Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 13, 2015

“Security experts generally say to always have a backup and to never pay the ransom.” However….

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2015

From Networked World:

Megacode ransom paid to decrypt server shared by 5 law enforcement departments in Maine

After a law enforcement server shared by three city (town) police departments and a sheriff’s office was infected with ransomware and the cops in Maine chose to pay a bitcoin ransom to decrypt the files, what moral of the ransomware story did the sheriff learn? Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett told the Boothbay Register, “Next time, we’ll just pay the ransom on the first day and be done with it. It’s like a jail — it’s very safe and secure, but that can mean nothing if you leave the door unlocked.”….

Sheriff Brackett said he was “initially reluctant to pay the ransom” as it “goes against the grain,” but he authorized the payment [of around $300] “on the advice of specialists who were familiar with the ransomware and worked with other users it infected.”….

Looking for a bright side, Sheriff Brackett said the affected law enforcement departments are now “aware of such scams” and “how to deal with them.” More training is on the horizon, he said. “We’ll have more virus protection training where we go over how to tell if something might be a virus. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell, but you’ve got to keep an eye out for some of these documents that people (email) you. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if it contains a virus.”

Tracking down the cyberthugs behind megacode is allegedly a low priority for the FBI, which would neither confirm nor deny if it was investigating the ransomware dubbed a “common virus” by the sheriff who told WCSH6 that the FBI traced the bitcoin ransom payment to a deposit in a Swiss bank account before the “trail went cold.”

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Graphic display of how disease migrates

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2015

From Wired:

See How Diseases Spread in These Mesmerizing Graphics

YOU’RE AN H1N1 influenza virus—swine flu—just hanging out in Hanoi, Vietnam. But now it’s time to spread and infect. How should you go about your global epidemic? To navigate, you can use this map, which shows the paths that would take you from Hanoi to every corner of the globe. Want to go to Ft. Lauderdale? Just transfer in New York. Or, if you’d rather go to Baton Rouge, first go through Singapore and then New Orleans.

Disease spread graphic

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April 10, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 10, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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April 9, 2015

Signals: soft, hard, misleading and inspired

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

A very rough algorithm bounces about my brain.

It asserts: [Kenya + Aden = Lower Manhattan]

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

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

FOLLOWED BY

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

FOLLOWED BY

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

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

But the perceived pattern persists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Water, water everywhere…

california-drought-before-after 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there are really only two courses of action.

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

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

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

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

painted ship upon a painted ocean

 

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April 6, 2015

Another Opening Day has come and gone: the homeland is secure

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Arnold Bogis on April 6, 2015

Homeland security is a lot like baseball: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.

 

 

And don’t forget about similarities in regards to the response to natural disasters.

 

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April 3, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 3, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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April 2, 2015

“Du kannst übernehmen”

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

According to what is claimed to be the cockpit voice recording, the pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 told his co-pilot, “Du kannst übernehmen” (You can take over) as he left for the toilet.

Based on what we have been told so far, it’s easy to speculate about a still young man who felt increasingly out-of-control choosing to exercise deadly control where and when he could.  Perceived and prospective failure prompts a volatile combination of denial and over-compensation.

Compensation is a classic defense mechanism, one of eleven first identified by Sigmund Freud and his daughter. For the Freuds — Anna added considerably to her father’s original work — a defense mechanism is a psychological device for resolving conflict between the Id and Super-Ego: between instinctual or self-absorbed desire and more other-involved reason and restraint.

Freud describes the id:

It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the Dreamwork and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations… It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. (New Introductory Lectures)

Super-ego is a translation of Freud’s Über-Ich (over-I, beyond-me, transcendent-self).  It is the creation of family and society, an accretion of human experience translated into habit, moral principles, and ethical systems.  There are evolutionary foundations for our cognitive dispositions in this regard, but the specifics are taught and learned and practiced (or not).

There have always been sociopaths who indulge the id.  There have often been self-organizing groups that reject or warp received social norms. Violence is a recurring expression of their pathology.

In  1915 the world’s population was about 1.8 billion.  Today’s population is roughly 7.2 billion. Might sociopaths now be three-times more likely?

In 1915 the global population was predominantly rural, even the United States was (just barely) still a majority rural nation.  Since 1950 the global balance has fallen from 70 percent rural to under half.  Since 2008 — for the first time in human history — a majority live in cities.  Given current trends, 70 percent of the world population is expected to be urban by 2050.

Urban life tends to empower easier individuality.  In most cultures, urbanization challenges the institutions that transfer — and enforce — super-egoistic content.  Does urbanization multiply various forms of id-iocy?

Even if urban areas can be as effective as traditional rural societies in suppressing the id, the concentration of population in dense urban environments creates fatter targets, modern communications and transportation facilitates easier targeting, and contemporary tools of violence are more virulent than those of any prior age. Modern media casts its magnifying lens. So just a few id-dominant personalities can have amplified effect.

The dialectic of what the Freuds label id and super-ego arose in the earliest human communities.  For most of human history repression of the id has been a principal purpose and task of culture. Behavioral variation — good or bad — has encountered social skepticism and, often, negative sanction.  This persists.  But especially among third and fourth generation inhabitants of burgeoning cities, traditional ties are fraying and failing.

As an eccentric individual, I am glad to live in a time and place where I encounter less push-back than my trouble-making ancestors.  But I sometimes wonder if the shift from a social to individual center-of-gravity has become unsustainable.  In some cases I worry that culture has forsaken its role in building solidarity, becoming instead a self-subverting seedbed of variability.

Most of us are, at best, co-pilots. With sustained effort we claim a semblance of secondary or collaborative control over some well-defined corner of our reality.  All the rest is flux.  What do we make of the flux?  Is it frightening?  Or are we fulfilled in racing its rapids?  Are we lonely paddle boarders or part of a large team of rafters?

Have we been taught — more importantly, have we learned — the values of self-restraint and other-regard?

German is too complicated for me.  But I am told the prefix or preposition über – as in über-ich and übernehmen – is not necessarily about control.  Depending on the word to which it is attached we might hear transcendence or overcoming or elevation. On the Germanwings plane the co-pilot evidently chose to demonstrate his mastery over the machine.  He also demonstrated an absence-of-mastery over himself.

Treating symptoms is helpful, especially if there is no cure for the underlying disease. Perhaps homeland security must be satisfied with noble work analogous to hospice care. We mitigate pain as we await the inevitable.

But if we hope to advance a cure,  this will arise less from our reflex to übernehmen and emerge much more from our cultivation of über-ich.

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Confederate Capital’s Conflagration

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on April 2, 2015

Richmond evacuation fire

One hundred-fifty years ago today — and tomorrow — most of the core of Richmond, Virginia was consumed in flame.  We tend to romanticize the past and we can catastrophize our present. From a homeland security perspective our current situation is much less dire than the context reported below, even as the Union was successfully reclaimed.  This is a transcript from the Richmond Whig reported in The New York Times.

–+–

The evacuation of Richmond commenced in earnest Sunday night, closed at daylight on Monday morning with a terrific conflagration, which, was kindled by the Confederate authorities wantonly and recklessly applying the torch to Shockoe warehouse and other buildings in which was stored a large quantity of tobacco. The fire spread rapidly, and it was some time before the Fire Brigade could be gotten to work. A fresh breeze was blowing from the south, and the fire swept over great space in an incredible short space of time. By noon the flames had transformed into a desert waste that portion of the city bounded between Seventh and Fifteenth streets, from Main-street to the river, comprising the main business portion. We can form no estimate at this moment of the number of houses destroyed, but public and private they will certainly number six or eight hundred.

At present we cannot do more than enumerate some of the most prominent buildings destroyed. These include the Bank of Richmond, Traders’ Bank, Bank of the Commonwealth, Bank of Virginia, Farmers’ Bank, all the banking houses, the American Hotel, the Columbian Hotel, the Enquirer building on Twelfth-street, the Dispatch Office and job rooms, corner of Thirteenth and Main streets; all that block of buildings known as Devlin’s Block; the Examiner Office, engine and machinery rooms; the Confederate Post-office Department building; the State Court-house; a fine old building situated on Capitol-square, at its Franklin-street entrance; the Mechanics’ Institute, vacated by the Confederate States War Department, and all the buildings on that square up to Eighth-street and back to Main-street; the confederate arsenal and laboratory, Seventh-street.

At sunrise on Monday morning Richmond presented a spectacle that we hope never to witness again. The last of the Confederate officials had gone; the air was lurid with the smoke and flame of hundreds of houses weltering in a sea of fire.

The streets were crowded with furniture and every description of wares, dashed down to be trampled in the mud or burned up where it lay. All the government storehouses were thrown open, and what could not be gotten off by the government was left to the people, who, everywhere ahead of the flames, rushed in, and secured immense amounts of bacon, clothing, boots, &c.

Next to the river, the destruction of property has been fearfully complete. The Danville and Petersburgh Railroad depots, and the buildings and shedding attached thereto, for the distance of half a mile from the north side of Main-street to the river, and between Eighth and Fifteenth streets, embracing upward of twenty blocks, presents one waste of smoking ruins, blackened walls and smoking chimnies.

After the surrender of the city, and its occupation by Gen. WEITZEL, about 10 o’clock, vigorous efforts were set on foot to stop the progress of the flames. The soldiers reinforced the fire brigade, and labored nobly, and with great success. The flames east on Main-street, were checked by the blowing up of the Traders’ Bank about noon.

The flames gradually died out at various points as material failed for them to feed upon; but in particular localities the work of destruction went on until towards 3 or four o’clock, when the mastery of the flames was obtained, and Richmond was safe from utter desolation.

We regret to learn that a serious loss of life resulted from the blowing up of the powder magazine on the suburbs early on Monday morning. The shock was tremendous, jarring every house in the city, extinguishing the gas, and breaking a great quantity of glass in dwellings…. From that moment law and order ceased to exist; chaos came, and a Pandemonium reigned.  MORE

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April 1, 2015

Buhari elected in Nigeria

Filed under: International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on April 1, 2015

The election of the opposition candidate in Nigeria is a positive signal regarding prospects for democracy in Africa’s most populace nation.  The election of a retired army general with a predisposition to action promises to contrast sharply with the sometimes bizarre passivity of the current Nigerian president.  The election of a Muslim in a nation closely divided between Christians and Muslims,  plagued by Salafist violence, opens important opportunities for the entire region.

It is significant — and encouraging — that Buhari won in several states with a Christian majority.  (See map)

Less positive assessments could be offered of equal credence.  But as our friend Hegel has argued, “These do not contradict one another, one is as necessary as the other; and constitutes the life of the whole.”

Given the place of Africa in previous and prospective terrorist threats to the United States, the follow-on to this election is likely to have significant homeland security implications.

Lots of news coverage.  Vanguard, one of the leading Nigerian newspapers, is a reasonable place to start.  The Guardian is another respected outlet. Punch claims to have the most readers.

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March 31, 2015

Germanwings as mediated terrorism

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on March 31, 2015

I listened – if that’s the right word – to a social media conversation last week about the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash.

The discussants were four colleagues who have been around homeland security for over a decade. The discussion took place at various times on March 26th and 27th, as news and speculations about what happened and why trickled through the Internet.

Here’s some of that discursive conversation, lightly edited

———————————————

Person A. So, the French procureur just said that crashing a plane to the ground and killing more than 100+ innocent people is not an act of terrorism….thoughts? ( I know, I know… I am opening the can of worms of “define terrorism” but this seems to be a good reason to open it.)

Person B. This is easy! If he’s Muslim it’s terrorism. If he’s Christian it’s mental illness.

Person C. Can an act be deemed terrorism if the affected population isn’t terrorized? Any reports of Europeans en masse opting not to fly for fear on inadequate pilot screening procedures?

B. The first 19 Aum Shinrikyo attacks failed to terrorize the population too.

C. Yet, that incident is widely referred to as an act of terrorism…at least by the host government officials.

A. This just happened: ggreenwald It’s the definition. RT @AliAbunimah BBC just said Germanwings pilots “was German. Not a known terrorist.” They really do go by ethnicity.

A. Parents are still sending kids to school after sandy hook…..  But it is scary as hell!

C. Two things strike me as odd about this latest plane crash. 1) if the lone pilot was pursuing a murder-suicide plot, why fly the plane on into a mountain? Major urban areas were nearby and he had a near full load of fuel to get him to these areas. 2) why hasn’t AQ or ISIS claimed credit for the incident. Even if they had nothing to do with the pilot it could cause short-term terror in some.

A. I guess the question that troubles me here is, why do we need a big political motif as motivation? The imbecile in Santa Barbara killed 6 people because he could not get a date. That does not make his bullets less real. 100+ people are dead in an aviation suicide attack. Why are their deaths less “terrorist related” than those of the victims of 9/11?

B. Because the political motivation impacts the funding steam.  Did you know that the Santa Barbara shooter shot one of our colleague’s daughters through the hoody? He also shot her boyfriend.

A. Did both survive? (say yes).

B. Yes

B. Are you saying violence = terrorism?

A. Violence with an audience to send a message (even if the message is trivial) = terrorism.

B. Those impacted are just as traumatized.

A. Ritualized killings to provoke a reaction in an audience = terrorism. It does not have to be about Palestine. It may be about getting laid, or telling the department of veteran affairs “fuck you” or, whatever sick excuse.

C. What is the motivation of the perpetrator? Killers of people to scare other people that others are pursuing a like agenda = terrorism. Kill lots of people because you are having a difficult time adjusting to societal norms = mass murder.

B. But you aren’t saying it’s an excuse. You are saying it is the motivation. Some violence is good right? When we do the violence to send a message. Right?

A. It is its public nature.

B. When the state says fuck you and uses violence that is legit.

A. Carpet bombing Dresden or the Blitz killed a lot of people, but it was not a ritualized act.

B. My ass it wasn’t.

A. Instead, it had a strategic objective.

C. Violence may not be good but it is necessary.

B. It may have been less personal but it sent the message intended

A. (it was also a ritualized act) but not only. The objective was to limit the military capacities of the other to kick my butt.

B. And Hiroshima and Nagasaki did exactly what it was to do re: Russia? Really?

A. I had written something about Big Boy, and I deleted it, because the bomb was a ritualized act!

B. That may have been an additional benefit but our violence is often intended to send a message, take for instance the conventional fire bombings in Japan. Or Doolittle’s raid.

A. So, if I am pissed off with the IRS (I am not) and go and kill 40 accountants, in an IRS building, that is not terrorism?

B. Yep I’d say it definitely is terrorism.

A. So, if I am pissed off with girls because I cannot get a date, and I go and kill 10 girls is that terorism?

B. Refer to my initial statement about Muslim v Christian: If he’s Muslim it’s terrorism. If he’s Christian it’s mental illness.

C. Why is it terrorism?

A. That is my question, why is it not? Students in Santa Barbara are scared to go back to college.

A. And clearly there was an audience, and he even has a crappy manifesto.

C. Finals exams are due to start soon.

B. This is nature’s terrorism…now I’m afraid of the sky
nature's terrorism

A. Suicide: I jump from the golden gate. Got it. Terrorism: I kill 3000 to send a political message .

C. Was he trying to change the policies of the country or simply exacting revenge for a perceived wrong?

A.Who says that terrorism is about changing policies? That is, I think, the core of the divergence. Not all political acts are about changing policies.

C. Agreed.

B. Political or social change influence …

A. Fear.

B. Not necessarily policies.

A. To produce fear among those I despise.

B. Or just a broader audience beyond those directly impacted by the violence.

C. Correct. Just as not all mass killings are terrorism.

A. Fear, audience, death. I can agree with those.

B. But I believe there is state terror too. Not just sponsorship terror

C. So there must be death for it to be deemed an act of terrorism?

B. David Claridge made a great argument for this (even though I’m not a fan, he was right about this).

C. What about maiming or the threat of death?

B. No, threat is ok too.

A. Pain and suffering work too. Torture.

A. Ok. if we cannot agree on a definition, I’ll take the “keywords” we did agree on as a common denominator.

[break]

C. Okay, let me get this straight. We are fighting alongside Iran in Iraq, fighting against Iran (proxy) in Yemen, and negotiating with them regarding acceptable nuclear capabilities?

A. I don’t know anymore against who we are fighting in the middle east. :)

C. Everyone is the correct answer

A. I think this answers your question about who are we fighting in the middle east :) http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/1xg427/wait–whose-side-are-we-on-again-?xrs=synd_facebook_032715_tds_2

[The link connects to a Daily Show episode whose conclusion is the US has finally found a way to fight a proxy war against itself.  But back to the other topic.] 

Person D. [joining the conversation] Terrorism = violence or the threat of violence that is perceived as undermining state sovereignty or the ability of the economy and/or society to function. I.e., Germanwings was not terrorism but rather an act of mass murder and a terrible tragedy.

A. Another definition throws its hat to the ring! :) Only a credible challenge to the state sovereignty?

D. Why can’t these guys who want to off themselves just do it without murdering innocents in the process?

A. Given the fact that my mother in law is terrorized to fly right now, I will still call Germanwings a case of terror.

D. It doesn’t have to actually be credible, just perceived as such. Terrorism produces exaggerated fear.

A. So, is Aurora or Sandy Hook not terror?

D. Not perceived as a threat to sovereignty, society, and the economy. Now a wave of mass shootings at movie theaters or schools could then be perceived as such. But it would also need to be seen as non-random.

A. I see in our future a post where [everyone who works here] answers the question: what is terrorism? I know we will get as many answers as we have [people who think about this], and that will add to the concert of others who have also answered the question. Still…..

D. Ok by me as long as you all agree in the end that I am right!

A. We are not aiming for consensus, but to look for the edges of the debate. That said, once we have X definitions, we may want to see if they can be “merged” in a lower common denominator, ala wikipedia, or if they can’t, to see where the deal breakers are. Could be a nice exercise. And it does not need to be permanent. We could update every time our thoughts on the topic evolve. I know that what I think terror and terrorism is today is different to what I used to think about the topic a few years ago.

A. I’m also having a similar conversation with [other people on a different social network platform]. We came to a conclusion…. :) instead of ruling out terrorism, as this seems to be a point of debate, we could agree (if that is the case): “at this point, the attack does not seem to have a political or religious motif.”

C. Agreed. All signs point to the co-pilot having diagnosed emotional issues. So how many other post 9/11 security fixes can or could lead to unintended consequences? http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/andreas-lubitz-kneejerk-reaction-to-911-enabled-mass-murder-10137173.html

[This link leads to a story that starts with: "A leading aviation security expert has condemned the rules on cockpit access as a “knee-jerk reaction to the events of 9/11” – which, he says, enabled the Germanwings co-pilot to commit the mass murder of the 149 other people on Flight 4U 9525.]

A. It is terrorism, right? :-) http://speisa.com/modules/articles/index.php/item.1086/the-co-pilot-of-the-germanwings-airbus-was-a-convert-to-islam.html

You can’t make this stuff up.

[This link -- from one of the wondrous universes that inhabit the Internet - says (in an English translation of German), "All evidence indicates that the copilot of Airbus machine in his six-months break during his training as a pilot in Germanwings, converted to Islam and subsequently either by the order of "radical", ie. devout Muslims , or received the order from the book of terror, the Quran, on his own accord decided to carry out this mass murder. As a radical mosque in Bremen is in the center of the investigation, in which the convert was staying often, it can be assumed that he - as Mohammed Atta, in the attack against New York - received his instructions directly from the immediate vicinity of the mosque."]

C. He was converted posthumously.

A. So, is it terrorism now? http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2015/03/27/crash-a320-le-copilote-voulait-que-tout-le-monde-connaisse-son-nom_1230090
“One day everybody will know my name, I am going to change the system and everybody will remember me?” the pilot said to his girlfriend.
Is he trying to build a caliphate? No. But as we discussed before, killing 150 is hardly a suicide. He knew he was broadcasting to an audience, and he wants to make his mark in history books.
This is a powerful motivator…. A huge one actually among hackers, for example. A 17 year old who can hack a nuclear reactor will do it to prove he can….and kill somebody in the process.

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March 27, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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March 26, 2015

Yemen: Some fundamentals

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

This week the disintegration of Yemen appears nearly complete.

Long-time home of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemen has been an important area of operations for US, Saudi, and other counter-terrorist services.  Earlier this week both US and British military advisers were withdrawn in the face of escalating violence.

Many in the CT community consider AQAP the most direct threat to the US homeland. Since 9/11 AQAP has been implicated in several successful and unsuccessful attacks against the United States.

The collapse of the Yemeni central government, which has cooperated in operations against AQAP, will — at least in the near-term — likely enhance the terror group’s freedom of operation.  But AQAP may also be distracted by adversaries closer-at-home.

The current situation is fast-moving.  Following is some background information that may be helpful to your consideration of how the emerging outcomes could impact US homeland security.

Yemen_population_Chronicle

Yemen_religion_ethnicgroups

The maps above were developed by The Fanack Foundation of the Netherlands.  Other information on Yemen is available from the Fanack Chronicle.

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Dispensing with reason

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2015

Critique of Reason Poster

This week our recent discussion of reason (and its relevance, or not, to homeland security) is on hiatus.  We will see what next week may bring.  In the meantime, if you are traveling to New Haven or want to visit online, you may find this current exhibit of interest.

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March 24, 2015

Body Cam Ripples Will Become Waves

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Max Geron on March 24, 2015

We’ve only begun to see the reality of police work thanks to body cameras.

In March of 1989 the world was given an inside view of the profession that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of for the last 23 years when the television show COPS premiered on the FOX network. That was as close to the reality that thousands of others and I experienced in the ensuing decades than anyone has come to sharing.

Body cameras will do even more.

police lapel-camera-web

Just as body cameras are a disruptive technology, the ripples of the reality that officers face will be disruptive to American society.  We’ve already seen a glimpse of those ripples in the revelation of the Jason Harrison shooting that occurred on June 14, 2014 – the body camera video being released only a few weeks ago.

Many citizens are highly critical and raise doubt about the dangers of a man with a screwdriver. Many officers however, view the video convinced of the dangers that a screwdriver can pose.  Mere days after the Harrison shooting a teenager was attacked and stabbed (nearly to death) in Dallas with a screwdriver.

The point of this post is not to justify the actions of the officers. The purpose is to illustrate the divide in perceptions of threats and reasonableness of actions that appears to exist between many police and the general public, and how body cameras will continue to reveal that divide.

Body cameras will show the ugly realities that officers face. The cameras will fail to answer all of the questions or provide all of the information necessary to form a complete, educated opinion of any situation.  Additionally they will provide an opportunity to replay incidents like the Harrison shooting in frame-by-frame detail, giving opportunities to you and me that were never afforded the officers in the field.  The ability to do so is neither fair nor unfair to the officers, it just is the reality of the technology and world in which we live.  What we do with that ability is critical.

Furthermore, body cameras will continue to provide access to the confusion that comes in the midst of the most stressful situations an officer will likely ever be involved in. There will be seemingly irrational questions by officers about whether or not they should handcuff a dying man, or the yelling for the man to drop a screwdriver after he’s been shot.  To police officers, those commands are natural and make sense because officers are trained to give those orders.  They are not sitting at a screen watching the video, they are living with the adrenaline coursing through their system and working to control their very natural fight or flight responses.

We will see more videos where officers initial statements do not match exactly what the video shows.  In these highly stressful situations we can expect that because of the way the brain processes information – in part, we don’t know exactly on what the individual officers were focusing their attention when the incident occurred.  We already know that witnesses recall things differently and police are humans as well.  That will not stop attorneys from capitalizing when there are differences in officers’ recollections.  That will also not stop some critics from accusing officers of lying when it occurs.  That too is the reality and part of the disruption.

Get ready, because we will see videos of horrific accident scenes where officers arrive and swear a person was just talking to them when the video will reveal they were clearly not and were likely already close to death.   We will see the limits of individuals’ cognitive abilities when exposed to extreme stress.  The hope of the officers lies in the psychologists and medical experts to explain discrepancies in what officers had the availability of seeing and what they actually recall seeing.  So far most of the discussion has been by attorneys, unions, journalists and activists.

Transparency and open objective discussion along side research and clinical study on cognition under stress will be imperative to our understanding what happens during these critical incidents.  We will be witness to other scenes that, in fairness to all, will require more explanation and critical thought.  The videos will speak for themselves but be assured that what they say will in all likelihood not be the final word.

———–

Major Max Geron works for the Dallas Police Department. He is a security studies scholar who received his master’s degree in Homeland Security from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. The opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Dallas Police Department or the City of Dallas.

 

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March 23, 2015

Leaning Towards Stafford 2.0: The FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 1471)

Filed under: Disaster,General Homeland Security — by Quin Lucie on March 23, 2015

On March 19th, the Committee leaders for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management introduced a bill that might set the stage for significant changes to the Stafford Act, the primary source of legislation to provide federal disaster assistance.

The proposed law seeks to make important changes to specific federal disaster programs. These include providing protections and benefits to members of the Urban Search and Rescue System, making places of worship that provide essential services to the general public eligible for disaster assistance, providing eligibility for hazard mitigation funds to States receiving fire management assistance, and changing the threshold for utilizing simplified procedures for FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.

HR 1471 would also provide relief to individuals and States that were incorrectly awarded disaster assistance funds by FEMA, through no fault of their own, and prevent FEMA from seeking to recoup those funds after a period of time had elapsed, forcing the agency to “step up its game” even further to get awarding disaster assistance right the first time.

However, it is the reports and studies required by this proposed legislation that might result in the most significant impact. The reports seek to explore not just the way federal disaster assistance is delivered, but who is in fact responsible to deliver such assistance in the first place.

The first set of reports aims to improve the delivery of federal disaster assistance. FEMA would be required to report how it seeks to improve the transition of case files between rotating reservists, a longstanding issue for the agency. Another provision would require FEMA to report on the assistance available to commercial and governmental housing COOPS and condominiums. A third report would explore the different standards for electric utility facilities between FEMA and the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture.

A fourth report  might set the stage for fundamental changes to the Stafford Act.

Within 120 days of the passage of HR1471, FEMA, through its National Advisory Council (NAC), would be required to identify trends in disaster costs and contributing factors to these changes such as “shifting demographics and aging infrastructure.” It would also focus on those factors specifically contributing to federal disaster declarations. The NAC would  be tasked to identify all available forms of federal disaster assistance, how quickly these funds were used, and how they were coordinated, while also identifying what disaster costs are borne by the private sector and individuals. The NAC would also be required to look more generally at “mechanisms and incentives to promote disaster cost reduction and mitigation” and to “identify fundamental legal, societal, geographic and technological challenges to implementation.”

The data to be collected sets the stage for what would be the most important part of the NAC’s work: reporting on the “fundamental principles that should drive national disaster assistance decision making, including the appropriate roles for each level of government, the private sector and individuals.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since Congress last looked at these roles. This would be no easy task given the entrenched interests across the spectrum of disaster assistance. Moreover, any serious report would have to confront the difficult issue of whether certain forms of disaster assistance, such as flood insurance, over time, provide adverse incentives to reducing disaster costs.

But just because these questions might be hard to ask, and their answers difficult to hear, it could launch a long overdue, but sorely needed, debate about who is responsible for disaster assistance, who should bear and regulate the risks, and ultimately, who should pay.

————————-

Quin Lucie is an attorney with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and received his masters degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. The opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security or the Federal Government.

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