May 6, 2016
April 29, 2016
April 22, 2016
April 15, 2016
April 8, 2016
March 28, 2016
This past weekend homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem had an op-ed in The Washington Post unfortunately titled (by the editors I’d assume…), “No, America isn’t 100% safe from terrorism. And that’s a good thing.”
Obviously provocative but, in my view, unnecessarily vague in regards to the point of the piece. But whatever. The important thing is the message:
Is my family safe?The answer is both simple and liberating: No, not entirely. America was built vulnerable, and thank goodness for that.
The flow of people and things, the movement to and within cities, the congregation of the masses that makes our lives meaningful, whether at church or at Fenway Park, are inherently risky. Our system (a federal government with limited powers, mayors overseeing police departments, governors directing National Guards) wasn’t designed to produce a seamless shield against every conceivable threat. Every day, more than 2 million passengers board planes at U.S. airports. The movement of goods and services — the expectation that everything from airline tickets to groceries can be purchased with just a few mouse clicks — is our lifeline. We’ve traded a measure of safety for convenience. And in our America, there are sometimes monsters under the bed.
Kayyem identifies the problem as the unwillingness of our leaders to speak the truth about our situation:
Threats constantly change, yet our political discourse suggests that our vulnerabilities are simply for lack of resources, commitment or competence. Sometimes, that is true. But mostly we are vulnerable because we choose to be; because we’ve accepted, at least implicitly, that some risk is tolerable. A state that could stop every suicide bomber wouldn’t be a free or, let’s face it, fun one.
And she suggests a path forward:
Yet we still live, often joyfully, in a world with gun violence. And drunk drivers. And disease. We implore government to allocate resources as best it can to minimize those risks. Once we move past our angst, this becomes the most rational way to approach terrorist violence.
Accepting these vulnerabilities means our safety can be measured and evaluated on three core premises: how well we minimize our risks, maximize our defenses and maintain our spirit.
The entire piece is worth your time reading, and worth sharing with friends, family, and loved ones who might not have a grasp on the concept of risk management.
March 25, 2016
March 21, 2016
With the declining state of campaign rhetoric during this political season, especially as it concerns immigration, Islam, and terrorism, I thought it appropriate to bring attention back to President Obama’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore last month.
If you missed it behind the sheer volume of campaign and other news, it is a speech worth reading or watching. The President hits on several important homeland security topics, while at the same time resisting the urge to frame the speech in simple security terms.
As a reporter from the Washington Post described it:
President Obama Wednesday delivered the comforting sermon to U.S. Muslims that their community leaders have been requesting for years, framing Islam as deeply American and its critics as violating the nation’s cherished value of religious freedom. Obama’s comments came in his first visit as president to a U.S. mosque.
The historic 45-minute speech at a large, suburban Baltimore mosque was attended by some of the country’s most prominent Muslims. In what appeared to be a counter to the rise in Islamophobia, Obama celebrated the long history of Muslim achievement in American life from sports to architecture and described Muslims as Cub Scouts, soldiers and parents, pointing out the mother of the pre-med college student who introduced him at the podium.
“There are voices who are constantly claiming you have to choose between your identities…. Do not believe them…. You fit in here. Right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too,” Obama said, his volume rising as he said he was speaking in particular at that moment to young Muslim Americans. “You’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American. And don’t grow cynical.”
You can read the text of the speech at the White House website here:
Or you can watch it below:
March 18, 2016
March 11, 2016
March 4, 2016
February 26, 2016
February 22, 2016
The short answer is emotion trumps probability.
There is a longer answer.
80 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks from 2004 to 2013, including perpetrators and excluding deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, the majority of which are combat related. Of those 80 Americans killed, 36 were killed in attacks that occurred in the United States. [emphasis added]
That’s about 1 death in the United States every 100 days for the past 10 years.
Reporting on a study published in the journal Psychological Science, Julie Sedivy writes:
From 2002 to 2015, the proportion of Americans worried that they or someone in their family would become a victim of terrorism increased from 35 to 49 percent—despite the fact that since 9/11, Americans were less likely to have been killed by a terrorist than by furniture falling on them.
Compare terrorism with traffic deaths.
The National Safety Council estimates that in 2015, “38,300 people were killed on U.S. roads, and 4.4 million were seriously injured, meaning 2015 likely was the deadliest driving year since 2008.”
That’s about 105 deaths and 12,000 injuries each day.
Imagine what life in the United States would be like if the deaths and injuries were the result of terrorism.
But as a nation we are resilient to vehicle carnage – “resilient” as defined by Presidential Policy Directive 21:
[The] ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions. Resilience includes the ability to withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.
Our national resilience allows us to absorb 105 vehicle deaths every day. Those deaths may be devastating for the families and friends involved. But the nation carries on. (One could make a similar national resilience argument for the 36 gun deaths every day, but that’s for another time.)
Mueller and Stewart, in Chasing Ghosts – their latest effort to bring economic rationality to the domestic terrorism wars – estimated “the yearly chance an American will be killed by a terrorist within the country is about one in 4 million….”
The yearly chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident are about 1 in 9,000.
What might explain why the odds of being killed by a terrorist (1 in 4 million) creates more fear than dying in a vehicle accident (1 in 9,000)?
Cass Sunstein, in an essays titled “Why People Stay Scared After Tragedies Like Boston Attack,” relies on behavioral economics ideas for a plausible explanation.
Often [the] feeling of fear is far greater than reality warrants. This is so because of two facts about how human beings respond to risk. The first is that we often assess probabilities not by looking at statistics, but by asking what events come readily to mind…. [P]eople use the “availability heuristic,” which means that we assess risks by asking whether a bad (or good) event is cognitively “available.” It is hardly unreasonable to use the availability heuristic, yet we can be misled by it, and far more frightened than we need to be….
The second problem is that for some risks, we tend to focus mostly on the possible outcome, and not so much on the likelihood that it will actually come to fruition. Much of the time … we really care about probability…. But when people’s emotions are running especially high, the outcome is the dominant consideration, and it can crowd out consideration of probability….
The lesson is straightforward. In situations that trigger strong negative emotions, people tend to focus on the very worst that might happen, and the question of probability turns out to be secondary…. When terrorists succeed in generating widespread fear, it is also because they get people to focus on terrible outcomes, and not on the likelihood that they will come about. Because strong emotions are produced by the prospect of a terrorist attack, people might well become more frightened than reality warrants.
February 19, 2016
On February 16th, DHS announced the release of FY 2016 Notices of Funding Opportunity for ten DHS preparedness grant programs totaling more than $1.6 billion.
From the announcement:
- Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG)—provides more than $350 million to assist state, local, tribal, territorial governments in enhancing and sustaining all-hazards emergency management capabilities.
- Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP)—provides more than $1 billion for states and urban areas to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism and other threats.
- State Homeland Security Program (SHSP)—provides $402 million to support the implementation of risk-driven, capabilities-based State Homeland Security Strategies to address capability targets. States are required to dedicate 25 percent of SHSP funds to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.
- Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI)—provides $580 million to enhance regional preparedness and capabilities in 29 high-threat, high-density areas. States and Urban Areas are required to dedicate 25 percent of UASI funds to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.
- Operation Stonegarden (OPSG)—provides $55 million to enhance cooperation and coordination among local, tribal, territorial, state and federal law enforcement agencies to jointly enhance security along the United States land and water borders.
- Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program (THSGP)—provides $10 million to eligible tribal nations to implement preparedness initiatives to help strengthen the nation against risk associated with potential terrorist attacks and other hazards.
- Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP)—provides $20 million to support target hardening and other physical security enhancements for nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack and located within one of the FY 2016 UASI-eligible urban areas.
- Intercity Passenger Rail – Amtrak Program (IPR)—provides $10 million to protect critical surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and increase the resilience of the Amtrak rail system.
- Port Security Grant Program (PSGP)—provides $100 million to help protect critical port infrastructure from terrorism, enhance maritime domain awareness, improve port-wide maritime security risk management, and maintain or reestablish maritime security mitigation protocols that support port recovery and resiliency capabilities.
- Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP)—provides $87 million to owners and operators of public transit systems to protect critical surface transportation and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of public transit infrastructure.
- Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGP)—provides $3 million to owners and operators of intercity bus systems to protect critical bus surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of bus transit infrastructure.
February 17, 2016
On February 16th, the United States District Court for the Central District of California issued an order compelling Apple to assist federal agents search an iPhone that belonged to one of the attackers in the San Bernardino shooting. You can read the court’s three page order here: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2714005/SB-Shooter-Order-Compelling-Apple-Asst-iPhone.pdf.
Lawfare’s Robert Chesney describes the legal dynamics surrounding the order here: https://www.lawfareblog.com/apple-vs-fbi-going-dark-dispute-moves-congress-courtroom.
On February 17th, Apple issued a public letter explaining why they will contest the court’s order. That letter is here: http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/
Trevor Pott, writing in The Register, explains why Apple’s argument is wrong. That explanation is here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/02/17/why_tim_cook_is_wrong_a_privacy_advocates_view/
A comment on Slashdot by someone named adamstew describes some of the technical details involved in doing what the court has ordered: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=8756397&cid=51524693
The subsequent comments bring the reader further down into a technology hole. The trip illustrates knowledge required to navigate this rapidly growing branch of homeland security.
For a conceptual end run around the usual cyber “going dark” arguments, see the Berkman Center for Internet and Society’s February 2016 report, “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate,” available here: https://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2016/Cybersecurity/Dont_Panic.
From the report:
In this report, we question whether the “going dark” metaphor accurately describes the state of affairs. Are we really headed to a future in which our ability to effectively surveil criminals and bad actors is impossible? We think not. The question we explore is the significance of this lack of access to communications for legitimate government interests. We argue that communications in the future will neither be eclipsed into darkness nor illuminated without shadow…. The report outlines how market forces and commercial interest … point to a future with more opportunities for surveillance, not less.