Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 9, 2014

House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning? Grading the Administration’s Counterterrorism Policy”

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on April 9, 2014

Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade held a hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning?”

I’m going to say no.  No, they are not.

It seemed more an opportunity to critique the Administration on the concept of a “pivot toward Asia” and keeping us (too?) engaged in the Middle East rather than a honest attempt at assessing this difficult question.

However, the participants are well qualified to address this issue:

Panel I

The Honorable Joseph Lieberman
(Former United States Senator)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

The Honorable Jane Harman
Director, President, and Chief Executive Officer
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
(Former Member of Congress)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Panel II

Seth Jones, Ph.D.
Associate Director
International Security and Defense Policy Center
RAND Corporation
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Frederick W. Kagan, Ph.D.
Christopher DeMuth Chair and Director
Critical Threats Project
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Mr. Benjamin Wittes
Senior Fellow
Governance Studies
The Brookings Institution
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

One would think this would be a well attended hearing, but notice the empty seats around the 2:00 minute mark in this video (unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of the entire hearing that I could post):

For the full hearing, go here.

 

March 26, 2014

Dirty bombs a left/right issue: left or right of boom

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

One of the headlines to emerge from the recently concluded Nuclear Security Summit concerned dirty, not nuclear, bomb material:

Twenty-three nations participating in the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands this week said they intend to comply with international guidelines regarding the security of so-called “dirty bomb” material.

The parties to the multilateral statement — including the United States and countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — pledged to secure all their most dangerous “Category I” radiological sources under guidelines set out by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Specifically, they vowed to follow the IAEA “Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.”

Radiological sources are those that, if paired with conventional explosives, could form a “dirty bomb” that disperses radioactive contamination over an area, but which cannot produce a nuclear detonation akin to an atomic bomb.

Matt Bunn, already referenced once today, isn’t accepting all this apparent progress on face value:

Bunn, however, criticized the transportation gift basket, which does not require the participating countries to utilize any specific security measures. He told Global Security Newswire that the transport-security pledge “is as weak as dishwater,” and he took exception to its suggestion that “the security record of civilian transport of nuclear materials has been excellent” historically.

“Essentially what it means is just that the shipments have not been seized by terrorists so far,” Bunn said. “It used to be legal to send plutonium by regular mail, and the industry complained loudly when the [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] started requiring any armed guards at all.”

Yet what he or other critics of the agreement failed to mention is that it is entirely focused on what is referred to as “left of boom.”  These are the prevention, occasionally encompassing preparedness, measures focused on preventing a dirty bomb attack in the first place.

Nuclear terrorism is a left of boom problem.  The part of a nuclear attack terrorists cannot achieve themselves is making the required fissile material.  While a large amount of nuclear weapons-usable fissile material exists (the vast majority in the U.S. and Russia), it is a finite amount that can conceivably be locked down or eliminated.

If a nuclear explosion goes off, you and everyone else in the world will know.  If an attempted attack “fizzles,” it will still result in government action that will make the 9/11 reaction seem tame.  Preparing to respond to a nuclear detonation is important, but once it goes off officials are basically relegated to cleaning up.

A dirty bomb is mostly a “right of boom” issue.  It is incredibly helpful to reduce the access to the potentially worst dirty bomb ingredients, such as cesium, by eliminating or drastically reducing their use in medicine and industry, as well as increasing transportation security standards.

However, unlike a nuclear explosion, the bar to detonating a dirty bomb is extremely low.  Simply add any radioactive material, which exists in countless forms for countless uses in countless fields, to an explosive device and voila!…Wolf Blitzer will be interviewing former administration officials about how this dirty bomb could have happened.  Didn’t we agree to get rid of this stuff at the last nuclear security summit?!?

I jest.  To a point. It is important to secure or eliminate the most dangerous radiological sources.  However, unlike with nuclear terrorism, it will not be possible to accomplish this for ALL radioactive substances.  And the the end product of any dirty bomb is panic and fear of lingering radiation that results in economic damage.  Basically an own goal or touchback if officials and the media emphasize the presence of ANY radiation following an attack, regardless if it included cesium or another isotope considered dangerous (for which these new suggested regulations are attempting to increase the security) or something just barely radioactive that can be measured by local officials on their Geiger counters – if they aren’t simply registering the already existing background radiation.

So what to do?  Concentrate on preparedness, response, and especially recovery.

  • Don’t focus public messages on prevention, but instead on preparedness. 
  • Emphasize the low risk nature of the threat; point out the lack of radiation injuries resulting from Three Mile Island and Fukushima.
  • Prepare succinct talking points for officials in case of a dirty bomb attack.
  • Officials should become comfortable downplaying the fear of radiation.  This should also be instilled in first responders.
  • First responders should have clear, exercised plans for dealing with any radiation-related incident.
  • Federal officials should transfer money from expensive efforts at prevention to developing new technologies for cleaning up.

The only people likely to die in any dirty bomb attack are those injured by the explosion.  The worst damage is caused by a fear of radiation.  The ability to decontaminate an urban area will deter potential dirty bombers in the future.

As long as the experts, currently in and out of government, do not go on cable news to expound on the over-hyped danger of dirty bombs.

February 26, 2014

Old news (about a stolen radiation source), but new analysis

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on February 26, 2014

Last December the funny papers and cable news were all over the story of radioactive material that went missing in Mexico. This website’s own Phil Palin covered the news here.

The material was recovered, and the thieves ended up hospitalized for radiation exposure.

What I’d like to share is analysis of the implications for U.S. domestic radioactive source security.  In other words, it can happen here.

Tom Bielefeld, a physicist who is an associate at the Managing the Atom Project at Harvard, recently broke down the issues involved in this case for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In particular, he notes several cases in “Western democracies” which should raise concern:

  • In July 2011, in the parking lot of a Texas hotel, a thief broke into a truck and stole a radiography camera containing 33.7 curies of iridium-192. The truck drivers had forgotten to switch on the vehicle’s alarm system when they went to dinner. Even though the hotel’s security camera recorded the thief’s car as it left, the device was never found.
  • In February 2013, thieves stole another radiography camera in a small town north of Manchester, England. A courier had left it in his van, which was parked in front of the residence where he stopped for a weekend. The device turned up a month later, at a nearby shopping mall, luckily undamaged.
  • In Canada, the Nuclear Safety Commission lists 17 cases from the past eight years in which radioactive materials were stolen from vehicles, or in which the vehicle itself was stolen with a radiation source in the trunk. Five of these cases involved radiography cameras. All five were eventually recovered.

The news isn’t all bad:

It is true that, in many countries, the situation today is somewhat better than it was 10 years ago. Largely, this is because the US government made the issue a priority after 9/11, when it launched programs for security upgrades in countries where unprotected radiation sources were abundant and presumably within reach of terrorists. US experts have worked in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, helping local partners install security equipment in hospitals and at disposal sites. They have also recovered radiation sources from abandoned facilities and assisted foreign governments in formulating new regulations to improve oversight.

It ain’t all good either:

While US initiatives to strengthen radiological security elsewhere in the world have been at least partially successful, progress at home has been surprisingly difficult. According to a 2008 report by the National Academies, there are more than 5,000 devices containing high-activity radiation sources in the country, including 700 with category-1 sources. So, if terrorists wanted to mount a dirty bomb attack in the United States, they might not have to go abroad to try to steal the material for it.

And there’s this:

Many stakeholders argue that the current regulations provide good-enough protection. In reality, however, there is still little reason for such confidence. In fact, in some US facilities, security conditions remain hair-raising, even when these facilities have been checked by inspectors. This came to light in a 2012 report published by the Government Accountability Office: GAO investigators visited a number of hospitals all over the country to see how the NRC’s new security rules were being implemented, and came back with some sobering findings. For example, one hospital kept a blood irradiator, a category-1 source containing 1,500 curies of cesium-137, in a room with the access code written on the door frame. Another hospital kept a similar device on a wheeled pallet down the hall from a loading dock.

Tom does not leave us without specific recommendations:

Ultimately, good security needs both: strong, strictly enforced regulations and actively participating licensees. Strong regulations are required because investments in security usually don’t generate profits for the businesses. But no security system can work effectively without a vigilant staff that understands the terrorism risk is real. Much like the long-established “safety culture” that has almost certainly prevented many serious radiation accidents, a new “security culture” is needed. This means that businesses, regulators, and government agencies are all aware of security threats, understand their individual responsibilities, and adapt their practices accordingly.

And:

Here are some specific recommendations for the various parties involved in transport security:

  • The NRC must further strengthen its regulations. Given the scale of damage that a “dirty bomb” could cause, it’s difficult to understand why there are still no armed escorts required for category-1 transports. A real-time location-tracking system should be mandatory, not just for vehicles transporting category-1 sources, but also for those with category-2 sources. Similarly, the requirement for drivers to identify “safe havens” for rest stops, before their trip begins, should be extended to category-2 transports.
  • The states could do a lot more, too. Those that do not yet require armed escorts for category-1 transports should implement such a policy soon—and not wait for the NRC to change its rules. And if there is one lesson from the Mexican incident for the states, it’s that all of them should be proactive when it comes to helping licensees identify secure parking areas.
  • The companies themselves play the main role in protecting radioactive sources. They need to be aware that someone might be after their cargo. Drivers, in particular, must be trained to follow security protocols, avoid risky situations, and respond appropriately should they come under attack. Managers should equip their trucks with low-cost security systems—such as GPS tracking systems, duress buttons, or vehicle disabling devices—even when they are not legally required to do so.

If you are concerned about dirty bombs, the entire piece is worth your time:

http://thebulletin.org/mexico%E2%80%99s-stolen-radiation-source-it-could-happen-here

January 29, 2014

Homeland security and the State of the Union

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 29, 2014

I think it’s fair to say that this year’s State of the Union address had even less directly related homeland security content than the last. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as beforehand everything indicated an economic heavy speech. It was still there, however, if you look hard enough.

For those of you possibly concerned by the lack of the phrase “homeland security” anywhere in the speech, rest assured that “national security” received only one mention. I am not sure there are any lessons to be derived from the paucity of homeland or even national security issues. The United States remains the strongest, most secure nation on Earth.  Perhaps it is just time that we realize that fact.

What little there is I’m going to divide up among three tiers.  Tier 1 are those issues directly dealt with by the homeland security enterprise and those with impacts on that community.  Tier 2 are topics that can have second or third degree impacts.  Tier 3 are much broader, societal resilience issues. Feel free to disagree about my sorting.  I still have second thoughts.

But first a few side notes:

  • The cable news stations are treading dangerously close to parody with their hours of pre-speech analysis.  It is beginning to have a Super Bowl-all-day-programming-filled-with-inane-segments feel to it.  Add to that the amount of time spent on the Oscar/Grammy-like red carpet segment showing the arrival of members of Congress, though they definitely skewed older and conservatively dressed.  Though I’d bet the First Lady could rock the red carpet.
  • More time was spent on the arrivals than the impact of the winter storm down South.  Thousands of people are stuck on the roadways in Atlanta alone with hundreds of schoolchildren sheltering in place overnight and CNN was able to tear itself away from post-speech analysis for a good five minutes. Thank god for the Weather Channel.
  • The White House labeled last night’s speech the “most accessible and interactive SOTU yet.”  Sure, you could watch it online or just look at the handful of slides they provided with additional information on particular topics.  And of course there was Facebook, Twitter, and other social media links for sharing with your friends.  But would it have killed them to simply post the text of the speech in a readily available location?  I searched around for a while, gave up, and Googled it.
  • The important trivia for the night: Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was the Cabinet Secretary chosen not attend the speech but instead spend the night in a secure, secret location to ensure continuity of government in case of catastrophe on the Hill.  The odd thing is that last year then Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was the designated Cabinet official.  Is the thinking that physicists will do very well as a near dictatorial leader following the elimination of the rest of government?  Or are they just more likely to be bored with the speech?

Tier 1

Infrastructure:

Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.

Immigration:

Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. (Cheers, applause.) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

Gun violence:

Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

Terrorism:

If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

The fact is that danger remains. While we’ve put al-Qaida’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks.

We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing.  That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.

That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.

Nuclear security:

American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.

Tier 2

Energy (as we continue to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy, our strategic relationships should change in a fashion that reduces our vulnerabilities):

More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.

The “all the above” energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Climate change (a topic not directly worked by most federal homeland agencies, for example see the Recovery Diva’s recent post on the challenges facing FEMA, but many states and coastal cities are taking the risks very seriously):

But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

Iran (a nuclear Iran would not be in the national interest of the U.S., but it would not represent an existential threat; the danger would not be a direct attack but rather further proliferation in the Middle East and the risk of poor control of weapons or materials; there is little evidence, and much academic work that concludes the contrary, any state would voluntarily hand over a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization):

As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.

It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we’re clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don’t rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

Tier 3

The majority of the speech was focused on jobs, education, and healthcare.  There are vast ideological differences on how to advance all three, but all are vital for the long term resilience of our society.

November 19, 2013

The reset of global violent jihad

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on November 19, 2013

This essay was written by Mike Walker as a series of 49 tweets.  Mr. Walker is the former undersecretary and acting secretary of the Army and former deputy director of FEMA during the Clinton Administration.    You can follow his twitter feed @New_Narrative.

—————

The nominee for DHS secretary told Congress last week his first priority would be filling open political jobs. Shouldn’t the top priority of any DHS secretary be protecting the nation? In fact, the DHS nominee said counterterrorism was his third priority. The administration insists we are safer from terrorist attack today. We are, but a threat remains while a new one gathers. Many analysts believe the core of al-Qaeda has been decimated in its Pakistan safe haven. Yet, al-Qaeda keeps replacing everyone we kill. Their bench is apparently deeper than expected. Thanks to good intelligence, we have made it difficult for al-Qaeda to launch major attacks here at home.

Yet, the terrorists’ affiliates, allies & adherents are now active in more than 36 countries. The Al Qaeda movement today is in 3 times more countries than on 9-11. Since 9-11, al-Qaeda has morphed, decentralized & disbursed on purpose. Some analysts believe this diffuse, new al-Qaeda movement is, therefore, less threatening. They say the terrorists are now more focused on local issues, no longer on global violent jihad. These analysts are missing two current trends inside the terrorist syndicate.

First, al-Qaeda’s radical ideology continues to inspire small numbers of people, including Americans. In fact, a new Pew poll indicates as many as 13% of Muslims, perhaps 200 million people worldwide, view al-Qaeda favorably. Analysts also insist those being inspired today are less lethal. Tell that to Boston’s victims. Al Qaeda is actively urging homegrown terrorists to launch more attacks like Boston in America. Many analysts say, however, al-Qaeda’s call to violent jihad is falling on deaf ears. Yet, since Bin Laden was killed at least 50 people in the US, influenced by the al-Qaeda ideology, have been arrested or indicted. In the years since 9-11, law enforcement has done a great job keeping the nation safe. However, Boston proves we cannot stop everything & shows a continued weakness in intergovernmental cooperation.

The second trend is al-Qaeda’s rebirth overseas. The cycle of terrorism is being reset. Though under attack, al-Qaeda continues safe haven in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, & Somalia. New safe havens are being established in Libya, the African Sahel & the Egyptian Sinai. But it is Syria that is most troubling. Syria is attracting thousands, influenced by al-Qaeda’s radical & absolute beliefs. For the first time in al-Qaeda’s 25-year history, it now has a base in the very heart of the Middle East. Hundreds of Europeans & at least 60 Americans are being trained in Syria. Former FBI director Mueller warns these newly trained Americans may return home & attack here. One cell returning home has already been arrested planning attacks in Belgium.

Spreading violent jihad in recruits’ home countries is a requirement of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front in Syria. The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq also promises to attack inside the US, as does the brutal new leader of the Pakistan Taliban. And AQAP in Yemen has already launched at least 3 plots aimed directly at the American homeland. Before 9-11, al-Qaeda trained thousands of violent jihadists in large camps in Afghanistan. Today’s terror training is more modular & more subtle, thus more difficult to detect & stop. It is also more sophisticated & more accelerated than during the old days in Afghanistan. Some believe al-Qaeda has accomplished in 2 years in Syria, what it took them 10 to accomplish in Afghanistan. So, the global violent jihad has not disappeared; instead it continues to morph & develop.

Al Qaeda’s leaders have said future attacks will be at the time & place of their own choosing. Al-Qaeda’s adherents are patient & think in terms of decades or even longer. It was reported in mid-2009 that U.S. officials feared al-Qaeda’s ally, the Pakistan Taliban, had gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon. Fortunately, it wasn’t true, but Pakistan’s nuclear security is the second weakest in the world. And leading Pakistani nuclear scientists suggest those weapons could be hijacked & given to terrorists. Taking no chance, FEMA has been developing response plans to deal with the aftermath of an improvised nuclear device.

To conclude, we should all be wary of analysts with rosy assumptions. The global violent jihad movement has only been in hibernation. Today, that movement is resetting for the next new phase of terror. The reset of global violent jihad is emerging from an unfulfilled Arab Spring & is encouraged by weakened US influence abroad. So, the first homeland security priority must continue to be the safety of the United States. We are safer now than on 9-11 but will not continue to be if we take our eye off the ball. It is no time for complacency in America. As the director of the NCTC told Congress last week, al-Qaeda will attack should the opportunity arise.

This essay also appeared on the blog “Pietervanostaeyen: Musings on Arabism, Islamicism, History and current affairs.

November 5, 2013

“LAX shooting: Does anyone care?”

Filed under: Aviation Security,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 5, 2013

(Posted before the reports started coming in of yet another shooting; this time in Paramus, N.J.  Another day, another shooting.)

This essay, by Joel Silberman, appeared Monday on the Los Angeles Times website.  (my emphasis, below)

LAX is not trending on Twitter. Seventy-two hours after a man opened fire on our gateway to the world, there is no discernible outcry for action, little apparent conversation at all. As I write these words, the latest mass shooting is not on the front page of the left-leaning Huffington Post or the right-leaning Drudge Report. It’s not lighting up the social media outlets where average people exchange points of view, or the op-ed pages where our nation’s elite do the same. The president called the head of the TSA to express condolences, but there will be no presidential visit to console the families of the victims. And that’s probably just as well because it would just make everyone complain about the traffic. Unpleasant though it may be to admit, it seems we’ve become uncomfortably numb.

In fairness, even horrifying attacks are relative: One adult dead and many wounded is not equivalent to the mass slaughter of schoolchildren that we witnessed 10 1/2 months ago. That was worse. And reporters for local news outlets — including The Times — have more than proven that they, at least, are not numb, with their extensive coverage of the LAX story.

But the question remains: Who cares? Literally, who? When people care, the atmosphere is like it was after the Boston Marathon bombings or the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Can anyone honestly claim that we are in that kind of atmosphere right now? If a body falls — or five of them fall — in a forest of exhausted indifference, do they make a sound?

Of course, our numbness to this kind of violence is born not only of its proliferation but of a rational recognition that our government is not up to the task of addressing it. When even the most moderate legislation on guns faces a filibuster in the Senate and won’t be brought up for a vote in the House, practical people can justifiably conclude that arguing about the issue further is a futile academic exercise. Even those who don’t follow politics know that there’s no change forthcoming, so they throw up their hands. Meanwhile, conservative leaders who insisted on improvements to the American mental health system as an alternative to gun legislation have not been forthcoming with concrete proposals. And so our country is at an impasse, with its citizens caught in the crossfire.

Inevitably, firearms fundamentalists argue that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is a brilliantly empowering slogan, the kind that could lift us all out of our desensitized malaise. After all, it’s fun to imagine that our personal security and well-being are all within our hands, that powerlessness is a malignant fantasy of the weak. But the events at LAX last Friday showed both the truth and the lie of the “good guy with a gun” promise: Yes, because the gunman’s target, a major airport, is one of the most security-heavy facilities in the country, he was brought down quickly by armed police. Even so, he also proved that no matter how many good guys with guns you have around, when a crazy person can spray off 700 rounds in a minute, he only needs a few seconds to do plenty of damage.

In a way, it’s really a shame that the airport shooter wasn’t Arab or Muslim. If he had been, the incident would have been deemed an act of terrorism, and terrorism warrants a serious response. But he was white instead of Middle Eastern and used a gun instead of a bomb, so now it’s not terrorism; it’s the price of freedom.

If there’s any silver lining in all this — and it is a very slim silver lining — it’s that maybe TSA agents will be given a little bit more respect, at least for a while. Perhaps people will be reminded that as annoying as it may be to have someone rifling through their belongings, TSA agents are, at the end of the day, security employees who are worthy of the esteem that designation implies. A few bad apples may make headlines for bad behavior, but the majority are hardworking people who deserve at least as much deference as the guards who work at government buildings or Staples Center .

Ultimately, the increasing frequency of mass shootings has given us a choice: live in panic and despair, or learn to suck it up and deal. Given the options of jitters or jadedness, the impulse to keep calm and carry on is understandable. There is even a sense of something like relief because there was only one fatality at LAX, a foreboding knowledge that next time we might not be so “lucky.”

The thing is, though, LAX was just one of several mass shootings in recent days . Eventually, inevitably, something will have to wake us from our self-protective stupor. I just fear what that thing might be.

Joel Silberman is a Los Angeles-based writer and the producer of such viral Web videos as “Legitimate Rape” Pharmaceutical Ad (TW) and Kids Do The News . Follow him on Twitter @Wordpeggio .

July 31, 2013

Throwing a little cold water on the Al Qaeda Threat?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 31, 2013

These are confusing…difficult…let’s just say unsettled times in the counter-terrorism field.

On one hand, the mainstream message seems to be that an extensive global drone strike campaign, combined with a vastly expanded intelligence and special forces capability, has disrupted not only Al Qaeda’s plots but the operations of it’s “central” organization and has kept the American homeland safe.

On the other, “Al Qaeda” is spreading among the chaos of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa.  While not the centralized, directed threat of the late 1990′s and early 2000′s, it is often posited as nonetheless a worrisome national security risk.

I’m not taking a side in this argument…at this point anyway.  However, I do think that Harvard Professor Steve Walt’s analysis (keep in mind he comes from the realist school of international relations)” is worth considering:

What is needed is a much more fundamental rethinking of the entire anti-terrorism campaign. As I suggested last week, part of that rethink means asking whether the United States needs to do a lot more to discredit jihadi narratives, instead of persisting with policies that make the extremists’ charges sound plausible to their audiences. A second part is to keep the jihadi threat in better perspective: They are a challenge, but not a mortal threat to Americans’ way of life unless the country reacts to them in ways that cause more damage to its well-being and its values than they do. Sadly, a rational ranking of costs, benefits, and threats seems to be something that the U.S. foreign-policy establishment is largely incapable of these days.

March 5, 2013

Eight homeland security stories

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 5, 2013

Here are the first sentences from eight homeland security-related stories that got my attention last week.

 

1. Watch the New and Improved Printable Gun Spew Hundreds of Bullets (by Robert Beckhusen)

Late last year, a group of 3-D printing gunsmiths developed a key component for an AR-15 rifle that anyone with a 3-D printer could download and make at home. The problem: It only lasted six shots before snapping apart. Now the group is back with a new and improved receiver that can fire more than 600 rounds….

2. US hackers attacked military websites, says China’s defence ministry (Security Law Brief)
02/28/13: The BBC reports hackers from the US have repeatedly launched attacks on two Chinese military websites, including that of the Defence Ministry, officials say. The sites were subject to about 144,000 hacking attacks each month last year, two thirds of which came from the US, according to China’s defence ministry….

3. The Best Books About Biotechnology (by Alexis Madrigal)

I’ve spent the last few weeks creating a syllabus for myself on the world — people, techniques, theory, history — of biotechnology. I’ve talked with some scholars, accepted some Amazon recommendations, and done some rummaging around in bibliographies, but I’m only getting started. I thought I’d list my recent acquisitions here in hopes that you’ll help me flesh my little self-taught course out. You know how to get a hold of me: comments here, @alexismadrigal, or amadrigal[at]theatlantic.com. (Oh, and I’m also looking for journals and blogs that I should be keeping an eye on.)….

4. Climate Change and the Arab Spring (by Will Rogers)

On [February 28], … Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia of the Center for Climate & Security …[released] a new study on “Climate Change and the Arab Spring” that “outlines the complex pressures exerted by the effects of climate change on the convulsions which swept through the Middle East in 2010 and 2011, exploring the long-term trends in precipitation, agriculture, food prices, and migration which contributed to the social instability and violence which has transformed the region, and offering solutions for progress.”…

5. NJ Plans Mediation of Disputes Between Consumers and Insurance Companies (by recoverydiva)

One of the impediments to recovery often is due to disputes between homeowners or business owners and insurance companies. We saw that after Hurricane Katrina and we saw it more recently in Christchurch, NZ. This article explains a pending action by Gov Christie of N.J: N.J. to launch mediation program for Hurricane Sandy insurance disputes

6. Phishing Has Gotten Very Good (by Bruce Schneier)

[Ok, more than a few sentences]

This isn’t phishing; it’s not even spear phishing. It’s laser-guided precision phishing:

One of the leaked diplomatic cables referred to one attack via email on US officials who were on a trip in Copenhagen to debate issues surrounding climate change.
“The message had the subject line ‘China and Climate Change’ and was spoofed to appear as if it were from a legitimate international economics columnist at the National Journal.”
The cable continued: “In addition, the body of the email contained comments designed to appeal to the recipients as it was specifically aligned with their job function.”
[...]
One example which demonstrates the group’s approach [to phishing] is that of Coca-Cola, which towards the end was revealed in media reports to have been the victim of a hack.
And not just any hack, it was a hack which industry experts said may have derailed an acquisition effort to the tune of $2.4bn (£1.5bn).
The US giant was looking into taking over China Huiyuan Juice Group, China’s largest soft drinks company — but a hack, believed to be by the Comment Group, left Coca-Cola exposed.
How was it done? Bloomberg reported that one executive — deputy president of Coca-Cola’s Pacific Group, Paul Etchells — opened an email he thought was from the company’s chief executive.
In it, a link which when clicked downloaded malware onto Mr Etchells’ machine. Once inside, hackers were able to snoop about the company’s activity for over a month.

Also, a new technique:

“It is known as waterholing,” he explained. “Which basically involves trying to second guess where the employees of the business might actually go on the web.
“If you can compromise a website they’re likely to go to, hide some malware on there, then whether someone goes to that site, that malware will then install on that person’s system.”
These sites could be anything from the website of an employee’s child’s school – or even a page showing league tables for the corporate five-a-side football team.

[Schneier] wrote [the following] over a decade ago: “Only amateurs attack machines; professionals target people.” And the professionals are getting better and better.

This is the problem. Against a sufficiently skilled, funded, and motivated adversary, no network is secure. Period. Attack is much easier than defense, and the reason we’ve been doing so well for so long is that most attackers are content to attack the most insecure networks and leave the rest alone….

7. Why Sequestration Could Be Good For Airport Passenger Screening (by Justin Hienz)

… the length and speed of security lines at airports are a function of the TSA’s inefficient security methodology, not its budget and staff. Reduced federal funds will magnify this inefficiency, but to claim longer lines are purely a result of budget cuts is a cop-out. Sequestration is actually an opportunity for the TSA to abandon its insistence on screening all airline passengers, which demands extraordinary resources and manpower, and instead adopt a more efficient and effective approach. If it does, budget cuts might be the best thing that ever happened to airport screening….

8. Feds Say Man Deserved Arrest Because Jacket Said ‘Occupy Everything’ (by David Kravets)

A Florida man deserved to be arrested inside the Supreme Court building last year for wearing a jacket painted with “Occupy Everything,” and is lucky he was only apprehended on unlawful entry charges, the Department of Justice says.

The President Barack Obama administration made that assertion in a legal filing in response to a lawsuit brought by Fitzgerald Scott, who is seeking $1 million in damages for his January 2012 arrest inside the Supreme Court building. He also wants his arrest record expunged.

What’s more, the authorities said the former Marine’s claim that he was protected by the First Amendment bolsters the government’s position … because the Supreme Court building’s public interior is a First Amendment-free zone [sic] ….

October 16, 2012

A Paradox, a Quantum Mechanics Principle, and a Greek Myth walked into a bar

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 16, 2012

From the middle of April through last Saturday, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with close to 300 “homeland security professionals.”  I put that phrase in quotes because the title is as ambiguous as the discipline.

I’ve taken to asserting that homeland security is a potential discipline.  It’s a way to stimulate a conversation. I use the phrase “homeland security professional” in the same way.

Almost everyone I spoke with about this agreed they are homeland security professionals, but they are other things also, and often foremost — like police officers, emergency managers, fire fighters, immigration officials, scientists, transportation security officers, public health professionals and so on.

This is a familiar argument: for many people in the business, homeland security is an ancillary activity.

My conversations with homeland security professionals over the past months reminded me — as those conversations have done once or twice before — of the lines from a William Butler Yeats poem

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

As a generalization, that’s approximately what I saw over the past 7 months: the best in homeland security lack conviction; the worst are full of passionate intensity.

There are exceptions, of course, particularly for those who remain intensely committed to the collaboration and communication promise of homeland security.  But the exceptions were few, and frequently parochial.

—————————–

Less than a month away from the 2012 presidential election, and I can’t recall very much talk about homeland security.  If one is in a gracious mood, one can tie political yelling about events in the middle east, and Afghanistan, and drones, and Guantanamo, and bin Laden to homeland security. But from a disciplinary perspective, it’s a stretch. Even immigration and border security seem to have lost their homeland security luster: regionally intense, but nationally diffuse.

You’d think cyber security would get some play.

Is that even a homeland security issue?  Yes, say a few voices. It’s national security, say others. No more regulation, hum the private sector mouths.

But I think modestly polite indifference remains the national response.  At least until the oft-foreshadowed cyber pearl harbor arrives and outrage returns.

—————————–

I have a friend working on a book about homeland security education.  This friend never met a number he did not devour. He read his children to sleep by reciting the times tables. So I was surprised to receive the following homeland security parable from him.

A Paradox, a Quantum Mechanics Principle, and a Greek Myth walked into a bar.  The Bartender, seeking precision in a sometimes querulous manner, asked each of the trio to articulate their positions.

The Paradox, Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, suggested that progression toward a target is an infinite series of half-steps, meaning the object never reaches its target, only the half-steps along the way.

The Uncertainty Principle applauded Zeno but proclaimed it is not possible to measure position and trajectory simultaneously so Zeno should be content with each half-step and not concern himself with the objective.

The Greek Myth – Sisyphus –  wiped his brow and said he tired of endless toiling and repeated actions to push the boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back.

The Bartender served them, then noted in his journal that taken together, the positions of the three represented a metaphor for the pre-paradigmatic homeland security “discipline” struggling to move forward, able to measure only position, uncertain of its trajectory, impossible to reach its obscure objective and frequently seeing advances disappear.

The last entry in his journal that night was a paragraph (with a citation, of course) from Albert Camus:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. …. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Camus, Albert. (1942). The Myth of Sisyphus (Translated by Justin O’Brien, 1955). London: Hamish Hamilton Publishers. Chapter 4.

September 17, 2012

Death for the idea

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 17, 2012

Der Tod für die Idee (Death for the Idea), Paul Klee (1915)

“Ideology is the science of idiots.” John Adams, second President of the United States

Koran, Sura 41: 34

–+–

There have been several earnest and helpful efforts to make sense of what happened last week, why it happened, and what it suggests will happen.  Five pieces I have found in one way or another illuminating:

The Embassy Protests and Arab Uprising, Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy)

Culture divide fuels Muslims raging at film, New York Times

Does Middle East unrest go beyond film?, National Public Radio

Divided We Stand: Libya’s Enduring Conflicts, International Crisis Group

The Dignity of Difference, Being (interview with Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain)

But in my judgment all of these analyses fail to capture the deep distinctions of  felt culture and fundamental worldview that differentiate most Americans from most Arabs and increasingly divide Muslim from Muslim.

I’m not up to the task either.  But in Sunday’s New York Times there were two long pieces — purposefully twinned — that describe a crucial shift in Western culture over the last 100 years that lends a helpful lens to contemporary US-Arab relations.

There is absolutely no mention of Benghazi or Cairo or Islam or US foreign policy.  The articles deal with how high art could once be profoundly shocking to sophisticated Western audiences in a way that is unimaginable today.  The gulf between my grandfather hearing Stravinsky and my own reaction begins to explain the difference between today’s Times Square and Tahrir Square.

If you can feel the weight and meaning of this generational shift in the West, you will have a toe-hold on understanding the complexities that last week exploded in death, injury and destruction across a good portion of the Arab world and beyond.

If the analogy sounds interesting, check out: Shock Value.

July 18, 2012

Half-Full, Half-Empty or Too Big

Filed under: State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on July 18, 2012

I had lunch with an old friend on Tuesday. Like me, he was trained first as an engineer then as a public administrator, and spent most of his career working for the fire service in local government. He recently retired to accept a new position with a Fortune 100 company.

Over a very nice lunch, we discussed our common interests and experiences of feeling more than a bit disillusioned of late with the career we had chosen. Still passionate about public service, my friend noted that few of our colleagues seemed to be aware that the situation in which they find themselves these days is very much of their own making.

By the end of our conversation, the topic had shifted from work to life in general. My friend is Iranian. His parents sent him to the U.S. as a boy of sixteen to study out of fear for his safety if he stayed in his homeland after the Shah was deposed. (My friend, like me, tends to be more than a little outspoken, a trait his father feared would mark him with the authorities.) When he finished college, he helped his parents emigrate to the U.S. to join him.

His observations about the state of affairs in the Middle East and the U.S. role shaping the changes in his native land intrigued me. We agreed that the situation in which the U.S. finds itself with Iran and so many other hostile states in the region is largely of our own making.

It occurred to me later that the U.S. and firefighters have a lot in common this way. They both think pretty highly of themselves. They both know they have flaws, but do not seem to see them reflected when they look at themselves in a mirror. Many firefighters and many U.S. leaders alike take their influence for granted. They presume they deserve the respect and admiration of others to such an extent that they have difficulty understanding why anyone does not revere them, much less give them everything for which they ask.

As the U.S. looks upon the situation in the Middle East, what they see situations adapting according to their own rules and needs, not our national will. To be certain, people in many Arab nations are embracing democratic principles, pluralism and tolerance, values we purport to cherish. But not universally.

In many of these nations, democracy is not simply a question of individual liberty and respect for human rights. Achieving a balance of power means something much more difficult and delicate there than it does here. Balance must be achieved not only among co-equal branches of government or between the government, civil society and corporate interests or between secular civil society and competing or conflicting religious traditions and their peculiar institutional strictures and structures, but among all of these, all at once.

Our society can trace its democratic traditions back more than 200 years. Persian society, as just one example, can trace the emergence of democratic ideals in its literature, culture and customs back more than two thousand years. Clearly, we do not have that market cornered.

Whether we are wondering about the future of democracy in the Middle East or the sustainability of local and state government finances in the United States, we have to ask ourselves not only what we see but what perspective gives us the impression we perceive as reality. Not long ago, someone told me an old joke with a slightly new twist: “An optimist looks at the glass and says, ‘It’s half-full!’ A pessimist looks at the same glass and says, ‘It’s half-empty.’ An engineer looks at the glass as well and says, ‘It’s twice as big as it needs to be.’”

As engineers, my friend and I agree about quite a lot, both in respect of the situation in our chosen profession and our view of world affairs. In both cases, we feel obliged to help others see these problems differently. Engineering is not just a way of evaluating alternative solutions to problems, it’s also about the ways we define the problems themselves.

As we parted after our meal, we both left feeling satisfied not only with the quality of the meal we enjoyed, but also with the quality of the company and conversation we shared. Perhaps more importantly, we left one another confident that we just might avoid making matters worse if we’re willing to be patient enough and astute enough and open enough to our own faults to accept the things we cannot change by ourselves.

May 1, 2012

Water challenges and US national security

Filed under: Futures — by Christopher Bellavita on May 1, 2012

Time out for a moment from our regularly scheduled cyber issues and al Qaeda commentary for a word from the future, sponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Global Water Security is a report published in February by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  The 30 page intelligence “product” is available here.

The document tries to answer the following question (for the State Department): How will water problems (shortages, poor water quality, or floods) impact US national security interests over the next 30 years?

Here is the Report’s answer:

During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives. Between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.

The Report mostly focuses on the relationship between water security and US global interests.  But the future of water has domestic implications also.

Although most of the Colorado River originates in the basin’s upper states (i.e., Colorado, Utah, Wyoming), a 1922 Colorado River Compact allocates most of the water to the lower states (i.e., California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico).

Unfortunately, the agreement was based on data from the unseasonably wet five years prior to 1922, estimating the average flow to be 17.5 million acre-feet (maf). The actual average flow over the last 100 years has been nowhere near this number, averaging about 13 maf, with high variability ranging from 4.4 maf to over 22 maf.

A 2009 study by the University of Colorado projects that all reservoirs along the Colorado River—which provide water for 27 million people—could dry up by 2057 because of climate change and overuse. More recently, drought and low Lake Mead water levels have resulted in a multi-billion dollar plan to build a 285-mile pipeline to pump groundwater to the Las Vegas area from as far away as Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah state line.

A 1944 agreement between the United States and Mexico stipulates the terms of water-sharing between the two countries, with water delivery obligations on each side.

The Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, as well as their major tributaries, are covered in the agreement. The agreement allows the United States access to tributary contributions from Mexican rivers, and no Mexican access to contributions from US tributary rivers, and therefore many view the agreement as unfair. Delayed water deliveries, and even efforts to reduce canal water leakage, have occasionally complicated broader relations but have not been a major source of stress.

Not yet anyway.

Thanks to Dr. James Tindall for telling me about this report.

 

March 5, 2012

Increased chances of Iranian conflict does not equal increased radiation threat

Filed under: International HLS,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Risk Assessment — by Arnold Bogis on March 5, 2012

Normally I would welcome any reason to extol the virtues of brushing up on your nuclear and radiological-related preparedness planning. However, I strangely find myself wanting to push back on some nuclear-alarmism that I’ve come across lately from usually professional and restrained quarters.

To be clear before I begin: I believe nuclear terrorism has been and remains a real threat; that a dirty bomb is a question of when and not if; and that the two are entirely different animals that look similar in the same manner that one’s house cat may occasionally remind you of a lion in the wild…but not really.

The meme I suspect is emerging is that heightened tensions in the Middle East, in particular the increased threat of conflict with Iran over it’s nuclear program, is increasing the chances that the U.S. will either be the victim of a nuclear or radiological attack or that we may be involved in treating radiation-related casualties originating from hostilities in the Middle East. The mistaken perceptions involve current Iranian capabilities and the results of any possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, particularly by Israeli forces.

First capabilities: no evidence has been made public that Iran has enriched uranium beyond 20%.  While that gets them a lot closer to having the material for nuclear weapons (it is a strange fact, but enriching uranium up to 20% is more difficult than taking it from 20% to 90% and above, which is generally considered weapons grade; as Harvard’s Graham Allison has put it: “In effect, having uranium enriched at 20 percent takes Iran 90 yards along the football field to bomb-grade material.”), it does not give them a nuclear capability at this moment.  Barring work at a secret enrichment facility, this means that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon to use (whether directly or through allied terrorist groups) against any potential attacker.

Yes, this could change in the future through any number of potential scenarios.  Yes, there are serious concerns for U.S. national security if Iran was to become a nuclear state.  The most likely of these would not involve Iran directly attacking the U.S with a nuclear weapon.  Many others have sunk their teeth into this topic and debated various outcomes.

A dirty bomb could be a possibility, but in taking stock of that particular threat the pieces don’t point toward any special Iranian capability. Neither the low-enriched or high-enriched uranium that Iran is producing, or any of the stages of pre-enriched material, would make particularly effective dirty bomb material.  Uranium is not highly radioactive, in fact one can handle highly enriched uranium with nothing more than a simple gloved hand. In other words, the Iranian nuclear program does not add to their capability to carry out or assist others in carrying out a dirty bomb attack.

An Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could potentially embolden, radicalize, or otherwise incentivize terrorists to carry out a dirty bomb attack.  One can imagine a desire to carry out some sort of event involving radiation in retaliation.  Yet the particulars of Iran’s nuclear program do not affect the odds of this occurring, nor would the products be particularly helpful.

If homeland security officials at all levels want to prevent a dirty bomb attack, in addition to planning and exercising to respond and recover from any such incident (deterrence through denial of goals), they can take stock of the radioactive sources in their own jurisdictions and connect with the owners and licensees about security and safety. Every big city has potential dirty bomb ingredients without the necessity of terrorists attempting to smuggle in Iranian radioactive sources.

The second layer of concern seems to center on the possibility that hostilities between Iran and Israel, and maybe the U.S., would involve populations being exposed to high levels of radioactivity.  However, at this point in Iran’s nuclear development that is also unlikely.

Despite the bluster out of some corners, Israel is not going to use nuclear weapons it does not officially acknowledge having to destroy a nascent nuclear capability the goal of which is contested by various world powers.  Nuclear weapons are political weapons that are best used to deter nuclear attack and invasion.  It is often pointed out that a reason Iran might want to either develop a breakout capability or the weapons themselves is that they witnessed what happened to Iraq and Libya and what has not happened to North Korea.

An Israeli nuclear strike on Iran without direct nuclear provocation would likely result in their achieving North Korean-like pariah status.  Instead, if they decided it was in their national security interest to strike the Iranian nuclear program it would involve conventional weapons.  These bombs may cause dispersion of nuclear material, but as I mentioned before the uranium involved would not be highly radioactive and the effects would be more toxic and less radioactive.

Would there be detectable raised levels of radiation in the surrounding areas  following such an attack?  Likely. Are we talking about an Iranian Fukushima?  Probably not.

Israel could decide to bomb the nuclear reactor at Bushehr, but this would do little to stop any weapons program as light water power reactors are poorly suited for the production of plutonium for bombs and this particular one is under stringent IAEA safeguards.  In addition, it would earn the ire of potentially sympathetic Gulf nations who may bear the brunt of the radiation released.

Following any strike by Israel on its nuclear program, Iran is judged likely to attack Israel with missiles.  Whether launched from Iranian territory or by allied groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, some of these weapons may be targeted at the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona.  It is possible that the reactor would sustain enough damage to release radiation, but these facilities are not soft nor large targets.  The relatively unsophisticated missiles involved would have to be lucky in both hitting the target and achieving enough damage to release any radiation.  Only in the worst case might there be a call to evacuate any casualties to the United States due to radiation injury.

So to end this already too long foray into predicting the results of events that may never occur, let me just reiterate:

  • homeland security officials at all levels should worry about the security of radioactive sources within their jurisidcitions and make sure that they are prepared to respond and recover from any dirty bomb attack;
  • yes Dorothy, a nuclear terrorist attack is possible, if not likely, and should be regarded as a national catastrophic event planned for on a regional basis including non-traditional partners (in FEMA-speak this is a MOM event requiring a WOC response);
  • in the short-to-medium term, events regarding Iran’s nuclear program will not directly impact the risks of a radiological or nuclear attack upon the U.S.

January 5, 2012

Defense strategy and homeland security

Earlier today the President signed out and the Secretary of Defense released new strategic guidance for the Department of Defense. Following are my quick-takes on those aspects of the document  most closely related to homeland security.

Page 1:

The demise of Osama bin Laden and the capturing or killing of many other senior al-Qa?’ida  leaders have rendered the group far less capable. However, al-Qa?’ida and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. More broadly,violent extremists will continue to threaten U.S. interests, allies, partners, and the homeland.The primary loci of these threats are South Asia and the Middle East. With the diffusion of destructive technology, these extremists have the potential to pose catastrophic threats thatcould directly affect our security and prosperity. For the foreseeable future, the UnitedStates will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring theactivities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establishcontrol over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary.

Page 2:

In the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure toreform, introduce uncertainty for the future. But they also may result in governments that,over the long term, are more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people, and aremore stable and reliable partners of the United States.Our defense efforts in the Middle East will be aimed at countering violent extremists anddestabilizing threats, as well as upholding our commitment to allies and partner states.

Page 3:

To enable economic growth and commerce, America, working in conjunction with allies and partners around the world, will seek to protect freedom of access throughout the globalcommons ?– those areas beyond national jurisdiction that constitute the vital connective tissue of the international system. Global security and prosperity are increasingly dependent on the free flow of goods shipped by air or sea. State and non-state actors pose potential threats to access in the global commons, whether through opposition to existing norms orother anti-access approaches. Both state and non-state actors possess the capability and intent to conduct cyber espionage and, potentially, cyber attacks on the United States, with possible severe effects on both our military operations and our homeland. Growth in the number of space-faring nations is also leading to an increasingly congested and contested space environment, threatening safety and security. The United States will continue to lead global efforts with capable allies and partners to assure access to and use of the global commons, both by strengthening international norms of responsible behavior and by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities.

Page 4:

Acting in concert with other means of national power, U.S. military forces must continue to hold al-Qa?’ida and its affiliates and adherents under constant pressure, wherever they may be. Achieving our core goal of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qa?’ida and preventing Afghanistan from everbeing a safe haven again will be central to this effort. As U.S. forces draw down in Afghanistan, our global counter terrorism efforts will become more widely distributedand will be characterized by a mix of direct action and security force assistance. Reflecting lessons learned of the past decade, we will continue to build and sustain tailored capabilities appropriate for counter terrorism and irregular warfare. We will also remain vigilant to threats posed by other designated terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah.

Page 5:

Accordingly, DoD will continue to work with domestic and international allies and partners and invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability, and resiliency in cyberspace and space….

U.S. forces willcontinue to defend U.S. territory from direct attack by state and non-state actors. We willalso come to the assistance of domestic civil authorities in the event such defense fails or in case of natural disasters, potentially in response to a very significant or even catastrophic event. Homeland defense and support to civil authorities require strong,steady?–state force readiness, to include a robust missile defense capability. Threats to the homeland may be highest when U.S. forces are engaged in conflict with an adversary abroad.

Page 6:

The nation has frequently called upon its Armed Forces to respond to a range of situations that threaten the safety and well-being of its citizens and those of other countries. U.S. forces possess rapidly deployable capabilities, including airlift and sealift, surveillance, medical evacuation and care, and communications that can be invaluable in supplementing lead relief agencies, by extending aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters, both at home and abroad. DoD will continue to develop joint doctrine and military response options to prevent and, if necessary, respond to mass atrocities. U.S. forces will also remain capable of conducting non-combatant evacuation operations for American citizens overseas on an emergency basis.

You may see more.   The document includes considerable attention to WMD and cyber threats not excerpted above.

October 17, 2011

Is Regional Planning Just Too Hard?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Arnold Bogis on October 17, 2011

The Washington Post Editorial Board took time off from calling for further U.S. involvement in Middle East quagmires to bring some attention to the continuing problems of coordination and cooperation in the National Capital Region (i.e. Washington, DC and all the surrounding areas located in various states where much of the population has ties to the Capital):

The D.C. Council and a House transportation and infrastructure subcommittee held separate hearings that reviewed the response to the earthquake that shook the region in August. “Everyone did the wrong thing,” council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said of the gridlock that occurred when workers, ill advisedly exiting buildings, tried to get home. In a separate hearing on Capitol Hill, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said that federal workers “literally had no idea what to do.” Sadly, the earthquake, which Ms. Norton aptly called “a perfect proxy for a terrorist attack,” was not the first time weaknesses have been revealed in the area’s response to an unexpected, rapidly developing situation.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time such sentiments have been expressed nor is it likely the last. The issue is not a simple one:

The mayor has the authority to order an evacuation from the city, but beyond that there is no single entity with authority to advise the public in a fast-moving emergency. Instead, there are 17 local jurisdictions and the federal government sharing information (to be sure, a good thing) but each able to call its own shots.

Identified as a concern following 9/11 (and I’m sure an issue raised before that event provided a bullhorn), there are officials, committees, papers, and government offices focused on finding solutions.  One could argue that despite the attention paid there has not been enough attention paid.  Or is it a question of quality and not quantity? The fact that particular aspects have to be addressed makes one’s head hurt:

The first message alert about the earthquake came nearly a half-hour after it occurred, and the message about what to do was mixed. Officials with the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency said they’ve taken steps to refine the messages and get them out sooner. In particular, they say, it’s likely they will advise people to stay put rather than to drive home because it’s clear that an area so congested on a routine day can’t manage a mass exodus.

(That last sentence indicates that maybe someone is listening to Phil who has made that exact point…). The notion of a regional authority able to make “the call” is not a bad one, but is it viable if modeled on incompatible systems?

A more sensible system, as we’ve pointed out before, is one in which there are designated, trained staff people to collect information, make decisions and inform the public. New York City has such a system. So does London.

The political and geographic terrain of the National Capital Region greatly differs from that of New York and London.  Expected evacuation route destinations and decision-making authorities must be taken into account not only in tactical decisions of why, when, who, and how but also strategic constructions of why, when, who, and how. It is easier to repeat “regional working group!” and “cooperation!” and “New York City is awesome!” than wrestle with the reality of a city that does not have control over much of it’s real estate, budget, or even public safety authority.

Considering that even the National Capital Region frame of the issue is such a tough nut to crack, what can be reasonably expected when the problem is expanded to include municipalities further out which should expect to be affected by a truly catastrophic event? This applies not just for the greater Washington, DC region but for all major urban areas where the biggest players must ask “will you jump, and if so, how high are you able or willing to go” rather than simply bark orders.

Regional planning: too hard or too necessary?

October 7, 2011

Ten years of enduring freedom

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 7, 2011

On October 7, 2001 US and British forces began major operations — Operation Enduring Freedom — against the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan.  Following is a transcript of what President Bush told us that Sunday afternoon.

–+–

Good afternoon. On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against Al Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.

We are joined in this operation by our staunch friend Great Britain. Other close friends, including Canada, Australia, Germany, and France, have pledged forces as the operation unfolds. More than 40 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and across Asia have granted air transit or landing rights. Many more have shared intelligence. We are supported by the collective will of the world.

More than 2 weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands: Close terrorist training camps; hand over leaders of the Al Qaida network; and return all foreign nationals, including American citizens, unjustly detained in your country. None of these demands were met. And now the Taliban will pay a price. By destroying camps and disrupting communications, we will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans.

Initially, the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places. Our military action is also designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive, and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice.

At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we’ll also drop food, medicine, and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan.

The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people, and we are the friends of almost a billion worldwide who practice the Islamic faith. The United States of America is an enemy of those who aid terrorists and of the barbaric criminals who profane a great religion by committing murder in its name.

This military action is a part of our campaign against terrorism, another front in a war that has already been joined through diplomacy, intelligence, the freezing of financial assets, and the arrests of known terrorists by law enforcement agents in 38 countries. Given the nature and reach of our enemies, we will win this conflict by the patient accumulation of successes, by meeting a series of challenges with determination and will and purpose.

Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers, themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.

I’m speaking to you today from the Treaty Room of the White House, a place where American Presidents have worked for peace. We’re a peaceful nation. Yet, as we have learned so suddenly and so tragically, there can be no peace in a world of sudden terror. In the face of today’s new threat, the only way to pursue peace is to pursue those who threaten it.

We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it. The name of today’s military operation is Enduring Freedom. We defend not only our precious freedoms but also the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free from fear.

I know many Americans feel fear today, and our Government is taking strong precautions. All law enforcement and intelligence agencies are working aggressively around America, around the world, and around the clock. At my request, many Governors have activated the National Guard to strengthen airport security. We have called up Reserves to reinforce our military capability and strengthen the protection of our homeland.

In the months ahead, our patience will be one of our strengths: patience with the long waits that will result from tighter security; patience and understanding that it will take time to achieve our goals; patience in all the sacrifices that may come.

Today those sacrifices are being made by members of our Armed Forces who now defend us so far from home, and by their proud and worried families. A Commander in Chief sends America’s sons and daughters into a battle in a foreign land only after the greatest care and a lot of prayer. We ask a lot of those who wear our uniform. We ask them to leave their loved ones, to travel great distances, to risk injury, even to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. They are dedicated; they are honorable; they represent the best of our country. And we are grateful.

To all the men and women in our military—every sailor, every soldier, every airman, every coastguardsman, every marine— I say this: Your mission is defined; your objectives are clear; your goal is just; you have my full confidence; and you will have every tool you need to carry out your duty.

I recently received a touching letter that says a lot about the state of America in these difficult times, a letter from a fourthgrade girl with a father in the military: “As much as I don’t want my dad to fight,” she wrote, “I’m willing to give him to you.”

This is a precious gift, the greatest she could give. This young girl knows what America is all about. Since September 11, an entire generation of young Americans has gained new understanding of the value of freedom and its cost in duty and in sacrifice.

The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.

Thank you. May God continue to bless America.

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