Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 4, 2015

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

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

“Active Shooter Confirmed in DC Navy Yard.”

“Shots Confirmed, Gunfire Reported Inside the Building.”

FALSE.

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

Say it’s not so?

Let’s look at what unfolded Thursday morning.

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

Alas, there was none.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham Lincoln.

Happy Independence Day.

 

June 26, 2015

A message from Charleston?

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 26, 2015

By most definitions terrorism is the use of violence to achieve political objectives.

Given what we currently understand, the murder of the Emanuel Nine was a terrorist act.

Since June 17, which was also the first night of Ramadan, have we encountered the most effective anti-terrorism strategy? (Something different than counter-terrorism.)

There was prompt and effective police action.  But even more substantive — in terms of extended impact — we have experienced fearless expressions of grace that have honored the victims, while simultaneously wholly discrediting the political intentions of the murderer.

How many future terrorist actions have been prevented by the courageous integrity of the survivors?

Surely we have also seen the sort of relationships, mind-sets, individual initiative and community engagement that are essential to true resilience.

I have been in Charleston since Tuesday.  I wish you could have been here too.

June 11, 2015

A summer hiatus

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 11, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I was the only non-federalista at a DHS event where one official introduced me to another as “the HLSWatch blogger”, to which my new acquaintance replied, “Oh yes! You’re the philosopher, aren’t you?”

I’m not sure how he pegs Chris or Arnold or Christian, but I responded “Yes, I guess so.” Closing on the upbeat.

At a recent FEMA function as we offered self-introductions, the facilitator interrupted and asked me, “Would you share with the group your other persona?” I had no idea where she was going.  ”Which one?” I laughed.  ”There are so many.”

“Tell us about your poetry.”  Which is an infrequent invitation anywhere and especially inside the Beltway.

Just this Monday I was in Los Angeles working on supply chains but found myself in a conversation involving Heidegger, Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Plato that actually wound around to important insights on the differences between supply chains and critical infrastructure and protection versus resilience.

It really was a conversation, initiated by the other party.  So I am reasonably certain I did not slip into a solipsistic hallucination.

Clearly I have never shied away from my own set of mostly traditional humanistic frameworks. Still my principal professional persona, presumably, is that of an experienced private sector actor.  I don’t have any special claim on philosophy and my poetry is, unfortunately, mostly mildly mediocre.  Whereas I have the emotional scars and experiential receipts to prove a forty-plus year tenure in start-ups and beyond.

But as the vignettes above suggest, perhaps I have recently been a bit obsessive-compulsive — to you it may simply seem self-indulgent — regarding several abstract themes including complex adaptive theory, epistemology, and ethics (when I was not preoccupied with Nepal).

This week every issue I have considered for comment — police use of force, the Turkish election, private-public-civic collaboration in resilience, counter-terrorism in Nigeria, US immigration enforcement, and more — has seemed to me yet another example of how when fear mates with a predisposition to control their progeny are problems multiplied.

Several poets occur to me as potential sources of pithy quotes.  Here’s one:

We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

But I have already made this claim, more than once. Redundancy is where nagging starts.  You deserve better.  I should do better.

So… acknowledging my recent tendency to eccentric philosophical/poetic preoccupations — and, I will admit, an increasingly crowded professional life — I will take a hiatus from HLSWatch to try to find something new to say.

But if you happen to see fear approaching control at some bar, picnic, or beach, please keep them apart.

Best wishes for the summer.

May 28, 2015

Exploring a possible strategic analogy: Density = Mass/Volume

Over the last many days an extraordinary volume of water has encountered the structural and human density of the fourth largest city in the United States.  The Greater Houston metropolitan region has a population of 6.22 million and a population density of 630.3 persons per square mile.

During the month of May over twenty inches of rain has fallen across much of East Texas.  In the Houston area on Monday night over ten inches fell in a period of only six hours. Rain continued to fall on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This quantity of rain in a comparatively contained space over such a short period of time would profoundly challenge the equilibrium of most natural environments.  The built environment on which humans depend is seldom as resilient. Pack millions of humans into a dense urban environment and whatever our individual resilience, there will be a range of interdependencies that increase everyone’s risk. We can be surprised.

Extraordinary external volume can seldom be entirely avoided.   This is true for potential threats  beyond precipitation. Denial of service attacks, mass suicide bombings, and uncontrolled oil spills are other examples. Unusual volume, concentrated in time and/or repeating time after time, disrupts and destroys.

Urban population density is a choice, but for the last two centuries it has also been a persistent — and accelerating — choice.  There are real benefits.  Density is likely to increase in the years ahead.

Given the loss of life, destruction of property, and the extent of human misery caused, I am sure some will be appalled at my lack of apparent empathy, but the floods in Texas and Oklahoma have — among other things — reminded me of some junior high physics problems.

Density Volume Mass

If density and volume are each highly elastic and mostly beyond our control, we seem to be left with mass as the input with which we might still hope to influence outcomes.

In seventh grade I was taught that mass is the property of a body which determines the strength of its mutual gravitational attraction to other bodies and its resistance to being accelerated by a force, such as a volume of water. Generally we protect populations and the built environment by increasing the size and weight of dams, walls, and other “resistance” structures that retain, divert, disperse or otherwise reduce the force of any threatening volume.

At least here on earth, we don’t always give much attention to gravity because there’s not much we can do about it.

Mrs. Holman taught me that gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear.  Yet despite its comparative weakness, gravity is absolutely necessary to the universe as we know it.  Both gravitation and electromagnetism act over infinite distance to mediate diverse actions.

Both as a matter of physics and as a metaphor for broader application, gravity determines mass through interactions and relationships among multiple bodies.  In addition to adding size and weight to strengthen the built environment, what ought we do in regard to interactions and relationships to reduce the risk of volume and density converging?

In the midst of the flooding in Oklahoma and Texas, as in the recent earthquake in Nepal, as in the aftermath of Sandy and Katrina, and in the ongoing recovery from the Triple Disaster in Japan, there has been a tendency to emphasize “weighty” engineering solutions. Good. Great.

But interactions and relationships are also an important part of the formula.

May 27, 2015

Belatedly Recognizing EMS Week

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on May 27, 2015

Last week was actually EMS Week, but I thought it is never too late to recognize the job that EMTs and Paramedics do during disasters, such as the flooding in Texas and Oklahoma, and everyday when they treat and transport a family member who’s fallen or had a heart attack.

The  National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) provides a little background on EMS Week:

In 1973, President Gerald Ford authorized EMS Week to celebrate EMS, its practitioners and the important work they do in responding to medical emergencies. Back then, EMS was a fledgling profession and EMS practitioners were only beginning to be recognized as a critical component of emergency medicine and the public health safety net.

A lot has changed over the last four decades. EMS is now firmly established as a key component of the medical care continuum, and the important role of EMS practitioners in saving lives from sudden cardiac arrest and trauma; in getting people to the hospitals best equipped to treat heart attacks and strokes; and in showing caring and compassion to their patients in their most difficult moments.

Whether it’s the team at Grady EMS in Atlanta who had the expertise to transport the nation’s first Ebola patient, the volunteer firefighters and flight medics called to search for and rescue survivors in the Everett, Wash. mudslide or the thousands of EMS responses that happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and don’t make the news, EMS is there for their communities at their greatest time of need.

Below I’ve posted a short video featuring Kevin Horahan, a paramedic as well as a Senior Policy Analyst within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  He quickly spans EMS from the everyday response to their role in the healthcare system and role they play in helping to foster resilience.

May 13, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 6

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 13, 2015

Tuesday several strong aftershocks hit Nepal. One measured 7.3 on the Richter Scale.  The new quakes come after a 7.8 earthquake on April 25, sixteen intervening seismic events measured above 5.0, and three days of significant rainfall.  Tens of thousands are living without shelter or under tarpaulins.

(As I post this on Tuesday night a US Marine helicopter that was operating in Nepal is missing along with its crew of six and two Nepalese soldiers.)

The death toll from these earthquakes will almost certainly exceed 10,000.  According to the Government of Nepal over 280,000 homes have been destroyed and nearly as many have been seriously damaged.  The lack of shelter and sanitation pose an urgent threat to public health that will only increase as the monsoon season begins in the next two to three weeks.

The April 25 earthquake was centered northwest of Kathmandu.  The epicenter of Tuesday’s earthquake was northeast of the capital.  In each case, there has been especially significant destruction and disruption at higher elevations.  Stone and masonry structures have collapsed.  Landslides have covered entire villages.

The modern transportation network in Nepal is mostly contained in the more urban valleys, and has, so far, survived mostly intact. As you ascend into the Himalayas scattered settlements are often connected by very primitive roads or foot-paths. In many cases these networks have been seriously disrupted and are simply unknown to outsiders.

Most of the highland inhabitants are subsistence farmers.  The Spring harvest of wheat and barley has been interrupted by these disasters.  The rice crop needs to be planted in the next three weeks or so.  Storage and seed stocks have been decimated.  The government of Nepal — operating largely through the Nepal Food Corporation — has long provided subsidized access to supplementary foodstuffs through a diverse locally-driven distribution system.  The NFC has continued to operate, but it’s current capacity and effectiveness are not clear.

In the immediate aftermath of the April 25 event there was significant hoarding of food.  In the first week both private and public relief efforts delivered resources wherever possible. Some of the hardest hit areas were not accessible. Hoarding behavior continued and resulted in accessible areas accumulating a significant stock of food.  Some estimate that many communities immediately west of the capital may have received up to six months normal supply in the ten days after the initial quake.

It is my impression that relief supplies were just beginning to systematically penetrate the most remote regions in the last five days or so.

India has been very forward leaning in providing resources.  So has the United Nations, China, United States, United Kingdom, international NGOs, and multinational corporations.  Writing in the Kathmandu Post Shujeev Shakya describes how Nepalese are responding as individuals:

It was really interesting to see volunteers purchase their own food and water, fill up their fuel tanks with their own money, and make zero overhead relief work possible… Most of the volunteerism was a spontaneous networking to get through to the supply chain, demand identification, and get zero overhead delivery right. The processes were transparent, as most of the demand and supply was broadcasted over social media, taking accountability and transparency to the next level.

As usual for a hard-hit like this, there does not seem to be a systemic shortage of supply (supply is more often a problem with slow-onset disasters, such as drought or ongoing extreme violence).  There are, however, a whole host of  very serious distribution problems.

Serving the immediate needs of survivors usually requires the intervention of significant and specialized logistics. This is especially the case where preexisting supply capacity — in the form of roads, warehouses, retail outlets, trucks, truckers, fuel, availability of cash and/or household inventory — has been destroyed.

But the bigger the event — bigger in terms of time, space, and population affected — the more necessary it becomes to quickly restore some semblance of pre-existing supply chains and/or allow complex-adaptive behavior to emerge (such as those described by Shujeev Shakya).  We know how to feed the nodes. Connecting the nodes with those who urgently need the supplies in order to be fed is even more complicated.

A key issue is how the technical capacity of humanitarian (or commercial) logistics can be integrated with the social connections that are innate to communities and regularly operating supply chains.  In many major disasters the biggest deficits are not related to supply capacity, but instead involve a lack of knowledge related to demand: who, where, what and — especially in Nepal — how to get there.

Based on observations in Haiti, Japan, and other post-disaster contexts, Professor Jose Holguin-Veras, Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, describes this phenomenon as “a crisis of connectivity, not of supply.”

I also like how Shujeev Shakya, a businessman in Kathmandu, describes it as “networking to get through to the supply chain.”  This is different than procurement and delivery of  humanitarian logistics.  The use of social media for “demand identification” — even in Nepal, even after a major earthquake — is, for me, both fabulous and a bit scary.  How much worse it could have been if the telecommunications network had collapsed. (More on the social media aspect at Wired.)

None of this is meant as a critique of humanitarian logistics. But it is meant to suggest a potentially important complementary strategy of giving more attention to “networking to get through to the supply chain” both before and after a major disaster. Especially before.  And networking not just as a social activity but a socio-technical activity.

This is not, by the way, just an issue for a poor country like Nepal.  The triple disaster in Japan demonstrated many of the same lessons.  It would be helpful for the US to learn these lessons before the New Madrid or San Andreas faults decide to take us to the school of hard knocks.

–+–

UPDATE: OCHA released a situation update late on May 13.  It is available here.

A personal impression: I do not yet have sufficient evidence.  But based on several media reports and official documentation, I perceive more and more priority is being given to the replacement shelter “pipeline”.  This suggests sufficient food supplies are available (if not necessarily distributed to the most remote locations).  This signals that some form of the preexisting food supply chain is being reestablished.  The preexisting pipeline — different than supply chain or supply and demand network — for tarpaulins and other components of emergency shelter barely pre-existed at all. So this is a supply system that must be created from scratch… and with great difficulty.  If any of these early observations have any accuracy, they suggest the potentially differentiated role — and sequencing — of humanitarian logistics in combination with supply chain resilience.

May 6, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 3

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 6, 2015

Nepal Market Functionality

Over the last several days the United Nations World Food Program has tried to assess the recovery of ordinary commercial operations in the impact zone.  Their complete report is here.  The WFP recognizes this is merely a high-elevation snapshot of a rapidly changing situation.  But as of the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours, here’s what seems to be the case:

Ninety-one markets were assessed in 10 districts, 50 percent were reported as not functioning, with shops damaged/destroyed, food stocks completely depleted or ruined, or shopkeepers and traders displaced or affected. Forty percent were reported as showing early signs of recovery. These markets are currently not fully functioning and would be unable to support local demand, with a few shops open but most closed due to fear of aftershocks, structural collapse, security, or depleted stocks. Ten percent were reported as functioning, with shops open, food stocks available, but price increases and some commodities not available.

Nepal is a poor country where most of the population survives on near-subsistence agriculture.  Even in the best of times, Nepal is a food-deficit economy.  A 2010 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization found, “Food insecurity and hunger remain pervasive in Nepal, not only in food deficit districts but also within marginalized communities in districts with surplus food production.”

In rural areas — many not connected by roads — food stocks are maintained by individual farmers in their homes.  In many cases, these homes were destroyed in the earthquake.  This has seriously reduced available food stocks.  The WFP report states that in the northern districts of Gorkha, Rasuwa, and Sindhupalchok preexisting foodstocks have been “completely destroyed.”  The population of these three districts is over 300,000.

In many of these areas anything remotely similar to what most of us mean by a “supply chain” did not exist prior to the earthquake.

–+–

Following are emerging impressions — not final conclusions — that are prompting questions and further research.  I am asking for readers to help.  I am not offering a confident analysis.  But at this point in time:

  • It appears that Nepal’s road network, while not extensive, has largely survived the quake.  There have been problems caused by landslides.  But bridges and basic infrastructure have, for the most part, survived.
  • Fuel deliveries have continued mostly uninterrupted.  As noted in prior posts, there is a history of fuel shortages brought on by financial and organizational challenges.  For the fuel network to — basically — continue at capacity in the aftermath of this quake is very helpful.
  • Several Nepalis or expats returned from Nepal have told me they are surprised the telecommunications network has recovered quickly from some outages (or over-use?) immediately after the quake.

An engineer friend notes that ferro-cement is generally resilient up to an 8.0 quake.  This was 7.8.  Is that the crucial threshold at which modern systems cascade toward catastrophe?

None of this is meant to underplay what happened on April 25 and the terrible task ahead — as suggested by the loss of foodstocks noted above.  Hundreds of thousands remain vulnerable to lack of clean water, basic sanitation, sufficient food, and minimal shelter.

But in the midst of the death and destruction are there some unexpected lessons-to-be-learned related to mitigation, resilience, and potential catastrophic thresholds?

April 30, 2015

Homeland security: YES or NO?

On Monday night someone torched the Youth Empowered Society (YES) drop-in center in a tough section of Baltimore.  According to Kevin Rector, writing in the Baltimore Sun,

The clashes that left at least 144 vehicles and 15 structures on fire also claimed much of the center’s space, sometime between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. in the 2300 block of North Charles, Law said. Video surveillance showed no one entering the building, so Law believes someone “threw something burning through the front windows.” Firefighters who responded had to hack down the front door with an ax to gain entry. On Tuesday, the drop-in center – a safe space for homeless youth during the day and a hub of information for them to connect with other service providers – was a sad sight. It’s front office space had a layer of thick black sludge from ash and water to smother the flames.

YES is a youth-led, organization being incubated by the not-for-profit Fusion Partnership.  YES describes itself as follows:

YES Drop-In Center is Baltimore City’s first and only drop-in center for homeless youth. YES Drop-In Center is a safe space for youth who are homeless and between the ages of 14-25, to get basic needs met and establish supportive relationships with peer staff  and allies that help them make and sustain connections to long-term resources and opportunities… YES develops the leadership and workforce skills of homeless and formerly homeless youth through our peer-to-peer model: providing training, coaching, and employment so youth staff can effectively serve their peers and achieve meaningful, livable-wage employment after their time with YES. YES employs seven homeless and formerly homeless youth (three who serve full-time, and four part-time) and four staff who are allies…

Statistics on homelessness are unreliable, but on any single day it is estimated at least 600 Baltimore youth are homeless.  In any one year more than 2000 students enrolled in Baltimore City schools experience some period of homelessness.  Last year YES claimed to have served about one-third of this population.

Is any of this a homeland security issue?

If an emergency management agency was trying to serve “vulnerable populations” or enhance the resilience of the “whole community”, I expect YES would be a meaningful organization to engage.

If YES was serving a mostly Somali, Yemeni, or several other immigrant communities, would it be on some sort of intelligence scan?  If it was serving the educational and employment needs of undocumented immigrants to the United States, would a couple of DHS components be interested in YES?

I think reasonable people can disagree on whether or not the issue of youth homelessness is a homeland security issue.  There is an even stronger case, at least in my mind, for it not being a Homeland Security issue.

But I also suggest that what we have seen happen in Baltimore — and in Minneapolis, Paris, Birmingham (UK and US), Hamburg, and elsewhere — provides plenty of evidence that these social issues are not unrelated to Homeland Security.

This evidence also points to the role that civic enterprises — such as YES — can perform at the seams between individuals, communities, and the public sector. Boundaries are important in the public sector.  Carefully observed — and enforced — limits are especially important in a field like counter-terrorism.  For a whole host of reasons from fiscal to constitutional, we don’t want public sector agencies blithely stepping outside their statutory roles.

But there are also profound problems that messily spill over these important boundaries.

For too long, it seems to me, we have viewed smaller civic enterprises as peripheral, charitable, one-offs.  The evidence is accumulating that they are, instead, crucially important contributors to any systemic and sustainable strategy for engaging a wide-range of social challenges… including several regularly featured at this blog.

April 9, 2015

Signals: soft, hard, misleading and inspired

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

A very rough algorithm bounces about my brain.

It asserts: [Kenya + Aden = Lower Manhattan]

This is the reductionist meaning I have constructed of the sequence:

US Embassy in Kenya (and Tanzania) attacked on August 7, 1998.

FOLLOWED BY

USS Cole attacked in the Port of Aden on October 12, 2000.

FOLLOWED BY

World Trade Center towers attacked in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001

The algorithm — narrative, analogy, mental map, whatever — is obviously deeply flawed, demonstrably unreliable.  Among many more problems the equation excludes too many variables and over-simplifies relationships.

But the perceived pattern persists.

So as dozens are killed in Kenya and the streets of Aden are splattered with blood, I expect something awful closer to home.

I am self-aware the expectation is ill-founded, but the felt-reality of the [K+A=LM] is predisposed to finding confirming evidence.

Given current context reinforcement is not difficult.  Since jury selection began on January 5 for the Boston Bombing Trial, we have been reminded almost daily of how much harm can so easily be done.  There is plenty more:

Two New York women were arrested for allegedly planning to build an explosive device, a federal law enforcement source said Thursday. The women, identified as Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31,were arrested in connection with a plot inspired by the terrorist group ISIS and others to build a weapon of mass destruction, according to the source and a criminal complaint. They are both U.S. citizens and were roommates in the borough of Queens. The women were allegedly conspiring to build an explosive device for a terrorist attack in the United States. (MORE)

A 17-year-old Virginia student has been charged with helping recruit for ISIS, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday… The teen, who lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, is accused of helping a slightly older adult travel to Syria. The adult is believed to have joined ISIS there, a separate law enforcement official said. The teen is also accused of distributing ISIS messages to a network of contacts, one of the officials said. (MORE)

Social media and other technology are making it increasingly difficult to combat militants who are using such modern resources to share information and conduct operations, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said on Friday…”New technologies can help groups like ISIL coordinate operations, attract new recruits, disseminate propaganda, and inspire sympathizers across the globe to act in their name,” Brennan said…”The overall threat of terrorism is greatly amplified by today’s interconnected world, where an incident in one corner of the globe can instantly spark a reaction thousands of miles away; and where a lone extremist can go online and learn how to carry out an attack without ever leaving home.” (MORE)

The conflation of the probably random with the arguably correlated — even if I assiduously avoid causation — is not restricted to terrorism.

For several years I have encouraged more sustained preparedness for a long-term outage of the electrical grid.  Tuesday afternoon there was a short-term fluctuation — in some places, brief outage — of the electrical grid in the National Capital Region.  I received over a dozen emails from folks writing some version of: “Just as you predicted.”  Well, not really… but it did catch my attention and I was not displeased by connections others were making. (MORE)

Then did you notice the recent report out of El Salvador?

Last month 481 people were murdered in El Salvador making March the country’s most deadly month for a decade as authorities struggle to cope with the collapse of a controversial gang truce. An average of 16 people were killed every day in the country, which is the size of Massachusetts and has a population of 6.1 million, confirming El Salvador’s place as one of the world’s most dangerous places outside a war zone. The death toll was 52% higher than the same period in the previous year, and included the victims of six massacres, including eight people who were killed on 29 March at a truck stop just outside the capital San Salvador in a suspected dispute between transnational drug trafficking groups. (MORE)

Here I will hypothesize causation.  This extraordinary level of violence will push migration.  Especially if the violence persists this month, an increasing number of Salvadorans will seek someplace safer.  By late spring/early summer we will be able to test my expectations against numbers observed by CBP and their Mexican peers.

But even if the number of Salvadoran emigrants increases, does this absolutely confirm the relationship I am suggesting? Probably not.  Some will argue that Tuesday’s electrical problems actually demonstrate the resilience of the current system. This is true, if you stop unwinding the scenario fairly early on. My mind clearly tends to over-generalize unlikely connections between Kenya, Aden, and me.  May this, however, help to see whatever connections do exist?

Tuesday Dan O’Connor quoted Coleridge.  Not many can craft romantic poetry on Kantian themes.  Coleridge did quite successfully.  Kant gave Coleridge his architecture.  Coleridge gave Emerson courage.  Emerson gave many of us some considerable part of our sense-of-self.  Talk about unlikely connections. Approaching death the poet spoke of diverse realities resolved. “I say realities; for reality is a thing of degrees, from the Iliad to a dream.”  Where are you — where are we — on that continuum?

April 7, 2015

“As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”

Filed under: Climate Change,Infrastructure Protection — by Dan OConnor on April 7, 2015

In the Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,  the longest major poem written by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one famous stanza has always stood out to me.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

With California having approximately an 840 mile long coastline and the Pacific Ocean covering approximately one-third of the Earth’s surface, decisions, infrastructure improvements, and investment are immediately needed to  maintain California as we know it.

Water, water everywhere…

california-drought-before-after 2

In mid-March an op-ed published by Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state’s water crisis.   Famiglietti wrote that every year since 2011, California has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight. In a nutshell; California has approximately one year of stored water left.

The 25 percent cut in water consumption recently ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown raises critical, economical, and fundamental questions about what life in and the future of California will be like.  It is no great surprise that California is suffering through an unprecedented drought with no end in sight.  I say unprecedented because while we have a limited context of the region historically, geographically we have inhabited it for a short period of time.  But let us be clear: California has been artificially hydrated.  That artificiality changed the landscape and also appears to be unsustainable.

“Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” said Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about this state. “This is literally a culture that since the 1880s has progressively invented, invented and reinvented itself. At what point does this invention begin to hit limits?”  Has our innovation and creativity simply delayed Malthus’ postulation?

This artificial environment has yielded tremendous prosperity though. California has built a $2.2 trillion economy.  It is the seventh largest economy in the world, more than four times what it was in 1963, when adjusted for inflation.  California also feeds much of America.  California agriculture is responsible for providing a third of the nation’s vegetables and nearly two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.  The cattle industry has and continues to be impacted as well.  Cattle, its economy, and productivity will continue to experience a significant geographic shift.

And in a just-in-time, tightly coupled, highly complex food system, micro or meta interruptions can have significant unintended and cascading consequences.

With all this agriculture, cattle, revenue, and international impact when does the emergent crisis in California become a homeland security issue?

This to me is more than a meta issue.  If one were to remove themselves from the climate change/global warming diatribe we would see an emergent crisis with little means of self-correction.  One school of thought says to let nature take its course, allowing the region’s homeostasis to seek its ecological/environmental equilibrium and return to the semi-arid geography it once was.  Another school of thought wants to introduce more technology to maintain the artificial environment and to hydrate the region.

To allow the region to naturally return to its previous state on its face is folly.  The geoengineering that California has exploited for decades cannot be easily or readily undone.   Where do those industries go?  How do we replace that agricultural and protein output?  Where do we relocate tens of millions of people?  All critical difficult leadership questions in my view.

All of these decision points are homeland security issues.  Anthropocenic activities can no longer be ignored and must be recognized as homeland security issues.

The Anthropocene era is a chronological and geologic term used to describe the period when human activities determined active, furtive, and secondary consequences on Earth’s ecosystems.  The combination of the Anthropocene era, the artificial hydration of and the earth’s cyclical climate issues have combined to create a situation that leaves California and that region in significantly dire straits.

So there are really only two courses of action.

The first option is to do what we are already doing: lots of talking, attempts to conserve, policy narratives, and legislation; pretty much everything that got us here. It is slow, bureaucratic, and highly politicized.

The other course of action it to embrace the fact that we must engineer, innovate, and refocus our homeland security dollars away from ineffective surveillance and overpriced drone programs, and towards radical infrastructure enhancement.  Private/public partnerships, investments, and active engineering must be exercised to rehydrate the region with emerging technologies, desalinization, and a host of lesser improvements.

Resilience and mitigation may have an initial sticker shock.  However, if we do not have the funding to do it right the first time, how much more will it cost to repair it?

We have exercised great fear manipulation and amplified the threat to justify programs and spending that does not diminish the threat to any great degree.  Lots of drone strikes, 78 fusion centers, trillions spent, diminution of trust, and not a great deal to show for it.  We need water, food, and economies that build resilience and capability.

painted ship upon a painted ocean

 

January 12, 2015

Haiti

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on January 12, 2015

Five years on what so fully captured our attention is now too easy to forget.  More than 160,000 were killed.  The recovery has been difficult for thousands more.

There has been a tendency to dismiss Haiti as Haiti, too forsaken to have any lessons for anyplace else.  Yet when the Tohoku Triple Disaster struck, some experts saw comparable patterns in the initial response.  One has told me, “If not for the Japanese trucking companies voluntary action, Tohoku was sliding toward Haiti.”

Several colleagues at the White House, DOD, and with various voluntary agencies have commented on important lessons that each of them learned.  ”Catastrophes are entirely different beasts, as different as a Lynx from a Lion,” said one.  Another wondered aloud, “Would Americans display the resilience we saw in the Haitians, if hit as hard?”

So it has been a long day.  It is almost too late.  But while not nearly enough, a few words in honor of those who died, those who worked so hard to save lives, and for the struggle that continues today.

George Washington University creates Center for Cyber and Homeland Security

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Education — by Christopher Bellavita on January 12, 2015

From the web: http://homelandsecurity.gwu.edu/george-washington-university-establishes-new-gw-center-cyber-and-homeland-security

January 12, 2015

The George Washington University establishes new GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security

WASHINGTON—Today, The George Washington University announced the establishment of the GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security (CCHS), which integrates and builds upon the activities of two existing policy centers within the George Washington University: the Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) and the GW Cybersecurity Initiative. This new Center will build on the longstanding track record of these two entities and continue to engage in policy-relevant research and analysis on critical issues and challenges related to cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and homeland security.

The new Center will be governed by a Board of Directors and a Policy Advisory Committee, and will continue HSPI’s longstanding Senior Fellows program. It will carry out its work through four standing task forces that will shape the Center’s research and policy agenda and whose members will be drawn largely from the ranks of its governance committees and Senior Fellows:

Counterterrorism and Intelligence Task Force
Cybersecurity Task Force
Homeland Security Strategies and Emerging Threats Task Force
Preparedness and Infrastructure Resilience Task Force.

The Center is also establishing a corporate membership program, to provide a means for companies with interests in these areas to support the work of the Center and participate in its activities, including through events developed with the specific interests of its corporate members in mind.

The Center will operate under the continued direction of Frank Cilluffo, a former Special Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, and Christian Beckner, a former senior staffer with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee [who also started Homeland Security Watch].

The goal of these efforts is to establish and strengthen the re-named Center as a leading venue for independent and non-partisan policy analysis and research on homeland security, counterterrorism, and cybersecurity issues; and to provide valuable insights and context to key stakeholders in government, the private sector, and the media.

January 8, 2015

Counterterrorism as social judo

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 8, 2015

paris-je suis charlie

(Above: Crowd in Paris expressing solidarity with the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Photograph from The Telegraph (London), photographer not identified)

The post below had been mostly drafted before the attack in Paris. Reading it in the aftermath of that assault, seven-hundred words have seldom seemed so superficial. Yet I also perceive in this atrocity evidence for the essential argument. As a result — and out of time — I have not revised it. But my argument absolutely deserves your critique given the present context. 

–+–

In response to last Thursday’s Happy New Year post a colleague wrote privately that I ought be more worried about ISIS than my brief reference last week implied.

If I lived anywhere west of the Tigris River in what many maps still label Iraq or Syria, I would be more than worried.  The tactical threat is significant and the resilience of this threat suggests a strategic risk that is very much worth our attention.  There will, almost certainly, be ISIS-sponsored or inspired attacks in Europe, the United States, and Australia.

But ISIL, ISIS, Daesh is also a threat that strikes me as self-subverting and susceptible to our mindful action… if we are reasonably self-aware, other-aware, and strategically shrewd.  In regard to dangerous adversaries, I am always ready to celebrate the other’s deficiencies.

Perhaps you read Eric Schmitt’s front-page New York Times story on the current effort to understand “what makes I.S. so magnetic, so inspirational?”

One of those recruited to answer the question is Scott Atran.  In a September essay for The Guardian, Dr. Atran, a French-American anthropologist, summarized part of his answer:

The moral worldview of the devoted actor is dominated by what Edmund Burke referred to as “the sublime”: a need for the “delightful terror” of a sense of power, destiny, a giving over to the ineffable and unknown.

Western volunteers for Isis are mostly youth in transitional stages in their lives – immigrants, students, between jobs or girlfriends, having left their homes and looking for new families. For the most part they have no traditional religious education and are “born again” to religion. They are self-seekers who have found their way to jihad in myriad ways: through barbecues or on the web; because they were perhaps uncomfortable with binge-drinking or casual sex; or because their parents were humiliated by form-checking bureaucrats or their sisters insulted for wearing a headscarf.

As I testified to the US Senate armed services committee, what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious and cool. (MORE from Atran)

Especially among twenty-somethings who are cognizant of the empty consumerism, cynical politics, and social isolation that characterizes so much of post-modern culture, it is the West that presents the most heinous threat to our essential humanity.  In confronting global culture’s zealotry for individuality, the next new thing, ironic nonchalance, and disregard for those who seek a different way, there are a visionary, courageous few who offer themselves as guardians.  This is how they see themselves.

The young terrorists’ critique of contemporary culture is acute and often more accurate than we prefer to acknowledge.  The need to resist this sometimes deadly culture and offer a more humane alternative is real and urgent. If Atran’s research and analysis is accurate, those attracted to the Syrian fight are not nihilists but misdirected idealists.  Many searching to make a positive contribution have been tragically tempted into self-righteous violence rather than self-sacrificing resistance.

I suggest that in many cases, the young terrorists’ analysis is right.  But their answer is wrong.  This is the self-subversion.  This is the fundamental delusion that undermines our adversary.  This is a weakness for our strategic exploitation, if we can recognize and embrace it.

We have the positive opportunity to offer a clearly better alternative, both for them and ourselves. How to do this systematically is beyond the scope of this post and today.

But to suggest how the alternative might emerge, here’s a New Year’s resolution to consider: Don’t be bland or banal or a bureaucrat.  Do reach-out to others, listen carefully, ask questions, think-first, speak boldly but kindly, and give some serious thought to what it means to love. To be even more preachy, pretentious, ridiculous: What does it mean to love one’s enemy?  None of this is easy. Really, what could be harder?  But who claimed counter-terrorism would be uncomplicated?

Who said bequeathing a bit better world to the next generation could be anything but a profound moral challenge?

–+–

Emerging information on the Paris attack: Several reports suggest the terrorists may be related to Al Qaeda in Yemen, not the self-styled Islamic State.  The Yemeni beast is very different from its Mesopotamian alter-ego, but in terms of what initially attracts and their fatal flaw, what Atran has found still mostly applies… it seems to me.

Update on Sunday, January 11:  A video has been made available on the Internet that shows Amedy Coulibaly, the hostage-taker at the Paris Kosher grocery, as pledging loyalty to the Islamic State.  Most news outlets continue to report that two other terrorists, tied to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, self-identified with the Yemen-based  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

December 23, 2014

Celebrating Festivus by airing GAO’s grievances with DHS

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

I believe that characterization is unkind.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The emphasis, in italics, is mine.


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

The circle closes. The grievances have been aired.

Now on to the Feats of Strength.


Happy Festivus

festivus 1 frank-costanza

December 11, 2014

Resilience by Design

On Monday the Mayor of Los Angeles released a report entitled Resilience by Design.  It gives particular attention to how Los Angeles can take steps now to mitigate the consequences of major risks, especially an earthquake.

This is the kind of document that — too often — only appears after a major event.  It is significant that one of the first steps Mayor Garcetti took upon his election was appointment of a Science Advisor for Seismic Safety and tasking her to undertake this analysis.

The report gives particular attention to:

  • Resilience of building stock — It is interesting that this is treated as a matter of economic resilience as well as public safety.
  • Resilience of the water system — This is what worries me most regarding the vulnerability of the Los Angeles basin.
  • Resilience of the telecommunications systems — This is a key interdependency that can divide or multiply every other response and recovery capability.

There are, obviously, other crucial problems.  But too many of these kind of studies try to take-on too much.  If everything is a priority, really nothing is a priority.

These are three strategic elements within the ability of city government to seriously engage.  Enhancing the resilience of these three elements will improve the ability of the city and the whole community to address other challenges.

See the full report here.

December 9, 2014

Ottawa Attacks Reveal Public’s Confusion About Terrorism

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on December 9, 2014

Today’s post was written by Jason Nairn.  It appeared originally on the Homeland Security Roundtable blog.


The US media and news-consuming public are known for their short attention spans when it comes to domestic events.  A novel major story quickly refocuses attention, often leaving important issues without context or follow-on reporting.  This phenomenon, one that I like to call “Issue Attention Deficit Disorder (IADD)”, is exacerbated when the event in question is not domestic.

Major issues in Africa, Asia and Europe are simply underreported in the US media, and though they often do not, major events in Canada should merit our attention.  Ottawa is only a 9-hour drive (471 miles or 911 kilometers) from Washington DC, the rough equivalent of driving from Detroit, MI, to Marquette, MI (455 miles), or from Nashville, TN to Chicago, IL (471 Miles).

Canadian media coverage of the recent attacks in Ottawa involving the gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau has revealed a glimpse of the Canadian public’s attitudes about terrorism.  Two stories that ran recently in the National Post provide some valuable lessons for followers of homeland security trends.  First, according to a poll conducted in Canada of over 1500 citizens, only 36% of those that responded would characterize the attack on Parliament as terrorism.  Second, in a propaganda magazine ISIS took credit for inspiring both the attack on Parliament and an earlier attack on a Canadian Warrant Officer by another individual said to be a “jihadist”.

Homeland security professionals have been heard to lament the “nothing happens until something moves” effect of support for homeland security.  The idea is that only after a disaster or major event, like a terrorist attack, is attention refocused on the support of homeland security goals and objectives.  Based on the Canadian news reports, even serious attacks may not drive the public’s support of security priorities.

If an attack on the seat of government does not qualify as terrorism in the eyes of the public, but qualifies as supporting the mission in the eyes of the terrorist group, then something is awry.

Even if our neighbors don’t use the phrase “homeland security” as we do, a fundamental issue remains.  Getting the word out about what terrorism is, what homeland or domestic security is, and how to support resilience in our communities and institutions should be a focus that we maintain beyond the next headline.

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