Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 6, 2014

Klayman appeal

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 6, 2014

Tuesday oral arguments were heard by the Federal Appeals Court for the DC circuit in a key case related to NSA mass surveillance.

Last December, finding for the plaintiffs in Klayman v Obama, Federal District Judge Richard Leon wrote,

I cannot imagine a more “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary invasion” than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on that “degree of privacy” that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.  Indeed,  I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to be beware “the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,” would be aghast. (Prior attention by HLSWatch)

Judge Leon stayed his injunction of further surveillance of citizen phone records pending appellate review, given the national security implications and, what the Judge called, “novel” privacy implications of the case.

Josh Gerstein, writing in Politico of Tuesday’s proceedings, perceives:

During oral arguments Tuesday, three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit seemed skeptical in various ways about the lawsuits that led to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s ruling last December that the NSA’s surveillance was likely unconstitutional.

Reporting for The Hill, Julie Hattem seems to agree:

Critics of the National Security Agency’s most embattled program harshly condemned the spying in a top appeals court on Tuesday. Judges, however, seemed largely skeptical of their claims that the spy agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was unconstitutional. Instead, they seemed to express a desire to reverse a lower court ruling nearly one year ago that called the NSA program “almost Orwellian.”

An audio recording of Tuesday’s Oral Arguments is available here.  I have not yet seen a transcript. Writing at the always informative Lawfare blog, Wells Bennett provides his own summary of the arguments.

Mr. Bennett is less inclined than the reporters quoted above to hear a predisposition in the three judge panel’s line of inquiry.  Bennett notes, “the day’s questioning was even-handed and vigorous, and exposed weaknesses in arguments advanced by both the government and plaintiffs alike…”

Before the end of the year appellate decisions are expected in three cases emerging from the Snowden revelations: Klayman v Obama, ACLU v Clapper, and Smith v  Obama.  If all meet with similar appellate findings, then no Supreme Court review is likely.  If they disagree — and depending on the nature of the disagreement — the Supreme Court is more likely to take action to resolve.

Late last year, just before the Klayman decision, Edward Snowden commented to the Washington Post, “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. “

A buddy in the intelligence community insists, “Snowden has made all of us less secure.”  A long-time lawyer complains of domestic surveillance, “It’s like an ulcer.  Maybe it originated with external stress, but now it’s eating us from the inside.”

What’s the right balance?  The courts are being asked to decide.

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Local conditions, globalized consequences

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 6, 2014

The following appeared in the November 3 edition of FrontPageAfrica, a leading Liberian news outlet.  The story was reported by Stephen D. Kollie.

As previously noted in Ebola Source Sitrep 3, there seems to have been an unexpected slowing of the Liberian rate of transmission. There are new reports this week, however, of increased transmission rates in neighboring Sierra Leone.  Here is the most recent WHO update.

There has been a remarkable absence of US broadcast media attention to Ebola as most of those treated for the disease in the United States have survived.  The “press” — digital and paper — has been much more attentive.

Late yesterday, President Obama requested a $6.18 billion special appropriation to combat Ebola.  According to the White House website, the funds will be used to

  • Fortify domestic public health and health care systems
  • Contain and mitigate the epidemic in West Africa
  • Speed the development and testing of vaccines and therapeutics
  • Establishing the capacity of vulnerable countries to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks before they become epidemics that threaten the American people.

–+–

Vahun, Lofa County - Barely seven months after the deadly Ebola Virus hit Lofa County, Liberia’s fourth most populated county (2008 national census) life seems to be returning to normal, but fear that the disease will resurface, exists among residents of the county. Schools remain closed, nonessential staffs working for the government; continue to remain home, while the culture of handshake, hugging and all forms of bodily contact is still prohibited.

At the crossing point, which connects Lofa and Bong counties, travelers are compelled by security officers to get of vehicles, wash their hands and undergo temperature screening. Those with high temperature levels are prevented from entering the Lofa County and refer to the local health authority for additional medical checks.

In Voinjama, the provincial capital of the county, posters of Ebola awareness messages are prevalent. Community radio stations still boom with anti-Ebola songs and messages. This, they say, is to remind residents that Ebola epidemic is not over yet. Many, including non-government agencies believe the disease spread because people did not believe in the existence of the virus.

“No one could listen when it was announced that Ebola is in town,” said Isaac Ballah, a local NGO worker in Voinjama City. Ballah told FrontPage Africa that nearly everyone in the city came to terms with the disease when a man showing signs and symptoms of the virus was seen lying at the entrance of the Lofa County Community college.

Ballah narrates that the suspected Ebola patient was lying helpless, vomiting and openly defecating as locals went to take a glimpse at the first apparent case, which signaled the coming of dark days. “After that morning, we all went home silently, with so much worried. The next day everyone picked up their clorax bottles and we stopped shaking hands and touching each other,” he said. “Few weeks later you could only hear the sound of ambulances everywhere and at the same time, see two to three pickups filled with dead bodies.”

All this epitomized the agony the people of the county were subjected to for months said Ballah. But for several weeks now, not many cases relating to the Ebola virus have been reported in the county. But residents are still taking safety seriously to prevent any widespread occurrence of the disease. They are skeptical in ruling out a new outbreak considering the county’s closeness to neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone with which it shares borders.

Nationwide, the numbers in Ebola cases seems to be declining as has been acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHOs Bruce Aylward on Wednesday confirmed the decline in the number of Ebola cases in Liberia.

“The actual number of newly reported cases is beginning to decline in Liberia and the government is driving a multi prone investigation, looking at multiple strands of evidence to try and understand, is this real, is this reporting phenomenon or is this care seeking phenomenal that’s changing? So far based on the information received today… it appears that the trend is real in Liberia,” he said.

Despite this good news authorities and citizens of Lofa are taking the good news with a bit of caution. In Voinjama, all general markets remain closed to prevent public gathering. Residents are forced to sell their produce during regular weekdays instead of Fridays, which is recognized as the official market day.

Zangota’s Patient zero

In Zangota, a small town just 45 mins from Voinjama City, where over thirty deaths were reported, the Ebola nightmare began with Krubo Mamaie, who traveled to the town for medication, says 33 year-old Luana Korvah, a mental health supervisor who was actively working with the county’s Ebola task force.

According to Korvah, Mamie had cared for her sick husband in Voinjama who died of Ebola and later left for her town when she also fell ill. She was referred to the Konia Health Center by local officials in Zangota, but died en route to the Foya Ebola Treatment Center because her condition had turned for the worse.

Said Korvah: “She and her husband had burial activities in Guinea, when they went back into the community the husband fell sick.” “She was then caring for the husband and later the man died. They took the man to Letisu for burial and those that took part in the burial ceremony, who did the bathing and all the other traditional things died.”

Korvah said many residents in the area did not believe it was Ebola rather they held the general opinion that their wells were poisoned and thus causing them diarrhea and other illnesses. The residents’ failure to accept the virus existence left nearly 70 persons dead in Zangota and the numbers continued to increase spreading to nearby towns and villages.

Now, after nearly eight months battling the deadly virus, it seems Ebola has taught many lessons in the county. Precautionary measures are the order of the day. Hand washing, no handshake is just a few preventive methods that are still being religiously practiced even though infections have slowed in a County which has lost nearly 200 persons.

Careful barbing

At a local barbing shop in central Voinjama, barbers use hand gloves, bleach and other disinfectant before barbing. Not many people are allowed to sit in the barbing shop to avoid bodily contact. “We are still scared and are doing everything possible to ensure that no one get infected in this shop,” Mohammed Sore, owner of the two brothers barbing shop told FPA.

He says while there has been no case of Ebola reported in the county for the past few weeks, he and his colleagues have not stopped the preventive measures and will continue until the country is declared Ebola free. “We will stop using the gloves and chlorine when we hear that Ebola is not in the country again,” said one of our fears is that we are close to the border and people are still coming in from Guinea,” he said Sow.

At the over 80-bed facility run by the medical charity group Medicines Sans Frontieres in Foya, all patients have been discharged with zero cases reported so far. All schools in the county remain closed as part of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s directive on the prevailing state of emergency in the country.

Non-governmental Organizations such as the Pentecostal Mission Unlimited (PMU Liberia) is moving in to help with preventive materials and support to many health facilities, as residents wait quietly to see a total eradication of the deadly disease. Residents of Lofa have seen hell; Ebola killed and obliterated entire families. Cultural and religious practices helped to rapidly spread the disease among community members who were also in strong denial of the virus according to residents.

Now, the numbers of cases being reported are few and no much news of suspected deaths in Lofa County. Hand washing buckets are still placed in nearly every household and those that cannot afford the bucket travel with a bottle of chlorine water just for protection against the deadly virus, which has killed a total of 2413 persons and infected 6535 individuals in Liberia alone.

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Harvard Public Health School and Reuters: Ebola fear, not science, driving policies

Filed under: Biosecurity,Media,Public Health & Medical Care,Risk Assessment — by Arnold Bogis on November 6, 2014

The news agency Reuters and the Harvard School of Public Health have a partnership to produce “Health Watch,” which according to the School’s website is: “a web series featuring expert analyses and comments about the latest developments in health news. This series is presented by The Forum at HSPH and the Harvard School of Public Health in collaboration with Reuters.”

In this episode, “Dr. Paul Biddinger, Associate Director of the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Public Health Preparedness, tells Reuters that fear is driving certain non-science based policies like the involuntary quarantine of health workers.” Dr. Biddinger also directs the School’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Exercise Program.

 

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November 5, 2014

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Arnold Bogis on November 5, 2014

fawkes

 

Thanks to Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare Blog for both reminding that blog’s readers that today is Guy Fawkes Day and for sharing the video below explaining the history of this holiday.

Many of you will recognize the picture of the Guy Fawkes mask above as worn by the group Anonymous and other protesters around the world.  I am not really sure how it came to be co-opted by these groups.

The title of this post comes from often repeated rhymes having to do with the holiday.  According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded version from 1742 read:

Don’t you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
‘Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made’em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away.

The story has to do with a plot to blow up Parliament with barrels of gunpowder hidden in the basement, with the aim to kill the King and Prince of Wales along with a large number of members.  The plotters were Catholics aggrieved by the anti-Catholic policies of the government.  Soooooo…..terrorists can be Christians?  Well how about that….

A day dedicated to a failed terrorist plot should merit some mention on this blog, no?

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RIP Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino: The Public Health Mayor

This week Boston laid to rest it’s longest serving mayor, Thomas Menino.  He served as mayor in Boston for 20 years.  Yes. That’s right.  Twenty years.

To his admirers he was known as the “Urban Mechanic,” as the Boston Globe describes, ”leaving to others the lofty rhetoric of Boston as the Athens of America, he took a decidedly ground-level view of the city on a hill, earning himself a nickname for his intense focus on the nuts and bolts of everyday life.” To some of his detractors (and even his supporters) he was referred to as “Mumbles,” for his less than soaring rhetorical skills.

This humble man from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston rose to national prominence, with former President Bill Clinton paying his respects before the funeral procession and Vice President Joe Biden attending the ceremony. Impressive for a politician recognized to have no political ambition beyond running his city.

What does this have to do with homeland security? For some time I’ve heard from various colleagues that preparedness, particularly health-related preparedness, had an unusual amount of political support in Boston. Public health and EMS were not simply the minor leagues to law enforcement and fire service major league players. But it became vivid when I read the following description from a food-orientated homage to Mayor Menino from The Atlantic food critic Corby Kummer:

But aside from the coddling and special treatment any mayor who shows up gets, Menino cared about food for exactly the reasons today’s food-movement activists do, and long before it was fashionable to embrace what food can and should mean: access to fresh produce for everyone of every income level; gardens as ways to unite and repair communities; and, most importantly, fresh food as a route to better health. The mayor told everyone, including his biographer, longtime Atlantic senior editor Jack Beatty, that he wanted to be remembered as “the public-health mayor.” That made him work particularly closely with my spouse, John Auerbach, who served 10 years as Boston’s health commissioner. 

So….apparently I missed this self-appointment.  After the fact it was easy to find further evidence of Menino’s interest in public health.  See the videos I’ve posted below.

Again, how is this related to homeland security? Two points that at least I think of are interest. 

 

A lot, if not the majority, of public health work does not seem to fall into the category of homeland security. Expanding access to fresh produce in low income communities, anti-smoking efforts, childhood vaccination campaigns, etc.  It’s not always about responding to the next Ebola outbreak.  Yet when taken as a whole, improving the health of the community in general improves overall resilience.  Healthy people fare better during and following disasters than unhealthy ones.  People with access to health insurance are more likely to visit a primary care doctor than the emergency room for common maladies, thereby not taking up vital resources during events like the Boston Marathon bombing. A healthier community is a more resilient community.

Menino’s attention to public health underscores the importance of political leaders in homeland security. I have often heard professionals complain about meddling politicians (along with the annoying press) and how events can be run more smoothly when they are absent.  Yet not only do they play an important role in communicating with the public during and following disasters, they make or influence the choices made in a community before there is a bad day.  Menino’s focus on public health not only improved the overall health of Bostonians, but contributed to the competence exhibited during the response to the Marathon bombing, from the existence of a Medical Intelligence Center to the cooperation between city agencies such as Boston EMS and Public Health with the private hospital systems.

It is comparing apples and oranges, but in thinking about this I could not help but contrast Boston’s situation with that of New York City.  Size and resource issues aside, NYC has spent the most energy on security instead of general preparedness since 9/11.  I am not arguing that there has not been a lot of resources directed towards preparedness and response activities and organizations, only that it is lacking when compared with the radical changes enacted in the NYPD and other agencies charged with preventing a terrorist attack. I think I could make the case that Boston, under Menino’s leadership, took a more all hazards approach while NYC, under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, remained primarily focused on terrorism. That is not a value judgement, but simply an observation.

If you are interested, the following video highlights many of Mayor Menino’s accomplishments in public health.  From the Boston Public Health Commission (which Menino created in 1996):

 

If you have a little more time, here is a longer discussion held at Harvard’s School of Public Health with Menino shortly after he left the Mayor’s office.  For those more security minded, at the beginning of the discussion he is asked and replies with a lengthy description of his point of view about the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing.

 

 

 

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November 4, 2014

And the Band Played On…

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jeff Kaliner on November 4, 2014

The other night I went to a high school football game.  Around me were many of the mothers and fathers of the boys who played on the field.  The parents watched as their young warriors relentlessly collided into one another. Occasionally they would cheer as bodies and heads were repeatedly smashed, banged, bruised and bashed.

It occurred to me that these children were being actively encouraged by their parents to engage in this violent and injury prone sport. The fierce and brutal actions taking place on the field were not just being condoned by their caretakers, they were being rewarded by hand claps and ovations.

As I watched these parents, I wondered how many of them would let these same children get anywhere near a returned Ebola health care worker who had tested negative for the disease and had shown no sign of the illness.

————————————

Several weeks ago a few headlines were made by the fact that three high school football players had died within days of each other.  Many of these articles cite a 2013 study from the American Journal of Sports Medicine that found football related fatalities in college and high school averaged 12.2 per year.  That averages out to about 1 per every 100,000 participants.

If we drill down a little further we find another 2013 study from the Institute of Medicine shows that high school football players suffer 11.2 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures (games or practices). Obviously these statistics do not include the thousands of high school football players who end up in the emergency department every year with dislocated shoulders and hips; broken bones; blown out knees and various other serious injuries.

Certainly Ebola has a much higher fatality rate than playing high school football. However, as it stands, the risk of contracting Ebola in this country is minuscule.  On the other hand, evidence with regards to the risks of high school football is increasing and yet only a muted outcry has reached the public through our media megaphone.  In other words, we know that putting our children on a football field is full of potential risk, both in the short and long term, and yet the band plays on.

————————————

At this point, evidence is suggesting that highly conservative quarantine measures for returning Ebola health care workers are unwarranted if proper protocol is exercised and actual cases are successfully isolated. Overly conservative quarantine measures may not only be medically unnecessary, they also have other possible unintended consequences: a threat to our constitutional liberties, economic disruption and the potential to limit the effort and ability of health care specialists to treat the outbreak where it is actually located.

Bumping up the incredibly small risk of contracting Ebola against the increasing risks of intentionally placing adolescents into a dangerous and violent contact sport is a fascinating riddle ripe with many of the problems that confront our current zeitgeist. For example, ignoring research findings that don’t agree with prevailing political ideology or concerns. Or, a cultural belief system that still places football in the same innocuous category as apple pie and Chevrolet. It also speaks to an ethical dilemma that puts profit over people.

On a hopeful note, the numbers seem to be shifting. There appears to be a downward trend in the amount of children participating in formal football programs.  Like the cigarette wars of decades past, the real threat posed by football to the masses will probably take many years to seep into our collective conscious. However, unlike the more hidden damage of threats like smoke and other inhaled pollutants on the body, the visceral effects of football are immediately discernible, real and deadly in both the short and long term.

So what’s the problem?

————————————

Donald Michael, in one of his many fascinating essays on meeting an increasingly complex future, posits that:

Arguably, the most profound threat to the development of a planetary civilization is the inability of leaders to admit that there are fundamental circumstances with which we must deal that cannot be acknowledged. In part this is because to do so would require confessing that, as of now, we do not know how to deal with them. What is more, this inability to acknowledge this mute state of affairs is also part of the situation that cannot be acknowledged. (Leadership’s Shadow: The Dilemma of Denial)

To be clear, I don’t necessarily believe the issue of high school football falls into this category. President Obama recently had the temerity to state that he would not let a hypothetical son play the game. However, he seemingly doesn’t know how to deal with the larger problem. Regardless, it’s far simpler to ring our collective hands about a scary and infotainment ready threat like Ebola than to deal with the complex machinations of the football industrial complex.

Ultimately, there is one given in my Ebola vs. high school football question.  Although parents cannot protect their children from the possibility of contracting the disease (however slight the risk) they can powerfully deal with the real short and long term ravages of the game.  They can simply “just say no”.

————————————

Jeff Kaliner is a public health emergency preparedness professional with twelve years in the field. As a child and adolescent he spent an unreasonable amount of time thinking about and playing sandlot and high school football. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Science in Education from Northern Illinois University.

 

 

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November 1, 2014

Ebola source sitrep 3

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 1, 2014

The World Health Organization released a new data summary late on October 29.  A few highlights:

The growth rate of transmission in West Africa seems to have slowed, especially in hardest hit Liberia.  This has surprised most close observers who suggest it is either the result of unrecognized and under reported transmissions or is a temporary trough in what can be a wave-like pattern on the part of the virus.

The region’s anti-Ebola capacity is much stronger now than at the beginning of October.  Several new diagnostic labs and treatment facilities are now in place (see map below).  Clinical personnel are more numerous and better equipped. Some have suggested the reduced transmission rate is the outcome of interventions — educational, clinical, and logistical — put in place over September and October.

Ebola Treatmentt

Despite this good news — or pause in worse news — a new scientific analysis published on Thursday concludes, “Under status quo intervention, our projections indicate that the Ebola outbreak will continue to spread, generating a predicted 224 (95% CI: 134 – 358) cases daily in Liberia alone by December…”  For the week ending October 25 fewer than 50 probable cases were reported in Liberia.

The key factor may be “status quo intervention”; how much effort, targeted where, will have the most effect?  It is widely recognized that the West African outbreak is the result of a failure to intervene early and effectively, before the virus was able to spread in dense urban environments.  The best evidence for this analysis being what has happened with an unrelated, but parallel, cluster of Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The first Ebola death in the DRC was on August 11.  The role of Ebola was identified before the end of August.  Aggressive public health measures were taken to isolate and treat those with the virus.  (Other factors probably helped.)  There have been a total of sixty-six cases and forty-nine deaths.  It has now been eighteen days since the last new case was identified.  The transmission cycle was contained and has apparently been stopped.

Public education and community involvement are, many emphasize, fundamental to this sort of success.  The same analysis projecting potential exponential growth in the number of West African Ebola victims found that four behavioral adjustments could produce a rapid decline in transmission (see chart below).  Of particular importance is a change in burial practices.  The “status quo” being studied was the situation in mid-September. Several of the practices have been increasingly adopted since.  Already enough to produce the recent declines?

Ebola 4 Interventions

Since the West African Ebola cases first emerged, many at HLSWatch have suggested that for the United States this is mostly an opportunity to “run the traps” for a much more easily transmitted, much less treatable infectious disease.  Important issues have surfaced related to early identification and treatment, clinical protocols, clinical training, and quarantine policy, strategy, and practice.

Some potentially less obvious lessons:

Isolation matters:  The economic isolation of eastern Guinea produced a level of poverty that resulted in hunting bats for food.  When a child and then his family members died of bat-borne Ebola they did not receive medical attention. The virus was given time to multiply.  In urban Monrovia the poverty-stricken West Point slum has been the epicenter of transmission.  The population’s lack of connectedness with wider society has impeded the application of effective public health strategies.

Culture matters:  Washing, caressing and otherwise honoring the body of dead family members has been a particularly virulent vector for transmission of the disease.  Working respectfully within the culture it has been possible — with remarkable speed — to adjust cultural behaviors.

Community matters:  Connecting those who were disconnected and building trust where there was little or none has been a precondition to adjusting population behaviors and bending the transmission curve.  Facilitating and supporting community self-organization has again and again been a big part of the public health approach.

Media matters:  Mass media and social media can significantly influence the velocity of public attitudes for both good and bad.   How to influence the velocity of media attention is, I suggest, quite similar to how we effectively engage the virus itself.  Think about it.

Reasoning matters:  Chris’ Tuesday post – and Haidt’s claim — have clearly been on my mind all week.  For what it’s worth, I perceive Haidt was mostly critiquing a tendency by some to perceive reason as self-evident and to dismiss those too stupid to recognize the obvious.  In this regard I agree with Bellavita and Haidt.  The noun can be pretentious.  But the verb — reasoning — when undertaken in a way that embraces culture, community, and respectful communication is the best tool we’ve got.

Maybe this is an opportunity to run the traps on more than the next infectious disease.

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October 31, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 31, 2014

On this day in prior years there have been horrifically deadly cyclones, propane tanks have exploded in the midst of a crowded fairground, and of course we have killed each other for various reasons and in a variety of ways.

It is also Halloween which is a curious — and an increasingly commercial — custom organized around otherness and fear and death.  In my tradition it is also known as All Hallows Eve when the community honors its dead.

Three years ago Chris Bellavita suggested I read Mary Ruefle’s essay on fear.  I did not entirely agree with her, but being in conversation with Ruefle may well have changed my life.  I have only realized the full impact rather recently.  You can also read her essay courtesy of the Poetry magazine website.

Ruefle ends her piece with a paragraph that strikes me as especially appropriate for those of us involved in homeland security:

What has life taught me? I am much less afraid than I ever was in my youth—of everything. That is a fact. At the same time, I feel more afraid than ever. And the two, I can assure you, are not opposed but inextricably linked. I am more or less the same age Emily Dickinson was when she died. Here is what she thought: “Had we the first intimation of the Definition of Life, the calmest of us would be Lunatics!” The calm lunatic—now that is something to aspire to.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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October 30, 2014

Follow the money

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014

DHS BUDGET VISUAL

The graphic shows the rough 2014 budget proportions for the Department of Homeland Security.  The $45 billion figure for the DHS budget is based on an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

Late last week I was showing this pie chart to some graduate students who are exploring homeland security. They are on the edge of completing their law degrees, PhDs, or graduate studies in other fields. But they are interested enough in homeland security to have competed for and been selected for a Graduate Fellowship program at Rutgers University.

I asked, “What do you see?”

“It’s mostly about the border,” said one.

“Excluding the other,” said another

“Fear of the other.”

“Fear of each other.”

A young lawyer suggested this was a narrative theme — an analytical predisposition — that frames how we experience and make sense of reality. He and most of his peers agreed there was some evidence to support the  narrative. But we allow it to shape our orientation well beyond the evidence.

This is not where I was planning to take the discussion.  I was better prepared for a wonky consideration of incremental budgeting, legacy missions, Congressional oversight, etc., etc…

But I did not try to redirect.  We went with “otherness” as a homeland security problem.  Look again, you will see what they saw. Even if you can see other things and offer other explanations, I suggest their fresh eyes are not inaccurate.

It’s an interesting angle on reality, especially coincident with enhanced security being announced — despite the lack of specific threat intelligence.

Toward the end of Jean-Paul Satre’s play “No Exit”, a character proclaims, “So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE! (“L’enfer, c’est les Autres.”)

Most of us have experienced this unhappy truth. But many of us have also experienced, “without a you and an I, there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love but “mine” and “yours”… This is indeed the case everywhere, but not in love, which is a revolution from the ground up. The more profound the revolution, the more complete the distinction…” (Søren Kierkegaard). Without the other we are profoundly diminished.

Two antithetical intuitions equally true, depending on our attitude and the situation. A wicked problem? If so, extending well beyond homeland security.

How can we reason together through this paradox? Without the skill, discipline, and ethic of social reasoning we must defer to the mercy of randomness. I have often found randomness quite generous. But I aspire to — and have experienced — much more.  I know something about social reasoning in small groups.  Elinor Ostrom and others have told me interesting things about social reasoning in larger groups.  Is facilitation of social reasoning an appropriate tool of homeland security?

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No Ebola sitrep yet

Filed under: Biosecurity,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014

As of early Wednesday morning the WHO had not released updated data on the Ebola transmission rate in West Africa.  Given the rest of my life, I have to pound out a post before 0900 on October 29 if I am to get you anything on October 30. There are related reports that I might share, but it is probably more helpful to minimize my contribution to the noise level until some meaningful signal is available.

UPDATE

Late on Wednesday afternoon WHO released an update.  Here it is.  Received too late for my further analysis.

By the way, trying to seriously follow major trends and events in order to have something to write to you each Thursday is a very helpful intellectual and temporal discipline.  I would not know half what I know about Ebola if I was not trying to fulfill my relationship with you.  Thank you.

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Big bad but not even a CAT 1

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014

Sandy Track

Sandy taught important lessons.  Maybe not every student who encountered her teaching has learned as much as she offered, but few went home without a bit more wisdom.

There are several of Sandy’s students — especially after a couple of beers — who will explain the difference between a local emergency and a regional disaster.  Some will admit that after Sandy they see how a disaster, especially in a dense urban context, can detonate the whole web of modern interdependencies.  Just a few more two years ago and very bad might have become catastrophic.

A tough teacher in the school of hard knocks.  But some — enough? — are better prepared for the worse still to come.

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October 28, 2014

Shooting ebola

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 28, 2014

“The worship of reason is… an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion. It’s the idea that reasoning is our most noble attribute….”

Jonathan Haidt wrote those words in his book, The Righteous Mind.

…we must be wary of any individual’s ability to reason.  We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron.  A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire a pulse along its axon.  A neuron by itself isn’t very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way, you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons…. But if you put individuals together in the right way…, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.

I don’t believe that emergence is happening yet.

Assuming ebola does not turn out to be the 21st century version of the Black Death, people are going to be studying the transmission of ebola fear, misinformation and ignorance for decades. (On that point, check out Irwin Sherman’s engagingly flat recitation of “Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World.”).

Some preliminary data points, from a pool too wide to sample, even superficially.

– What is the DHS Secretary’s “real motive in refusing to restrict travel from West Africa?”  A writer on a website that boasts it has been thinking for ten years discovers “a link” between DHS Secretary Jey Johnson and black power politics. The argument is painful to unpack (you can read it here ), but the conclusion is “…the long-dead communist [Stokely] Carmichael’s dream of sticking it to ‘whitey’ via the White House and its apparatchiks is coming true.”   Michelle Obama is also partially to blame; but I could not quite figure out how or why.

– From Harpers – Giant Microbes, a web retailer, reported that its $9.95 Ebola plush toy, whose product tag describes the virus as “the T. Rex of microbes,” had sold out worldwide. I checked.  It’s true.  Giant Microbes can’t start shipping  ebola plush toys until mid-November.

– And hold those holiday travel plans. North Korea – wanting to upstage the United States again -  plans to ban foreign tourists because they might spread ebola.

– The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt looks to save readers from researching who’s to blame for… well, ebola in America. Here’s what he’s gathered:

• President Obama, for caring about Africans more than he cares about us.
• Republicans, for starving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of funds so it could not prepare for Ebola.
• Michelle Obama, for tricking the CDC into promoting exercise and healthy eating instead of preparing for Ebola.
• Liberians.
• Republicans, for starving the National Institutes of Health of funds so that it could not discover a cure for Ebola.
• The NIH, for squandering the ample funds generously appropriated by Republicans on lazy bureaucrats and self-indulgent research.
• Democrats and Republicans, for forcing the NIH to spend money on illnesses with well-organized constituencies (e.g., cancer) and not in areas with the most potential return on investment.
• Sierra Leoneans.
• Republicans, for denigrating Washington so regularly that good people don’t want to serve in government.
• Democrats, for coddling government unions that drive good people out of government with mindless anti-meritocracy.
• President Obama, for not standing taller against denigration of government service or coddling of government unions.
• The World Health Organization, for missing the ball as the epidemic bloomed.
• Obama, for not listening to the World Health Organization’s warnings on Ebola.
• Anti-smoking activists, for pressuring the World Health Organization to detour from its core mission.
• Guineans.
• The National Rifle Association, for opposing a nominee for surgeon general because he wanted to reduce gun violence.
• Congress, for taking orders from the NRA.
• CDC Director Thomas Frieden, for not keeping that nurse off the airplane.
• NIH official Anthony Fauci, for not telling Frieden to keep the nurse off the plane.
• Obama, for not at least banning dogs with Ebola from airplanes ….
• Ron Klain. He was appointed Ebola czar …. Why hasn’t he solved the problem yet?
• Africans.

– Tara Haelle adds to the collection:

In one corner of the Internet, we learn that President Obama created the Ebola virus—or Obama-Ebola—to “infect the DNA of Christians and to destroy Jesus so that a New Age of Liberal Darkness can rise in America.” Obamacare, we are told, is the cover organization to find the cure, and the virus will infect all Americans in the next month.

In another corner, we learn that Ebola doesn’t actually exist at all. The disease currently raging through West Africa was brought there by the Red Cross, who injected people with an illness so that American troops could be sent to steal Nigeria’s oil and Sierra Leone’s diamonds. Another explanation is simple: All the negativity and selfishness in the universe caused Ebola. Yet another tells us that two women who died from Ebola have risen from the dead and that the zombie apocalypse is beginning….

Haelle claims the last rumor is not true.

– Andy Borowitz may have the most accurate reports.  Some of the headlines over his recent stories:

Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News

Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Quarantining Wolf Blitzer 

Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes

Christie Sworn in as Doctor  (Saying that he was “sick and tired of having my medical credentials questioned,” Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) had himself sworn in as a medical doctor on Sunday night.)

– Here’s something not as amusing. It’s from Mark Thiessen in the Washington Post:

Ebola has up to a 21-day incubation period — more than enough time for terrorists to infect themselves and then come here with the virus. In a nightmare scenario, suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place — say, shopping malls in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta — spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids….  Or, the virus could also be released more subtly. Terrorists could collect samples of infected body fluids, and then place them on doorknobs, handrails or airplane tray tables, allowing Ebola to spread quietly before officials even realize that a biological attack has taken place.

There’s lots more of this “fearbola”.  But that’s enough for now.

—————————————-

We will all die.  Something’s going to get us at some point.  But what are the odds?

Justin Schumacher summarizes data from the National Safety Council on the odds of people in this country dying from a variety of causes.  His full list is here.    Some excerpts:

  • 1 in 5 [deaths]—Heart disease
  • 1 in 7 —Cancer
  • 1 in 23 — Stroke
  • 1 in 67 — Influenza, i.e. the flu
  • 1 in 112 — Car accident
  • 1 in 2,000,000 — Ebola (worldwide odds, so far)
  • 1 in 3,700,000 — Bitten by a shark
  • 1 in 10,000,000 — Hit by falling airplane parts
  • 1 in 20,000,000 — Killed by a terrorist

Not that data means that much to anyone whose mind is made up.

———————————

Three more children died in a school shooting on Friday.

It’s the 50th shooting this year and the 87th since the December 12, 2012 killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Also on Friday, two California sheriff’s deputies were murdered.

In 2011, 32,351 people died from firearms, that’s roughly 88 people a day.

… Gun violence — in schools, in workplaces and across our communities — has become virtually normal in America,” writes Eric Liu

It should not be. It cannot be. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to have over 30,000 gun deaths a year. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to expect educators and parents and first responders to have plans at the ready for a shooting at their school. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to assert that the best solution to gun violence is for more people to have more access to more guns.

———————————

I know a guy whose 13 year old son, in passing, mentioned something about another boy in his class.

“Stacy said ‘It would be really easy to kill someone.  All you’d have to do is take a gun, pull the trigger, and there’s a bullet in their head’.”

Not a big deal.  My friend’s son didn’t feel threatened.

“He’s always saying stuff like that.  He likes to shock people. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”

———————————

So, what is a delusion?  Haidt again:

…a false conception and persistent belief unconquerable by reason in something that has no existence in fact.

 

 

 

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October 26, 2014

Embracing diversity

Filed under: Biosecurity,Border Security,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 26, 2014

obama pham(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

None of us much like what we perceive as mixed messages.  But many of us seek out diverse sources of information.

I am — as regular readers know too well — a big fan of diversity.  It is an intellectual and aesthetic preference, almost certainly a personality predisposition.

Diversity is also a key characteristic of resilience.  The more diverse a system the less prone it is to catastrophic collapse, the more creative combinations that exist the more likely the system (or sub-system) is to resist and, if necessary, rebound from challenges.

I am personally skeptical of most efforts to reduce variance, increase consistency, and especially any tendency to reserve decisions for some centralized authority.  I am aware such approaches can generate benefits.  But there are also trade-offs and I perceive we too often accept the trade-offs without recognizing what we are giving away.

Since Thursday I’ve been in Newark and New York.  The confirmation of Ebola in a physician who returned to New York after treating patients in West Africa has caused concern.  On Friday Governors Christie and Cuomo, acting more on their political instincts for advancing the common good than expert medical advice, announced a strict quarantine requirement for health care workers returning to JFK and Newark International airports.  This exceeds federal requirements. (Illinois soon followed for those arriving from West Africa into O’Hare.)

I was busy, but as I watched the local news a bit and read the reports I was pleased to see this diversity emerge.  I like it when state and local leaders exercise their best judgment and authority.  I respect political judgment, especially when it relates more to how human social systems actually operate and less about the next election.  I found the non-partisan, reasoned rhetoric of the Governors and Mayor de Blasio mostly helpful.  Medical therapies and social therapies can diverge.

At just about the same time, or at least during the same news cycle, President Obama was purposefully — and a bit awkwardly to my eyes — hugging nurse Nina Pham (above) who has recovered from the Ebola she contracted at her hospital in Dallas.  The intended message was, I hope, clear enough.  For the more literal minded, the President followed up explicitly in his weekly media message.

Meanwhile… Kaci Hickox a nurse arriving at Newark from Sierra Leone, asymptomatic, and according to a preliminary test virus-free, is nonetheless being kept in a 21-day quarantine against her will.  She writes in the Saturday Dallas Morning News:

I am a nurse who has just returned to the U.S. after working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone – an Ebola-affected country. I have been quarantined in New Jersey. This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me.

I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine… (The nurse continues with a rather horrific story of her welcome to the United States.  You should read it.)

The epidemic continues to ravage West Africa. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that as many as 15,000 people have died from Ebola. We need more health care workers to help fight the epidemic in West Africa.  The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.

The ACLU has announced it will take action challenging the New Jersey quarantine order.

Then as if to put into even sharper contrast the different angles on reality alive in Trenton, Albany, and Washington DC, on Sunday morning I read our UN Ambassador Samantha Power is in West Africa.  She has already visited the Ebola wards.  Should she be quarantined in isolation on her return?  Or in deference to separation of powers, will a sanitary cordon of the Ambassador’s residence at the Waldorf be sufficient?

Thursday and Friday I was mostly impressed with how New York local-media was handling the story. Saturday I was too otherwise engaged to notice. Now early on Sunday morning there is a nearly palpable urgency to take sides… or, if one does not feel confident/competent to choose sides, to bitterly complain regarding the incompetence of the “authorities” who should have had this sort of risk fully thought-through.  ”It’s not tight”, the President himself has complained.

In my experience reality is seldom tight. At a certain point working to make it tight strips the threads and even breaks the head.  Can we learn to engage diversity affirmatively, creatively, even systematically, as a potentially positive — in any case, persistent — aspect of reality?  In dealing with complex risks, I have found this to be an especially productive option.

MONDAY UPDATE:

According to several news sources, New York will “loosen” its screening protocols.  Here’s a bit of the AP report:

Gov. Cuomo back peddled Sunday on his insistence that medical workers returning to New York from Ebola-stricken countries would have to undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine at a government-regulated facility

The governor, in a joint news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio, said health care workers and citizens who have had exposure to Ebola patients in West Africa will be asked to stay in their homes for the 21-day quarantine.

During the 21 days, the quarantined person will be checked on twice a day by health care professionals to take their temperature and evaluate their condition, Cuomo said.

Here’s the official statement from the Governor’s office.

Constant change in response to feedback, adapting to new information (new expressions of reality) is another feature of diverse and resilient systems.  And just to be clear: in the most resilient systems while change is constant a core-coherence persists.  Which highlights the big difference between consistent and coherent, between control and collaboration…

SECOND UPDATE:

According to NJ.com and other news outlets, Nurse Kaci Hickox will now be allowed to quarantine at home in the state of Maine. The New Jersey Governor’s office released a transcript and video to provide context for this shift.

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October 24, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2014

On this day in 2008 several leading stock exchanges experienced sharp declines that continued for a period of several months.  Was this a Black Swan?  Was this a Lévy flight?  Was this an expression of Self Organized Criticality?  Are catastrophic cascades the inevitable outcome of dense interdependencies in any system?  Electrical grids… supply chains… watersheds… fisheries… human populations?

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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The Homegrown Jihadist Threat Grows

Filed under: Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2014

In today’s — October 24 — Wall Street Journal, former Senator Joseph Lieberman and former senior Senate staffer, Christian Beckner (this blog’s founder) share the byline in the top-of-the-page op-ed.  They focus particular attention — as each has for many years — on the role of online radicalization.

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October 23, 2014

Ebola source sitrep 2

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on October 23, 2014

This is the second in an irregular update on efforts to slow and eventually stop the rate of Ebola virus transmission in west Africa.  The risk of transmission in the United States is a function of the rate of transmission at the source.

It is important to acknowledge issues with data quality.  Over the weekend a piece in Science magazine noted, “… it’s widely known that the real situation is much worse than the numbers show because many cases don’t make it into the official statistics. Underreporting occurs in every disease outbreak anywhere, but keeping track of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has been particularly difficult. And (as) the epidemic unfolds, underreporting appears to be getting worse.”

Still the data that is collected can help us understand some broad dynamics of transmission.

Yesterday afternoon — October 22 — the World Health Organization released a progress report on their response roadmap.  It provides details through the end of last week for all known cases of Ebola, but focuses primarily on the situation in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.  Following is a timetable for transmission of the virus in Liberia and metropolitan Monrovia. Similar charts are available for Guinea and Sierra Leone in the online report.  The report also provides updates on treatment centers and other interventions underway.

WHO_liberiaClicking on the image will generate a larger version

CITYA.M., the City of London business publication, has produced a helpful visual analysis of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, so far the hardest hit of the the three nations at the epicenter of the outbreak.  These maps communicate the crucial role that population density plays in transmission. They also suggest how the virus moved along human networks from the index case in southeastern Guinea into Lofa County and quickly to the economic/social/political center of metropolitan Monrovia.

Liberia density and number

Liberia per 100,000

MORE from CITYA.M.

While US media focus on early indications that transmission has been contained in the Dallas case, at least as important is the news that the Nigerian public health system has successfully contained an initial set of transmissions in densely urban Lagos.  Fundamental to this Nigerian success was a well-organized existing public health infrastructure and network of human expertise. An effective anti-polio process was essentially repurposed to rapidly contain a new infectious threat. Strategically it is important to recognize this was the adaptation of an existing capacity, not an ad-hoc insertion of a special or reserve capability.

According to the Associated Press, in Nigeria “Health workers tracked down nearly 100 percent of those who had contact with the infected, paying 18,500 visits to 894 people.”

The absence of such an existing capacity has been a principal cause of the outbreak in Liberia and its neighbors.  Sunday U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commanding general of the 101st Airbone Division and his thirty member command team arrived in Monrovia to assume leadership of DOD contributions to Operation United Assistance. The Army is sending approximately 700 Soldiers from the 101st, including members of the division headquarters staff, sustainment brigade, combat support hospital and a military police battalion. Another 700 troops will be deployed from multiple engineering units to build 17 100-bed medical treatment units and a 25-bed hospital. MORE.

New cases of transmission in Nigeria — the United States and elsewhere — are likely.  Until we can bend the exponential growth of transmission in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, a networked and increasingly densely populated planet will be vulnerable.  (A few hours after the original version of this post appeared, a new case of Ebola was confirmed in New York City.)

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union met on Tuesday.  Despite some additional progress, the readiness and urgency of the European response will depend on the results of a summit of EU leaders that opens today in Brussels.

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