Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 3, 2015

DHS budget theater: still not very funny.

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christopher Bellavita on March 3, 2015

As you can see from the random selection of cartoons below, even otherwise reliable political cartoonists can’t come up with anything amusing, insightful, ironic or even nasty about the continuing congressional stage play over homeland security funding.

It’s as if – like congress – cartoonists are just going through the motions.  There’s no creativity, innovation, or leadership.  They seem to simply be waiting for the next deadline to turn something in.

Just like the cartoonists.

Judge for yourself.

Dhs 10 2015 03 01 22 27 25

Dhs 9 2015 03 01 21 44 53

DHS 8 2015 03 01 21 43 50

Dhs 7 2015 03 01 21 42 38

Dhs 6 2015 03 01 21 39 14

Dhs 5

Dhs 12 2015 03 01 22 39 51

Dhs 11 2015 03 01 22 38 50

Dhs 2 2015 03 01 21 34 09

Dhs 3 2015 03 01 21 35 16

Homeland security 1 2015 03 01 21 31 26

Dhs 14 2015 03 01 22 42 15

Dhs 13 2015 03 01 22 41 07

Dhs 4 2015 03 01 21 37 46

Yep. See you next week. Right after the second act.

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February 28, 2015

DHS: Another seven days

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 28, 2015

According to The Hill:

A partial government shutdown was narrowly avoided late Friday evening as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a surprise move to back legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for one week.

Pelosi’s support helped Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) move the one-week bill through the House in a 357-60 vote just after 10 p.m., with 55 Republicans and 5 Democrats voting against it. The Senate passed the one-week funding bill in a voice vote.

President Obama signed the bill just before midnight.

On Thursday Secretary Johnson gathered various federal, state, and local participants in homeland security to highlight the impact of a closure or continued delay in adopting more than a stop-gap Continuing Resolution.  See details at DHS website.

Friday the Secretary released a 46-page Contingency Plan providing some specifics on how a hiatus in funding would impact each DHS agency and function.

–+–

There are 247 Republicans in the current House of Representatives.  As recent votes demonstrate just about fifty are much more “Know-Nothings” than Reagan Republicans.  Lincoln specifically fought the influence of the original Know-Nothings during the founding of the Republican Party.

The Know-Nothing movement of the 19th Century was a mostly non-urban, middle-class, nativist reaction to dramatic social and economic transformation that happened to coincide with a rapid influx of Irish and German Catholics.  The strong anti-immigrant stance of the movement can be seen as projecting on specific “others” the blame for a great deal of threatening “otherness.”

In the current context, the power of this nativist — and nostalgic — minority is amplified by what I call the Cantor Effect and the structure of most party primaries.

The surprise defeat of Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader, in his 2014 primary has been credited (accurately or not) to the power of this highly motivated and well-organized rump of the Republican Party.  They will show up and vote when other Republicans have not. Most estimates with which I am familiar suggest roughly 25-to-35 percent of self-identified Republicans perceive border security and immigration as top priorities.  But in many congressional districts nearly two-thirds of actual primary voters consider these and related issues top priorities.

These latter-day Know-Nothings are not just willing to hold DHS hostage to achieve their rather specific objectives.  They are holding-hostage the entire Republican Party, threatening Cantor-like outcomes in primaries across the nation unless their colleagues accommodate their priorities.

Hostage-taking is a reasonable choice for a minority attempting to punch-above its actual weight.  Responding to such a tactic is always treacherous.

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February 27, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

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DHS Appropriation Update

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on February 27, 2015

UPDATED ON FRIDAY EVENING

According to The Hill:

A short-term funding measure to keep the Department of Homeland Security open (DHS) was defeated in the House on Friday in a stunning vote that could result in a partial government shutdown at midnight.

The bill failed 203-224, with 52 Republicans voting against legislation that was set to fund the DHS and its associated agencies through March 19. Twelve Democrats voted for it…

The next steps on the funding bill are not clear, with a shutdown of the agency just hours away.

MORE

According to The Hill, as of 9 PM EST on Thursday:

The House will vote Friday on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks in an attempt to avert a shutdown slated for Saturday at the massive agency.

If the bill is approved by the House, the Senate is expected to quickly follow suit — though the upper chamber also plans to move forward with a bill funding Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the new strategy to his rank-and-file members during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday night. Senior Republicans predicted it would win enough support to clear the lower chamber.

“I think we’ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it’ll be a very strong vote,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after the meeting.

MORE.

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February 26, 2015

Good News

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

As we watch in awe and anticipation the murmuration of the DHS appropriation process; wonder over weather patterns emerging in the mid-Pacific heading toward Birmingham, Nashville, and Boston; consider the fractalizing of Salafist jihadism and complex adaptation of global climate; attempt to calculate the spectral radius of water systems, supply chains, telecommunications and the grid; and worry — at least a bit — about all the hidden interdependencies social, technical, and ecological that seem increasingly predisposed to rear their ugly heads… I offer for your late February consideration (consolation) three threads of good news.

Back to School in Liberia

Libera_back to school_UN Photo: United Nations

Thousands of Liberian school children returned to school last week, as several measures designed to facilitate “social distancing” were curtailed.  During the second week in February only two new cases of Ebola were reported in Liberia. (During the same period there were a total of 126 new cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea.)  Risks continue.  Secondary and tertiary effects have been (will be) considerable.  Liberia experienced over 3900 deaths from the disease.  But outside help combined with amazing courage and community engagement by the local population has turned a corner in Liberia.

No Deaths in West Virginia

Train Derailment_Mt CarbonPhoto: Marcus Constantino, Reuters

Despite what is shown above and what most of us have seen on television, no one died and damage appears to have been modest (given the energy expended) as a result of the amazing CSX train derailment near Mt. Carbon, West Virginia.

Some of this is just random… fractal… luck.  Thirty minutes before the derailment, the oil tankers were rolling along the streets and neighborhoods of West Virginia’s largest city. Ice in the Kanawha and nearby streams helped contain the spillage. Time and space can be helpful friends.

But a colleague in West Virginia also reports that CSX, state, local and Coast Guard responders were competent and mostly well-organized.  The incident command system actually worked.  The McClatchy News Service reports that many of those responding had attended a railway accident training function in October and applied important lessons-learned.

Policy and strategy concerns are abundant, but some specific mitigation and preparedness measures paid off just a bit south of Charleston.

Circle of Peace around Synagogue

Circle_of_PeacePhoto: Reuters

According to a Norwegian newspaper:

Over 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

The entire area resonated with chants of  “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway’s Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

According to an organizer, Zeeshan Abdullah, the event was organised to show that there are more peace loving people than warmongers. “Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that, he said in front of a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo’s only functioning synagogue.

The challenges we face — natural, accidental or intentional — are real.  Even our good news can be plenty ambiguous.  But to neglect or dismiss the possibility of good is no better risk management than to deny an emerging threat.

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February 24, 2015

The murmuration of DHS budget theater

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christopher Bellavita on February 24, 2015

Escher day and night

 

Some people hyperbolize if DHS is not funded by Friday, ISIS starts adding American cities to its Islamic State.  Other people argue when the funds run out not much that’s different will happen. Most DHS employees will show up for work at airports, borders, and other venues, and they’ll do it without a guarantee they’ll be paid.  Another group says there’s no way DHS won’t be funded. The funds will emerge from another one of those take the battery-out-of-the-clock legislative compromises.

I can see it happening either way: DHS will either be funded or not by Friday. The game finds ways to go on.

If this 2015 version of government shutdown theater follows previous scripts, there will be no resolution by Friday.  Maybe a short term fix happens on Saturday or Sunday, followed by a slightly longer short term fix in the next weeks or months.

How will this situation be resolved enough to allow play to continue?  Will someone in the legislative majority order followers to behave in a certain way?  Will new coalitions emerge?  Will men and women of principle exchange some of those principles for a few other ones?

I came across a footnote in Michael Glennon’s book, National Security and Double Government that offers an explanatory – maybe predictive – theory of how DHS eventually will be funded.

I wrote about Glennon’s argument a few weeks ago.  The central argument is national security policy appears to be run by elected officials, but it’s actually shaped by a usual suspect flock: “the several hundred managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies who are responsible for protecting the nation and who have come to operate largely immune from constitutional and electoral restraints.”  The president, congress and the courts play largely a symbolic role in national security policy, Glennon says.

Here’s the footnote that got my attention as a way to understand how movement from the current budget impasse will happen.

When all is said and done, perhaps the most lucid and succinct account of Trumanite [usual suspects] behavior lies not in socio-psychological theory but in ornithology—bird-watching. Craig Reynolds has theorized that birds adhere to three simple precepts: first, don’t crowd your neighbors (separation); second, steer toward the average heading of your neighbors (alignment); and third, steer toward the average position of your neighbors (cohesion). …. Members of the Trumanite network maintain separate though often only nominal allegiance to distinct organizations that respect each other’s autonomy while at the same time competing for authority (rather like states in the international realm). They align themselves in steering toward other organizations’ efforts to maintain the continuing direction of existing national security policy. And they cohere in the “average position” of their Trumanite neighbors in resisting Madisonian [elected officials] encroachments—while perpetuating the impression of Madisonian control.

Translated into homeland security budget impasse-eze, the theory implicit in the footnote suggests no one is very clear what will happen if Congress does not fund DHS.  Officials have too much to do to become experts on the impact no DHS funding will have.  They have their opinions, but they also rely on the usual suspects – experts and trusted allies from the left, right, center, up, and down – to figure out what their position should be on this budget issue.  Elected officials will provide on-the-record sounds for the public conversation. But many, if not most, of the ideas come in private conversations.

Like a flock of birds, the people who will be at the core of resolving the DHS budget issue will move toward their goal by following a few simple  rules:

1. Maintain enough separation from others to sustain their political independence and reputation for being their own man or woman on this issue.  They will come out of this drama as thoughtful and reasonable people, regardless of where those thoughts come from.

2. Notwithstanding separation, they don’t want to get too far away from the people and interests that mean the most to them, so they’ll take a read on the general direction political neighbors are moving, and continuously align themselves with those positions. The DHS budget is not the only drama in town.

3. Since there are multiple people and interests, maintaining separation and alignment requires sustaining a general cohesion within the flock.

The double government theory argues that national security’s long game takes place in multiple dimensions. Distance here is a psychic space. The closer you are to the players and the arena, the more unpredictable the specific moves.  The further back you stand, the more predictable and familiar the moves.

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February 23, 2015

Cyber: making national security personal

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Arnold Bogis on February 23, 2015

David  Sanger writes in today’s New York Times of the escalating cyber conflict between the United States and Iran:

A newly disclosed National Security Agency document illustrates the striking acceleration of the use of cyberweapons by the United States and Iran against each other, both for spying and sabotage, even as Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart met in Geneva to try to break a stalemate in the talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

With all the talk about the threat of cyber theft, attack, and even warfare, we should remember that it isn’t a one way street.  Or, in other words, something only done to us:

It detailed how the United States and Britain had worked together to contain the damage from “Iran’s discovery of computer network exploitation tools” — the building blocks of cyberweapons. That was more than two years after the Stuxnet worm attack by the United States and Israel severely damaged the computer networks at Tehran’s nuclear enrichment plant.

The United States is undeniably the sole superpower.  Unsurpassed in military and economic might. Yet, apparently, we are still seduced by tools that seem to promise big bang for the buck:

“The potential cost of using nuclear weapons was so high that no one felt they could afford to use them,” said David J. Rothkopf, the author of “National Insecurity,” a new study of strategic decisions made by several American administrations. But the cost of using cyberweapons is seemingly so low, Mr. Rothkopf said, that “we seem to feel we can’t afford not to use them” and that “many may feel they can’t afford ever to stop.”

The problem is, unlike nuclear weapons, other states and non-state actors are similarly not restrained in employing cyber tools.  Even if, for the time being, they aren’t particularly sophisticated:

The main targets were the websites of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. By 2015 standards, those were relatively unsophisticated “denial of service” strikes that flooded the banks with data, so overloading them it was impossible for a time for customers to access their accounts.

What struck me about this article was that last bit. Sure, there are a lot of issues in the cyber domain involved with deterrence, attribution, escalation, and other issues of doctrine.  However what is new, to the United States at least, is that this form of conflict may connect national security and other foreign policy decisions with the everyday lives of Americans in a way that probably hasn’t existed for decades.

For so long, perhaps even during the Cold War but definitely following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has acted with relative impunity around the world. The costs of our involvement in far flung engagements ranging from special forces deployments in Africa to full on war in the Middle East have not been transferred to the American population writ large.  Reasons for this range from our practical conventional military invincibility (at least when it comes to state actors, not insurgencies…) to an enormous nuclear deterrent (which keeps us out of serious conflicts with Russia and China) to an all volunteer force that has become an incredibly lethal and capable machine, but one removed from most Americans’ everyday lives. Even the reluctance of our elected leaders to pay for these actions through anything but borrowing against the future, rather than taxing in the present.

What’s different about cyber is that the U.S., or any other nation, has yet to demonstrate or develop dominance in this space.  We haven’t yet figured out how to deter various levels of cyber incidents.  We haven’t yet been able to articulate, never mind enforce or coerce acceptance, of “rules of cyber war” or their equivalent.  So what has resulted is an ever shifting landscape where Iran can (for now simply) inconvenience U.S. citizens in retaliation for our cyber attack on their uranium enrichment equipment. But how far off in the future is it when they can do more than simply inconvenience us?  Was that their current limit of capability or simply a warning shot across our cyber bow?  How soon until they are able to mine our systems for personal data that can be sold or simply given to malicious third party actors?

This potential to affect the lives of U.S. citizens in such a manner could very well bring into sharper focus our nation’s national security and foreign policy choices for a much broader audience than is currently engaged. Sure, the public likes the veneer in foreign policy of both competence (usually defined as the perception that every other country is doing what the U.S. wishes it would do, regardless of their own national interests) and strength (usually defined as talking tough/occasionally dropping bombs on other countries).

What changes when they perceive they have a lot more skin in the game?  Will elected officials be pressed as to what really are U.S. national security interests vis-a-vis an Iranian nuclear program?  Today, it sounds scary – Iranians are crazy, developing missiles, and want to wipe Israel off the map.  But if you, your parents’, and your neighbors’ financial or medical security and privacy are at stake, what will be identified as the most important threat – an unrealized nuclear program halfway across the world or loosing control of your own personal life?

After that threshold is crossed, what events or global security situations will be reconsidered in the same light?

National security is about to get personal very soon.

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February 22, 2015

Count-down to February 27

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 22, 2015

The Continuing Resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security will expire this Friday, February 27.

This week is likely to see considerable last-minute and bipartisan efforts to avoid a DHS shut-down. But some perceive a shut-down will advance their political interests, either to reverse the President’s executive action on immigration or to highlight Republican intolerance and incapacity to govern.

According to The Hill:

The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on a House-passed Homeland Security bill that includes the immigration amendments, marking the fourth attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to defeat a Democratic filibuster. The effort is expected to fail, leaving Republican leaders in both chambers with the sticky question of how to proceed.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said that the House has done its job and the ball is in the Senate’s court. But an impasse in the upper chamber could force his hand. That sets the stage for a high-stakes meeting of the House Republican conference on Wednesday morning, where GOP leaders are sure to hear an earful from all sides less than 72 hours before Homeland Security funding expires.

Jeh Johnson will appear today on all five of the Sunday talk shows (Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday), so you should not have a tough time catching the administration’s talking points.

The annual process for DHS grant funding has already been seriously delayed.  Many state and local programs have been continued by internal borrowing.  But if this week’s deadline is missed — as now seems likely — several law enforcement, firefighting, emergency management and other groups  will probably send grant-dependent homeland security programs into a hungry hibernation.

My personal schedule this week will not allow much tracking of the give-and-take.  If you see insightful comments or coverage, please link to the comments here.  If possible I will try to monitor and push some of what you’re hearing to the main page.

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February 20, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 20, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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February 19, 2015

Bending the narrative

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

Here is what I consider the center-of-gravity in the argument made by the President in closing yesterday’s White House summit. His full remarks are available from the White House website.

–+–

… We are here today because of a very specific challenge  — and that’s countering violent extremism, something that is not just a matter of military affairs.  By “violent extremism,” we don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people.  We also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists –the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.  We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist, so there’s no way to predict who will become radicalized.  Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths.  It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography, or one period of time.

But we are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  And this week we are focused on prevention — preventing these groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place.  I’ve called upon governments to come to the United Nations this fall with concrete steps that we can take together.  And today, what I want to do is suggest several areas where I believe we can concentrate our efforts.

First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence.  Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge.  So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam.  That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.”  And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.  That’s how they recruit.  That’s how they try to radicalize young people.  We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.  Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.  They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.

Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well.  Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts.  They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.  They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.  No religion is responsible for terrorism.  People are responsible for violence and terrorism.

And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith.  They want to make very clear what Islam stands for.  And we’re joined by some of these leaders today.  These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.  Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.

But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.

The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances  — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.

So those beliefs exist.  In some communities around the world they are widespread.  And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization.  And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues.  We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas.

So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations.  Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.

And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.

As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online.  We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists.  Their words speak to us today.  And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised: “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.”  “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.”  “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  “I’m 28 — is this the only future I’m able to imagine?”  That’s the voice of so many who were temporarily radicalized and then saw the truth.  And they’ve warned other young people not to make the same mistakes as they did.  “Do not run after illusions.”  “Do not be deceived.”  “Do not give up your life for nothing.”  We need to lift up those voices.

And in all this work, the greatest resource are communities themselves, especially like those young people who are here today.  We are joined by talented young men and women who are pioneering new innovations, and new social media tools, and new ways to reach young people.  We’re joined by leaders from the private sector, including high-tech companies, who want to support your efforts.  And I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but to empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world.  And that can be a calling for your generation.

MORE.

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February 18, 2015

Penitence at the White House

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 18, 2015

On Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday — according to some calendars — the White House is hosting its Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.   The sessions are being live-streamed.  I was airborne most of Tuesday, but was able to see/hear some of this morning’s.  You might still be able to catch this afternoon’s, including remarks by the President.

Summit planning has been underway for a long-while.  The meeting is a follow-on to a similar 2011 set of sessions.  This week’s dates were set after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Tuesday there were mostly presentations by Boston, Los Angeles, and the Twin Cities (MN) on pilot programs they have run to counter violent extremism.  According to a “Senior Administration Official” the Wednesday session covers:

… The comprehensive “whole of nation” approach that we’re applying to the challenge.  Again, this is not about government, especially the federal government. The federal government doesn’t have all the answers.  This is about building a comprehensive network to fight back against violent extremism.  And we are explicitly recognizing the role that civil society plays, the private sector plays, and that families, et cetera, can play in countering violent extremism. During Wednesday’s agenda, we will have remarks by the President; by the Secretary of Homeland Security; by Lisa Monaco, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, in addition to the presentations from the three cities, from around the world, and from some private sector partners.

When I landed at Dulles Tuesday evening and turned off airplane mode my smartphone nearly exploded. Several dozen folks had sent me links to either (both): Graeme Wood’s piece on What ISIS Really Wants in The Atlantic or Roger Cohen’s op-ed in the Tuesday New York Times (which I had read on the plane).  There were also two links to comments made by Pope Francis regarding the Coptic “martyrs” killed by IS provincials in what many still call Libya. There was also yet another link to the video of the Sunni grandmother condemning ISIS fighters and urging them to turn from darkness. (If you haven’t seen it, probably should, especially given what I write below.)

Many of those sending me these links complain the White House summit is working too hard to gloss the religious — really Islamic — character of extremist violence.  Wednesday’s USA Today includes a similar complaint. For what it’s worth, what I have heard on the live-stream does not discount the religious dimension.  Rather the religious dimension is treated as correlation rather than causation.  This is a valid — valuable — post-Enlightenment distinction.

Moreover when I read  what I can find about our most recent murderers in Boston, Ottawa, Sydney, Paris, and Copenhagen, I perceive motivations much more related to self-aggrandizing popular media than the self-abnegation of most religious traditions or the specifically Islamic emphasis on submission.

Still… I will  admit, that as a person of faith, I recognize an especially pernicious religious dimension to much of our violent extremism.  Self-righteousness is not restricted to the religious, but it does seem deeply correlated.  There can be a specifically religious tendency to conflate our own desires with those of God.  There can be a specifically religious tendency to exclude from God’s love and mercy those with whom I happen to disagree.

Then with my self wrapped as God and others excluded, it is all too easy to mistake profound sin for religious devotion. Of course, this is idolatry.  But most modern versions come cleverly disguised.

Happy Mardi Gras.  May you have a holy Lent.

–+–

UPDATE:

Here’s today’s Op-Ed on the summit’s topic in the Los Angeles Times by President Obama.  Here’s a critique of the Op-Ed from the American Spectator.  Here’s a more general critique by The Federalist.

Here’s the CSPAN coverage of the President’s remarks at today’s White House Summit. Some other related links are also available.

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February 16, 2015

New Defense Secretary Ash Carter on “Catastrophic Terrorism”…from 1998

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks,WMD — by Arnold Bogis on February 16, 2015

You know how sometimes someone in the meeting comes off as the “smartest person in the room?”  On occasion, it is the truth.  Which is often the case with the newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

Recently, and randomly, I came across an old Foreign Affairs article that he co-wrote with (past) CIA Director John Deutch and (future) 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. But today’s terrorists, be they international cults like Aum Shinrikyo or individual nihilists like the Unabomber, act on a greater variety of motives than ever before. More ominously, terrorists may gain access to weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear devices, germ dispensers, poison gas weapons, and even computer viruses. Also new is the world’s dependence on a nearly invisible and fragile network for distributing energy and information. Long part of the Hollywood and Tom Clancy repertory of nightmarish scenarios, catastrophic terrorism has moved from far-fetched horror to a contingency that could happen next month. Although the United States still takes conventional terrorism seriously, as demonstrated by the response to the attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August, it is not yet prepared for the new threat of catastrophic terrorism.

American military superiority on the conventional battlefield pushes its adversaries toward unconventional alternatives. The United States has already destroyed one facility in Sudan in its attempt to target chemical weapons. Russia, storehouse of tens of thousands of weapons and material to make tens of thousands more, may be descending into turmoil. Meanwhile, the combination of new technology and lethal force has made biological weapons at least as deadly as chemical and nuclear alternatives. Technology is more accessible, and society is more vulnerable. Elaborate international networks have developed among organized criminals, drug traffickers, arms dealers, and money launderers, creating an infrastructure for catastrophic terrorism around the world.

The bombings in East Africa killed hundreds. A successful attack with weapons of mass destruction could certainly take thousands, or tens of thousands, of lives. If the device that exploded in 1993 under the World Trade Center had been nuclear, or had effectively dispersed a deadly pathogen, the resulting horror and chaos would have exceeded our ability to describe it. Such an act of catastrophic terrorism would be a watershed event in American history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented in peacetime and undermine America’s fundamental sense of security, as did the Soviet atomic bomb test in 1949. Like Pearl Harbor, this event would divide our past and future into a before and after. The United States might respond with draconian measures, scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and use of deadly force. More violence could follow, either further terrorist attacks or U.S. counterattacks. Belatedly, Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently.

The danger of weapons of mass destruction being used against America and its allies is greater now than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. It is a national security problem that deserves the kind of attention the Defense Department devotes to threats of military nuclear attack or regional aggression. The first obstacle to imagination is resignation. The prospects may seem so dreadful that some officials despair of doing anything useful. Some are fatalistic, as if contemplating the possibility of a supernova. Many thinkers reacted the same way at the dawn of the nuclear age, expecting doom to strike at any hour and disavowing any further interest in deterrence as a hopeless venture. But as with nuclear deterrence, the good news is that more can be done.

The 9/11 attack, though conventional, did accomplish exactly what the authors’ warned of in stating:

“Such an act of catastrophic terrorism would be a watershed event in American history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented in peacetime and undermine America’s fundamental sense of security, as did the Soviet atomic bomb test in 1949. Like Pearl Harbor, this event would divide our past and future into a before and after. The United States might respond with draconian measures, scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and use of deadly force. More violence could follow, either further terrorist attacks or U.S. counterattacks. Belatedly, Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently.”

Unfortunately, their conclusions I feel have still gone unheeded. Especially as we as a nation get wound up about an insurgent force highly proficient in propaganda but yet still lacking in strategic strength.  Though it would still be wise to ask, can we do something better with the hindsight of 14 years?

Catastrophic terrorism poses an eminent threat to America’s future. But the United States can fight back only if it sets the right goals. In 1940 and 1941, the U.S. government pondered what kind of forces it would need to wage a global war. The answers went so far beyond the imagination that wry smiles and shaking heads in Washington offices greeted the planning papers as they made their rounds. The Cold War saw a similar pattern of disbelief. The notion of an intelligence system founded on photographic surveillance from the upper atmosphere or outer space seemed outrageously far-fetched in 1954, when the U-2 program was born. The films and cameras alone seemed an overwhelming hurdle. A few years later the U-2s were flying; six years later satellites were in place. Similar stories could be told about the remarkable history of intercontinental missile guidance or the fast deployment of more than a half-million troops and thousands of armored vehicles to the Persian Gulf in 1991 and 1992. America can meet new challenges, but it must first imagine success. Only then can it organize itself to attain it.

You can read the entire article here.

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Update on the course “Central Challenges of American National Security”

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on February 16, 2015

Roughly a month ago I posted on the opportunity to participate in a Massive Open Online Course offered by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “Central Challenges of American National Security.”

A couple of updates and an opportunity. According to the instructor, Professor Graham Allison, the course will cover: “ In a six-week segment, we introduce the basic concepts from the course (Strategic Options Memos; strategy; the press as a serious complicating factor) and present four cases: Iran’s nuclear challenge (from the perspectives of the US, Iran, and Israel); the rise of China; ISIL/Syria; and NSA/Snowden/WikiLeaks.” So several intersections with homeland security-related topics.

A new instructor has joined Allison and New York Times National Security Correspondent David Sanger. They will be assisted by Professor Derek Reveron, who is on faculty at the U.S. Naval War College.  He specializes in “strategy development, non-state security challenges, intelligence, and U.S. defense policy.”

Finally, an opportunity to take an intensive, Limited Enrollment version of this course. That means “admitted participants will read approximately 75 pages per week, complete assignments including four short policy memos, participate in sections led by the course Teaching Fellows, and engage with fellow learners in moderated discussion forums.” To gain admittance, one has to fill out an online application and submit “a one-page Outline of a Strategic Options Memo responding to the course’s first assignment: “What should the U.S. government do to meet the Iranian nuclear challenge?”” Instructions for completing the Outline are provided on the application page.

If you are interested, the deadline to submit both the application and assignment is 9am EST on Wednesday, February 18. For more information and the application itself, go to: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/HarvardXApp.html

 

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February 13, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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February 12, 2015

WSJ Opinion: DHS Appropriations and related issues with Capitol Hill updates

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2015

–+–

Republicans in Congress are off to a less than flying start after a month in power, dividing their own conference more than Democrats. Take the response to President Obama ’s immigration order, which seems headed for failure if not a more spectacular crack-up.

That decree last November awarded work permits and de facto legal status to millions of undocumented aliens and dismayed members of both parties, whatever their immigration views. A Congressional resolution to vindicate the rule of law and the Constitution’s limits on executive power was defensible, and even necessary, but this message has long ago been lost in translation.

The Republican leadership funded the rest of the government in December’s budget deal but isolated the Department of Homeland Security that enforces immigration law. DHS funding runs out this month, and the GOP has now marched itself into another box canyon.

The specific White House abuse was claiming prosecutorial discretion to exempt whole classes of aliens from deportation, dumping the historical norm of case-by-case scrutiny. A GOP sniper shot at this legal overreach would have forced Democrats to go on record, picked up a few supporters, and perhaps even imposed some accountability on Mr. Obama.

But that wasn’t enough for immigration restrictionists, who wanted a larger brawl, and they browbeat GOP leaders into adding needless policy amendments. The House reached back to rescind Mr. Obama’s enforcement memos from 2011 that instructed Homeland Security to prioritize deportations of illegals with criminal backgrounds. That is legitimate prosecutorial discretion, and in opposing it Republicans are undermining their crime-fighting credentials.

The House even adopted a provision to roll back Mr. Obama’s 2012 order deferring deportation for young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents—the so-called dreamers. The GOP lost 26 of its own Members on that one, passing it with only 218 votes.

The overall $40 billion DHS spending bill passed with these riders, 236-191, but with 10 Republicans joining all but two Democrats in opposition. This lack of GOP unity reduced the chances that Senate Democrats would feel any political pressure to go along.

And, lo, on Thursday the House bill failed for the third time to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome the third Democratic filibuster in three days. Swing-state Democrats like Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp aren’t worried because they have more than enough material to portray Republicans as the immigration extremists.

Whatever their view of Mr. Obama’s order, why would Democrats vote to deport people who were brought here as kids through no fault of their own? Mr. Obama issued a veto threat to legislation that will never get to his desk, and he must be delighted that Republicans are fighting with each other rather than with him.

Restrictionists like Sens. Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions are offering their familiar advice to fight harder and hold firm against “executive amnesty,” but as usual their strategy for victory is nowhere to be found. So Republicans are now heading toward the same cul de sac that they did on the ObamaCare government shutdown.

If Homeland Security funding lapses on Feb. 27, the agency will be pushed into a partial shutdown even as the terrorist threat is at the forefront of public attention with the Charlie Hebdo and Islamic State murders. Imagine if the Transportation Security Administration, a unit of DHS, fails to intercept an Islamic State agent en route to Detroit.

So Republicans are facing what is likely to be another embarrassing political retreat and more intra-party recriminations. The GOP’s restrictionist wing will blame the leadership for a failure they share responsibility for, and the rest of America will wonder anew about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

The restrictionist caucus can protest all it wants, but it can’t change 54 Senate votes into 60 without persuading some Democrats. It’s time to find another strategy. Our advice on immigration is to promote discrete bills that solve specific problems such as green cards for math-science-tech graduates, more H-1B visas, a guest-worker program for agriculture, targeted enforcement and legal status for the dreamers. Democrats would be hard-pressed to oppose them and it would put the onus back on Mr. Obama. But if that’s too much for the GOP, then move on from immigration to something else.

***

It’s not too soon to say that the fate of the GOP majority is on the line. Precious weeks are wasting, and the combination of weak House leadership and a rump minority unwilling to compromise is playing into Democratic hands. This is no way to run a Congressional majority, and the only winners of GOP dysfunction will be Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton .

End of WSJ Editorial

–+–

The Hill reports on differences between House and Senate Republicans on the DHS appropriations bill.

Politico reports that Speaker Boehner insists the House will not pass another DHS appropriations bill.

Roll Call reports that Senator Mark Kirk (Republican, Illinois) indicates Republicans should proceed with a so-called clean bill for DHS appropriations.

Last night Politico posted a piece that suggests a DHS shut-down is more and more likely. “The immigration matter was debated privately at a Republican lunch Wednesday in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, with leading conservatives, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, asserting that Democrats would be the political losers if a DHS shutdown occurs, several senators said. Other immigration hardliners, like Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Bill Flores (R-Texas), also argued Wednesday their party would be in a stronger political position if Congress fails to meet the Feb. 27 funding deadline.”

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February 11, 2015

Boston snowstorms an emergent crisis

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Claire Rubin, the Recovery Diva herself, made a very insightful observation regarding the string of snowstorms that have hit the Boston area:

I guess you could consider three major snowstorms in three weeks a slow onset disaster for Boston at the present time.

I must have been too busy shoveling snow and catching up on “House of Cards” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes (no, seriously…that show had very good writing) not to have seen this myself.

Boston is a city that can handle a snowstorm.  Indeed, it can handle any single blizzard.  What is causing problems is the quick succession of substantial snow storms in the past month, along with sub-freezing temperatures preventing melting, that has slowly choked the transportation arteries of this densely built city.  This is leading to an unfortunate set of cascading outcomes that normally would not be a concern during normal winter weather.

This is what Harvard professors Dutch Leonard and Arn Howitt refer to as an “emergent crisis.”  They explain:

But some forms of crisis do not arrive suddenly. They fester and grow, arising from more ordinary circumstances that often mask their appearance. We term such situations emergent crises – a special and especially difficult category.

What makes emergent crises problematic? First, they arise from normally variable operating conditions, making emerging problems difficult to spot as a break from typical operating and response patterns.

When and if the problem is spotted, an individual or group with technical expertise in the issue (as it is understood at the time) is generally assigned to address it.

But what if the diagnosis is not entirely correct? If the standard approach doesn’t work? If the response is too small or too late? A second major challenge of coping with emerging crisis situations is that the initial responder(s), if not immediately successful, either fail to diagnose their inadequacies or resist calling for additional help. Often, experts (and, perhaps even more so, teams of experts) are not adept at recognizing that their approach is not working. Often, they ignore “disconfirming evidence” (i.e., the flow of data tending to show that what they are doing is not working) and “escalate commitment” to their existing approach. The person or team working on the situation may not only believe that they are about to succeed (with just a little more effort and time) but also feel pressure not to lose face if they fail to handle the assigned situation. Moreover, they may resist seeking help.

The third reason that emergent crises are challenging is that they present crisis managers with all of the standard challenges of managing true crisis emergencies—the difficulty of recognizing novelty, the challenge of creativity and improvisation of new approaches and designs under stress, the painful realities of the errors and rough edges that arise when executing new and untested  routines. But these standard challenges now arise in the context of organizations and teams that are already deployed and working on the situation

It sounds like this is what is happening, at least in part, in Boston due to the almost unprecedented buildup of snow.  Specifically in regards to the transportation infrastructure, both for cars and all forms of public transportation.

Confronted with at first just one large storm, city and Commonwealth agencies followed SOP to clear roads and train tracks of snow.  Normally, this is more than adequate to return some semblance of normal life back to the area. Unfortunately, one big storm was followed by another and another (and potentially another again this weekend). Standard plowing and snow removal procedures could not keep up with the amounts, streets became clogged with snow piles, and the aging and underfunded public transportation system (locals refer to it as the “T”) began to break down under the combination of snow and cold.

Five hundred members of the Massachusetts National Guard were activated Tuesday to help with snow removal.

“These men and women will deploy across Eastern Massachusetts today,” Gov. Charlie Baker said, adding MEMA will determine which towns help is most needed.

Baker said the state has purchased two additional snow melters that can process about 25 truckloads of snow every hour.

“We are dealing with unprecedented circumstances here,” Baker said.

Boston-area subways, trolleys and commuter rail trains shut down remained idle Tuesday, with only limited bus service running. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said it needed the break to clear snow and ice from tracks and to assess equipment damaged by the spate of storms.

“The accumulating snow is making it virtually impossible to keep rail lines operational,” the transit agency said.

Boston’s transit system, the nation’s oldest, has been particularly hard hit this winter. The buildup of snow and ice on trolley tracks combined with aging equipment has stalled trains, delaying and angering commuters.

That would be 78.5 inches of snow, so far, in Boston itself.

Buffalo got more than that in just a few days this past November.  Issues of snow removal were more difficult at first, but the impact was very localized and the area benefited from a lot more space where to put the snow.  Once cars were unburied and major roads cleared, a region where almost everyone is dependent on cars for travel began to get back to normal.

Boston is an urban area, densely populated and highly dependent on the public transportation system. There are few places to put snow, and when the T isn’t running it is hard for a large portion of the Boston area workforce to actually get to work.  People don’t get to work, work doesn’t happen.  Work doesn’t happen, the customers of those businesses face difficulties.  When the customers of those businesses are healthcare organizations, than a large part of the population faces difficulties. As the Boston Globe reports:

One Boston hospital administrator called it a crisis: Surgeries canceled because there weren’t enough beds, taxis hired to ferry patients who had no other way home.

At another hospital, stockpiles of linens were running so perilously low that staff began rationing them.

Meanwhile, still other hospitals were forced to rely on the generosity of Boston police officers to deliver essential staff members to work.

With snow piled up to historic levels, and the region’s subways and commuter rail systems halted Tuesday, administrators labored to keep their hospital doors open, hobbled by a stranded workforce and patients unable to get home.

“This has put us in a capacity crisis situation,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, Massachusetts General Hospital’s medical director for preparedness.

The commuting concerns at South Shore Hospital were not as much about hospital staff members — most don’t rely on trains — but on the workers at a Somerville company that cleans the facility’s linens. So many of the linen company’s employees didn’t make it to work that South Shore was worried about running out of clean sheets and towels.

“We have had to conserve linen,” Darcy said. That doesn’t mean the hospital is reusing linens, she was quick to add, but rather that it was keeping a “close eye on the supplies.”

Back in Boston, hospitals in the cramped Longwood Medical Area grappled with a cornucopia of issues.

Several surgical practices at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center canceled sessions for patients who need to be evaluated before and after surgery because staff members simply couldn’t get in. Other employees at Beth Israel Deaconess who had to get to work arrived via sport utility vehicles rented by the hospital, while some others relied on the Boston Police Department to drive them, hospital spokesman Jerry Berger said.

With even more snow on the way, I’m hoping that the experts have realized their standard operating procedures haven’t been up to the task.

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