Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 27, 2013

Is English the official language of Homeland Security?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 27, 2013

By default, English is probably the official language of homeland security.  I know some agencies communicate to their constituents in languages other than English.  But I don’t know how many, how frequently, or under what conditions.

Nor do I know what the gap is: that is, how many of the 310 million people in this country don’t know about homeland security because officials don’t speak their language.

Depending on who you ask, there are somewhere between 226 and 382 languages in the US. That’s not especially precise.

Here are some other rough estimates describing our polyglot nation: more than 110 languages are spoken in the San Francisco Bay Area, 224 languages spoken in Los Angeles, 230 in North Texas, and approximately 138 languages spoken in the borough of Queens, New York.

How many languages other than English are spoken in your part of the homeland security enterprise?

How do homeland security professionals communicate with non-English speaking people who need help learning about prevention, response and recovery? How do those professionals learn to listen to people who — even if they are less than comfortable with English — might have something significant to contribute to the nation’s security?

The U.S. Census Bureau offers an on-line map — called the Language Mapper — to help with a partial answer to one of these questions.  You might want to check out the map to see who speaks what in your community.

The 2011 American Community Survey used to generate that map reports more than 20 percent of the U.S. population over 5 years old speak a language other than English at home.

According to the Census Bureau:

The 2011 Language Mapper shows where people speaking specific languages other than English live, with dots representing how many people speak each of 15 different languages. For each language, the mapper shows the concentration of those who report that they speak English less than “very well,” a measure of English proficiency….

The languages available in the interactive map include Spanish, French, French Creole, Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, Polish, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Arabic….

Of the 60.6 million people who spoke a language other than English at home in 2011, almost two-thirds (37.6 million) spoke Spanish.

Reflecting the overall trend, the percentage speaking Spanish at home grew from 12.0 percent in 2005 to 12.9 percent in 2011….

The recent increase in non-English speakers continues a trend dating back three decades. Between 1980 and 2010, the number of people speaking a language other than English climbed 158 percent, compared with 38 percent for the overall population 5 and older. The seven-fold increase in Vietnamese speakers was the highest percentage jump among 17 of the most common languages, while Spanish speakers posted the largest numerical gain (25.9 million). In contrast, the number speaking Italian, German, Polish, Yiddish and Greek declined over the period….

– In addition to English and Spanish, there were six languages in 2011 spoken at home by at least 1 million people: Chinese (2.9 million), Tagalog (1.6 million), Vietnamese (1.4 million), French (1.3 million), German (1.1 million) and Korean (1.1 million).
– The prevalence of people speaking non-English languages at home varied widely across states, from 44 percent of the population in California to 2 percent in West Virginia.
– Laredo, Texas, led all metro areas with 92 percent of residents age 5 and older speaking a language other than English at home.
– Metro and micro areas in the West, South and Northeast tended to have higher levels of people speaking non-English languages at home. Those in the Midwest tended to have lower levels, with the exception of Illinois.
– Of Spanish speakers, 45 percent of foreign-born naturalized citizens spoke English “very well” compared with 23 percent of foreign-born noncitizens. Those who were native-born, had at least a bachelor’s degree or were not in poverty were more likely to speak English “very well.”
– Eighty percent or more of French and German speakers spoke English “very well.” In contrast, less than 50 percent of those who spoke Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese spoke English “very well”. The rate for Spanish speakers was 56 percent.

So how many languages are spoken in the US?

No one is quite sure.

According to Ethnologue

The number of individual languages listed for United States is 226. Of these, 214 are living and 12 are extinct. Of the living languages, 4 are institutional, 6 are developing, 2 are vigorous, 62 are in trouble, and 140 are dying.

(For intriguing details about the living US languages, see the link here.)

The US Census Bureau says there are “382 language categories of single languages or language families [representing]… the most commonly spoken language other than English at home.”

If English is the de facto official language of homeland security, I wonder what risks that creates for our prevention and response efforts.

I don’t know because I never thought about this before seeing the Language Mapper.

By the way, even though the Language Mapper shows data for only 15 languages (for reasons explained here, here, and here), they do allow you to search the 2010 census in your choice of 60 languages.

Ready.gov offers its information in a dozen languages.  Plus English.

Well done, DHS.

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August 26, 2013

Erroll Southers on Domestic Terrorism

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 26, 2013

Erroll Southers, former FBI agent and President Obama’s first nominee to head the TSA, has authored a new book, “Homegrown Violent Extremism.”

Unlike many who talk about homegrown terrorism, Southers does not define it narrowly as related to the Al Qaeda-type Islamic threat. Instead it describes it:

“Homegrown violent extremism is terrorist activity or plots targeting the United States and U.S. assets by American citizens or residents who have embraced their extremist ideology largely within this country.”

In a “Security Debrief” blog post, he goes on to explain:

When we look at the diversity of violent extremist ideologies and thousands of followers who present a threat to the United States, we are looking into a mirror.

Domestic terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing threat. The disrupted Las Vegas plot to kill police officers is only the most recent instance of homegrown violent extremism (HVE), but there are numerous others examples: white supremacist Michael Wade Page’s shooting at a Sikh temple; anti-Semite James von Brunn’s shooting and killing of a Holocaust Museum security officer; Sovereign Citizen Andrew Joseph Stack III’s suicide plane attack on the federal office complex in Austin, Texas; and Floyd Lee Corkins’ attack at the Washington conservative think tank, Family Research Council.

If any of these ideologically inspired attacks had been perpetrated by an al Qaeda actor, there would have been immediate and widespread labeling of the incident as “terrorism.” As it is, however, these attacks have gone somewhat unnoticed in the broader discussion on terrorism and how to prevent it.

He does not stop at defining this problem, but goes on to describe the issues related to addressing it while at the same time not undermining our society’s basic values.

I have not read the book so cannot vouch for Southers’ conclusions.  However, I certainly hope this work expands the conversation.

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August 23, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 23, 2013

On this date in 1996 Osama bin Laden published a statement declaring war on the United States.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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August 22, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: The government’s role in fostering resilience

Filed under: Recovery,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 22, 2013

sandyrebuildingstrategy_0

Here’s the lead paragraph from Monday’s Department of Housing and Urban Development news release:

President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, today released a rebuilding strategy to serve as a model for communities across the nation facing greater risks from extreme weather and to continue helping the Sandy-affected region rebuild.  The Rebuilding Strategy contains 69 policy recommendations, many of which have already been adopted, that will help homeowners stay in and repair their homes, strengthen small businesses and revitalize local economies and ensure entire communities are better able to withstand and recover from future storms. 

Here’s a link to the full report.

Excellent overview of impact and consequences.  The sixty-nine recommendations are all reasonable and, if even partially implemented, will advance resilience and readiness.

As my once teen-aged son commented, “When you open with praise is when I really get nervous.”

This is very much a government-to-government document.  How do various federal agencies coordinate? How do federal, state, and local jurisdictions coordinate or at least avoid conflict? The interagency and intergovernmental challenges are real.  This document should help with these issues.  Every recommendation is doable and assigned out for doing.

But if a broader mandate was intended, it has certainly gotten lost.

One example from a section giving priority to “restore and strengthen homes, providing families with safe, affordable housing options.”

34. RECOMMENDATION: Bring together the Housing RSF and Emergency Support Function six partner agencies to review and integrate existing housing plans, as well as existing statutes, regulations, and policies for potential changes (statutory, regulatory or policy) to improve the delivery of housing solutions for future disasters.

Might it also be a good idea to bring together major builders and managers of housing?

Someone reading the Task Force Report might be excused for thinking the private sector had been totally obliterated by Hurricane Sandy and has not returned.  Housing is not the only place where the absence of private players is remarkable.

Toward the end of the report I thought, aha here we go most of the reach-out to the private sector has been consolidated under a single title.  There is a section called, “Facilitate Opportunities for Community and Non-Profit Engagement in Capacity Building and Actively Engage Philanthropy to Fill Capacity Gaps.”  This tees-up precisely one recommendation:

61. RECOMMENDATION: Facilitate and expand opportunities for philanthropic and non-profit engagement in recovery, including opportunities for organizations that work with vulnerable populations. The CPCB RSFs in New York and New Jersey should actively support funder collaboratives that provide grants to nonprofits working in coordination with government. This should include encouragement of sub-grants to NGOs that would assist in accomplishing the Federal outreach requirements, including those specific to vulnerable populations to ensure they are included in the recovery planning process.

To be fair there are a couple of recommendations that seem to involve elements of the community beyond the government. Further, there is evidence the Task Force actively reached out to consult with a broader cross-section… though contact with the commercial sector is not explicit.  There are other initiatives that have featured robust private-public engagement in conceiving post-Sandy priorities.

Still, a Stalinist apparatchik awaking from a seventy year nap might read the Task Force report and find good cause to believe central planning had also been adopted by the United States.

Precisely because centralized planning is not our reality, some greater attention to the private — individual, family, neighborhood, not-for-profit, and commercial — domain would have strengthened what is a helpful report.

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August 21, 2013

Juliette Kayyem: the first resilience political candidate?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 21, 2013

“I am not a career politician. I don’t believe in luck, I believe in preparedness. I will make sure that Massachusetts is ready for whatever comes our way.”

— Juliette Kayyem, Massachusetts governor’s race campaign video.

Juliette Kayyem (regularly quoted by myself on this blog to be clear about my biases) has held the posts of homeland security adviser in Massachusetts and Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs in DHS (as well as civil rights lawyer in DOJ and terrorism scholar at Harvard).  Earlier today she officially announced that she was joining the race to succeed Deval Patrick as governor of Massachusetts.

The political horse race and bipartisan-type politics aside, what might be relevant to this blog is the fact she could be very well be the first “resilience” candidate for major office, and certainly one of the few with such a homeland security-heavy resume earned before running.

There have been two governors selected as DHS Secretary.  Countless lawyers, and certainly a host of district attorney/prosecutor types in the mold of former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have been elected to various offices.  Yet these have been either candidates experienced in law enforcement before winning office or gained homeland security positions afterwards.

Sitting officials often strongly and intelligently respond to events.  Current NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Christie both made smart decisions during and following Superstorm Sandy.  The cluster*** that was Katrina aside, at all levels of government and both sides of the political divide, I would wager that many of the Gulf Coast governors and mayors understand the issues well, as do their counterparts in Tornado Alley and California.  Former Florida Jeb Bush, for example, is very likely able to delve deeply into a host of homeland security and resilience-related issues.

Juliette, however, brings a breadth and depth of homeland security experience earned before running for elected office I haven’t noticed in previous political candidates.  Though I would be happy to hear that I’m wrong.  And she has apparently also been writing a book on resilience.

That work sounds like it’s surfacing in her soundbites:

“Whether the challenge comes from economic hardship, violence, illness, global climate change or the increasingly complex world our children will inherit, the measure of us as a people comes down to how well we prepare and protect each other.”

Washington Post

 

“It’s really about not wishing for the past, not thinking about what might have been, but how Massachusetts should be — and preparing for that. And that’s what I’ve done all my career.”

In a half-hour telephone interview with the Globe, she said that her campaign will focus on integrating technology into education; developing the state’s infrastructure, from ports to broadband to clean energy; and focusing on how to make the state adaptable to the consequences of climate change.

“Any governor who is going to lead in the next four, eight years has to take climate adaptation exceptionally seriously: we are a coastal state,” she said.

Boston Globe

I think it will be interesting to see if this type of frame helps get her message across.  It will be even more interesting if she wins to observe what type of resilience-related policies get enacted.  Whether or not she ends up being successful in her quest, I hope she inspires other aspiring politicians of both parties to embrace this approach.

Postscript (warning – political video in the hole): If my argument hasn’t been persuasive, you can watch Juliette’s inaugural video spot below and on her website.  The homeland security/resilience message and imagery seems sprinkled throughout – or maybe I’m just hoping?

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August 20, 2013

QHSR 2.0 – the preparedness phase

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 20, 2013

While DHS is waiting to learn who its fourth leader will be, homeland security geeks (you know who you are) spend the summer quadrennially reviewing homeland security.

If you care about homeland security and want to add your voice to the 2nd QHSR discussion, you have at least two options.  You can join the conversation on IdeaScale and you can go to the “Quadrennial Homeland Security Communities of Practice” message board. (Registration required on both sites.)

Here’s how the IdeaScale works:

  • Users submit their ideas
  • The “community” discusses and votes for the ideas.
  • The best ideas bubble to the top.

I could not discover what happens to the ideas that bubble to the top.

The QHSR Communities of Practice site “addresses question of governance in the Homeland Security Enterprise – The Public Private Relationship.”

I interpreted those words to mean you could talk about anything as long as it had to do with public-private relationships in homeland security.  Most of the 90+ posts did have a private sector connection, even the discussions of memes and the-always-appropriate “what is homeland security?”

The IdeaScale site has a richer variety of issues.  As of last night, there were 140 of them — including:

  • the impact of Obamacare on public health
  • whether local law enforcement could be trusted with homeland security
  • facial recognition
  • global recovery
  • cryptocurrencies
  • aging
  • politics as a waste
  • Christion Zionism
  • infectious illegal immigrants
  • the security of homeland security vehicles
  • tablet computers for prison inmates
  • privacy concerns hindering homeland security efforts

There were many more.

Even if few of those ideas make it into the 2nd QHSR, they do offer candidates for news stories, research papers, conspiracy theories and congressional hearings.

I spent a few days last week in the company of 30 state, local, federal and private sector people, all of whom had some connection to homeland security.

I asked about the QHSR.

Most people had heard something about it. Some thought it was a strategy. Others said it was a law.  It was a plan.  A report.

One person said the QHSR influenced what that person did at work:  “Everything we do is aligned to the 2010 Review.”  That person works for DHS.

No one else in the room was able to identify any impact the 2010 QHSR had on what they do. No one.  The consensus was the 2014 Report would have the same result.

“Why is the QHSR Important?” asks the 2nd QHSR Engagement Bulletin.

The 2010 Report “described the what of homeland security.”  The 2014 Report “will begin to describe the how of homeland security.”

Another description (available here) says the “first quadrennial review answered the question, ‘What is homeland security?’ ” And the “second quadrennial review is focusing on how we work together to address critical security challenges in the face of evolving threats and resource constraints.”

The Engagement Bulletin has a a buzzing description of five specific things the 2nd QHSR will do.

  • Apply a strategic, risk based approachusing a rigorous, data-driven analytic approach.
  • Learn from the past to help plan for the future….
  • Maximize impact….
  • Help create a DHS that “works together even more efficiently.
  • Engage the entire homeland security enterprise….

I admire the ideals reflected in those aspirational objectives and the belief that the homeland security world might work that way.

I wonder what measures could be used to determine whether the QHSR will do those 5 things.

I wonder what “learn from the past” measures are used within DHS and in Congress to figure out what impact the 1st QHSR Report had in the homeland security enterprise. (Seriously. I’d appreciate learning, if anyone knows.)

Why even do this exercise?

Blame Congress.  It mandated that every 4 years there be a review of “the homeland security of the nation.” Whatever that means.

Congress directed the Review to 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.

That’s a tall order.  Bravo to those in the Arena who are trying to make this work.

If I remember correctly about what happened after the 1st QHSR Report was issued, Congress held hearings, DHS folks testified, Congress said there should be more progress.

That’s probably going to happen again.

But all that is later.  Right now, cynic, realist or idealist, you have an opportunity to offer your ideas, debate with people who care about homeland security, and who knows, maybe make a difference.

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August 18, 2013

John “Jock” Menzies

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 18, 2013

Jock Menzies

I am told that Jock Menzies died unexpectedly on Friday, August 16.

“He was a burning and a shining light: and we were for a season to rejoice in his light.” (John 5:35)

While the issues Jock advanced were serious, troublesome and treacherous, it was easy to rejoice in his presence.   He was a persistent source of intelligence, deep experience, good hope, and practical love.

I depended on him, his network, and his judgment for much of what I have accomplished over the last three years.  We were to have dinner together this Wednesday night.  The meeting will focus on a wonderful opportunity for private-public collaboration that is endangered by bureaucratic myopia.  I explained to others I was inviting Jock because he is “especially well-wired and a wise man.”

As important, Jock listened carefully and sympathetically especially when he profoundly disagreed.  We had worked together for nearly two years before I heard him express real frustration with another, and even then it was with a sort of absurdist humor that emphasized our shared human tendency for folly.

His work spanned preparedness, response and recovery.  Jock was a strategist who could also work the phones to get a critical shipment of pharmaceuticals into a disaster zone just in the nick of time.  He was a broker, communicator, facilitator who — especially in his role with the American Logistics Aid Network — helped translate the very different languages and worldviews of the private and public sectors.

Jock’s death is a serious blow to private-public collaboration in homeland security.  Despite every effort to institutionalize his role, Jock was often the indispensable personal link that allowed huge institutions (and the sometimes huge ego of others) to dispense with self-absorbed distractions and focus on concrete challenges and opportunities.

He became indispensable because in a room full of people wanting to be in charge and demonstrate their power or insight Jock wanted to save lives and lessen the pain of the afflicted.   He was my hero.

Hundreds even thousands will be sad to hear of Jock’s death.  May we honor his memory — and celebrate his life — by listening more carefully, responding more positively, and living more gently with one another.  Perhaps together we can retrieve some small portion of the grace we have lost with his premature passing.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

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August 16, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 16, 2013

On this day in 1989 a significant solar flare impacted microchips and electrical grids across North America.

Today across Egypt this generation’s aspirations to political, social, and religious reform may be buried in internecine violence.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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August 15, 2013

A welcome Presidential invitation (but please proceed even if there are no RSVPs)

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Privacy and Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 15, 2013

AUGUST 16 UPDATE: Today the Washington Post reports on several hundred incidents of the NSA failing to conform with current regulations and legal boundaries for domestic surveillance.  This is where strong action by the executive — as outlined below — is most needed and can be most effective.

ORIGINAL POST:

Friday the President used the White House press room to announce and take a few questions on proposals to better balance civil liberties with digital surveillance.

Monday the Wall Street Journal editorialized that these proposals constitute a “retreat on his core powers as Commander in Chief.”  If I understand the editorial correctly, the WSJ perceives the President has sovereign authority under Article II, Section 2 to spy on us as much as he perceives the nation’s security might require.  Judicial oversight as currently provided by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is, in their view, unconstitutional.  Any due process is, it would seem, collaboration with our enemies.

On the left hand: Writing in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf conducts an eviscerating exegesis of the rather brief — even bland — Presidential statement and concludes, “Obama is still lying, obfuscating, and misleading the American people. In doing so, he is preventing representative democracy from functioning as well as it might.”   He perceives a President corrupted by power and given over to condescension, setting the stage for our liberties to be lost forever.

There are of course judgments farther to the right and left of these still recognizably reasoned opinions.  But rather quickly “right” and “left” are lost to something closer to Freudian obsessions or the deepest mysteries of Jung’s collective unconscious.  Obama becomes a token or talisman or target of spiritual warfare and whatever he says is treated like a just-discovered manuscript in a Dan Brown novel.

My take is more prosaic.  The President — like all of us — is a creature of his prior experiences.  Among these are 1) a black man with insider knowledge of white America, 2) community organizer, and 3) lawyer.

If the first prior is having any influence here, it is expressed in the President’s perpetual pragmatism.  He intends to “get ahead” (what this means specifically depends on context).  To do so he needs to be realistic about the impediments or threats he will encounter.  He is predisposed to action that mitigates or obviates knowable problems. The surveillance programs (and the drone program and much more) inherited from his predecessor are adapted, expanded, and subjected to more detailed processes.

As a community organizer he is sensitive to matching his interventions to the values, aspirations, capabilities, and readiness of those he is trying to organize.  He can facilitate, provoke, propose… but it is up to the community to choose and sustain (or not).  Fundamental issues can be teed up, but it is the community’s role  — not his — to decide.  Notice how often, including in this instance, he unveils a process that tends to turn the initiative over to others.  He will advocate for certain principles or objectives, but if and how these are adopted is really up to others.

As a lawyer President Obama is inclined to procedural solutions: a task force, a privacy advocate, checklists, reviews, appeals…  Justice Frankfurter once wrote, “The safeguards of due process of law and the equal protection of the laws summarize the history of freedom of English-speaking peoples running back to Magna Carta and reflected in the constitutional development of our people. The history of American freedom is, in no small measure, the history of procedure.”  Whether or not the President knows the quote, he regularly demonstrates his concurrent view.

As a white man I have not needed to be quite so pro-active regarding threats and impediments.  My approach to management and leadership is similar to that of a community organizer. The successes tend, I am proud to say, to be substantive and long-lasting.  But failure is much, much more common.   I am personally impatient with procedure, but as a matter of human history I agree with Frankfurter (and the President) on its important role.

There are tangible threats to the United States which surveillance can help prevent and mitigate.  There is a profound threat to our liberty that emerges from government surveillance, especially in this digitally networked era.  Procedures are, probably, the most important part of any large bureaucracy’s effort to mitigate abuse of this unprecedented surveillance capability.

In a different time or place I might, despite all my failures, still advocate for community-based engagement with these treacherous issues.  Unfortunately, in this time and place if our civil liberties are to be reasonably preserved in face of these extraordinary technical means, strong and specific Presidential action will be needed.  Legislation would be better, but I don’t think it will happen.  Community consensus would be even better, but on this issue nothing even close to consensus is possible any time soon.

It is problematic. It is paradoxical.  But a community’s strength sometimes depends on individuals to sacrifice legitimate power in order advance what is best for the community.  On Monday the Wall Street Journal editorial board complained, “Mr. Obama invited Congress to tie him and future presidents down with new oversight and limits on a surveillance program…”  It is right to extend the invitation.  It will be necessary to do even more.

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August 13, 2013

Crossing over into Canada

Filed under: Border Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 13, 2013

Today’s post was written by someone who – other than being an American citizen — has nothing to do with homeland security.   She lives in the northwest US.

My 12 year old wanted to visit a foreign country this summer. We figured the easiest way to do it would be to visit Canada for the weekend. We would just dip our toes into the country by visiting Victoria for two days. A mere two-hour ferry ride from Anacortes, Washington to Sydney, British Columbia would put us in an entirely different country! But not that different really. After all it’s only Canada. It’s just up the road. You just get in the car and go. Right?

Nope.

We knew things had changed since 9/11. We could no longer cross the border to Canada by answering questions only slightly more rigorous than “do you have any fresh fruit or vegetables?” like they ask at the California border. We knew a passport was involved.

I had a passport, but my 12 year old did not. His expired when he was 5 and we had not renewed it.

We almost didn’t get to go because getting a passport for our 12 year old would take most of the rest of the summer. But then, joy! We read that children under the age of 16 could travel to Canada with only a birth certificate and it didn’t even have to be the original.  A copy would do. My son and I could take our trip after all.

We made reservations, battled our way through the Seattle traffic and arrived in Anacortes well before the ferry to Sydney was to depart. We got in line and inched along.

At last the ticket booth came into view. A man in a day-glo green vest asked us where we were headed. We told him.

Do you have a letter for the boy?” he asked.

“A letter? I have his birth certificate,” I replied.

“You need a letter from his dad saying it’s okay for you take your son to Canada,” he said. “If you don’t have it you might have trouble on the Canadian side.”

“What does the letter need to say? Is there a form? Are there guidelines that tell me what I must include in the letter?” I asked.

We were three cars away from the ticket agent who would be asking for the letter we didn’t have.

“You just need a note from your husband saying it’s okay.”

This letter – the one that would determine if we could visit Canada or not was sounding less official than the permission slips I sign for my son’s school field trips and more like an excuse I write to the teacher when he’s tardy. Apparently any old slip of paper would do.

Over in the passenger seat my 12 year old was freaking out.

“They aren’t going to let me into Canada!” “What will they do with me?” “Am I breaking the law?”

I suggested writing a letter on behalf of my husband and signing his name. I picked up a pen and piece of paper to begin.

“But that’s forgery!” my son yelled as he grabbed the pen from my hand. “You can’t do that! I won’t let you! It’s against the law! I respect my country and my government!”

He was really worked up.

“Even if Dad says it’s okay?” I asked.

“No! It’s breaking government laws and I won’t let you do that!” he replied.

Then he accused me: “Are you some sort of hippie? Are you going to paint the van all flowery and sit there and be like, ‘hey man, we don’t have to respect the system?’”

By now it was our turn to face the person who was going to demand the letter.

With great trepidation, but trying to maintain a cheerful attitude while my son was by now afraid to speak, we approached the agent. I gave her my passport and my son’s birth certificate.

“Do you have a letter from his dad saying it’s okay for you to take him to Canada?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll let you go, but you might have trouble when you get to Canada. I really shouldn’t do this,” she said as she waved us on. I thanked her and drove on to the ferry.

Did we just get away with something? Were we breaking the law? Was she saying it was okay for us to do that? It was all very confusing to my law-abiding, bureaucratically naive son.

But we were on the ferry, on our way to Canada and we couldn’t turn back. Would the Canadians let us in the country without the letter? If they didn’t would they send us back to the US? Would they put us in some sort of holding cell? Would they put us in jail? Canadian jail? Border patrol jail? Were we doomed to ride back and forth on the ferry forever? We did not know. Our border crossing had taken a dark turn.

We arrived in Sydney and drove off the ferry to join the line of cars waiting to be granted entry into Canada. Ours was the last car off the boat.

We worried our way through the line of cars. By now my husband had texted me a letter. Would that do? We had no idea, but it was our turn. My son and I both tried to be cool.

The Canadian was extremely friendly. She was downright sunny as she asked us for our documents. She asked for the letter and I gave her the phone. It had a picture of the letter from my husband.

“Will this do?” I asked.

She smiled and said she knew how it was when you realized you needed something at the last minute. She asked me my address and how long we’d be in Canada. Then she turned to my son.

“Why are you traveling without your dad?” she asked him.

“He’s in California looking at colleges with my older brother,” was my son’s reply.

Polite talk about older brothers going off to college ensued.

“Enjoy your visit,” she said. She waved us on. We were in!

She was nice, my son and I commented to each other as our worries faded and we turned our attention to being in Canada.

Driving along at 90 km/h wondering how much a $1.41 liter of gas really cost we started taking pictures and texting them to the other half of our family. Then it dawned on me. Just what did that text about international data and roaming charges I got from AT&T while we were on the ferry mean?

Epilogue

After the ordeal the letter caused, you can bet upon returning to the United States we made sure we a paper copy in our hand.

But when it came time to cross the border, none of the 3 border patrol people we faced were in the least bit interested in seeing our letter. I handed it to the first US border patrol person and she literally gave it back to me saying, “I don’t need this.”

REALLY? But I worked so hard to make sure I had it! By now I was pretty darned proud of my letter. But no matter, she looked at our other documents and waved us on telling us to get in lane 8 to wait for the ferry.

Lane 8 was a holding pen.

We were surrounded by fence topped with barbed wire. On the other side of the fence people were freely going about their business boating and otherwise enjoying the sunny weather. Granted there was a gift shop in the holding pen, but it was clear if we wanted out, we’d have to talk to yet another authority and show our documents. It was starting to feel un-American.

We boarded the ferry, made one stop in Friday Harbor where passengers disembarked but did not board, then sailed on the Anacortes, Washington looking forward to being back in the United States of America. We drove off the boat and found ourselves in line once again. Are we going to have to talk to yet another official?

Yep.

The border official asked us for our “papers.” That sounded un-American as well. But he was dead serious and appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest, so we were not about to quibble.

I gave him my passport, my son’s birth certificate and the letter.

You will not be surprised to learn that he did not want to see the letter either. He glanced at our other documents, and asked, “What were you doin’ in Canada?”

“Visiting Victoria,” I answered.

“How long were you there?” he asked.

“Three days,” I replied.

“Did you buy anything?” he asked.

I responded with the truth. “Some cereal and a purse. Do you want to see them?”

“No,” he said and waved us on.

My son and I thought my response was hilarious. Cereal and a purse! We giggled ourselves silly as we drove toward home.

But it wasn’t really that funny.

Crossing the border had made us nervous. And tense. Uneasy. And yes, even a little afraid.

But it was over now, so we felt free.

Free enough to laugh.

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August 12, 2013

President’s statement on surveillance policy

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on August 12, 2013

Following is all but one non-substantive paragraph of a statement the President made at the White House on Friday.  He answered some related questions.  I will probably offer some thoughts of my own in this Thursday’s post.

–+–

As I said at the National Defense University back in May, in meeting those threats we have to strike the right balance between protecting our security and preserving our freedoms. And as part of this rebalancing, I called for a review of our surveillance programs. Unfortunately, rather than an orderly and lawful process to debate these issues and come up with appropriate reforms, repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate, but not always fully informed way.

Now, keep in mind that as a senator, I expressed a healthy skepticism about these programs, and as President, I’ve taken steps to make sure they have strong oversight by all three branches of government and clear safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of the American people. But given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance — particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives.

I’m also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas, because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness — because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation, it’s the way we do it — with open debate and democratic process.

In other words, it’s not enough for me, as President, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well. And that’s why, over the last few weeks, I’ve consulted members of Congress who come at this issue from many different perspectives. I’ve asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to review where our counterterrorism efforts and our values come into tension, and I directed my national security team to be more transparent and to pursue reforms of our laws and practices.

And so, today, I’d like to discuss four specific steps — not all inclusive, but some specific steps that we’re going to be taking very shortly to move the debate forward.

First, I will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act — the program that collects telephone records. As I’ve said, this program is an important tool in our effort to disrupt terrorist plots. And it does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant. But given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse. So after having a dialogue with members of Congress and civil libertarians, I believe that there are steps we can take to give the American people additional confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse.

For instance, we can take steps to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority. So I look forward to working with Congress to meet those objectives.

Second, I’ll work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISC. The FISC was created by Congress to provide judicial review of certain intelligence activities so that a federal judge must find that our actions are consistent with the Constitution. However, to build greater confidence, I think we should consider some additional changes to the FISC.

One of the concerns that people raise is that a judge reviewing a request from the government to conduct programmatic surveillance only hears one side of the story — may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty. And while I’ve got confidence in the court and I think they’ve done a fine job, I think we can provide greater assurances that the court is looking at these issues from both perspectives — security and privacy.

So, specifically, we can take steps to make sure civil liberties concerns have an independent voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.

Number three, we can, and must, be more transparent. So I’ve directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. We’ve already declassified unprecedented information about the NSA, but we can go further. So at my direction, the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer, and released information that details its mission, authorities, and oversight. And finally, the intelligence community is creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency, and this will give Americans and the world the ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does and what it doesn’t do, how it carries out its mission, and why it does so.

Fourth, we’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in the haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments — including our own — unprecedented capability to monitor communications.

So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities — particularly our surveillance technologies. And they’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy — particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. And they will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy.

So all these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values. And to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. Our intelligence is focused, above all, on finding the information that’s necessary to protect our people, and — in many cases — protect our allies.

It’s true we have significant capabilities. What’s also true is we show a restraint that many governments around the world don’t even think to do, refuse to show — and that includes, by the way, some of America’s most vocal critics. We shouldn’t forget the difference between the ability of our government to collect information online under strict guidelines and for narrow purposes, and the willingness of some other governments to throw their own citizens in prison for what they say online.

And let me close with one additional thought. The men and women of our intelligence community work every single day to keep us safe because they love this country and believe in our values. They’re patriots. And I believe that those who have lawfully raised their voices on behalf of privacy and civil liberties are also patriots who love our country and want it to live up to our highest ideals. So this is how we’re going to resolve our differences in the United States — through vigorous public debate, guided by our Constitution, with reverence for our history as a nation of laws, and with respect for the facts.

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August 10, 2013

The best police chief recruitment video I’ve ever seen

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on August 10, 2013

I don’t actually know what to say about this video except the City of Hillsboro, Oregon is seriously looking for a police chief.

To get a sense of the interaction between police and fire in Hillsboro, see in particular the short vignette at the 5:42 mark of this 6 minute video.

 

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August 9, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 9, 2013

On this date in 1945 an atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki, immediately killing 39,000 residents of the Japanese city.  On this date in 1971 British forces initiated Operation Demetrius involving the mass arrest and internment of suspected Irish Republican paramilitary personnel.  Riots and significant displacements resulted.  On this date in 2006 several arrests were made in the United Kingdom alleging a plot to bomb at least seven trans-Atlantic flights.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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August 8, 2013

An abundance of caution

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Risk Assessment,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 8, 2013

Diplomatic Posts ClosedOn Monday the State Department’s deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, explained several U.S. diplomatic posts would remain closed for up to a week out of an “abundance of caution” prompted by a potential terrorist attack.

As the Tsarnaev brothers fled, flinging explosives from their stolen car, residents of Boston and many close-in suburbs were told to stay inside behind locked doors.  The unprecedented, rather amazing, shut-down of a huge urban area was justified by an abundance of caution emerging from a proven murderous capacity and a continued proximate capability demonstrated just hours before.

As Hurricane Sandy churned north, Mayor Bloomberg announced mandatory evacuations and scheduled suspension of the transit system as warranted by an abundance of caution. Soon enough — and well before landfall — he was warning of a clear and present danger.

Congressional leaders who have been briefed on the intelligence “stream” are unified in endorsing the abundance of caution undertaken in recent days.  It is reassuring that our feuding representatives can find anything on which to agree.  Especially when such vociferous political adversaries make common-cause, I am inclined to defer to their assessment of the current context.  The evidence has, apparently, pointed to a fast-approaching threat.

But I will raise an issue of strategy or perhaps policy beyond the current circumstance: With Hurricane Sandy the threat velocity was known and New York was absolutely in the target zone.  In the case of Boston, Watertown, and near-by, bombing, murder and mayhem were undeniably clear and present.

What seems to be the situation with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and AQ-Core is a communications intercept involving a vague instruction to do something big.  I will admit this strikes me — so early in the post-Snowden period — as a suspicious choice by Messrs. Zawahiri and Wuhayshi. (Or… in our Kafkaesque counterterrorism context is the intercept report a false-flag to distract AQ et al from the actual tradecraft involved?) When or where or precisely who might carry out the attack is not known.  So… we evacuate or shelter-in-place across roughly the same expansive space as the Umayyad Caliphate.

But… taking the reported intercept on face value, AQAP has a significant capacity in Yemen.  Given demonstrated AQAP capabilities, the shuttering of our Sana’a facility and evacuation of most personnel is probably a prudent measure.  (The government of Yemen disagrees and claims to have foiled a local plot.)

We have seen that other AQ franchises across North Africa, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere also have existing capacity.  I don’t have the resources to assess threat capabilities in each nation where our official outpost has closed its doors.  No doubt if the decision-criterion is an “abundance of caution” a sufficient argument can be made for each.

–+–

Last week I was given a boilerplate contract to sign.  It included a clause that could have been used by the other party to claim 125 percent of any revenue I generated from a set of long-time clients.  This was not the original intent of the clause, but was a possible application.  Such action by the other party is very unlikely, but out of an abundance of caution I arranged for an amendment to the agreement.

This is an example of the origins of the phrase.  In Latin it is “ex abundanti cautela”.  In Roman law the tendency to explicitly engage and counter very unlikely possibilities is prompted by an an abundance of caution.  Such action is certainly prudent. It is also — at least in the context of ancient Roman law — tedious, pedantic, and often so ridiculous as to become absurd.

Today the phrase is usually unveiled with a kind of magisterial flourish that suggests no reasonable person could possibly contest the good sense of behaving with an abundance of caution.

Is over-abundance possible?

New York could — out of an abundance of caution — announce voluntary evacuations every time one of those individual tracks in the hurricane cone-of-probability crosses between Atlantic City and the Hamptons.

The Boston area shelter-in-place order was lifted about 6:15 PM.  After nearly eleven hours behind locked doors, caution seemed a bit over-ripe. The surviving suspect was located in the boat about a half-hour later.  What would have been our assessment of the Boston shut-down if the second suspect had not been located that evening?

 –+–

Most of our risks are no-notice. But with hurricanes — and to a lesser extent tornadoes and blizzards — there is an emerging ability to take action to avert harm.  The reason we spend billions on  the intelligence community and offer the first fruits of liberty on the altar of security is to give us similar warning for evil intention.

What we have learned from weather-related warning is that preventive action not followed by a confirming event increases the tendency of the population to take unnecessary risks next time.  Over-zealous — or unlucky — efforts to prevent harm can perversely cause greater harm.

While we are certainly dealing with probabilities, this is not — yet — a matter of contending mathematical models.  We are left with concepts… judgments… words.  Always fallible, but fully worth our careful thought.

An abundance of caution is an ancient legal principle supportive of taking preventive action. So is the common law’s “bad tendency” which was succeeded by “clear and present danger” which has evolved into justifying preventive action by the State only where the threat of violence is both imminent and likely.

Is the threat proximate in time and space and probable?  We will still disagree, but these are the right questions to ask.  These are the right questions to answer in justifying dramatic preventive or preemptive action.

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August 5, 2013

Tricking out your disaster kit – buying emergency “gee-gaws”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 5, 2013

Thanks to longtime friend of this site Claire Rubin and her “Recovery Diva” blog (I have to say I’m jealous she gets to refer to herself as “the Diva”) for pointing out this Wall Street Journal article with suggestions for “Stylish Yet Practical Emergency Gear.”

As the Diva puts it, “Leave it to the Wall St. Journal to come up with a lot of expensive gear that will help you get through an emergency with less stress.”

I believe this is my favorite, and obviously the one tool no one should be without in an emergency:

3. Kem Playing Cards

Power outages call for old-school gaming. Kem playing cards are made of cellulose acetate (plastic), hence, they are waterproof and beer-proof. Casino pros, take note: The company asserts that the tear-resistant cards have the “classic snap and feel of paper.” The decks are sold in pairs, and include a hard-plastic carrying box. $30 for a set, either poker- or bridge-size, kem.com

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August 2, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 2, 2013

On this day in 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait.  Gulf War I had something to do with Gulf War II.  Each in very different ways have implications for what we now call homeland security.  But 1990 certainly seems distant from 2003 and each of these prefaces seem profoundly distant from today.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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