Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 12, 2015

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.

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January 9, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

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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.

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January 7, 2015

Is climate change a homeland security issue? Is the Pope Catholic?

Filed under: Climate Change,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 7, 2015

Thanks to a post by the Recovery Diva last week, I learned that the Pope plans on issuing an edict on climate change this year. According to the Guardian:

But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

This will be…interesting.

This is intrinsically a homeland security issue. Perhaps not the work on the inputs, but the outputs certainly affect the work across any number of homeland security areas.

In theory, homeland security practitioners desire, encourage, and even plan on non governmental participation in their work. Right? There is a particular push for involvement and cooperation with religious groups.

So how exactly will this anticipated call from one of the world’s great religious leaders be heard?  Will it be recognized or ignored?

So many questions…so few answers…so little personal Papal infallibility…

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January 6, 2015

Who Cares If We Call It “Terrorism”?

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jason Nairn on January 6, 2015

I recently wrote a post about the definition of terrorism, the public’s perceptions about terrorism, and the importance of the use of the word to the work of homeland security professionals.  The conversation about this topic has continued on … Homeland Security Watch, as well as in professional circles.

There are differences among professionals within the homeland security enterprise about whether the word “terrorism” should be a applied to events such as the Canadian Parliament attack and the Sydney Cafe Hostage Incident.  A recent conversation that took place via email between homeland security educators provides insight into the terrorism terminology tussle.  The emails are a continuation of a discussion prompted by a colleague who shared analysis by Scott Stewart of Stratfor Global Intelligence entitled “The Sydney Hostage Incident was a Classic Case of Grassroots Terrorism”.  (Stratfor is a subscription service and I could not therefore attach the article.  However, you may be able to get the article free here by providing an email address.)

A key phrase in Stewart’s analysis addresses the issue.  Stewart writes:

Despite Monis’ reported mental instability, the sequence of events in this incident clearly demonstrate that he was acting in a planned, logical manner designed to accomplish his goals — however delusional those goals may have been.

Thus Stewart makes the case that this attack, and others like it, are terrorism.  But some do not agree.  Here is the email conversation:

Clinical Psychologist and Homeland Security Educator [responding to the article]:

Hmm – Hoffman would say it’s terrorism if there is a political purpose behind the attacks – that would be necessary, but is it sufficient that the perpetrator’s message is political? But (and I’ll confess to skimming this) I didn’t see where the cafe or the patrons were emblematic of some political regime? Shouldn’t the target also serve as a symbol?

For example, the Pakistan school shooting by Taliban – the school is a military sponsored/funded school that the Taliban perceived as a training ground for future military personnel (though Pakistani’s argue there were lots of civilians’ children in attendance and is not a military prep school). The school is a symbol of the military, government and political regime the Taliban wants to change/eliminate. The King David Hotel, the Edward R. Murrah building, etc – all symbols, as well as civilian/noncombatant locales.

This dude sounds like a garden variety criminal. Self appointed cleric, currently charged with murder of a loved-one (though killing your ex wife is probably not a symbol of great love). So he slapped a pseudo-political label onto his act and was active in social media with other extremist groups…I just don’t buy it. My clinical opinion? Lone Nut.

Related: this is the problem with having no agreed-upon, operational definition of terrorism.

Homeland Security Educator 2:

I think the interesting question in both this instance and the Canadian Parliament attack is, as both incidents were perpetrated by individuals of questionable mental stability, does mental status matter?  Couldn’t it be said that anyone that is willing to put explosives on themselves (in their underwear even!) is likely not in perfect mental health, i.e. a lone nut as the article describes.  I think there is a danger in calling these politically-motivated, pre-planned attacks something other than terrorism, because it reduces the importance of the homeland security element involved in preventing / responding to these attacks.  The HLS element provides the vehicle for collaboration among agencies, countries, etc, and additional resources.  Crimes by lone nuts are addressed by local resources, and if we rely on local resources to do everything, we will be back where we were prior to 9/11, where some agencies had information, nothing was shared with the local agencies that ultimately had to respond, and no one was putting the pieces together.

Why does it matter?  Who cares if we call it “terrorism” or not?

It matters because the use of the word terrorism is important to the funding and resource support for anti-terrorism efforts in the US and abroad.  The recognition of the threat of ongoing terrorist attacks is important for the political framework that surrounds international homeland security (or domestic security, or civil protection, or whatever) efforts.  The correct description of these events as terrorism reminds us, the public-at-large and our policy-makers, of the importance of the collaborative framework of homeland security, and its essential role in preventing, responding to and recovering from these types of attacks.

– This post appeared originally on the Homeland Security Roundtable.

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January 2, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

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January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

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

Happiness is, it seems to me, a secondary (tertiary?) consequence of a certain calibration of experience, observation, expectation, and insight. Happiness, when worth the word, must reflect reality. It may be most commonly experienced when giving close attention to a very specific reality or – moving to the opposite extreme – assuming an especially broad perspective.  In between seldom seems a happy place.

Three observations that may, depending on your expectation and insight, start the New Year on a happy note:

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has been much more effectively contained than many expected as recently as September. I am surprised it was possible to so quickly contain the virus in Lagos and so dramatically beat-it-back in Monrovia. The recent progress in Sierra Leone is encouraging. There are many components to this good news, but especially important has been the ability to stimulate and organize voluntary behavioral change mostly through neighbors working with neighbors. There are still serious risks – both local and global – but we ought not deny nor minimize the considerable progress achieved in the midst of a very tough context and dealing with a terrible disease.

The 2014 holiday supply chain did not collapse. In late 2013 multichannel demands and overwhelmed distribution nodes showed us how a complex adaptive system can cascade close to full-stop at just the worst time. What has happened for toys and electronic gadgets is also possible for food, pharmaceuticals, and fuel. Some have worried the contemporary supply chain may be approaching its outer limits. Well, apparently not yet. The strains are still significant. The risks are real. But some lessons were learned and effectively applied, including crucial aspects of competitive self-restraint.  Last year a new generation of supply chain leaders encountered a latter-day Jacob Marley.  They have not yet experienced the want and ignorance of Christmas-future.  There is much yet to learn. Still, Christmas-past has engendered some healthy self-criticism.

As ISIL, ISIS, Da’ish rolled through Mosul and rapidly down the Tigrus some saw a new powerhouse of terrorism emerging. It remains a threat, but is considerably less potent than was sometimes perceived last summer. Moreover, its brutal methods have been so offensive to millions of Muslims that – whatever the occasional tactical success – the Caliph wanna-be has already been widely rejected. From every corner of the Umma and nearly every Ulema such violent extremism is branded as Haram. While predators troll the Internet for the disaffected, the vast majority of faithful are motivated to words and action that clearly communicate whatever ISIL may be, Islamic it is not.  The worst is sometimes required to compel the best to action.

2015 is unlikely to be any easier than 1915, 1815, or most any leap back. Whether it is better or worse is mostly up to us, as individuals and together. For better and worse, there are many more of us and what once was distant can now seem quite close.

“Happiness is an acquisition.” Adagia by Wallace Stevens

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December 31, 2014

What was the most significant homeland security development of 2014?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on December 31, 2014

I woke up this morning thinking that it would be nice to write a post looking back on 2014 in terms of homeland security-related events.  Then I realized I should have started reviewing posts, news, and other sources days ago to refresh my memory about everything that occurred over the last 12 months.

So instead I am going to take the easy way out and ask a question of you: in your opinion, what was the most significant homeland security-related development of 2014?

It could be positive, negative, or to be determined.

Personally, I’m nominating Ebola’s appearance in the United States – keeping the focus “homeland” related, not neglecting the horrific impact of the disease in West Africa nor the importance of putting an end to the outbreak at its source.  I think I think this because of the reaction to the disease, not the direct impact of the organism itself.

Flu has already claimed more lives inside the U.S., as did the recent record breaking snow near Buffalo, New York.  What (I hope) Ebola did was bring attention to the importance of public health to a broad range of groups — politicians, policy makers, media, and the general public. Not holding my breath, I can dream that federal monies flow again to public health preparedness and local and state budgets for the same are increased.  Again hoping, it may underscore both the degree to which we are interconnected with the rest of the world and the risk that the lack of public health capacity and capability elsewhere poses to us at home. As with illegal immigration, we are long past the point that building higher walls will provide any commensurate increase in security.

But I am more than happy to consider other alternatives.

What do you consider the most significant homeland security-related development of 2014?

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December 30, 2014

“All that happens must be known”- What’s good for cops should be good for elected officials.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 30, 2014

A Washington Post-ABC News poll learned that “86 percent of Americans support requiring patrol officers in their areas to wear small video cameras while on duty.”

In the words found within David Egger’s book, The Circle, “All that happens must be known.”


In other routine news, a congressman resigns after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion charges.  A former governor is found guilty of 11 counts of public corruption.  Four of the last seven governors of another state spent time in prison.  It happens to mayors too.  And judges. And to numerous federal officials.

Every profession has bad apples. So, if it’s good for cops to wear cameras while on duty, why not elected and appointed officials?

“All that happens must be known.”


David Egger’s utopian/dystopian novel (it sort of depends where you sit) is centered on a mega corporation, called the Circle. The Circle is used for 90% of all internet searches, but it’s also a technology company.

As we join this excerpt, one of the Circle’s founders – Stenton – is giving an Idea talk in the Great Room of Enlightenment.

“As you know…, transparency is something we advocate here at the Circle.  We look to a guy like Stewart as an inspiration…. [Stewart wears a video device on his chest; he has been recording and sharing every moment of his life for the past five years.]

“…There’s another area of public life where we want and expect transparency, and that’s democracy.  We’re lucky to have been born and raised in a democracy, but one that is always undergoing improvement.  When I was a kid, to combat back-room political deals, for example, citizens insisted upon Sunshine Laws….  And yet still, so long after the founding of this democracy, every day our elected leaders still find themselves embroiled in some scandal or another, usually involving them doing something they shouldn’t be doing.  Something secretive, illegal, against the will and best interests of the republic.  No wonder public trust for Congress is at 11 percent….  Your occupation could be dropping human feces on the heads of senior citizens … and your job approval would be higher than 11 percent.

“So what can be done? What can be done to restore the people’s trust in their elected leaders?

“I’m happy to say that there’s a woman who is taking all this very seriously, and she’s doing something to address the issue.”

Stenton then introduces Congresswoman Olivia Santos.  Santos is at the Idea talk to announce “a very important development in the history of government.”  She acknowledges that all citizens have the right to know what their elected leaders are doing, who they are meeting with, talking with, and what they’re talking about.

“We’ve all wanted and expected transparency from our elected leaders,” Congresswoman Santos says, “but the technology wasn’t there to make it fully possible.  But now it is.  As Stewart has demonstrated, it’s very easy to provide the world at large full access to your day, to see what you see, hear what you hear, and what you say….”

At this point it’s obvious what Santos is going to announce.

“Starting today. I will be wearing the same device Stewart wears.  My every meeting, movement, my every word, will be available to all my constituents and to the world.

And the Idea talk audience rose to their feet in the Great Room of Enlightenment cheering, whooping and whistling their approval.

When Santos first announced what became known as “the new clarity,” there was a bit of media coverage, but not much.

“But then, as people logged on and began watching, and began realizing that she was deadly serious — that she was allowing viewers to see and hear precisely what went into her day, unfiltered and uncensored — the viewership grew exponentially…. [Soon] there were millions watching her.”

The new clarity spread.

“By the third week, twenty-one other elected leaders in the U.S. had asked the Circle for their help in going clear…. By the end of the first month, there were thousands of requests [for the Circle's help] from all over the world…. By the end of the fifth week, there were 16,188 elected officials… who had gone completely clear, and the waiting list was growing.”

Like police departments that tried to resist in-car cameras, and who may initially balk at requiring officers to wear cameras, resistance for the politicians in Egger’s world was futile.

“The pressure on [politicians] who hadn’t gone transparent went from polite to oppressive.  The question, from pundits and constituents, was obvious and loud: If you aren’t transparent, what are you hiding?  Though some [people]… objected on grounds of privacy, asserting that government, at virtually every level, had always needed to do some things in private for the sake of security and efficiency, the momentum crushed all such arguments and the progression continued.  If you weren’t operating in the light of day, what were you doing in the shadows?”

Back to real life for a moment, “in the first year after .. cameras [were introduced in the Rialto, CA police department] … the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.

The result in Egger’s world?

“Within weeks, the non-transparent [elected] officeholders were treated like pariahs.  The clear ones wouldn’t meet with them if they wouldn’t go on camera, and thus these leaders were left out. Their constituents wondered what they were hiding, and their electoral doom was all but assured.  In any coming election cycle, few would dare to run without declaring their transparency….  There would never again be a politician without immediate and thorough accountability, because their words and actions would be known and recorded and beyond debate.  There would be no more back rooms, no more murky deal-making.  There would be only clarity, only light.”


Several people have mentioned to me that in 2015 we will be as far away from the year 2030 as we are from the year 2000.  That does not seem all that long ago.  But so much unpredictability has reshaped the world and this nation in those mere 15 years.

Who dares predict what will emerge in the next 15 years? Let alone what 2015 will bring.

Remember to breathe.
———
[thanks dwl]

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December 28, 2014

NSA internal privacy audits released

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 28, 2014

While most of us were either dreaming of sugar plums or battling traffic to get over the river to grandma’s house, the National Security Agency released a set of heavily redacted, but still interesting reports.

According to the NSA’s December 23 cover-letter:

Following a classification review, the National Security Agency (NSA) is releasing in redacted form NSA reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB). The release includes quarterly reports submitted from the fourth quarter of 2001 to the second quarter of 2013. The materials also include four annual reports (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) which are consolidations of the relevant quarterly reports…

The released reports demonstrate that NSA has multi-layered protections in place for signals intelligence information. These protections apply across the full spectrum of the signals intelligence process. At the targeting stage, NSA collects only those communications that it is authorized by law to collect in response to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence requirements. After foreign intelligence or counterintelligence information is acquired, it must be analyzed to remove or mask certain protected categories of information, including U.S. person information, unless specific exceptions apply. This process is referred to as “minimization.” Without appropriate minimization, NSA intelligence reporting generally cannot be distributed to other agencies—“disseminated,” in intelligence parlance—even if the other agency requires the information. Reports generated as a result of this process are subject to further constraints on access and handling.

NSA accounts for all identified errors and violations, no matter how slight, in its oversight reporting process. Internally, a wide range of NSA offices currently exercise oversight authority, including the Office of the Inspector General, the Office of the General Counsel, the Office of the Director of Compliance, the Office of Civil Liberties and Privacy, and compliance offices embedded within NSA’s mission elements. Externally, errors are reported to a variety of departments and offices across all three branches of government, depending on the nature of the authority involved. The quarterly reports released today are provided to the Department of Defense Senior Intelligence Oversight Official (DOD SIOO) (formerly the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight (ATSD(IO)), which plays an important role in ensuring NSA operates within the law.

The link will take you to the NSA website where each of the quarterly or calendar year reports can be opened and read.

MORE

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December 26, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 26, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

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December 25, 2014

Another strategic narrative

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on December 25, 2014

Greek Opening of Gospel of John

God looms large in homeland security, though we seldom say so.

Arguments over God — the nature of reality, what is right and wrong, and prospects for atonement — precipitate acts of terror.

Acts of God — Force Majeure — are subjects of ongoing strategic engagement.

Recently I was in discussion with a long-time peace officer, together we were trying to make sense of a treacherous situation.  He has a PhD.  We both are proud children of the Enlightenment.  Each of us accustomed to practically engaging problems.  Yet we decided that, at least for the moment, we must leave this particular problem to prayer. And, he confessed, to tears.

God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being. (Joseph Campbell)

What Campbell perceives as metaphorical many have encountered as palpably physical, emerging from the encounter transformed.  This is typically an experience difficult to articulate.  But it becomes their very source of being.

From this source some are motivated to frenetic external action, others to placid mindfulness. Either seeming extreme to those outside the experience.

In all the great spiritual traditions we are also warned of our shared tendency toward error and corruption. We pollute direct experience with self-serving explanations or — even worse — confuse our finite understanding as encompassing the infinite.

God is being-itself.  After this has been said nothing else can be said about God as God which is not symbolic. (Paul Tillich)

In my particular tradition this is a day dense with symbolism.  It is our story that God has become human, infinite becoming finite, author and character are now as one.  In this synthesis many encounter a compelling metaphor for living authentically.

Our metaphor is replete with injustice, suffering, torture, and agonizing death. Also friendship, feasting, forgiveness, extravagant gifts and considerable drinking of wine. The master-metaphor is reinforced with a crowded collection of metaphorical set-pieces, most of which suggest tension and conflict as furrows from which love may flower.

Within this intricate system of metaphor, allegory and parable there are plenty of contradictions, but also intriguing coherence. Reasonable expectations are consistently overturned. There is unrelenting delight in words that surprise, shattering settled understanding, and seducing any having ears to radically re-imagine human possibility. It is a reality — close-at-hand, in-our-face — in which paradox is beautifully persistent, creatively prolific, and profoundly powerful.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (The Gospel of John)

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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

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December 21, 2014

In Memoriam

Filed under: Radicalization,State and Local HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 21, 2014

Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu

From Commissioner Bratton’s Saturday evening press conference:

Today, two of New York’s Finest were shot and killed, with no warning, no provocation. They were, quite simply, assassinated – targeted for their uniform, and for the responsibility they embraced: to keep the people of this city safe.

At approximately 2:47 PM today, Police Officer Wenjian Liu and Police Officer Rafael Ramos were assigned to a Critical Response Vehicle, CRVs as we refer to them, in the confines of the 79 Precinct.

While CRV is traditionally used for counterterrorism operations, this past May we also assigned some vehicles to Housing Developments throughout the city, Developments that has seen an increase in violence in the early part of the year, like the Tompkins Houses where the officers were stationed.

While sitting in a marked NYPD police car, in full uniform, both were ambushed and murdered in front of 98 Tompkins Avenue in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York City.

Both officers are assigned to 84 Precinct, but were posted at this location as part of a Department crime reduction strategy to address the complaints of violence in the area of the Housing Developments in that area. Officer Ramos was in the driver seat, and Officer Liu was in the front passenger seat beside him.

According to witness statements, the suspect, who has been identified as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, walked up to the police car. He took a shooting stance on the passenger side and fired his weapon several times through the front passenger window striking both officers in the head.

Officer Liu and Officer Ramos never had the opportunity to draw their weapons. They may never have actually seen their assailant, their murderer.

MORE

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December 19, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 19, 2014

William R. Cumming Forum

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December 18, 2014

We can see the future battle order

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

0210Russian Imperial Fleet under attack at Port Arthur (February 1904)

It sounds like a stupid film.  Good riddance.

But someone — almost certainly North Koreans, probably with paid help — successfully attacked and digitally destroyed a leading multinational corporation.

Then this week they made gratuitous threats of a Christmas Day kinetic attack.

Response so far: Basically total capitulation.

We have been warned of a Cyber-Pearl Harbor.

We probably just experienced our Battle of Port Arthur.  In making the comparison I do not predict the rise of an imperial Pyongyang.  But just as the Japanese showed the Russians (and others) that naval power was more than a European skill, we have been shown another powerful asymmetry arising.

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