Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 22, 2014

“Terrorism has entered a new and dangerous phase,” says the 9/11 Commission

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 22, 2014

From their press release:

This morning, the members of the 9/11 Commission, led by Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, released a new report reflecting the evolving and dangerous terrorist threat facing the nation. Ten years after the release of the commission’s original report, with mounting threats from the resurgence and transformation of al Qaeda, the situation in Syria and a rapidly changing cyber landscape, the commission’s new report calls for a vigorous and proactive counterterrorism effort. The report comes from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which reconvened the 9/11 Commissioners to develop their updated recommendations.

A copy of the report is here:  http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/%20BPC%209-11%20Commission.pdf

 

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July 21, 2014

Full page ads

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on July 21, 2014

DHS_graphic

Did you see it in your Sunday paper?  I saw it in the New York Times.  This weekend I was outside the Washington Post’s service area, but it must have run there as well.

Above is the graphic that makes up most of the full-page: a wire-diagram for DHS Congressional oversight.  You can read more on the ad campaign and the substance behind it at:

http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/security/

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July 18, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 18, 2014

On this day in 1995 the Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat erupted.  It has continued volcanic activity ever since leaving more than half of Montserrat uninhabitable, destroying the capital city, and causing about two thirds of the population to evacuate the Caribbean island.

On this day in 1945 the Bedford Magazine fire and explosions began causing widespread damage in the Nova Scotia communities of Bedford, Halifax, and Dartmouth.

On this day in 1994 the Argentine Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed killing 85 and injuring 300.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

 

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July 17, 2014

Contemplating lethal operations

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 17, 2014

Four years ago (as of yesterday), David Barron, then Acting Assistant Attorney General and chief of the Office of Legal Counsel finalized his memorandum to the Attorney General RE: Applicability of Federal Criminal Laws and the Constitution to Contemplated Lethal Operations against Shaykh Anwar al-Aulaqi.  

After being kept secret, the document was released last month.  Some redacting does not undermine the integrity of the analysis.  If you regularly read this blog, you ought take the time to read the memorandum.  The link above will give you a pdf.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit made the document public in June as part of a court case.  The Department of Justice did not contest the memo’s release as part of an effort to ease confirmation of Mr. Barron’s appointment to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  HLSWatch previously linked to the document but this is our first comment.

Mr. Barron — now Judge Barron — asks, is it an unlawful killing for a U.S. public authority to take premeditated lethal action against this specific U.S. national (Anwar al-Aulaqi) outside the territory of the United States when not in the heat of immediate combat?

No, the memorandum counsels, it would not be an unlawful killing.  In the particular case of Anwar al-Aulaqi in mid-2010, given the preponderance of evidence, lethal action would be a reasonable act of self-defense undertaken in accordance with the law of war, not contrary to federal statutes, and consistent with the constitutional authority of the President in this case amplified by specific Congressional action.

The US-born self-proclaimed prophet of violent action against the United States was killed in a drone attack on September 30, 2011.

Does the question as posed above appropriately frame the legal context of the President’s decision to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi?

It is not inappropriate.  But it is not necessarily dispositive.

Another question: Is secret deliberation by the Executive sufficient to fulfill the due process rights of citizens under the Constitution?

I perceive that secret processes undertaken only by the Executive, no matter how rigorous, do not meet an acceptable constitutional threshold for due process. Reading this once-secret memorandum reinforces my predisposition.  While I can gin-up arguments against some specific findings of the memorandum, the legal and constitutional analysis is balanced and largely persuasive.  If these findings had been made public in 2010 I would have almost certainly supported the findings and subsequent killing if part of a broader process of legal engagement.

It is the Executive exercising unilateral lethal power in secret that gives me profound pause.  What can be undertaken in secret tempts authority to arbitrary and arrogant acts.  The more elaborate and clinical the secret procedure the more it ends up smelling of attainder: guilt established by procedural writ rather than substantive findings.

In the case of al-Alaqi, I see no good cause for secrecy. His criminal behavior was notorious as early as 2006.  He was known and known to be known. There were many good reasons to publicly proclaim this citizen as “outlaw”.

I can, however, imagine other cases where there is cause for authorities to not signal they are aware and watching.  When there is a compelling case for secrecy in taking premeditated, carefully planned lethal operations against a citizen, it is then even more important the decision not be left to the Executive alone.  The soon-to-be 800 years since the Magna Carta offer diverse methods for discrete due process.  For several examples and thoughtful consideration, please see Due Process in the American Identity by Cassandra Burke Robertson.

Some readers — not unreasonably — will conclude from the 580 prior words that I am a co-conspirator in what Philip Bobbitt has called the “due process explosion” of the last generation.  What do you want, I can hear you ask, a JAG officer assigned to every platoon?  DHS General Counsel staff in jackboots and camouflage?

A joke that lawyers tell lawyers: What is the only place where due process is consistently and completely achieved? The answer: Hell.  Ironic humor benefits from personal experience.

In his ultimately influential dissent in Poe v. Ullman, Justice Harlan argued:

Due process has not been reduced to any formula; its content cannot be determined by reference to any code. The best that can be said is that through the course of this Court’s decisions it has represented the balance which our Nation, built upon postulates of respect for the liberty of the individual, has struck between that liberty and the demands of organized society. If the supplying of content to this Constitutional concept has of necessity been a rational process, it certainly has not been one where judges have felt free to roam where unguided speculation might take them. The balance of which I speak is the balance struck by this country, having regard to what history teaches are the traditions from which it developed as well as the traditions from which it broke. That tradition is a living thing.

In what many of us perceive will be a long-struggle with violent and shadowy adversaries, abetted by prolific opportunities for mayhem emerging of modern technologies, and often involving or implicating our neighbors, families, and ourselves, there is a need to renew the tradition or at least be mindful of what we are choosing to break with.

To its credit and as it ought, the Executive has been diligent in this task. The Judiciary is being responsive when called upon.  It is the Legislature that seems mostly absent in renewing due process for  our contemporary challenges.

You probably saw the public opinion polls showing attitudes toward Congress at historic lows.  By design the Legislative branch is most reflective of the whole people.  To make progress on due process — and other issues — it might be worth looking in the mirror and to your left and right.  Might even be worth talking to yourself… but especially talking to your left and right.

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July 15, 2014

Why DHS is cleaner than DoD

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 15, 2014

I think I understood most of the 2014 QHSR.  But there’s one piece I did not get.

Today’s post is about my effort to discover what a “clean audit opinion” means.  In 2013, DHS received a clean audit.  The Department of Defense has never had a clean audit.  Never.  But I believe it hopes to have a clean audit in 2017, when it turns 70 years old.

That’s basically what I have to say today.  The details follow.

———————————————————————

“It is also worth noting that, in late 2013, DHS received its first unqualified or ‘clean’ audit opinion; this occurred just 10 years after the Department’s formation, which was the largest realignment and consolidation of Federal Government agencies and functions since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947.”

This 49 word sentence appears twice in the 2014 QHSR.

It sounded like accounting language. I had no idea what it meant. But it seemed like a big deal. So I tried to find out.

The QHSR says DHS got the clean opinion in late 2013. I searched and found a GAO report published on November 15, 2013. That counts as “late 2013″ to me.

The report did not appear to confirm the “DHS is Clean” claim: [my emphasis]

GAO reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made considerable progress toward obtaining a clean opinion on its financial statements…. DHS has a goal of achieving a clean opinion for fiscal year 2013. However, the DHS auditors’ report for fiscal year 2012, the most recently completed audit, indicated that DHS continues to rely on compensating controls and complex manual work-arounds to support its financial reporting, rather than sound internal control and effective financial management systems.

…GAO also reported that DHS had made limited progress in establishing effective controls to obtain a clean opinion on its internal control over financial reporting.

…DHS has plans to resolve the remaining five material internal control weaknesses, with a goal of achieving a clean opinion on internal control over financial reporting for fiscal year 2016. DHS will continue to face challenges in attaining a clean opinion on its internal control over financial reporting, as well as obtaining and sustaining a clean opinion on its financial statements, until serious internal control and financial management systems deficiencies are resolved.

The GAO report seemed so antithetical to the DHS is Clean assertion that I had to be missing something.

I kept searching and found a DHS press release  that proclaimed “DHS Financial Statements Earn a Clean Audit.”

The release was dated December 12, 2013. You could not get much deeper into “late 2013″ than that. So this is probably what the QHSR statement meant.

The press release said [my emphasis]:

This year, the Department of Homeland Security reached a major goal by achieving a clean audit opinion of the Department’s financial statements by an independent auditor. Simply put, the clean audit is in line with our ultimate goal to increase transparency and accountability for the taxpayer resources entrusted to the Department. …

In order to achieve a clean audit opinion, DHS worked across the entire Department to complete a comprehensive inventory process of its property for the financial statements…. This enterprise-wide approach made it possible for the Department to account for an additional $8 billion in property, which was the last factor we needed to earn a clean audit.

In less than a month, DHS apparently went from not having a chance of getting clean “until serious internal control and financial management systems deficiencies are resolved” to receiving “a clean audit opinion of the Department’s financial statements.”

That is a remarkable achievement.

So remarkable that I must still be seriously not understanding what any of this means.

I located a December 11, 2013 DHS Office of Inspector General report that contained the “independent audit” referred to in the DHS press release.

The IG document did confirm the cleanliness of the audit.

Sort of.

The Department continued to improve financial management in FY 2013 and has achieved a significant milestone. This is the first year the Department has received an unmodified (clean) opinion on all financial statements.

OK, so “unmodified” is a synonym for “clean.” It was starting to become clear to me. I continued reading the IG summary: [my emphasis again]

 However, KPMG [the independent auditor] issued an adverse opinion on DHS’ internal control over financial reporting of the FY 2013 financial statements. Further, as stated in the Secretary’s Assurance Statement, the Department has material weaknesses in internal control over financial reporting. In order to sustain the unmodified opinion, the Department must continue remediating the remaining control deficiencies. 

More accounting speak, I assume. Unmodified means clean. And while phrases like “adverse opinion on DHS’ internal control over financial reporting,” and “material weaknesses in internal control” may appear to my untrained eye to modify “unmodified opinion,” they apparently don’t.

So it’s all still clean. I guess.  And probably transparent. And definitely accountable.

Here’s more confusion on my part: I don’t quite get the “independent auditor” business.

The November 2013 report came from GAO.  Does that mean GAO is not independent because it is an arm of Congress?

Why are we supposed to believe the firm that conducted the audit reported in December 2013 is independent? Because it doesn’t report to Congress?

Who does it report to?

The company, KPMG, received its auditing contract from the DHS.

That’s what the DHS Office of Inspector General wrote when the auditor’s  report was released in December 2013: “We contracted with the independent public accounting firm KPMG LLP (KPMG) to perform the integrated audit.” 

The KPMG tagline is “cutting through complexity.”  Maybe creating unmodified opinions that are modified by other opinions is one way of cutting through complexity.

I know these are all cheap shots on my part. My confusion is undoubtably caused by not speaking Accountantese.

I found a source that did speak like an accountant, or an accountant who was good at translating accounting speak into English. I conducted what in this context might be called an “unmodified interview” [the unmodified emphasis is mine]:

Q: First, what’s an “unmodified opinion?”

A: An unmodified auditor’s report effectively states the auditor believes the financial statements present a true and fair view, and are in accordance with accounting standards and relevant legislation. This is sometimes also called an “unqualified” or a “clean” audit opinion.

Q: Great. Does a clean auditor’s report mean a clean bill of health…?

A: Auditor’s reports are intended to increase the degree of confidence users have in the information in financial statements – not about the state of the [organization] itself …. An unmodified auditor’s report means … stakeholders can make an assessment of the [organization] based on its financial statements, with a higher degree of confidence that the information is materially correct and unbiased.

If I’m understanding this correctly, then, a “clean opinion” does not say anything about efficiency, effectiveness, or  other significant output or outcome measures. It basically means what you see in the financial statements accurately represents financial reality.  [Correction, suggested by Phil Palin: "It basically means what you see in the financial statements is coherent and consistent with widely accepted standards of accounting."

[Where does one go to find these widely accepted standards of accounting? "The most authoritative source of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) developed by FASAB {Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board} for federal entities is contained in The FASAB Handbook of Accounting Standards and Other Pronouncements, As Amended...."  Here's a link to that Handbook:  http://www.fasab.gov/pdffiles/2013_fasab_handbook.pdf.  It is 2,129 pages. The phrase "clean opinion" appears once, describing how to issue a clean opinion even if there are problems.  I am way out of my depth here.]

The 2014 QHSR believes it is worth noting that for the first time in DHS history, its books are in order.

Is that really a big deal?

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman, Tom Carper, thinks it is a big deal.

“Given the size of the Department, the fact that it encompasses 22 separate agencies, and the scope and importance of its mission, producing a clean financial audit is no small task. I credit the Department’s past and current leadership for making financial management a priority and taking the steps necessary to realize this important goal.”

So – returning to the title of this post – how does all this circuitousness make DHS cleaner than DoD?

Senator Carper again [with my emphasis],

“By earning this clean bill of health from an independent auditor, DHS is now in compliance with this law and is on track to continue to do so. The Department of Defense is now the only large federal department that is unable to conduct a financial audit.”

It only took 10 years for DHS to figure out what’s on its books. The Department of Defense has been around for close to 70 years and it still can’t figure out what is on its books.

Maybe DoD can learn something from DHS for a change.

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July 11, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 11, 2014

Today Typhoon Neoguri is expected to continue on a northeasterly path following the Japanese coast.  It is no longer a so-called “super typhoon”, but heavy rains are forecast.

On this day in 1978 a truck carrying liquid gas crashes and explodes in Tarragona, Spain killing more than 200.

On this day in 2006 more than 200 are killed in the Mumbai training bombings.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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July 10, 2014

Needing your help: Core readings in homeland security

Filed under: Education — by Philip J. Palin on July 10, 2014

I have been asked to prepare a reading list for a graduate symposium in homeland security.  The purpose of the symposium (as I understand it) is to facilitate a meaningful introduction to the field by those approaching the end of graduate studies in other fields: especially law, international affairs, public administration, business, and public health.

I perceive the founders of the symposium have at least two goals: First, to provide the graduate students with sufficient grounding in homeland security that they can reasonably assess their interest in homeland security-related careers and, if interested, have a head-start in engaging and networking within homeland security.  A second goal may involve offering homeland security some non-traditional, even provocative insights emerging from this interdisciplinary consideration.

Especially given these goals the symposium does not seek to “teach” as much as “stimulate”.  The reading list should helpfully suggest major issues and trends.  It should prompt conversation and critique by soon-to-be PhDs, lawyers, and executives.  It is a foundation more than a framing.

It has not yet been finalized, but the symposium will probably meet once every 90 days for roughly six to seven hours of sustained engagement. Four sessions are anticipated.  There will be the opportunity for additional informal engagement, online and otherwise.

I have decided the reading list should be available free online.  I am inclined to give attention to the unfolding nature of homeland security law, policy, and strategy since 9/11.   I would prefer to have no more than ten core readings.  Right now I have fifteen and am tempted to list even more.

Readings that I most regret leaving off the list include the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, some of the better (and worst) Presidential Policy Directives, the OLC memorandum on “contemplated lethal operations”, Federal District Court decisions in Klayman v. Obama and ACLU v. Clapper, and several of the Federalist Papers at about which point I lose all restraint, the universe of reading expanding quickly into quantum and complexity theory.

What else would you insist be on the list?  What would you remove from my list without a second thought?

Potentially helpful to persuading me — and probably a subtext for the missive below — I am a product and practitioner of Higher Criticism.  The written word is sacred and mysterious, context-sensitive, layered, open to reason, enlightened by analogy, beyond full understanding while richly rewarding affirmatively critical engagement.

Thanks for your help.

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Dismiss, distort, destroy: Adventures in self-delusion

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 10, 2014

The 9/11 Commission famously found a “failure of imagination” among the principal vulnerabilities that facilitated the terrorist threat.

We had accurately observed the predicates — USS Cole breaching, East African embassy bombings, vicious sermons, declarations of war, and more — that put a few on high alert.

After the attack other clues were nearly as obvious, tantalizing offers of operational warning and even tactical preemption. But we were mostly distracted and failed to imagine the possibilities that were percolating.

So on September 11, 2001 most of us were surprised and, it has seemed to me, many over-reacted. Both at home and overseas — especially in regard to Iraq — we unintentionally delivered strategic advantages to our adversaries.

In our response to 9/11 we hurt ourselves much worse than the initial horrific blow.  We also planted seeds of further vulnerability and, even perhaps, self-destruction.

These are claims that over the years I have referenced here.  I will understand if you insist I defend them again today, but my present purpose is prospective rather than retrospective.

I am concerned we’re doing it again:  Being distracted and self-indulgent and dismissive of others and distorting unwelcome truths.

Some of this is innate to our human condition.  As both a species and as individuals we are limited.  We are especially constrained by the story-engine in our brains. Too often trapped in the same old story, indignant if any one seeks to shift our recurring narrative.

But reality is seldom satisfied with mere repetition, despite how much we prefer a familiar rhythm.

If there remains any “we” worth the term, we have mostly dismissed the suffering of tens-of-thousands in Syria.  Public opinion surveys, political non-action, media reporting, and more all supply evidence that we have usually averted our eyes when confronted with the reality on the ground.  It has been an especially messy and brutal reality.  Confusion, hesitation, mistakes are entirely justifiable.  But neglect and denial are not.  We ought not have been so surprised by what has spilled-over from Syria into Iraq.

Our surprise is evidence of a failure to accurately observe and reasonably imagine.

I have been complicit in this dismissal of reality; more accurately, distorting of reality. After a few attempts to call-attention to the Syrian implications for homeland security, I retreated into the boundaries of a primarily domestic discipline.  Yet this week we are attempting to address a Syrian-based strategic threat with TSA tactics and urging Norwegians to spy more on each other. Looking for symptoms, ignoring their source?

The same tactical myopia afflicts our surprised response to the Children’s Crusade marching toward and across our southern border.  Both the anti-illegal right and the anti-xenophobic left are mostly preoccupied with what they perceive as urgent.  Meanwhile the source of our problem is a cauldron of cartels and coyotaje combined with chronic poverty and violence that requires a long-term strategy creatively and cogently applied.

Whatever else, we face a reality where thousands of children are taking an extraordinary risk to come to us. I understand we ought not encourage such risk-taking.  But dare we ignore the compelling threats that have driven these children into taking this risk?  Do we seek to “secure the border” so that we can pretend these other threats do not exist?  What are we prepared to do to address source as well as symptom?

Then Tuesday Chris Bellavita reported on the dismissive comments of some regarding the QHSR. This is a much smaller matter.  But it is another example of the same intellectual reflexes: dismiss, distort, destroy.  It is as if the — sometimes heated — discussions begun in late 18th Century Philadelphia have devolved into something much more similar to a junior varsity debating club.  We self-validate by running up the score with reckless accusations, banal set-phrases, and an abject refusal to listen.

Ignore and ignorance share the same source.  Imagination is spurred by authentic encounter with the unknown.

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July 9, 2014

Border Musings

Filed under: Border Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

A couple of random thoughts about the border.

- – - – - – - – - -

What means “secure?” A lot of criticism directed towards the President over the current crisis at the border comes back around to either he has not “secured our border” or that before money should be directed toward HHS efforts at housing and caring for the immigrant children or to bolstering the judicial process they must be go through according to a 2008 law he must first “secure our border.”  

By what measure is it not secure? Or, to put it in the context of the present crisis, what border town is overrun with these Central American children?  To listen to the media, you would think these kids are spreading out from the border like those killer bee maps that once made the rounds.  Yet it seems that these children are getting up to the border and basically turning themselves in. Instead of providing the money the Administration says is necessary to deal with this issue, some Congressmen are calling for the National Guard to be deployed.  What are they going to do?  Shoot the kids as they approach the border?  

- – - – - – - – - -

Apparently if the President doesn’t show up at some border crossing or detention center during his current trip to Texas it will be his “Katrina moment.” Politico give some context to this charge:

Earlier this week, Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district is situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, said he hoped Obama’s decision not to visit the border wouldn’t be his “Katrina moment.” The congressman was referring to then-President George W. Bush’s widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush was famously photographed in the aftermath of the storm surveying the damage from above while aboard Air Force One, a photograph he called a “huge mistake” in 2010.

“In this case where there’s a crisis, a leader’s going to be defined on how he or she handles that crisis,” Cuellar said on CNN Wednesday morning. “You can send surrogates to the border, you can be 500 miles away like how he’s going to be in Dallas today, but he ought to go down there.”

I agree with the first part of that statement about crisis leadership.  I do not agree with the second.  Much sound and fury has been aired demanding that President Obama travel to “the border” (exactly where to see what is never specified).  Only if, ONLY IF he would, obviously the Administration’s entire response to this situation would change.

How?  I have no idea.  I can imagine a Presidential visit would boost the morale of the men and women working at the, uh, locations he visits.  Beyond that, it is unclear what positive impact a Presidential visit to one or two locations on a limited stretch of the border will have.  Will the amount of time he spends on the issue change?  Probably not.  Will the directions he gives his Cabinet secretaries gain added urgency?  Unlikely.  Will his critics find something new to complain about? Undoubtedly.

There is still much to learn and apply from the mistakes made in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina.  Perhaps some can be applied to this situation at the border.  However, I hope people will refrain from throwing around simple comparisons for political scoring sake.  The men and women working their hardest to resolve this crises, at the border and throughout the country, deserve better than that.

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The politics of caliphate

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

There is an interesting post about ISIS up at the Lawfare Blog by Thomas Hegghammer, the director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI). It analyzes the various reasons why ISIS declared a caliphate in the territory it currently controls in Syria and Iraq, as well as the impact of that declaration on other jihadi groups.  His bottom line:

The bottom line is that business in the jihadi world will largely continue as usual after the declaration. Over time, the new caliphate will come to be seen as just another militant group, albeit a very presumptuous one. In the meantime, it is probably wise for Western governments to let the internal jihadi debate run its course. Premature military intervention will give the caliphate a jump start it does not deserve.

Hegghammer brings some reality to the discussion, contra the majority of pundits that equate all Islamic fundamentalist groups with al-Qaida:

For “old” jihadi groups like al-Qaida, ISIS’s move is utterly preposterous. The veterans see themselves as having spent a lifetime fighting superpowers, all the while holding back on declaring a caliphate—only to see a bunch of newcomers come in from the sidelines and steal the trophy. Adding insult to injury, ISIS is now demanding that the veterans submit to the authority of a young, obscure (at least until yesterday) caliph. That demand comes because in theory, the leader of a caliphate rules all Muslims and has supreme executive authority in military matters. All this while ISIS supporters taunt the old guard on social media with comments such as: “If Al-Qaida and al-Taliban could not establish khilafah [caliphate] with all their power and territory for all these years, how can we expect them to suddenly unite upon haqq [truth] now? Al-Khilafah does not need them, rather, they need al-khilafah.”

A number of the world’s most senior jihadi ideologues have already come out against ISIS on the caliphate question, and the criticism from supporters of al-Qaida and groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida-anointed jihadi group in Syria, has been scathing. Meanwhile, ISIS has so far only received the pledge of allegiance (bay’a) from a small number of minor clerics, dissidents from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and groups in the Syrian-Iraqi theater that were at risk of being swallowed by ISIS anyway. To be sure, ISIS has also seen many declarations of support from grassroots sympathizers around the world, but it is unclear whether these are newly won adherents or people who were cheering on ISIS already.

Should or shouldn’t the U.S. intervene?  Well…it’s not clear cut.

However, the caliphate declaration has created a temporary political situation in which the entire jihadi movement is having to decide whether to support ISIS or not. A U.S. offensive in Iraq right now would force that decision in ISIS’s favor for many groups and individuals. Had the caliphate not been declared, a U.S. intervention would not have quite the same rallying effect. Of course, the U.S. may well choose to ignore these factors, but then at least ISIS has done what it could to maximize the cost for the United States associated with an offensive. If, on the other hand, the United States decides to postpone its contribution to the Iraqi counteroffensive, ISIS will temporarily face less resistance. The caliphate declaration may thus have been partly designed—or at least timed—to help ISIS consolidate its territorial gains in Iraq.

These were just some of the many interesting nuggets from Hegghammer’s piece.  The entire thing is worth reading:

Calculated Caliphate:” http://www.lawfareblog.com/2014/07/the-foreign-policy-essay-calculated-caliphate/

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Will they eventually ask us to fly naked?

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

The TSA has issued new security rules:

Last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States.

As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.

TSA will continue to adjust security measures to ensure that travelers are guaranteed the highest levels of aviation security conducted as conveniently as possible.

The optimist in me would like to believe that these new restrictions are due to intelligence indicating a real and imminent threat. The narrow scope (for now) of these new measures supports my optimistic side.

However, the pessimist in me is willing to consider concern about a couple of things.  The most obvious being that with the constant worry about threats to our aviation system since 9/11, a perverse “whack-a-mole” instinct has taken hold.  Almost thirteen years after 9/11, shouldn’t current technology be able to determine whether or not electronic devices are stuffed with explosives rather than circuit board? At every mention of every possible threat, are we to abandon yet even more freedoms and privacy?

And what about the possibility that these rules will make their way into our domestic aviation system? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones makes a related point:

Second: lots of us have had the experience of having to toss out a bottle of liquid or a pocket knife at a TSA checkpoint. But a cell phone? That’s a whole different animal. If TSA starts forcing people to toss their $500 smartphones into a bin, never to be seen again, there’s going to be some serious public outrage. Is that really going to start happening?

I’d vote that it will.  Until at least the first Congress person or staffer has their phone confiscated.  Then, not unlike sequestration, the rules are likely to change.

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July 8, 2014

The Schneierites on the 2014 QHSR

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 8, 2014

Bruce Schneier writes what I consider one of best security-related blogs on the web, “Schneier on Security.”

Over the years, I’ve found most of the people who comment on his blog are serious, generally knowledgeable, and suspicious of unsupported assertions.

A few weeks ago, Schneier told his readers

“The second Quadrennial Homeland Security Review has been published by the Department of Homeland Security. At 100+ pages, I’m not going to be reading it, but I am curious if there’s anything interesting in it.

I’ve been gushing about the QHSR for the last few weeks.  Schneier’s readers are significantly less impressed. Here are some of their comments (italics are intended only to separate the comments):

  • “We have reviewed ourselves and found ourselves to be in compliance.”
  • Nothing of value in most sections I read. It reads like an incredibly long Homeland Security brochure you pick up in their lobby.
  • It says nothing. It reads like an annual report for the Girl Scouts. “We are protecting you… all 1000 federal agencies.” But I especially liked the part about the commitment to human rights… even as the administration justifies drone attacks on civilians.
  • I don’t think I’ll bother trying to read it. Internal reviews are always going to try and put the agency in a positive light, since if they say “This agency is completely useless” then they are all out of a job. Half of their job seems to be to recommend products that various lobbyists promote, the other half is to give an appearance of “We are doing something to combat terrorism” – in reality, I think all we have managed to do is label more and more of the population as potential terrorists, probably making it even more difficult to track real threats.
  • Maybe what’s left out is most interesting. Only a single mention of the “Constitution of the U.S.”
  • Tried to read it, but got bored very quickly. Maybe that’s part of the strategy! Reminds me of a quote from Wittgenstein:”If a lion were able to speak, we would not understand him.”
  • I know that ‘boring your enemy’ is a legitimate tactic. Hell, lawyers have been doing this by handing over large amounts of irrelevant material for the other side to trawl through.
  • They might as well use one of those automatic paper generators (like mathgen [http://thatsmathematics.com/mathgen/] or scigen [http://pdos.csail.mit.edu/scigen/]). [One] wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

I tried the automatic paper generator suggestion in the last comment.  The results were disappointing. One can easily tell the difference between the automatically generated essay and the 2014 QHSR.  There were fewer pictures.

I tried a different generator, found here.  That program produced a 530 word report, also without pictures, but disturbingly connected – in more than a few instances — to homeland security.  Here is a link to that randomly generated homeland security report.

But don’t waste your time.  It’s nowhere near as interesting as the 2014 QHSR.

I’m going back to my echo chamber now.

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July 4, 2014

The music of Independence: six short videos for July 4th

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 4, 2014

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Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 4, 2014

On this day in 1776 fifty-six insurgents meeting in Philadelphia declare rebellion against their lawfully established government.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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July 3, 2014

Hope, fear, and prospect theory

CBP and 8 year old

Photograph by Jennifer Whitney  for the New York Times

Chris Bellavita hopes the QHSR  will advance homeland security.  I fear too few will engage the QHSR to produce a sufficient effect. (Chris, btw bases his hope on evidence from the first QHSR while I deploy mostly worry and cynicism.)

Parents in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and elsewhere hope their children will find a better life in the United States. Others in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, Murietta, California, and elsewhere fear these children will unravel the rule of law.

Some Sunni Salafist fighters hope they are creating the foundations of a just and righteous society across what is now Northern Syria and Iraq, eventually the whole world.  Many Shia faithful and others fear they are numbered among the unrighteous to be converted or killed.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and many geeks still unknown, hope to bring the whole world into our hand-helds, opening exciting opportunities for meaningful relationships and untold riches.  Some of us fear our credit-scores — and more substantive identities — are being delivered into the hands of criminals, terrorists, con-artists, corporate voyeurs, NSA spooks and more.

The current Executive hopes to establish and consistently apply a rigorous set of principles and due process by which evil can be prevented and sacred values preserved (while sources and methods are protected).  Senators Paul and Wyden among others fear that any hidden act claimed as lawful is a hot-house of hubris where the very best intentions will be incrementally reversed.

They want to retire to the beauty of the shore or mountainside or river or forest or such.  The prospect of hurricane, flood, earthquake, and fire prompt some second-thoughts.

We are tempted — especially those of us in homeland security — to treat risk as something that might be measured as accurately as an average shoe-size… if only we can gather enough shoes.  Imelda where art thou?

But the risk that matters most may be imagined more than measured.  Big hirsute Hobbit feet may be the common heuristic, no matter how many ballerinas bounce about us.

Over thirty years ago Tversky and Kahneman showed us, “Decision making under risk can be viewed as a choice between prospects or gambles.”  It is how we frame our expectations that decide our perspective on risk and thereby determine what choices seem rational.

For most our frame-on-reality is decided by a reference point: typically an expectation of the status quo persisting.  If we are more-or-less satisfied (or psychologically risk-averse) we worry more over the prospect of losing than embrace an opportunity to gain.  This can apply even if we have little to lose.  We  tend  to over-weight the downside and under-estimate positive likelihood.

Unless we are risk-seeking. As is typical with criminals, terrorists, and teenage boys. By the early 1990s Tversky and Kahneman had found, “Risk-seeking choices are consistently observed in two classes of decision problems. First, people often prefer a small probability of winning a large prize over the expected value of that prospect. Second, risk seeking is prevalent when people must choose between a sure loss and a substantial probability of a larger loss.”

There are other variations of human rationality that do not square with “expected utility” (rationality according to economists).  But risk-seeking has particular relevance for homeland security.

When my great-grandfather returned to England from another colonial war and had the audacity to marry a Scots seamstress of another (Christian) faith, they faced the disdain of family and very constrained prospects. Perceiving only losses to lose, he and she set out for Philadelphia.  The risk was real, but seemed less to them than remaining in Newcastle.

Nineteenth century Newcastle had a murder-rate considerably less than today’s Tegucigalpa (10 per million versus 1690 per million).  Who says the parent of the eight-year-old in the picture above has not made a reasonable calculation?

Today I will purchase a lottery ticket with a small probability of winning a large prize.  Early this week a new Caliphate was proclaimed.  Was the self-styled Caliph’s reasoning all that different than mine?

There are too many whose reference point is a land-of-loss, especially loss of hope.  The risks they are willing to take — heroic or demonic depending on taste — are worth our notice, a touch of fear, and some courageous creativity.  If reduction of risk-seeking is a goal, our target is their prospective imagination.

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July 2, 2014

QHSR: tension between HS and hs

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on July 2, 2014

I’m a week late to the QHSR discussion and while I don’t have any big thoughts, I do have a few small ones.

- – - – - – - -

There are some problems at the foundation of the QHSR. Issues that point to underlying confusion of what homeland security is, or at least an unclear characterization of what it should be, at the federal level. However, this isn’t the fault of the DHS staff who put together the review, but rather the direction of Congress. As readers are reminded of in the report itself, the scope of the QHSR is:

Each quadrennial homeland security review shall be a comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security and guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities,budget, policies and authorities of the Department.

Soooooo…the Department of Homeland Security (let’s call it capital HS) is mandated by Congress to review the current Administration’s homeland security strategy that includes the work of other agencies (counter-intuitively, I’m going to refer to the whole enchilada encompassing what anyone might wish to include in homeland security as lowercase hs), while at the same time providing DHS-specific recommendations on force structure, authorities, budget, etc. I haven’t checked the authorizing language, but on a quick review of the last DOD QDR (which is supposedly the model for the QHSR) , it pretty much focused entirely on the last half of that charge.  There was little to no language that pointed to the concerns of their national security “partners” or the military’s analysis of the National Security Strategy. Instead it focused on questions of force structure and the impact of sequestration on the military.

In this matter, the important difference between DOD and DHS is that DOD has a long tradition, and specifically, a mature relationship with Congress.  DHS, on the other hand, seems to be generally regarded by many (if not most) lawmakers as the sole actor in the hs sphere.  The consequence being that anything that is considered a hs issue by Congress often becomes a HS issue by default.  A dumping agency.  Even if it is a topic long worked by experienced professionals elsewhere in the government.

- – - – - – - – - -

Contrasting examples of this can be seen in the chapters on bio and nuclear threats. At it’s creation, I do not believe any of the agencies or offices brought to DHS a primary role in either arena (outside of FEMA’s responsibility post nuclear attack).  But in the wisdom of a few, since that time the agency has grown both an Office of Health Affairs (OHA) and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO).

I can see the utility of a health office for the protection of the DHS workforce, not unlike the equivalent in DOD.  Perhaps over time they develop particular expertise to contribute to the larger efforts of the government as a whole.  Instead, projects such as the never-quite-right Biowatch placed them in a bureaucratic competition with agencies with long-standing expertise in public health, such as the CDC (the center of biosurveillance), and those newer offices with a concentration of expertise and responsibility, like ASPR (ESF-8 lead, partner in the National Disaster Medical System, and the government developers of new medical countermeasures through BARDA). The QHSR seems to acknowledge this, as it stresses a whole of government approach to public health and bioterrorist threats. DHS went hs rather than HS in addressing biological threats.

The reverse is true for nuclear terrorism. After identifying the issue and stressing the importance due to the possible consequence of such an attack (if this is so important to HS you’d think FEMA would have gotten it’s act together by now regarding planning for such an event…but I digress), the QHSR takes an entirely parochial view of the subject.

We prioritize a sustained, long-term focus on preventing nuclear terrorism through two foundational capabilities: (1) nuclear detection and (2) nuclear forensics. These capabilities are aimed at preventing our adversaries from developing, possessing, importing, storing, transporting, or using nuclear materials.

In stark contrast to bio-events, nuclear terrorism can and must be prevented.  And that prevention is likely not to occur along the pathways of the “Global Nuclear Detection Architecture” or due to forensic capabilities. It happens because while large, the amount of special materials required for a nuclear terrorist attack are finite, thus possible to secure or eliminate at the source.  Hoping that THE major plank in preventing such an attack is detection of very hard to detect materials with the cooperation of others sitting along a spectrum of competence, corruption, and cooperation would be unwise.

I am not suggesting detection and forensics are unimportant, only that they are secondary to securing and eliminating fissile material.  Yet the QHSR focuses on these capabilities because that is what the DNDO does.  So DHS went HS for addressing the nuclear terrorism threat.

- – - – - – - – - – - – -

One last small quibble with the Review: why did they have to include a “Black Swans” section?  I don’t mean addressing potential future events that could have a significant impact on homeland security.  Rather, why did they have to attempt to co-opt the term itself?  Hasn’t the mess everyone has made with “resilience” taught us anything?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the book “The Black Swan” that popularized the term, summarizes the attributes of these events: “rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.” The QHSR has already violated the third attribute, and their list of four potential Swans have been previously suggested and analyzed elsewhere.  They are neither unforeseen or unexpected.

Personally, I’d prefer to think of Natalie Portman when considering Black Swans.

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