Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 7, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 4

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 7, 2015

In the last forty-eight hours surveillance operations have completed an initial accounting of the entire impact region.  This has found even greater devastation in remote communities than had been anticipated.  The death toll is now over 7500, but likely to increase.  In the ascent to the High Himalayas whole villages have disappeared beneath landslides.

The United Nations Logistics Cluster is releasing detailed maps of these areas.  Many show several place-names entirely detached from even tertiary roads.  Long-used foot trails are impassable.  In many places pedestrian suspension bridges have been lost.  Already treacherous terrain is now totally changed and even continuing to shift.

Over 284,000 houses have been destroyed.  More than 200,000 have been seriously damaged.  This has also reduced foodstocks, seedstocks, agricultural tools, and other resources needed for recovery.  The May 6 OCHA update notes:

Many people have lost their homes and livelihoods and will require time and support to access relief ahead of the monsoon season. People might have also lost their documentation which can make it difficult to settle land issues, if they arise. In addition, in some areas, recently harvested wheat and barley crops have been lost together with seeds required for the upcoming rice planting season. Ensuring that adequate support reaches those in need before the monsoon season begins is a top priority, thus, securing the pipelines and prepositioning of goods is critical…

2,693 metric tons (MT) of food has been dispatched and is currently being distributed in 15 districts.  34 MT of high energy biscuits were distributed across the affected districts. Food assistance activities using cash are being planned in Makawanpur based on the market functionality assessment… Rice seed needs to be procured and distributed to farmers within the next three weeks.

Distributing cash — often through hiring focused on community recovery tasks — is one way to begin to replace the “push” of humanitarian logistics with the “pull” of supply chain recovery.

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May 6, 2015

Garland or Gorkha?

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

Early this morning I received the following note from a friend and colleague.  He has made a couple of edits since I asked his permission to post, but nothing substantive has been changed.

Phil:

The situation in Nepal deserves sustained attention.  It has already disappeared from most broadcast media.  I also know that supply chains are “your thing.”  Still, given the key place of terrorism in homeland security, it’s a problem that HLSWatch has not even made mention of the Sunday shooting in Garland, Texas.  Not even links?

Garland also strikes me as a story especially well-suited to your point-of-view.  Two equally dark and angry forces encounter each other outside Dallas. There’s got to be a quote from Niebuhr or Eliot or Aristotle that would appropriately frame this collision of self-righteous hubris?  How about some meditation on the deadly violence visited on the self-conceived Salafist  heroes?  Does one pistol against two automatic rifles a hero make, or is something else going on?

If you are known for anything, it is for flushing out the idiocy that travels with self-certainty.  Two tribes of idiots met in Garland.  Where does that leave the rest of us?

The writer has asked I protect his anonymity.

Mostly I agree with the critique.  I especially like his questions. I wish I had the perfect quote on the tip of my tongue.  In addition to the situation in Garland, there have been important issues related to the Tsarnaev sentencing process, French counter-terrorism policy, Syrian military operations, the civil war in Yemen.. and lots more.  I apologize.  Mostly it is a matter of time.  But it is also a matter of what is getting attention elsewhere.  My basic approach at HLSWatch is to amplify, aggregate, analyze, and sometimes advocate. At the very least I want to amplify important issues that are not getting much attention elsewhere.  Weirdly, that has very quickly included the situation in Nepal.  And my friend is right, I have a particular interest in how networks behave under duress.

I will make this offer:  When HLSWatch seems to be absent on an issue, I would welcome receiving a missive in the comments that might be escalated to the front page (as here).  Not promising anything.  Some days I don’t even look in after 6AM.  But a diversity of topics is absolutely welcome.

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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?

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May 5, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 2

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 5, 2015

Logistics Conops_May 4

United Nations, World Food Program, Logistics Cluster, Concept of Operations

The death toll is now over 7000 and continuing to climb.

The May 4 OCHA Situation Report notes,  that 1.4 million people have been prioritized for immediate food support. “Distribution of a total of 2,094 metric tons (MT) of food has begun across 15 districts. Since 29 April, some 52,000 tarpaulins have been distributed in 29 districts while an additional 234,161 tarpaulins are en route to Nepal.”  The monsoon season typically begins in late May/early June.  According to the most recent updates, over 191,000 homes were destroyed and more than 175,000 were damaged.

As the map above shows, the international   community is attempting to reduce the current dependence on the air-hub at Kathmandu. The Conops released yesterday notes, “The foremost objective of the Logistics Cluster in Nepal is to support the Government-led response by coordinating with International and National NGOs, the UN system and the Private Sector in order to optimize logistics efforts, and hence, the delivery of various humanitarian assistance programmes.”

Sounds reliably bureaucratic and almost meaningless.  But especially in Nepal, the implications of “Government-led” may tee-up one of the principal impediments to effective humanitarian logistics and supply chain recovery.  Here’s the close of an editorial in yesterday’s Kathmandu Post:

With few exceptions, the state has so far performed miserably in the aftermath of the earthquake. While there is a real need to not undermine state authority, and indeed to build state capacity, it must be made clear that rebuilding/strengthening a feudal state is not the goal. The feudal legacy embedded in an antiquated bureaucracy and reinforced by a political elite centered on power and its preservation, must be fiercely critiqued and resisted by all citizens. Prioritisation of the lives of citizens—not the policing of restrictive rules in a time of emergency—should be central. The expedient delivery of relief materials from the airport and other locations to citizens in need must take precedence.   

Reuters has a good overview of some important mitigation measures that were taken before the earthquake.

The Hindustan Times has a helpful round-up of critiques and counters regarding “official” preparedness for and response to the quake.

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May 2, 2015

Humanitarian Logistics in Nepal: Number 1

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 2, 2015

This is the first in what may be an irregular series of posts on humanitarian logistics and supply chain recovery in Nepal.   I am, in part, using this to gather links and information for future analysis.  If readers see related stories or resources, please share in the comments.

The initial 7.8 earthquake struck a few minutes before noon local time on April 25.  Several aftershocks have exceeded 5.0.

More than 6250 are confirmed dead.  At least 160,000 houses have been destroyed.  Many more are damaged.  The May 2 OCHA Situation Report indicates it is likely the number of lost houses could eventually exceed 500,000.  The number of displaced persons is roughly estimated at 2.8 million.

Over 3 million people are thought to be in urgent need of food assistance.

Many of the principal overland routes to India have been reopened.  The United Nations Logistics Cluster has released a current map.  Tons and tons of relief supplies have arrived at the international airport outside Kathmandu. A unit of US Marines will be assisting with airport flight operations and receipt of relief supplies.

Effective reception of goods at the airport has been aided by the establishment of a disaster staging area that opened in March.  This has allowed goods to be more rapidly relocated from the air-hub’s apron than is often the case in major disasters. There are still problems, but it would have been much worse without this strategic investment.

There are various reports of relief goods not being effectively distributed.  This is typically the result of local truckers, wholesalers, and retailers being victims themselves.  There are occasional media reports of this being the case in Nepal, but I have not seen what I consider an authoritative analysis.  The World Food Program has announced contracting with a fleet of 25 trucks.  Whether these are local assets or not is not clear.

The trucking/transport industry in Nepal is heavily self-organized.  So-called Transport Entrepreneurs Associations (TEA’s) dominate most regional markets.  It is not clear if these private sector syndicates were “pre-wired” into the staging area strategy and operation.  Now out-of-date figures (2001) report there are over 20,000 larger trucks in Nepal.

I have been surprised by media reports that fuel distribution is largely returning to “normal”.  Recently Nepal has suffered from sometimes acute fuel shortages without the complication of a major earthquake.

Earlier today, Saturday, a United Nations official complained that distribution of some relief goods is being delayed by Nepali customs officials. (UPDATE: Since Saturday there have been contradictory reports on this potential impediment.  Major media are giving the criticism more and more attention.  But when organizations gathered at a recent meeting of the Logistics Cluster were asked about the problem, none reported any specific instances of delays caused by customs procedures.   The Government of Nepal has admitted that some land-based customs officials had been slow to adjust to regulatory waivers, but have insisted customs clearance at the airport has been consistently expedited.  A guess: major organizations with Nepal-based experience know how to operate within the system, smaller organizations and “humanitarian tourists” do not.)

The Nepal Logistics Cluster site is a good place for ongoing updates and details.

In previous efforts by this blog to monitor logistics and supply chain operations — especially in Japan and the Philippines — there has been a strategic/operational disconnect between local truckers/trucking and national/international relief operations.  Any information in this regard on the situation in Nepal would be especially appreciated.

Other logistics lessons-learned from prior disasters, in the context of Nepal, are featured by the Globe and Mail.

More as I find it.

SUNDAY, MAY 3 UPDATE

A couple of interesting bits, mostly gleaned from Logistics Cluster minutes.  As of late Saturday:

Bharatpur is where most of the commercial road transport capacity of the country is established. Bharatpur hub will be used as forward logistics base for the incoming road-transported cargo from India,to avoid all cargo transiting through Kathmandu before re-dispatching to affected locations… Discussions are ongoing with the transporter association in order to control transport rates, and expand the transport network to the affected areas, where possible… No issues in the availability of fuel were reported…

Quick comment: An airport is NOT typically a commodities hub. By giving more attention to Bharatpur the relief operation should increasingly be able to connect into pre-existing distribution networks and capacity. Roads between Bharatupur and India are mostly open and it is well-placed to supply hard-hit areas west of Kathmandu.  I will be looking for similar attention to be given to Birgunj, once roads have reopened between the border with India and Kathmandu. Regarding “transport rates” what is the difference between “gouging” and an “efficient market response”?

More reports are becoming available on the situation in the more remote areas of the impact zone.  (See excellent NYT maps.) As surveillance increases the recognized scope-and-scale of this disaster is likely to expand significantly… and the real challenge facing supply chain recovery will be more fully understood.  An issue that I perceive is too often obscured: humanitarian logistics is a crucially important step in serving survivors.  But depending on how humanitarian logistics is conceived and implemented this process can either expedite or suppress supply chain recovery.

(A piece in the May 3 edition of The Indian Express combines coverage of the current situation with implications for longer-term recovery.)

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May 1, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 1, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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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.

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April 28, 2015

Nontraditional Riot Control in Baltimore

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 28, 2015

The Baltimore Police Commissioner had this to say about the following video:

“And if you saw in one scene, you had one a mother who grabbed their child who had a hood on his head and she started smacking him on the head because she was so embarrassed. I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight,” Batts said at a press conference this morning.

 

Also heartening to see are the slightly larger efforts of groups such as 300 Men March, Nation of Islam, and even unorganized members of the community that are working to calm the situation down, often physically placing themselves between the police and potential rioters in an effort to prevent violence.

 

 

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Baltimore stories

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 28, 2015

Baltimore Riot

Photo: Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun, near Pennsylvania and North Avenue on 4/27.

The following is a long excerpt from this morning’s Baltimore Sun, combining reports gathered since yesterday afternoon.  Unlike most other media coverage I am seeing or hearing, this report fits the Baltimore I know: a place of multiple, simultaneous, proximate, contradictory realities.   If homeland security has any value to offer society, I perceive it will emerge from cultivating a strategic competence that extends beyond each of the legacy professions and can accommodate the tensions outlined in this story.

–+–

 It started Monday morning with word on social media of a “purge” — a reference to a movie in which crime is made legal. It was to begin at 3 p.m. at Mondawmin Mall, then venture down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Inner Harbor.

With tensions in the city running high on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral, police began alerting local businesses and mobilizing officers.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore was one of the first institutions to acknowledge law enforcement concerns. With exams about to begin, school officials abruptly canceled classes “on recommendation of the BPD.”

T. Rowe Price sent employees home; Lexington Market closed early. One by one, other businesses shut down.

When 3 p.m. came, 75 to 100 students heading to Mondawmin Mall were greeted by dozens of police officers in riot gear. The mall is a transportation hub for students from several nearby schools.

The students began pelting officers with water bottles and rocks. Bricks met shields. Glass shattered up and down Gwynns Falls Parkway. Officers sprayed Mace. Confrontations bled into side streets, where officers threw bricks back. A heavily armored Bearcat tactical vehicle rolled through the neighborhood.

One officer, bloodied in the melee, was carried through Westbury Avenue by his comrades. Police used tear gas to move crowds down the street.

Vaughn DeVaughn, a city teacher, watched the scene.

“This is about anger and frustration and them not knowing how to express it,” he said. “Everyone out here looks under the age of 25. I’m out here for them.”

Some said the presence of the police antagonized the neighborhood.

“The thing is if the cops never came up here, they weren’t going to [mess] up Mondawmin,” said a young woman who was watching the clash. ” What are they going to [mess] up Mondawmin for? They shop here. This is their home.”

Karl Anderson, who works at a community center in the Mondawmin neighborhood, said he believed students misunderstood what it looks like to fight for civil rights.

“This is going to be their history,” Anderson said. “Not the Rosa Parks, the Martin Luther Kings.’

“They don’t understand that.”

Sandra Almond-Cooper, president of the Mondawmin Neighborhood Improvement Association, said it wasn’t the first confrontation between these students and police.

“These kids are just angry,” Almond-Cooper said. “These are the same kids they pull up on the corner for no reason.”

The crowds at Mondawmin were thinning when police tweeted that a police officer had been assaulted at the busy intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues.

A line of officers looked south as smoke rippled into the sky. Two Maryland Transit Administration vehicles had been set on fire. People were tearing a city police vehicle apart.

People took turns standing on the roof, taking selfies. A group of men located a crowbar and pried open the trunk, where police store equipment.

A CVS store and a check-cashing store were breached. Then, a mom-and-pop grocery store. People walked away with garbage bags full of supplies: diapers, bleach, snack foods, prescription drugs.

Next door, another business remained intact. A man stood in the locked vestibule wielding a shotgun.

A group of men who said they were members of the Crips — they wore blue bandannas and blue shirts — stood on the periphery and denounced the looting.

“This is our hood, and we can’t control it right now,” one of the men said.

But another bystander, who said his name was Antwion Robinson, 26, said the outburst had been building.

“They are killing us,” Robinson said. “They are actually killing us, and then they make this seem like we’re out of control. But they’re killing our neighbors and brothers. We’re just supposed to sit back and take that?”

As Robinson spoke, a man walked by.

“Don’t do anything without your face covered,” he said.

Tyrone Parker, 64, watched the mayhem. He said police broke his arm two years ago, but he didn’t approve of what he was seeing.

“They’re [messing] the whole neighborhood up,” he said.

Traffic continued along North Avenue. Sometimes, motorists pulled over to collect items looted from stores, then took off.

As police vehicles screamed through, people threw items that exploded on their windshields. One unmarked police vehicle wobbled back and forth, and nearly fishtailed out of control.

Crowds moved downtown, wandering through Mount Vernon and toward the Inner Harbor, smashing windows along the way.

At least nine businesses were breached by a group of men along Centre Street in Mount Vernon and Eutaw Street nearby.

MORE

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April 25, 2015

Apparently, Russian Hackers Read Obama’s Unclassified Emails

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on April 25, 2015

An eight sentence summary of a longer story from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON – Some of President Obama’s email correspondence was swept up by Russian hackers last year in a breach of the White House’s unclassified computer system that was far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged, according to senior American officials briefed on the investigation.

White House officials said that no classified networks had been compromised, and that the hackers had collected no classified information.

The hacking happened at a moment of renewed tension with Russia – over its annexation of Crimea, the presence of its forces in Ukraine and its renewed military patrols in Europe, reminiscent of the Cold War.

Inside the White House, the intrusion has raised a new debate about whether it is possible to protect a president’s electronic presence, especially when it reaches out from behind the presumably secure firewalls of the executive branch.

While the White House has refused to identify the nationality of the hackers, others familiar with the investigation said that in both the White House and State Department cases, all signs pointed to Russians.

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter revealed for the first time that Russian hackers had attacked the Pentagon’s unclassified systems, but said they had been identified and “Kicked off.”

Defense Department officials declined to say if the signatures of the attacks on the Pentagon appeared related to the White House and State Department attacks. The discovery of the hacking in October led to a partial shutdown of the White House email system.

The hackers appear to have been evicted from the White House systems by the end of October. 

One thing interesting to me is that the summary was prepared by a website: http://smmry.com/about.

The summary is not perfect. But that it can be done at all and as well is – to me – as amazing as someone hacking White House emails.

All this reminded my of a few paragraphs I read in an April 2000 Wired article written by Bill Joy:

“First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.

If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.”

Moral for the future? Write your emails as if they will be hacked.  Read articles on the internet as if they were written by computers.

(Bill Joy’s Wired article is called “Why the future doesn’t need us.”  The quoted material was written by Ted Kaczynski, in his Unabomber Manifesto.)

 

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Run, hide, and fight amateur hour in homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 25, 2015

(Excerpted from Oregon Live, April 21, 2015)

Teacher terrified by surprise ‘active shooter’ drill in eastern Oregon schoolhouse files federal lawsuit

Elementary school teacher Linda McLean sat at her desk on a calm blue-sky Friday afternoon nearly two years ago when she heard the clatter of what sounded like a falling ladder, followed by running feet.

A man dressed in a black hoodie and goggles suddenly burst through her classroom door. He leveled a pistol at McLean’s face and pulled the trigger. The terrified teacher heard gunfire, smelled smoke, felt her heart racing, she says.

“You’re dead,” the gunman said, and stalked out of her room.

But McLean was alive. The hooded man’s gun was loaded with blanks, part of a surprise “active shooter” drill at Pine Eagle School District No. 61, a charter school in the tiny eastern Oregon town of Halfway. The gun-toting man was Shawn Thatcher, the school district’s safety officer.

McLean was a casualty of what she now describes in a federal lawsuit as a harebrained drill in the middle of an in-service day – April 26, 2013 – that has left her with post-traumatic stress disorder….

The drill at Pine Eagle School District caught staffers at the school off guard, McLean’s lawsuit alleges.

Members of the district’s Safety Committee notified the Baker County Sheriff’s Office and its 911 dispatch center in advance of the drill so that they wouldn’t respond to an emergency at the school in case any of the school staff called.

The sheriff’s office also reviewed concealed-carry permits ahead of the drill to ensure that no teachers would fire back at Thatcher and school board member John Minarich, who also was armed and similarly attired.

Minarich was described in court papers as the principal and president of Alpine Alarm.

Thatcher and Minarich are accused of storming into several schoolrooms that day pointing their weapons at surprised teachers, firing blanks, and declaring them dead.

“Panic ensued,” according to McLean’s lawsuit. One teacher wet her pants. Another teacher tried to keep Minarich from entering his room and scuffled with the school board member, leaving the teacher’s arm injured. Some teachers fell down trying to hide.

“McLean could not figure out what was going on,” the complaint alleges. “She felt very confused. Her heart was racing. She walked out of the classroom and saw a pistol lying on the ground. … She wondered if she was really shot and was going to die.”

For an instant, McLean alleges, she thought perhaps it was OK to die. Then she thought about her daughter, who was pregnant, and grew angry that she wouldn’t be around to help with the new baby.

“She looked at the pistol and wondered if she was supposed to pick it up and shoot someone,” the lawsuit alleges….

– Bryan Denson

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April 24, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

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April 23, 2015

Gulf oil spill: Lessons still to be learned

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 23, 2015

It has been five years since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon killed eleven and initiated several weeks of an uncontrolled release of oil from the well-head.  Over 200 million gallons of oil are thought to have escaped into the Gulf of Mexico.

I perceive the lessons-learned — or what might still be learned — from responding to the Gulf oil spill are at least as important as those we have tried to learn from 9/11 and Katrina.

What can and should be done, and sometimes not done, when dealing with big footprint, multi-consequence disasters that unfold over an extended period of time?  How is such an event to be engaged when the technical, experiential, and even intellectual resources needed are in short supply?  How does leadership and management operate when authority and competence and capability are scattered across various public and private entities? What can the lessons-learned from five years ago tell us regarding drought, sea-level rise, pandemics, and other disasters that are as much cumulative as acute?

Thad Allen, the former Coast Guard Commandant who was pulled out of retirement to serve as the National Incident Commander for the Gulf oil spill has tried to help us learn these lessons.  Here is some of what he said back in September 2010.

When I was designated as the national incident commander, I sat down with a small group of folks who became my cadre and senior staff. I wanted to focus on what needed to be done about the universe — above the unified level that had been established. I wanted to focus on those things that were distracting unified area command from doing their job: working inter agency issues in Washington and dealing with the governmental structures, Congress and so forth…

I was a 39-year veteran of the coast guard. The last thing we want is the 3,000 mile screwdriver. We would leave tactical control as close to the problem as we could… I would like to characterize the national incident command as a thin client. To use a software term. Necessary to integrate but no more than what is necessary and without adding layers of bureaucracy.

The Incident Command System that was established in New Orleans was the basis for… the coordination of command. That is a sound system. Incident command is one of the ways to approach these spills…

If we look at what transpired, we need to know what the basic doctrine says against the reality of what we found on the ground… We did not have a large, monolithic oil spill. We had hundreds of thousands of patches of oil that moved in different directions over time that moved beyond the geographical area that was contemplated in any response plan, putting the entire coast at risk. That required resources above the plan. It required coordination across state boundaries and federal regional boundaries for the team…

We have worked on smaller spills with state and local governments with smaller responsible parties. Some of the anomalies associated with this spill that challenged the doctrine need to be looked at in detail for constructive changes to the contingency plan which should remain in place, and how we need to manage large, and, as evidence in the future that defy the traditional parameters of the incident command system…

First, I think we need greater clarity moving forward on what the responsible parties, who they are, what they do, and how they interact with the contingency plan. We have worked with the responsible parties for over 20 years, very effectively managing oil spills…There were two basic issues that were not well understood by most of the people of the US and political leaders: There would be a constructive role for the entity that was attributed to causing the event. That created concern that could not be explained away. Even though we had worked effectively in that construct in responding to oil spills. The second is the fiduciary link between the representative of the responsible party and unified command and their shareholders. There are legal requirements for documenting costs which you have to carry on a balance sheet that they cannot sever.

The second notion was difficult for the people of this country to understand and our political leaders was ultimately, there is a fiduciary link between the responsible party and shareholders which would bring into question whether or not a decision should have been made based on the environment and the response itself. As stated in the national contingency plan and by statute, the responsible party is to resource the response and the federal government is to oversee their response…That is what occurred, but as you look at the enormity of this response, and the local implications, the isolated geographical areas where access is an issue, where logistical support for this type of response is an issue, a lot of the details that are carried out by those contractors that are brought to the scene are done in a contractual obligation basis with the responsible party under the general supervision of the federal government…

There is a discussion about what constitutes an authority to take action, the day-to-day supervision of workers. How this gets interpreted in terms of feedback and the effects you are trying to achieve. There is a couple of things we need to do. We need to look at the contingency plan and think about what we need by the concept of responsible party and how we want that to look in the future…

Admiral Allen is one of those rare people who somehow speak more clearly than the transcript can sometimes capture.  Thanks to C-Span, you can see and hear his extended remarks here.

As time and space expand, typically so does the number and diversity of those involved in engagement. Allen sometimes refers to the difference between theater command and incident command.  I wonder if just using the word “command” may be misleading.

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April 22, 2015

If we can build replicas of Iran’s nuclear plants, can’t we invest more in disaster preparedness?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 22, 2015

A recent New York Times article revealed that work analyzing potential Iranian nuclear futures has been spread across our existing nuclear lab enterprise:

The classified replica is but one part of an extensive crash program within the nation’s nine atomic laboratories — Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Livermore among them — to block Iran’s nuclear progress. As the next round of talks begins on Wednesday in Vienna, the secretive effort remains a technological obsession for thousands of lab employees living the Manhattan Project in reverse. Instead of building a bomb, as their predecessors did in a race to end World War II, they are trying to stop one.

A senior official of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Kevin Veal, who has been along for every negotiating session, would send questions back to the laboratories, hoping to separate good ideas from bad. “It’s what our people love to do,” said Thom Mason, the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “It can be very rewarding.”

Given the stakes in the sensitive negotiations, the labs would check and recheck one another, making sure the answers held up. The natural rivalries among the labs sometimes worked to the negotiators’ advantage: Los Alamos National Laboratory, in the mountains of New Mexico, the birthplace of the bomb, was happy to find flaws in calculations done elsewhere, and vice versa.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the fact that this is being done in support of our negotiations with Iran over it’s nuclear program.  And it is nothing short of fantastic that we have the infrastructure and scientific capability and capacity to undertake this kind of analysis-on-demand.

But why can’t it also exist for disaster preparedness?  I could make an argument that for the foreseeable future the risk of a devastating hurricane striking a major metropolitan area or an earthquake hitting the West Coast or New Madrid fault poses an even greater danger to the U.S. than a nuclear-armed Iran.

Did we make similar investments in our disaster preparedness following Hurricane Katrina?  Nope.  Sandy?  Nope.  Near misses in pandemic diseases, such as SARS or avian flu?  Not really.

I understand that our nuclear labs and related infrastructure have been built up over decades of Cold War with the Soviet Union.  That is an investment that is pretty much unparalleled in the history of our nation.  But I can’t help but be a little disappointed that after any number of close calls or slightly less than absolutely devastating disasters our willingness to invest in research and development aimed at preventing, responding to, mitigating against, and recovering from disasters has been so weak.

What will it take to change this dynamic?  Hopefully something far short of a combined earthquake, tsunami, nuclear event.

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April 20, 2015

“Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages?” :-)

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 20, 2015

“Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? ‘PASS OXYGEN ON’ Anyone ? :)”

ArsTechnica reports a

 researcher who specializes in the security of commercial airplanes was barred from a United Airlines flight Saturday, three days after he tweeted a poorly advised joke mid-flight about hacking a key communications system of the plane he was in.

Chris Roberts was detained by FBI agents on Wednesday as he was deplaning his United flight, which had just flown from Denver to Syracuse, New York. While on board the flight, he tweeted a joke about taking control of the plane’s engine-indicating and crew-alerting system, which provides flight crews with information in real-time about an aircraft’s functions, including temperatures of various equipment, fuel flow and quantity, and oil pressure. In the tweet, Roberts jested: “Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? ‘PASS OXYGEN ON’ Anyone ? :)” FBI agents questioned Roberts for four hours and confiscated his iPad, MacBook Pro, and storage devices.

In related information, the Homeland Security Digital Library writes about an April GAO report titled “FAA Needs a More Comprehensive Approach to Address Cybersecurity As Agency Transitions to NextGen.

The report on Air Traffic Control exposes flaws in newer airliners that could lead to hacks and system failures.  The implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) seeks to replace the “decades old, point to point, hardwired information systems, that share information only within their limited, wired configuration.”  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shift to NextGen is a “modernization effort [...] to transform the nation’s ground based Air Traffic Control (ATC) system into a satellite based Internet Protocol (IP) system” to increase efficiency.  However, the changes present cyber security challenges in three areas; 1) protecting ATC information systems, 2) protecting aircraft avionics used to operate and guide aircraft, and 3) clarifying cyber security roles and responsibilities among multiple FAA offices.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing Chris Roberts to help get his Twitter equipment returned.  The EFF wrote:

…United’s refusal to allow Roberts to fly is both disappointing and confusing. As a member of the security research community, his job is to identify vulnerabilities in networks so that they can be fixed. Indeed, he was headed to RSA speak about security vulnerabilities in a talk called “Security Hopscotch” when attempting to board the United flight.

EFF has long been concerned that knee-jerk responses to legitimate researchers pointing out security flaws can create a chilling effect in the infosec community. EFF’s Coders’ Rights Project is intended to provide counseling and legal representation to individuals facing legal threats, which is why we’re glad to represent Chris Roberts. However, we’d also like to see companies recognize that researchers who identify problems with their products in order to have them fixed are their allies. It would avoid a whole lot of trouble for researchers and make us all more secure.

 

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April 19, 2015

April 19

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

On this day in 1775 irregular militia and spontaneous volunteers, eventually numbering almost 4000, confronted British infantry at the Massachusetts towns of Concord and Lexington.  After several engagements British troops retreated into Boston which then remained under siege into the summer.  Insurgent forces lost nearly fifty dead.  At least 73 British troops were killed.

On this day in 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck packed with self-made explosives in a drop off zone just beside — and slightly beneath — the structural curtain of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  The date was chosen by McVeigh to coincide with the battles of Lexington and Concord (and the 1993 Waco siege that ended on April 19 with the death of 76). One-hundred sixty-eight were killed by the Oklahoma City blast.  More than six hundred were injured.

The annual Boston Marathon is part of a wider celebration of Patriots’ Day which celebrates the battles of Lexington and Concord. Since 1969 Patriots’ Day has been observed on the third Monday in April.  In 2013 three were killed in two bombings near the marathon’s finish line.  Over 260 were injured.

An excerpt from Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

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