanders’.  After which the French Parliamentarians also sang. A less than stirring chorus, to my ear.

November 12, 2015

Proactively professional and non-partisan

Filed under: Resilience,State and Local HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 12, 2015

First proposition: Terrorism is the strategic application of opportunistic violence to achieve political purposes.

Second proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when terrorist attacks are made against the United States.  The perceived success of such attacks enhance the recruiting potential of the group that can claim credit and serves to improve the power-position of that group vis-a-vis other radical groups.

Third proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when United States military force is deployed in Muslim-majority territories.  This enhances the ability of such groups to portray themselves as legitimate defenders of Islamic peoples under attack and/or occupation.

[Readers are encouraged to utilize the comment function to raise objections to any or all of these propositions.]

First observation: To the extent the foregoing propositions are broadly accurate (if inevitably reductionist), it is reasonable to anticipate that one or more radical Salafist groups are actively engaged in motivating and/or coordinating a terrorist attack on the United States.  An especially sophisticated group would try to choose a time and target designed to prompt new or increased US military operations in Muslim-majority territory. Given prior patterns of behavior, a dramatic attack late in the US election season or early in the new President’s administration might be conceived as having particular potential. (Al Qaeda, in any of its surviving forms, might be especially motivated to launch a well-coordinated attack to differentiate and resuscitate its brand in competition with the more free-lance ISIS approach.)

Second observation: Barring a significant terrorist event, it seems unlikely the US presidential campaign will give substantive attention to terrorist threats, counter-terrorism, or other aspects of homeland security.  Nor is there evidence any current candidate is especially well-qualified on these issues. As a result, any well-timed and creatively targeted terrorist attack might well produce significant surprise and — especially when surprised — American political processes are predisposed to dramatic responses.

Recommendation:  To the extent these observations are plausible, there would be potential benefit if homeland security professionals in the United States would be proactive during the presidential election season communicating the “draw-play” potential of terrorist attacks and discussing a wide range of US strategic options.  Such activity would be designed to 1) reduce the surprise factor associated with any such attack and 2) discourage US responses that play into the political purposes of radical Salafist groups.

[If the observations and recommendations survive reader scrutiny, it would be especially interesting to hear suggestions about how homeland security professionals could engage in this process.]

–+–

The principal author of the prior 400 words does not want to be identified. Let’s call him “Paul Brown”.  He is a self-described homeland security professional currently employed by a State.  Philip Palin has helped shape the language above and will — sometimes in conversation with the author, sometimes not — attempt to respond to reader comments, critiques, and suggestions.

October 15, 2015

Sausage-making, delivery, consumption

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Recovery,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 15, 2015

5-types-of-sausage-006

Presidential Policy Directive 8 is one of several tools designed to actuate the President’s constitutional authority under Article II.

PPD-8 sets-up the National Preparedness Goal, a second edition of which was released last week.  Acts of Congress might have been used to justify the Goal.  From PPD-8: “The national preparedness goal shall reflect the policy direction outlined in the National Security Strategy… applicable Presidential Policy Directives, Homeland Security Presidential Directives, National Security Presidential Directives, and national strategies, as well as guidance from the Interagency Policy Committee process. The goal shall be reviewed regularly to evaluate consistency with these policies, evolving conditions, and the National Incident Management System.” Absence is often meaningful.  The Goal, for better or worse, is a creature of the Executive.

Whether the legislature, executive, or both are involved, the creation of of such products is aptly called sausage-making: usually involving left-over scraps and fat, ground together, combined with spices and herbs, packed into something that tastes much better together than apart.

But making is only the first step.  An example:  In the 2011 first edition of the National Preparedness Goal there is one mention of supply chains:

Supply Chain Integrity and Security: Strengthen the security and resilience of the supply chain. 1. Secure and make resilient key nodes, methods of transport between nodes, and materials in transit.

This was one of many core capabilities listed.  This particular core capability was situated under the so-called “Protection Mission”. Protecting supply chains tends to invoke a security-orientation much more than a resilience-orientation.  It was a struggle to insert “and make resilient”.  Over the last four years I have applied these few words like a beachhead at Normandy (it sometimes felt like Gallipoli).

Later in the same 2011 document, under the Response Mission, is another core capability worded as:

Public and Private Services and Resources: Provide essential public and private services and resources to the affected population and surrounding communities, to include emergency power to critical facilities, fuel support for emergency responders, and access to community staples (e.g., grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks) and fire and other first response services. 1. Mobilize and deliver governmental, nongovernmental, and private sector resources within and outside of the affected area to save lives, sustain lives, meet basic human needs, stabilize the incident, and transition to recovery, to include moving and delivering resources and services to meet the needs of disaster survivors. 2. Enhance public and private resource and services support for an affected area.

Supply chain resilience has become the weird personal mission of my sundown career. The words immediately above, despite their likely intent, complicated mission achievement.  When combined with the Protection mission language, the Response mission language could even encourage non-resilient choices.

In the second edition of the National Preparedness Goal released last week the capability under Protection remains the same.  The capability under Response now reads:

Logistics and Supply Chain Management: Deliver essential commodities, equipment, and services in support of impacted communities and survivors, to include emergency power and fuel support, as well as the coordination of access to community staples. Synchronize logistics capabilities and enable the restoration of impacted supply chains. 1. Mobilize and deliver governmental, nongovernmental, and private sector resources to save lives, sustain lives, meet basic human needs, stabilize the incident, and transition to recovery, to include moving and delivering resources and services to meet the needs of disaster survivors. 2. Enhance public and private resource and services support for an affected area.

My professional menu just evolved from boiled hot dogs to grilled kielbasa. And I will spend the next months, even years, trying to deliver this kielbasa as widely as possible.  Making is only worthwhile when a product is delivered and consumed.

The 2011 hot dogs were better than nothing.  But there is now a substance and flavor better matched to market realities and consumer needs.  I expect this kielbasa will be consumed much more widely and enthusiastically than those hot dogs.

Supply chain issues are equally important to mitigation. Plenty of sausage-making still ahead. I am a great fan of Merguez sausage (especially made with lamb).  It is a bloody, sticky, messy process.  But results can fill and satisfy.

September 10, 2015

September 10 Thinking

Filed under: Resilience,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 10, 2015

When someone is accused of “September 10 thinking” it is usually meant to suggest attitudes that under-estimate the terrorist threat. Before September 11 we understood terrorism mostly as a matter of criminal investigation and prosecution.  After September 11, the critique strongly implies, any clear-thinking person must recognize that terrorism requires waging war to make peace.

On this tenth day of September we have experienced fourteen years of war. Thousands have been killed in the crossfire. Millions have been displaced.  There has been a militarization of domestic governance fraught with unintended consequences. Has there been a coarsening of American culture?  Perpetual war has a reputation for producing this outcome.  But Americans can be proudly rough-hewn.  Perhaps this is an effect with deeper cause.

In any case, I perceive very little prospect for peace.  If anything the terrorist threat to the United States – and many others – seems more pronounced, even more complicated than fourteen years ago.

Since 9-11 there has not been a successful “strategic” attack on the United States. Several attempts have been preempted by a combination of effective intelligence, policing, criminal prosecution, and military operations. Several mostly free-lance terrorist operations have been carried out, but the damage done pales in contrast to US mass-murders perpetrated by non-terrorists.

This is not to deny the continuing – perhaps increasing – terrorist threat.  We have seen in London, Madrid, Paris, and elsewhere what is possible.  Those we call terrorists do not obscure their ambitions.

The cause of current threats is complicated. It is not a straight line from American military operations to the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But this is one of several converging lines. Our failure to shape a more inclusive and stable post-occupation in Iraq is another of these lines.  We share with many others the failure to avert Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe. There are even more twists and knots and weird webs, not all of which can be traced to an American source. It is, however, often impossible to distinguish our lines from these others.

It was never a binary: war-fighting or policing. It has always been much more complicated.  Most police officers and military personnel are quick to agree that deadly force is best-used only when better options have proven ineffective.

But we have given the vast majority of our attention and resources to these two counter-terrorism tools.  While we can commend certain CT competencies, our current strategic situation suggests other investments are needed.

If you are expecting a comprehensive answer from me, don’t hold your breath.  But I will highlight three issues beyond fighting and prosecuting which I perceive need sustained attention if we are to be in a better place fourteen years from now.

Demographic density – There are twice as many of us as in 1965. There will be even more of us.  We are coming together closer in cities.  We are interacting more and more through communications, commerce, and culture.  The simple mathematical likelihood of conflict increases as our interactions proliferate.  If predicted shortages of water and food unfold, it could be an especially ugly century.

Proximate diversity – Conflict often arises over real or perceived differences.  What is interesting at a distance may be irritating close at hand.  What seems reasonable to me, strikes you as crazy. Economic inequality, while perpetual, was once less obvious. Until 200 years ago many of our cultural differences were buffered by various sorts of distance. Many physical, temporal, and cultural aspects of distance are experiencing compression (see supra).  This compression can encourage intentional expressions of differentiation. Such expressions escalate proximate differences that might be insignificant at a distance. One person’s creative cosmopolitanism is another’s satanic confusion.

Interdependent networks—I most often use these words to reference the electrical grids, telecommunications networks, and supply chains that facilitate and sustain the two prior issues.  If these fail, preexisting tensions may escalate. But in this context the challenge – and opportunities – of interdependence also extend to social, economic, and political networks.  Separation is increasingly difficult and usually delusional.  Relationships across various divides are real and can be constructive, even affectionate. But whatever the affect, the connections are increasingly fundamental, spreading good and bad with equal alacrity.

These are issues that seem innately to prompt either-or, yes-no, right-wrong reactions. But I worry it is precisely this analytic predisposition that threatens mutual annihilation.

Hegel used a German word that Marx allowed to be translated into English as suggesting the old way is destroyed to make way for the new. But the original word — Aufheben — can, depending on context, mean destroy or transcend or retrieve or renew. The implication, at least for me, is how prior meaning can be constructively adapted to present reality. Or how contending worldviews can be resolved. Or how thesis and antithesis might constructively coexist. Can we develop the interpersonal skills and social systems to deploy contending energies for the common good?

–+–

A program that has roots in traditional counter-terrorism, but is trying to stretch into the issues noted above is outlined in a September 9 story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

September 3, 2015

Homeland Security: Top Issue or Other?

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 3, 2015

In a speech last week to note the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the Gulf Coast, President Obama said:

Here in New Orleans, a city that embodies a celebration of life, suddenly seemed devoid of life.  A place once defined by color and sound — the second line down the street, the crawfish boils in backyards, the music always in the air — suddenly it was dark and silent.  And the world watched in horror.  We saw those rising waters drown the iconic streets of New Orleans.  Families stranded on rooftops.  Bodies in the streets.  Children crying, crowded in the Superdome.  An American city dark and under water.  

And this was something that was supposed to never happen here — maybe somewhere else.  But not here, not in America.  And we came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens.  And the storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades because we came to understand that New Orleans, like so many cities and communities across the country, had for too long been plagued by structural inequalities that left too many people, especially poor people, especially people of color, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing.  Too many kids grew up surrounded by violent crime, cycling through substandard schools where few had a shot to break out of poverty.  And so like a body weakened already, undernourished already, when the storm hit, there was no resources to fall back on.

In the podcast with Thad Allen that Arnold Bogis highlighted on Tuesday, the former Coast Guard Commandant remarked, “The event does not create the preconditions, and to the extent that preconditions exist, that erodes resiliency and your ability to deal with the problem, you’re going have the consequences of greater effect and greater magnitude.”

In addition to the preconditions noted by the President and the Admiral, I would highlight the structure of the electrical grid, fuel distribution systems, supply chains for food, pharmaceuticals, medical goods, and more.  The lower ninth ward did not have a functioning public water system for fourteen months after Katrina. What would be the situation in post-earthquake Los Angeles?  In the New Orleans region, as in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and in myriad locations along most major US waterways, dikes, levees, dams and other engineered structures have incrementally accumulated without much attention to potential interdependencies.  Dozens of dams my grandfather was instrumental in building more than sixty years ago have not been maintained and are an increasing hazard.

As the President suggests, many of our most troublesome preconditions are the result of neglect.  But others — even some referenced by Mr. Obama — are as likely to emerge from proactive and purposeful choices intended to enhance efficiency, economic productivity, and other generally perceived positives.

Does the Homeland Security mission include addressing preconditions?

Glance at the screen capture below.  This is from the White House website.  Click on ISSUES and this is what is displayed.  Does the distinction between “Top Issues” and “More” strike you as meaningful?

White House Website_Issues

I suspect the headings were organized by a web-master rather than senior policy staff. But like an innocent (Freudian?) slip of the tongue, it’s interesting to consider.  I may even agree with the distinctions.  The “Top Issues” listed above have the potential to shape the strategic landscape.  Those listed under the first set of “More”, as usually conceived, are much more responses to problems that resist strategic shaping.

Much of my work tries to get Homeland Security more effectively engaged in preconditions.  Presidential Policy Directive 21 indicates:

The Federal Government shall work with critical infrastructure owners and operators and SLTT entities to take proactive steps to manage risk and strengthen the security and resilience of the Nation’s critical infrastructure, considering all hazards that could have a debilitating impact on national security, economic stability, public health and safety, or any combination thereof. These efforts shall seek to reduce vulnerabilities, minimize consequences, identify and disrupt threats, and hasten response and recovery efforts related to critical infrastructure.

Later in the same PPD, we read:

The Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide strategic guidance, promote a national unity of effort, and coordinate the overall Federal effort to promote the security and resilience of the Nation’s critical infrastructure. In carrying out the responsibilities assigned in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as amended, the Secretary of Homeland Security evaluates national capabilities, opportunities, and challenges in protecting critical infrastructure; analyzes threats to, vulnerabilities of, and potential consequences from all hazards on critical infrastructure; identifies security and resilience functions that are necessary for effective public-private engagement with all critical infrastructure sectors; develops a national plan and metrics, in coordination with SSAs and other critical infrastructure partners; integrates and coordinates Federal cross-sector security and resilience activities; identifies and analyzes key interdependencies among critical infrastructure sectors; and reports on the effectiveness of national efforts to strengthen the Nation’s security and resilience posture for critical infrastructure.

Several additional DHS roles are then listed.  Similar proactive language — authorities, as they are called — can be found in other statutes and executive actions. But whatever the authorities and occasional exception, the culture of Homeland Security remains more defensive…threat-oriented…reactive.

Preconditions persist and multiply.

September 1, 2015

“Devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue”

Filed under: Biosecurity,Catastrophes,Climate Change,Futures,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 1, 2015

Thanks to the Alaska Dispatch News, here’s a transcript of the speech President Obama gave Monday evening (9PM Eastern) in Alaska.

The phrase “homeland security” was never uttered.  But I perceive a considerable connection.  One excerpt:

We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue.  That is not deniable.  And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime.  We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow. 

But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively.  People will suffer.  Economies will suffer.  Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems.  More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict. 

That’s one path we can take.  The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it.  This is within our power.  This is a solvable problem if we start now. 

 

August 27, 2015

New Orleans and the Gulf at Ten

Above, Weather Channel coverage of Katrina on August 27, 2005

On Saturday, August 27 ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina was a CAT-3 still in the Gulf, but projected to hit along the Mississippi delta. The state of Louisiana requested and received a Stafford Act declaration of a major disaster in anticipation of the hurricane’s impact. Late Saturday afternoon the mayor of New Orleans (finally) encouraged voluntary evacuation of the city.

That weekend I was conducting counter-terrorism training in a windowless, Strangelovian room far from the Gulf. But we had the storm track and continuous news coverage displayed on several giant monitors.

I perceive that over the next week Homeland Security morphed from being mostly threat-oriented toward much more engagement with vulnerability. This very nascent field began shifting from a focus on “stopping bad guys” to assessing risk and cultivating resilience.

Media and scholarly attention to the Tenth Anniversary of Katrina started in early August and has been surprisingly substantive. Here at HLSWatch, Bill Cumming has offered several notes and links on the anniversary, see recent Friday Free Forums. Following are five more links I hope you find worth your time.

  • The Data Center –  Fantastic resources on demographics, economics, and other quantitative measures related to the region’s recovery.
  • Resilience in Survivors of Katrina (RISK) – This is an ongoing longitudinal study of several angles on several sub-populations.  Focus is on psycho-social outcomes.
  • Catastrophes are Different from Disasters – The now classic essay by E.L. Quarantelli.  Also check out other excellent essays in this 2006 special report by the Social Science Research Council.
  • Recovery Diva – Claire Rubin has posted at least twenty thoughtful updates with multiple links.
  • REVERB – An exhibition (through November 1) at the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans.

Threats continue to challenge and tempt us.  Vulnerabilities can be difficult to acknowledge. Meaningful mitigation often requires sustained collaboration. Resilience is complicated. We continue to learn from Katrina.

August 20, 2015

Conflicting or complementary?

Filed under: Biosecurity,Climate Change,Futures,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 20, 2015

Each month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases a review of weather data.  What the accumulating data demonstrates are increasing departures from historic means, much more extreme weather of every sort.

While some continue to argue the cause for this shift, there is more and more consensus that the data confirms an emerging climate much different than that experienced by recent generations. (Monday I received a briefing on the so-called Kankakee Torrent of 14,000 to 19,000 years ago.  This suggests that even extremes are relative).

So far the impact of the extended California drought on agricultural production — and prices — has been modest.  According to a late-June analysis by the USDA Economic Research Service,

The current outlook for 2015 is for slightly lower than average retail food price inflation, with supermarket prices expected to rise 1.75 to 2.75 percent over 2014 levels. Despite drought conditions in California, the strength of the U.S. dollar and lower oil prices could have a mitigating effect on fresh fruit and vegetable prices in 2015. As of June, ERS predicts fresh fruit prices will rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent and fresh vegetable prices 2.0 to 3.0 percent in 2015, close to the 20-year historical average. 

But if the current drought would extend for another several years, and especially if drought in one agricultural region is combined with destructive extreme weather in other agricultural regions (e.g. the 2010 drought in Ukraine, Russia, China, and Argentina), the combined consequence can be dire.

While an understanding of cause is usually crucial to prevention and many kinds of mitigation, it is possible to disagree as to cause and develop plausible projections of consequence. In most of life there is a “cone of uncertainty” of some sort, but even when we cannot precisely predict, we may be able to reasonably anticipate.

Over the last several months a UK-US team has attempted to anticipate the impact of extreme weather on global agricultural capacity.  They recently released a report, concluding:

... the global food system is vulnerable to production shocks caused by extreme weather, and… this risk is growing. Although much more work needs to be done to reduce uncertainty, preliminary analysis of limited existing data suggests that the risk of a 1-in-100 year production shock is likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by 2040. Additionally, recent studies suggest that our reliance on increasing volumes of global trade, whilst having many benefits, also creates structural vulnerability via a liability to amplify production shocks in some circumstances. Action is therefore needed to improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks, to mitigate their impact on people.

I find the binational report especially interesting for reasons that go beyond the explicit factual analysis.  The organization and rhetoric of the report seems a bit bipolar… unable to resolve a persistent tension between two policy/strategy perceptions.  One angle tends toward greater redundancy and centralization.  The other tends toward greater diversity and decentralization.  The authors do not seem self-aware of the tension.  It would be interesting, at least to me, to see a principled strategic process for engaging these two alternatives… or possibly complementary approaches.

August 6, 2015

Danger: It is clear. Is it present?

Filed under: Immigration,International HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 6, 2015

Manu_Brabo_San Salvador Arrest

Above: Photograph by Manu Brabo (AP) of an arrest in San Salvador from the Executioners of El Salvador in The New Yorker.

Until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the United States did not attempt to control immigration as a matter of policy. Other late 19th Century restrictions attempted to limit entry by Japanese, lunatics, anarchists, and carriers of infectious diseases.  From 1921 to 1965 various laws and Executive actions served to set an upper limit on total immigration and set quotas for the national origin of immigrants.

The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, and the 1990 Immigration Act put in place the basic architecture of contemporary immigration policy. Since 9/11 there have been several attempts to significantly revise immigration laws, most of these efforts have failed.

Each year roughly 700,000 legal immigrants enter the United States.  Illegal immigration is tough to track, but net inflows — number entering minus number returning — are credibly estimated to have plunged below 100,000 since the Great Recession (2007).   According to the Pew Research Center, since 2012 it is possible that more Mexicans living in the United States have returned to Mexico than have crossed north.

If so, this would restore a long-time pattern of Mexican and Central American migration.  According to Madeline Zavodny with the American Enterprise Institute:

It is worth noting that historically many unauthorized immigrants did not settle permanently in the United States. Instead, they worked here temporarily, saved some money and returned home; many repeated this on a seasonal basis for years but ultimately retired at home, where their family members had remained. Since the 1980s, however, there has been a gradual shift toward unauthorized immigrants settling in the United States and reuniting with family members here. One reason for this was the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) legalization program, which enabled some 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants to receive permanent legal status. Another reason is the increased difficulty in crossing the U.S.-Mexico border due to tighter border security. As it has become harder to re-enter the United States, unauthorized immigrants have increased their length of stay here.

Increased economic opportunity in Mexico — strongly tied to a declining birth-rate — is one of several factors that have shifted migration patterns. “The immigration debate seems to be stuck around the year 2006, and before then,” says Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Japan or New Zealand can conceivably manage their immigration policy with a border strategy.  Most large, affluent, culturally diverse nations (or regions, ala the European Union) will find a border strategy to be about as effective as the Maginot Line.  To be effective much more attention is required to shape the strategic context for migration… as distant from the border as possible.

For example, last week Refugees International released a new report on violence in El Salvador.  In the last six months, there have been over 3000 murders in this nation of 6 million.   According to the report:

More children are killed in El Salvador per capita than in any other country. Two gangs are largely responsible for this increasing violence. These gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (18th Street) originated in Los Angeles, but after 1996, thousands were deported to El Salvador in a process that has been described as “unintentional state-sponsored gang migration.” By 2005, El Salvador had 10,000 active gang members, and this number has only grown in the intervening years. Currently, there are 70,000 members of the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs operating in El Salvador…

Does this situation present a potential immigration challenge to the United States? Last summer we had a dramatic example of the possibility.  Since then the situation in Central America has only gotten worse. Does the strength of Central American gangs and their contacts with US and international criminal/terrorist organizations present a potential threat beyond immigration?  Is the US national interest our only concern in this context?  Should it be?

Where would you prefer to engage the potential threat?  How would you prefer to reduce the potential threat? When is the right time to engage?  The Refugees International Report offers some answers.

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