Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 20, 2012

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 20, 2012

Dilbert is written and drawn by Scott Adams

This time I agree with the pointy headed boss.

Persistence is a key to success.  So is knowing when to quit and move on.  The deciding factor is context.

And maybe — just maybe — this is where resilient recovery and resilient adaptability meet.

How bad is it?  What are the options?  What can be saved? What must be let go?  What’s the upside?   How bad’s the downside?

What is the context… really?

What is reality?

Ultimately resilience — its strengths, its agility, flexibility, the rapid-firing feedback loops, the relationships and firm foundations — matters in order to more effectively deal with reality.

A willow tree is resilient.  It also has no choice but to persist or die.  Individuals and communities can uproot and re-root depending on what they understand of reality.

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September 19, 2012

Resilience or Adaptability?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 19, 2012

Frazz is written and drawn by Jef Mallett.

In the face of challenges there are things that I can change.   When good can be preserved or retreived, may I be resilient.

In the case of some profound challenges, there are things I cannot preserve, or retrieve, or change.

May I have the wisdom to know the difference.

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September 18, 2012

“What kind of government have you given us?”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 18, 2012

An American short story says someone asked Ben Franklin in 1787 what kind of government the Constitutional Convention came up with.

“A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin supposedly replied.

That’s a fine American story that deserves retelling every now and then.


Monday was Constitution Day in the Republic we received from the Founders.

Constitution Day became a national observance in 2004, when Senator Robert Byrd … added the Constitution Day clause to his 2004 federal spending bill because he believed that all citizens should know about their rights as outlined in the Constitution. This clause mandates the teaching of the Constitution in schools that receive federal funds, as well as federal agencies.

I wonder whether this is a law people in schools and federal agencies paid attention to yesterday.


I think the Preamble to the Constitution is especially relevant to homeland security. It offers – in 29 words – a majestic vision of the homeland security mission:

1. Form a more perfect union
2. Establish justice
3. Insure domestic tranquility
4. Provide for the common defense
5. Promote the general welfare
6. Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

I (unfairly) compare the Preamble to the 32 words of the National Preparedness Goal:

A secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.


In honor of Constitution Day, here’s a quiz assessing basic Constitutional knowledge.

1.Where did the Constitutional Convention meet in 1787?
- Boston
- New York
- Philadelphia
- Washington

2. Which of the following isn’t a right guaranteed under the First Amendment?
- Freedom of speech
- Right to bear arms
- Freedom of religion
- Right to petition the government

3. How many amendments were in the ratified Bill of Rights?
- 8
- 9
- 10
- 12

4. What document did the Constitution replace?
- The Articles Of Confederation
- The Bill Of Rights
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Royal Colonial Charter

5. Who wrote the original Bill of Rights and introduced it to Congress?
- Alexander Hamilton
- George Washington
- James Madison
- Thomas Jefferson

6. Who was the first person to sign the Constitution?
- Ben Franklin
- George Washington
- James Madison
- Thomas Jefferson

7. Which series of documents was written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to convince states to approve the Constitution?
- The Freedom Pamphlets
- Poor Richard’s Almanac
- The Philadelphia Letters
- The Federalist Papers

8. Which of the following doesn’t have an official role in changing or amending the Constitution?
- The House of Representatives
- The President
- The States
- The U.S. Senate

9. When someone “takes the Fifth” amendment, a person is allowed to:
- Use a gun to defend themselves
- Confront their accuser in court
- Refuse to answer questions that incriminate themselves
- Avoid cruel and unusual punishment

10. What is the minimum age for a presidential candidate?
- There is no minimum age
- 25 years of age
- 30 years of age
- 35 years of age

11. What is the longest time a persons can serve as president?
- 4 years
- 8 years
- 10 years
- 12 years

And two fill-in-the-blank bonus questions:

12. Which amendment took the longest to ratify?__________

13. Which Amendment took the shortest amount of time to ratify?__________

Answers later this week.

(If you want a tougher test, go to this link: http://www.constitutionfacts.com/?page=quiz.cfm. Once you pass their 10 question gatekeeper quiz, you gain access to a much tougher 50 question quiz.)

“Right” or “rights” shows up in the Constitution 16 times. “Duty” appears twice — both times about money.

Maybe that’s some Founding Father humor.

Perhaps the imbalance between rights and duties hints at one way we could lose the Republic we were given 225 years ago.

Hope you had a reflective Constitution Day.

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September 17, 2012

The National Academies on Resilience

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 17, 2012

The National Academies, in particular the Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters operating under the authority of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (Exactly?  It’s hard to tell…), has released an impressive new report on resilience.

It is bound to both to tug on the heartstrings of some and infuriate others.

I have to say, while I haven’t read the entire 200+ page report, it does seem to attempt to blend the expertise of a varied staff.  There were engineers, economists, medical professionals, sociologists, etc.

They chose a definition of resilience as a jumping off point:

“The ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events.”

And came up with a vision for resilient nation in 2030:

  • Individuals and communities are their own first line of defense against disasters.
  • National leadership in resilience exists throughout federal agencies and Congress.
  • Community-led resilience efforts receive federal, state, and regional investment and support.
  • Site-specific risk information is readily available, transparent, and effectively communicated.
  • Zoning ordinances are enacted and enforced. Building codes and retrofit standards are widely adopted and enforced.
  • A significant proportion of post-disaster recovery is funded through private capital and insurance payouts.
  • Insurance premiums are risk based.
  • Community coalitions have contingency plans to provide service particularly to the most vulnerable populations during recovery.
  • Post-disaster recovery is accelerated by infrastructure redundancy and upgrades. A resilient nation in 2030 also has a vibrant and diverse economy and a safer, healthier, and better educated citizenry than in previous generations.

To get there they list six recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Federal government agencies should incorporate national resilience as a guiding principle to inform the mission and actions of the federal government and the programs it supports at all levels.

Recommendation 2: The public and private sectors in a community should work cooperatively to encourage commitment to and investment in a risk management strategy that includes complementary structural and nonstructural risk-reduction and risk-spreading measures or tools. Such tools might include an essential framework (codes, standards, and guidelines) that drives the critical structural functions of resilience and investment in risk-based pricing of insurance.

Recommendation 3: A national resource of disaster-related data should be established that documents injuries, loss of life, property loss, and impacts on economic activity. Such a database will support efforts to develop more quantitative risk models and better understand structural and social vulnerability to disasters.

Recommendation 4: The Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with other federal agencies, state and local partners, and professional groups should develop a National Resilience Scorecard.

Recommendation 5: Federal, state and local governments should support the creation and maintenance of broad-based community resilience coalitions at local and regional levels.

Recommendation 6: All federal agencies should ensure they are promoting and coordinating national resilience in their programs and policies. A resilience policy review and self-assessment within agencies and strong communication among agencies are keys to achieving this kind of coordination.

Perhaps most encouraging, this particular project apparently was completed under time and budget, allowing the Academies to spend a year spreading the resilience gospel.

So if the National Academy “resilience train” pulls up on your stop, think seriously about giving this group of serious and dedicated individuals a hand with their mission of furthering the discussion on resilience.

For more information, go to: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13457&page=R5

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Death for the idea

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 17, 2012

Der Tod für die Idee (Death for the Idea), Paul Klee (1915)

“Ideology is the science of idiots.” John Adams, second President of the United States

Koran, Sura 41: 34


There have been several earnest and helpful efforts to make sense of what happened last week, why it happened, and what it suggests will happen.  Five pieces I have found in one way or another illuminating:

The Embassy Protests and Arab Uprising, Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy)

Culture divide fuels Muslims raging at film, New York Times

Does Middle East unrest go beyond film?, National Public Radio

Divided We Stand: Libya’s Enduring Conflicts, International Crisis Group

The Dignity of Difference, Being (interview with Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain)

But in my judgment all of these analyses fail to capture the deep distinctions of  felt culture and fundamental worldview that differentiate most Americans from most Arabs and increasingly divide Muslim from Muslim.

I’m not up to the task either.  But in Sunday’s New York Times there were two long pieces — purposefully twinned — that describe a crucial shift in Western culture over the last 100 years that lends a helpful lens to contemporary US-Arab relations.

There is absolutely no mention of Benghazi or Cairo or Islam or US foreign policy.  The articles deal with how high art could once be profoundly shocking to sophisticated Western audiences in a way that is unimaginable today.  The gulf between my grandfather hearing Stravinsky and my own reaction begins to explain the difference between today’s Times Square and Tahrir Square.

If you can feel the weight and meaning of this generational shift in the West, you will have a toe-hold on understanding the complexities that last week exploded in death, injury and destruction across a good portion of the Arab world and beyond.

If the analogy sounds interesting, check out: Shock Value.

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September 15, 2012

Key questions and some early answers

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 15, 2012

Friday morning just as mid-day prayer was beginning across the heart of the Muslim world Mike Hayden, retired Air Force General, former Director of the National Security Agency and former Director of the CIA, appeared on CBS This Morning.

At the top of the interview he set out a helpful framework for observing what would unfold.  Hayden offered,

“How many people demonstrate in how many cities?”

“How close to American installations are they allowed to get?”

“How violent are they?”

“What do these governments… do to protect Americans and American installations?”

“We are going to learn an awfully lot about how much power, how many legs this movement has.”

I might want to edit Mr. Hayden’s comment to reference “these movements have”, but otherwise let’s look at how his questions were answered.

How many people demonstrate in how many cities?

The  Friday demonstrations were quite wide-spread, ranging from Morocco to Indonesia.   There were related protests in Australia and elsewhere on Saturday morning.  Precise numbers are difficult.  But media reports most often estimated hundreds rather than thousands.  In Cairo Bloomberg News report “more than 1000 people” joined the protests. By Saturday morning Egyptian police out-numbered protesters in Tahrir Square.

How close to American installations are they allowed to get?

In Tunis and Khartoum the embassy perimeters were temporarily penetrated during clashes with security forces.   But even in these two cases host governments demonstrated considerable commitment to containing the demonstrations (more below).

How violent are they?

The “protests” ranged from signs and shouts, to throwing rocks, to petrol bombs, to looting a school, to a sustained attack by the Taliban on Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan.   Other than the Taliban attack and raids on Sinai peacekeepers, there was apparently no repeat of the para-military operations that seems to have characterized the capture of the US Consulate in Benghazi and the death of diplomats there. (I heard rumors of an organized after-sundown attack in Sana, but cannot find it confirmed.)

Below is a map developed by Max Fisher at The Atlantic.  He explains, “I’ve charted the violent protests in red and the protests that did not produce violence in yellow. It’s an imperfect distinction; I’ve counted the stone-throwers in Jerusalem as a violent protest but the flag-burners in Lahore as non-violent. But it gives you a somewhat more nuanced view into who is expressing anger and how they’re doing it…”


What did the (host) governments do?

Police and security forces were effectively deployed.  Attacks were condemned.  Arrests were made.   In Egypt — allegedly after a push by the White House — significant steps were successfully taken by both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood to dampen demonstrations.  Despite the domestic political risk from Salafists, the current Islamist government decided to deploy its political and religious legitimacy to fulfill international — and some would say, religious — obligations.  They have also been proactive in framing the issue by having State media highlight condemnations of the offending video by Secretary Clinton and others.

What did we learn?

Well… you tell me.

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September 13, 2012

Timetable for September 14

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 13, 2012

The US Embassy in Cairo is shown by the star in the map above.  This is in the central city just south of Tahrir Square, the site of the dramatic protests that resulted in the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.  Thursday night the Egyptian government placed several large concrete blocks in the streets between Tahrir Square and the embassy grounds.

The events of September 14, 2012 — the 27th of Shawwal — may be more influential than usual, especially in regard to homeland security.

Tripoli (Libya) and Cairo are six hours ahead of New York.   At 6:00AM in New York it is 12 noon in Cairo.  Sana, Yemen is seven hours ahead of New York.

Friday is the Islamic day of assembly, especially committed to communal prayer.  The mid-day or Dhuhr prayer is scheduled for just about noon local time.   Several Islamic organizations in Egypt have called for a “Friday of Anger” to protest the anti-Islamic video entitled “Innocence of Muslims” that was produced in the United States.  The protests are likely to surge following the mid-day prayer.  Similar protests have been called in Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Pope Benedict is scheduled to land in Beirut at about 12:45 PM local time.  The Pope is to consult with Lebanese and regional political and religious leaders, especially regarding the situation in Syria, and to convene a Synod of Bishops.  In many Christian churches September 14 is commemorated as the Feast of the Exaltation recalling the cross of the crucifixion as both a source of pain and instrument of salvation.

In Jerusalem many devout Jews are preparing for Rosh Hashanah (begins Sunday night) by participating in the Selichot liturgy, a series of penitential prayers seeking God’s mercy.

There will, of course, be extensive media coverage of whatever unfolds.  A few less-traditional sources:

The US Embassy in Cairo Twitter Feed: http://twitter.com/USEmbassyCairo

Al Jazeera Live Blog of anti-Islam film protests: http://blogs.aljazeera.com/liveblog/topic/anti-islam-film-protests-10701

AhramOnline is an Egyptian news source majority owned by the government: http://english.ahram.org.eg/

The Guardian (U.K.) is blogging live at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/sep/14/friday-protests-anti-islam-us-film-live

Sarah El Sirgany is an independent journalist in Egypt who contributes to CNN, The Guardian, The Monocle and other English-language media: http://twitter.com/Ssirgany

If you have other sources — or impressions — please use the comment function to share.  I will be airborne most of Friday and offline.


At about 7AM (Eastern) an AFP reporter in Sana is describing “hundreds” of protesters about 500 yards from the US embassy being confronted by Yemeni security forces firing warning shots and using water cannon.

Beginning shortly before 8AM (Eastern) several reports suggest an increasing number of confrontations between security forces and protesters in Cairo.

This morning the Egyptian President, a long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared on television urging Egyptians to avoid violence.  According to the Associated Press:

Ahead of the clashes, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi spoke for more than seven minutes on state TV, his most direct public move to contain protests since an angry crowd assaulted the embassy Tuesday night, scaling its walls and tearing down the American flag.

“It is required by our religion to protect our guests and their homes and places of work,” Morsi said. “So I call on all to consider this, consider the law, and not attack embassies, consulates, diplomatic missions or Egyptian property that is private or public.”

He denounced the killing of the American ambassador in Libya, who died in an attack Tuesday night on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi along with three other Americans.

“This is something we reject and Islam rejects. To God, the attack on a person to Allah is bigger an attack on the Kaaba,” he said, referring to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.

In recent days the Muslim Brotherhood had joined with other Islamist organizations in calling for peaceful protests regarding the film produced in the US denigrating the Prophet.  The Guardian is reporting, however, that Friday morning the Muslim Brotherhood disassociated itself from the protests.

Shortly after 8AM (Eastern)/2PM (Local) AhramOnline reported:

Ahram Online reporters on the scene say that most of the fighting is now taking place in Tahrir Square as security forces try to push demonstrators away from the US embassy premises a few hundred feet away.

Mostly peaceful protests are being reported from several cities around the world.  I have seen one report of “several hundred” protesters challenging police barricades in Islamabad.

Sarah El Sirgany reports from Cairo that some — mostly young protesters — are attempting  an end-run around Egyptian security forces by moving along the Nile River in order to approach the US embassy from the West and South, rather than directly from Tahrir Square.  Police are moving to intercept.

Shortly before 9AM (Eastern) several reports of attacks on the German and British embassies in Khartoum, Sudan.  Reuters and Al Jazeera are reporting that as security forces have preserved a perimeter around the US embassy frustrated protesters have set the German embassy aflame.

That will have to be it for me. When I’m on the ground again in a few hours we should have a pretty good idea how this day transpired.  At this moment I am cautiously optimistic, but more cautious than optimistic.

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September 12, 2012

Four are killed in Libya: An epidemic of idiots, an etymology of idiocy

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 12, 2012

Sam Bacile is very sure of himself (and smart enough to use a pseudonym).  He is sure that the Prophet Mohammed was a fraud and worse.   Mr. Bacile is sure “Islam is a cancer” that threatens the world.  He has made a (bad) film to share his certainties.

Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor. (Hebrew Bible, Proverbs 3:34)

In recent days the film became available in an Arabic translation.  Some who have now seen the film’s trailer — or heard rumors of it — are sure the film reflects official American disdain for Islam.   In response they have protested, rioted, and murdered.

When the suffering reached them from Us, why then did they not call Allah in humility? On the contrary, their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their sinful acts seem alluring to them. (Quran, Al-Anaam 6:42-43)

An idiot in Los Angeles shares his idiosyncratic notions.  Once only a few neighbors would have been annoyed.  Today his ravings or their echoes are heard 7000 miles away.  Most appropriately ignore the ignorance.  But some other idiots take offence and respond with violence.

On a day dedicated to the memory of murdered innocents,  my representatives — the representatives of my nation and my values — are killed.  I am offended.  I am angry.  I hunger for  retaliation (literally “return like for like”, especially evil for evil).  The President promises, “Make no mistake, justice will be done.”

But with each permutation this idiocy threatens to make idiots — violent idiots — of more and more.

For the ancient Greeks an idiot (idiotes) was — among other things — a man who neglected civic obligations to focus on private affairs.   The term could also be applied to those who were patently self-interested in how they engaged civic life.

Aristotle argued, “The citizen in an unqualified sense is defined by no other thing so much as by sharing in decision and office.” (Politics, Book III, 1275a22) An idiot does not know how to share. An idiot does not know how to ask an authentic question. An idiot does not know how to listen sympathetically to an answer with which s/he disagrees. An idiot does not know how to frame, shape, and make a decision that will be shared by others. The idiot is blinded by and bound to the limits of self.

Idiots are sure of themselves in a way that is possible only for those lost inside themselves.

Timothy McVeigh was an idiot.  Anders Breivik is an idiot.  Mohamed Atta was an idiot.  James Holmes is an idiot.   Last night a gang of idiots committed murder in Benghazi.  These are each extreme examples of a global epidemic of self-absorbed, self-justifying, self-referential, self-assertive idiocy.

I am not immune.  I too can be an idiot.  Too often I mistake my own belief as the Truth.   I am strongly inclined to assume my personal experience as universal.  I conflate and confuse private and public realities.   I am unable or unwilling to honestly engage the different reality of another… and for this failure I often blame the other.  Regular readers have seen me make all these mistakes.  In my obsession with etymology I am probably being an idiot here and now.

There is disagreement on effective therapy. But many agree the typical rhetoric of  policymaking, strategizing, and analyzing  feeds the disease with self-assertion (and talking points).  Especially in matters of life and death a purposeful stepping out of  our selves is an essential discipline.  Take a walk, get a coffee, bum a smoke, tell a joke…

I read poetry. Reading poetry requires a patience and attention outside-the-self. I am not advocating poetry instead of policy.  I’m advocating the poetic as a complement to the political, practical, and policy-oriented thinking that dominates our professional lives.   Intentionally step outside the box before you decide.

The situation of our time
Surrounds us like a baffling crime.
There lies the body half-undressed,
We all had reason to detest,
And all are suspects and involved
Until the mystery is solved
And under lock and key the cause
That makes a nonsense of our laws.
O Who is trying to shield Whom?
Who left a hairpin in the room?
Who was the distant figure seen
Behaving oddly on the green?

… Delayed in the democracies
By departmental vanities,
The rival sergeants run about
But more to squabble than to find out,
Yet where the Force has been cut down
To one inspector dressed in brown,
He makes the murderer whom he pleases
And all investigation ceases.
Yet our equipment all the time
Extends the area of the crime
Until the guilt is everywhere,
And more and more we are aware,
However miserable may be
Our parish of immediacy,
How small it is, how far beyond,
Ubiquitous within the bond,
Of one impoverishing sky,
Vast spiritual disorders lie.
Who thinking of the last ten years,
Does not hear howling in his ears…

There are two atlases: the one
The public space where acts are done,
In theory common to us all,
Where we are needed and feel small,
The agora of work and news
Where each one has the right to choose
His trade, his corner, and his way,
And can, again in theory, say
For whose protection he will pay,
And loyalty is help we give
The place where we prefer to live;
The other is the inner space
Of private ownership, the place
That each of us is forced to own
Like his own life from which it’s grown,
The landscape of his will and need
Where he is sovereign indeed,
The state created by his acts
Where he patrols the forest tracts
Planted in childhood, farms the belt
Of doings memorised and felt,
And even if he find it hell
May neither leave it nor rebel.
Two worlds describing their rewards,
That one in tangents, this in chords;
Each lives in one, all in the other,
Here all are kings, there each a brother…

Our news is seldom good: the heart,
As ZOLA said, must always start
The day by swallowing its toad
Of failure and disgust. Our road
Gets worse and we seem altogether
Lost as our theories, like the weather,
Veer round completely every day,
And all that we can always say
Is: true democracy begins
With free confession of our sins.

Excerpts from New Year Letter (January 1, 1940) by W.H. Auden

Auden dedicated this poem to Elizabeth Mayer.   I dedicate these thoughts to two men and a woman who I know did not sleep last night and may not sleep again this night.  To you and your colleagues, best wishes dealing with the idiots.

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September 11, 2012


Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 11, 2012

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September 10, 2012

Three Different Reflections On 9/11

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 10, 2012

What follows are three strikingly different reflections on the latest 9/11 anniversary.  While they don’t strike me as a Goldilocks combination, I can imagine that some readers will pick the one that is “just right” in their view. Others, like myself, may take a little bit of wisdom from each.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post criticizes what he perceives as the current “Washington” viewpoint of 9/11:

Nine-eleven just isn’t what it used to be. Residents of the capital will awaken to what is forecast to be another clear Tuesday morning, just like that one 11 years ago, and they will find that the day that changed the nation is becoming more and more ordinary.

In some ways, this is a good thing: Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda isn’t as scary, and Sept. 11, 2001, is on its way to joining Dec. 7, 1941 — more historical, less raw. Yet it’s also unsettling that the day is losing its power to make Americans pause. This is part of the general amnesia that led Mitt Romney to deliver his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination without mentioning a country called Afghanistan.

The sheer volume of events shows how ordinary the day has become: Public-housing directors are having a legislative forum, health insurance companies are meeting to talk Medicare, CPAs are having a banking conference, the Cato Institute is attacking the IRS, a health group is recognizing Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is talking about the elderly.

Strangely enough, to me Milbank has penned a great testimony to resilience:

Less easy to understand is why Jeff Faile from Fiola restaurant chose 9/11 to give a “cocktail seminar” at A.M. Wine Shoppe (featured aperitifs: Cocchi Americano and Aperol). The nerve! Doesn’t he know he’s competing with the arts gala at the Mayflower?

No. Mr. Faile is living life and not allowing what Graham Allison refers to as “a band of terrorists headquartered in ungoverned Afghanistan” disrupt our lives forever despite that they “demonstrated that individuals and small groups can kill on a scale previously the exclusive preserve of states.”

Graham goes on in his International Herald Tribune article to remind us:

Today, how many people can a small group of terrorists kill in a single blow? Had Bruce Ivins, the U.S. government microbiologist responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks, distributed his deadly agent with sprayers he could have purchased off the shelf, tens of thousands of Americans would have died. Had the 2001 “Dragonfire” report that Al Qaeda had a small nuclear weapon (from the former Soviet arsenal) in New York City proved correct, and not a false alarm, detonation of that bomb in Times Square could have incinerated a half million Americans.

His underlying thesis:

Many are therefore attracted to the chorus of officials and experts claiming that the “strategic defeat” of Al Qaeda means the end of this chapter of history. But we should remember a deeper and more profound truth. While applauding actions that have made us safer from future terrorist attacks, we must recognize that they have not reversed an inescapable reality: The relentless advance of science and technology is making it possible for smaller and smaller groups to kill larger and larger numbers of people.

I believe that is one of many points most miss in their obsession with Al Qaeda and associated terrorist threats as the Alpha and Omega of this story. Juliette Kayyem of the Boston Globe takes a slightly, uh, different approach to the same storyline:

The e-mail had a simple enough subject line: “Al Qaeda.” It was from my cousin Karen, who also used to be my dentist. I have been, based on my government career in homeland security, the “terrorism expert” in the family. The e-mail came last year on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

“Can you help? I’m a little nervous now. My daughter wants to go to NYC for the weekend. But I just saw that they think there could be a 10-year anniversary attack there, so I don’t want her to go. She says I am crazy. I said I could contact you. By the way, how are your gums? Are you flossing?”

Dental care and Al Qaeda: Never before have the two been so closely linked. But there was something illuminating in Karen’s question, something that seemed to herald a different way of thinking about 9/11 as we head into yet another anniversary tomorrow. Terrorism has settled into a place on the list of our modern anxieties — next to gum disease and hurricanes — but it no longer looms as the overwhelming, existential worry that it seemed to be in the first few years after the attacks.

Maybe it has something to do with the distance of Boston from Washington, but she feels a little differently than Milbank:

It’s fitting, then, that the 11th anniversary is arriving tomorrow with little of the fanfare of past commemorations. There are no major public events. The anniversary has become personal, acceptable to remember in ways that are appropriate to the level of grief we still feel or the commitment of friends and family to the wars still being fought. As a nation, we will meet again in the initial post-9/11 spirit for only two reasons: the 20th anniversary or another terrorist attack.

And perhaps she paints the best picture of what resilience, in the general societal sense–not the uber-homeland security strategy sense, really means:

And as the politicization of the attacks fades, fear has been replaced by attitudes like my cousin Karen’s. Her question reflected the sincere desire of citizens to get realistic information about terrorism risks so that they can weigh the threat and make the best decisions. It’s not paranoia, just an honest attempt to better understand, and take responsibility for, bewildering information that is so often overwhelming and so rarely presented in a practical way.

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Sunday Times: How resilient is post-9/11 America?

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 10, 2012

Yesterday Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt joined our ongoing conversation.  They write:

Have we become America the brittle?

“Resiliency” has finally entered the lexicon of American political leaders. The military has instituted programs for the fighting force. Officials are looking to the experiences of such countries as Britain and Israel, examples of individual and national resilience earned the hard way.

Federal law enforcement and homeland security experts are advising corporate America to build better security into their business practices — to safeguard their goods and services, to recover from attack and, from the companies’ perspective, to boost their brand…

See their entire essay.


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September 6, 2012

Plaquemines Parish: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 6, 2012

From Wednesday’s Times-Picayune:

Dwight Robinson spent Wednesday afternoon looking for his mother’s casket along the levee in eastern Plaquemines Parish. He had just driven past his aunt’s crypt, now tucked in the slant of the east bank levee that skirts the Mississippi River. Robinson, 59, was walking through the world in utter shock. He was overwhelmed and in disbelief that Hurricane Isaac had moved the crypt about a quarter mile from its cemetery…

“I tried to go back to see if my mom’s tomb was there,” he told a Times-Picayune reporter while waiting along the levee in mud-soaked sneakers. “I just fear it might have floated away.” He looked up at the levee as though he might see her…

He then drove about 100 yards before noticing a beautiful pink casket with ornate metal fixtures resting parallel to the river.

He swerved off the road, stranding his car in some mud along the highway. Later, the Mercury had to be pulled out by a nearby truck.

He climbed the levee and studied the pink casket, attempting to find markings.

“I wonder what you could do to know … to identify these things?” he pondered.

When asked whether he thought it belonged to his mother, he said he wasn’t sure but that it looked familiar.

“I started to think what color her casket was, and pink is what came to mind,” he said. “I hope it’s not hers. Well, in a sense, I’m hoping it is.”

Robinson said his biggest fear is that it might have floated down into the Gulf.

He noticed the casket was upside down. He quickly flipped it, water pouring out as it turned. No identifying markings were present on its top.

Despite it all, he says he’s going to rebuild in Bertrandville.

“This is our little piece of the swamp,” Robinson said. “It’s a swamp but it’s our little piece. Our little piece of America.”

“It’s a mess, but, you know, this too shall pass.”


Plaquemines Parish is a narrow straw of land bisected by the Mississippi River extending southeast from New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico.

The 2010 census found 23,000 people up from 12,500 since 1910.   There is about 850 square miles of (sometimes) dry land down from about twice that in 1950.

Once dependent on hunting, trapping, sugar, citrus, and piloting ships from the Gulf to New Orleans, Plaquemines is now an operational center for oil and gas drilling for much of the northern Gulf.

Like most of southern Louisiana, Plaquemines  is made up of sediment deposited by the Mississippi.  About 1200 years ago the river’s course shifted east and the erosion of the Northern Plains began forming this new spur of delta.

Over the last half-century not nearly as much sediment has arrived and most that does flows right by.  The engineering of the Mississippi has reduced sediment flows by 50-to-70 percent.   Where the delta once meandered and moved and thereby replenished itself, we now maintain persistent navigation channels.   And because the mouth of the Mississippi has reached the edge of the continental shelf,  our navigation channels are very efficient at delivering the silt into a thousand-foot-deep maw.

In January the State of Louisiana and others announced a plan to reverse land loss in the Mississippi delta.  The core concept is to open up diversions on the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to allow silt and freshwater into marshlands, build new ridges, pump sediment into eroded marshes, build new shorelines, and pour sand onto barrier islands.  Basically it is an engineered approach to what happened naturally before our engineering got in the way.

Experts are divided on the plan’s prospects for success.  But in May the Coastal Master Plan was adopted unanimously by the Louisiana state legislature.  From my layman’s perspective, the plan is more likely to be effective in restoring the wetlands west of Plaquemines.  With one mile of land on one side of the river and, maybe,  a mile-and-a-half on the other, sitting on the edge of an underwater cliff, Plaquemines is an inherently vulnerable place.

Dwight Robinson says, “This too will pass.”  Well… yes it will, but not necessarily to a better place.

The last few weeks we have been using this blog to explore resilience: For several thousand, Plaquemines is home.  This is where their mother is buried.  This is where they were married and raised their children.  The economy of Plaquemines is stronger than many other places.  The seafood is among the best in the world.  On a bright March morning with the sun rising over the Gulf, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

This week Plaquemines looks like the Reuters picture at the top and a mother’s casket has gone missing.  Today a remnant of Isaac makes a return visit.   Next week or next year another hurricane will hit.

Resilience is, I have argued, mostly a matter of human relationships.  The stronger, more numerous, and more diverse our relationships the more resilient an individual or community or organization or nation.  These relationships are quite often tightly tied to a shared place.   We cling to those we love and the places where we have loved them.

Even to our detriment.  Sometimes even to our death.


Following are the lyrics for Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a YouTube of Ella Fitzgerald’s version.  Her voice communicates this sometimes exquisite, sometimes perverse sort of resilience better than any words alone.

I don’t want you
But I hate to lose you
You’ve got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

I forgive you’
Cause I can’t forget you
You’ve got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

I oughta cross you off my list
But when you come knocking at my door
Fate seems to give my heart a twist
And I come running back for more

I should hate you
But I guess I love you’
You’ve got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

She’s no Ella, but here’s a 1957 recording of Lee Wiley that begins to suggest the power and pathos of profound attraction to… almost anything.


Related Links:

Plaquemines Resiliency Index

Atlas of Shoreline Changes in Louisiana from 1853 to 1989

Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act website

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September 4, 2012

Badges? In a homeland security education future, your kids might actually want some stinkin’ badges.

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on September 4, 2012

This week’s post is an excuse to share a video a friend showed me a few days ago. (Thanks RNG.) But since this is a homeland security blog, I want to first make the connection between the video and homeland security.

Last week I had the chance to talk with homeland security educators from around North America. I came away from the conversation thinking about three issues: jobs, curriculum, and the costs of education.

Jobs was the big issue. Depending on what counts as homeland security higher education, there are between 200 and 400 programs across the nation. Where are the graduates of these programs going to find jobs? That was the number one question being asked.

There were very not many answers. A few programs (one of which I will mention later) did not have a significant problem finding jobs for its graduates. But those programs were the exceptions.


The second issue was what to teach in a homeland security program. This issue is as old as homeland security. So that means not very old if you are in the “homeland security started after 9/11/01″ camp. Or really old if you’re part of the “we’ve always done homeland security” tribe.

The curriculum answer is often arrived at through vigorous assertion, sometimes supported by focus groups (as if focus groups are representative of anything other than the interests in the room); sometimes by more systematic analysis: for instance here and here.

According to the people in the room, employers know what skills they want from the people they hire: critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, the ability to communicate effectively. Knowledge about specific homeland security skills — whatever they might be — was not emphasized, at least not in the conversations I heard.

I don’t know how much critical thinking employers actually want in the public sector, or the private sector for that a matter. But I don’t know the data either way on this topic.

I am reminded, however, how organizations can conduct a nationwide search to try to get the very best person available. Once that person his hired, he or she has to then fit in with the rest of the people. Maybe not all the time. But enough.

“It’s path dependency,” a smart friend explained to me today.

In my opinion, there is no consensus on what should be included in homeland security curriculum. I think we are still in 100 flower territory.

Before too long the 100 flowers may fragment into 1000 flowers. And that could be a good thing for homeland security education and for homeland security. That leads to a third issue: money.


The third issue that came up was the cost of education. The “total outstanding student loan debt in the United States now stands at above $1 trillion dollars.”

I find it interesting the student loan figure runs parallel to Mueller and Stewart’s finding that “the increase in expenditures on domestic homeland security over the decade exceeds $1 trillion.”

No doubt just a coincidence.

But I don’t know anyone who knows what a trillion dollar really means. So I suppose the best one can say is a lot of money was spent on homeland security during it’s first decade. And students owe a lot of money for going to college.

What the nation received for the trillion dollars in homeland security spending remains an open question. Apparently it’s even harder to figure out what college students got for the trillion dollars they borrowed.


One person I heard speak is working at a new edge of homeland security education. It’s an edge where badges (sometimes called certificates) are more valued than degrees.

His program (the name is not important for the point I’m making) is not concerned about granting degrees. Instead, his organization trains/educates (discussing the distinction would add several hundred more words to the post) people to be intelligence analysts. The students in that program graduate with demonstrated competence in a skill certain employers want. They don’t end up with a degree. But they do get hired.

Badges/certificates are not especially new. Computer professionals and emergency managers, among others, have been collecting badges for decades. But the looming rupture of the student loan bubble portends an opportunity for the “Badges not Degrees” movement.

If the badges trend grows, what might the future of homeland security education look like?


That’s a very long way to get to what I actually wanted to write about.

Here’s a link to a ten minute video introducing a quasi-science fiction concept called EPIC 2020. (There’s a longer video on the page, but the first one gets the main idea across.)

If you’re interested in where education, curriculum and assessment might be going, the ten minute video is worth your time.

Maybe some of the concepts are fanciful (e.g., Apple buys Amazon, and Google buys the Khan Academy). Other ideas, like the student loan bubble, are a disturbing reality. Still other parts of the trend are happing now (a Stanford professor taught one course to 160,000 students from all over the world; that’s more students than most faculty teach in a lifetime).

The badges approach is not without downsides. But the current approaches to homeland security education — to higher education in general — also has its problems.

(Caution: very long sentence with unconventional spacing coming up. )

What could it mean for homeland security education
if we moved toward a future where a degree in homeland security
(or in any of the dozens of disciplines and professions related to it)
did not matter as much as a badge that certifies a potential employee demonstrated competence
in one of the higher level skills homeland security employers want:
collaboration, being comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, measurement, mash ups, social networking, resilience…
who knows what else?

I don’t know how many people are entering homeland security higher education programs this fall.

But I’m guessing the jobs the best of those students will be competing for when they graduate haven’t been invented yet.

That is an interesting curriculum design problem.

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September 3, 2012

The blurring of homeland and national security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 3, 2012

[Forgive the rambling nature of this post.  I blame the long weekend, skimming an article I should read more carefully, and too much Doctor Who.]

The term “homeland security” is notoriously hard to define. Even more difficult is where to draw the line between “homeland” security and “national” security.  Simply perplexing is the issue of whether there should be a line or not, and the possibly negative effects of attempting to draw one.

Large natural events, such as Hurricane Issac or the western wildfires, serve to highlight the emergency management/preparedness/response/recovery/etc. portion of the enterprise.  Terrorism, health events, and technological disasters comfortably fit here as well, at least in terms of preparing for and responding to effects.

Preventing terrorism would seem, at first, to fit easily within the homeland security arena.  “See something, say something,” fusion centers, the concern about domestic radicalization, and the shift in FBI focus from criminal investigations to terrorism prevention.  But set alone, this effort seems a bit inconsequential in terms of fighting terrorism.  The minor leagues, if you will, to the game being played by intelligence services (and not just U.S. agencies…) and the military overseas.  What major, potentially catastrophic, and realistic (an aspect that is interpreted by different people for different reasons) plots have been disrupted solely on the basis of domestically-gathered information?  Besides the FBI and the NYPD, what domestic agencies are conducting true intelligence-type operations domestically?

This is not a bad thing.  I personally do not want the CIA carrying out operations against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.  We do have rights…or so I was led to believe in civics class.  Intelligence gathered abroad can be filtered and shared with relevant domestic law enforcement agencies in the hope of preventing attacks.  Well…one hopes.  Radicalization of at-risk individuals can be countered by developing relationships with responsible authorities among particular (really wanted to avoid the term “suspect,” sounds a little too NYPD-ish…) populations. Well…perhaps. And is anyone paying attention to the non-Islamic groups? (I know they are, but I also know that the Red Sox are still playing games. The underlying issue is who’s paying attention?)

My point is that counter-terrorism is neither simply a home or away game–it’s a continuum better understood with sci-fi metaphors rather than sports.

So how do we talk about homeland vs. national security?  Should we even bother? (Though I suspect that if we don’t, the “national security” community will out of superior numbers and positioning take what it wants from “homeland security” and leave the rest to emergency management.  Kinda like if FEMA had been separated from DHS following Katrina.)

What prompts these rambling thoughts are two somewhat recent articles.  The first is a Washington Post story on the successful melding of a homeland security sector, customs at the border, with a traditional national security realm, counter-proliferation:

The Chinese toymaker said he was seeking parts for a “magic horse,” a metal-framed playground pony. But the exotic, wildly expensive raw material he wanted seemed better suited for space travel than backyard play.

Only in recent months did the full scope of the ruse become apparent. The destination for the specialty steel was not China but Iran, and the order had nothing to do with toy horses, U.S. investigators say.

“We are certain,” said a law enforcement official familiar with the case, “that the metal was meant for advanced centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program.”

How this effort was discovered:

Perhaps the most striking fact about the toy-horse plot, investigators say, is that it was discovered at all. The tip came in late 2008 from an obscure Homeland Security program that involves occasional factory visits by U.S. officials to guard against foreign pilfering of sensitive U.S. technology.

During a visit to a Puget Sound steelmaker, an export manager there told a U.S. official about a bizarre query he had gotten from China.

Export controls have a long and important history in the national security efforts aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  However, they remain a little publicized but very important mission of the Department of Homeland Security’s broader border security efforts.

The other nugget that got me thinking was this from a Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) news brief mounting a public health defense of the Biowatch program

Some public health officials’ discomfort with BioWatch also may be related to a culture clash between the public health world and the law enforcement and security realm, according to Biedrzycki.

“Public health typically hasn’t been part of that culture, of law enforcement or national security and the intelligence community,” he said. “This is new territory, and I think we don’t fully understand how to operate within that culture.

“It’s very difficult for us, coming from a very transparent, open, trust-building relationship with many of our clients, going into a less open environment in terms of information sharing. I can understand those criticisms, but in reality I think the trend is for public health to be integrated with the intelligence community.”

Emphasis added to underline my concern.

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August 30, 2012

Three riffs on resilience: “rolling between & through itself”

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on August 30, 2012

From Wednesday’s  New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial page:

Not that anybody here in August 2005 could forget, but Isaac’s approach near the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was a sobering reminder of our city and region’s near destruction and of the deaths and displacement of so many of our friends and loved ones.

Katrina was not New Orleans’ introduction to trouble. The city has known perils its entire existence.

But there may have been no more perilous time than that of Katrina and its watery aftermath. At what other point was the continuing existence of the city in such doubt?

We don’t hurt today like we did during Katrina’s first anniversary, and certainly not like we hurt during the crisis itself. But the pain is still real, and it’s likely to be with us even after ongoing recovery is completed.

It’s important to note that this community still has its joie de vivre.

Not even the billions of gallons of water that flowed over and through our levees could extinguish that. In fact, for some of us the near-death experience of Katrina may have intensified that trademark joy of life. We take nothing for granted now, least of all the company of friends and family. So many died. So many are gone for good.

Consequently, our interactions with those who are here have with them an added measure of appreciation.

Even so, our world-renowned joyful spirit remains tempered with a sadness for the things that were lost and an anxiety that another disaster could upend our lives once again…

New Orleans, to quote Louisiana poet Yusef Komunyakaa, is a “testament to how men dreamt land out of water.” The engineering failures made plain by Hurricane Katrina made it appear that the water had reclaimed that land and that our dream existence had morphed into a nightmare.

But seven years later, we remain attached to the place and to the people who make the hard times worth it, displaying a spirit that’s not just joyous but might also be called indomitable.

So… just for the purposes of this blog, let’s decide that in this text the T-P editors have ascended to that perfect crystallization of Truth to which every editorial writer (and blogger) aspires:  Resilience is a function of prior experience with peril (multiplied by occurrence) + prior experience with recovery (multiplied or divided by a defined quality metric) the total of which is multiplied by the number of near-death experiences = joy of life (also known as resilience).

Any questions?

From another page in the Times-Picayune:

If New Orleans must suffer a hurricane, it won’t do so on an empty stomach. Around town, the menus for Hurricane Isaac were taking shape this morning: apple cinnamon pancakes for breakfast in Lakeview, pulled pork sandwiches for lunch on Oak Street, deep-dish pizza on Freret Street, and plenty of cold beer and chilled wine to wash away the worry.

More than a handful of New Orleans restaurants are feeding patrons hungry for something a little more exciting than their storm-kit’s potted meat…

Maybe resilience is not a matter of algorithms but a recipe, a sort of spicy gumbo adaptable to what is in season, each fixing a little different but always recognizable as mama’s or nana’s and “just like I remember”, even when it ain’t necessarily so.

Here’s the full poem by Yusef Komunyakaa, quoted above in the Times-Picayune:


when the strong unholy high winds
whiplashed over the sold-off marshlands
eaten back to a sigh of saltwater,
the Crescent City was already shook down to her pilings,
her floating ribs, her spleen & backbone,
left trembling in her Old World facades
& postmodern lethargy, lost to waterlogged
memories & quitclaim deeds,
exposed for all eyes, damnable
gaze & lamentation—plumb line
& heartthrob, ballast & watertable—
already the last ghost song
of the Choctaw & the Chickasaw
was long gone, no more than a drunken curse
among the oak & sweet gum leaves, a tally
of broken treaties & absences echoing
cries of birds over the barrier islands
inherited by the remittance man, scalawag,
& King Cotton, & already the sky was falling in on itself,
calling like a cloud of seagulls
gone ravenous as the Gulf
reclaiming its ebb & flowchart
while the wind banged on shutters
& unhinged doors from their frames
& unshingled the low-ridged roofs
while the believers hummed
“Precious Lord” & “Deep River”
as the horse-hair plaster walls
galloped along with the surge,
already folklore began to rise up
from the buried lallygag & sluice
pulsing beneath the Big Easy
rolling between & through itself,
caught in some downward tug
& turn, like a world of love affairs
backed up in a stalled inlet,
a knelt-down army of cypress,
a testament to how men dreamt land
out of water, where bedrock
was only the heart’s bump
& grind, its deep, dark churn
& acceleration, blowzy down
to those unmoored timbers,
already nothing but water
mumbling as the great turbulent eye
lingered on a primordial question,
then turned—the gauzy genitalia of Bacchus
& Zulu left dangling from magnolias & raintrees,

published in Callaloo 31.2 (2008)

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August 28, 2012

Managing the Insider Threat: a book review

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Private Sector — by Christopher Bellavita on August 28, 2012

Today’s post was written by Nadav Morag. Morag is a faculty member at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

Managing the Insider Threat: No Dark Corners — a book by Nick Catrantzos (who sometimes writes for Homeland Security Watch) — is a welcome contribution to the study of insider threats: the dangers posed by individuals who have legitimate entrée to trusted information and access to systems within institutions or infrastructures.

According to a study carried out by CISCO, 39 percent of IT professionals surveyed were more concerned about insider threats than about external hackers. Disgruntled employees, those recruited by outsiders or those who purposefully infiltrate an organization, pose a serious threat to companies, the economy and national infrastructures.

Catrantzos’s book fills an important niche in bringing together the various aspects of this phenomenon in a way that others have not previously done. While studies exist that focus on aspects of the phenomenon: such as the mindset and motivations of individuals who become insider threats or those that focus on technical solutions to enhance information security, prior to the publication of Managing the Insider Threat, the field lacked a comprehensive tome that addressed all aspects of the issue.

Happily, Catrantzos has rectified this problem and his work looks not only at new research into the insider threat phenomenon but also at the key players that impact the degree to which this problem can be mitigated or, failing that, managed. In addition, Catrantzos looks at best practices in the area of background investigations, detecting deception and the legal tools and pitfalls involved in coping with insider threats. Finally, the book looks at categories of insider threats, from existential ones to those that can lead to individual workplace violence or individual acts of embezzlement. The book also includes, in the appendices, some very interesting findings from a Delphi survey of managers on the insider threat issue and their respective perceptions of it.

In addition to providing a very comprehensive and inclusive overview of the different facets of the problem, Managing the Insider Threat also provides very practical recommendations for mitigating the various facets of the insider threat phenomenon. From questions for online and classroom discussion (with an answer guide) to exercises for group projects to checklists for managers trying to gauge and cope with threats, Catrantzos has created a volume that will be incredibly useful for students studying the problem, and to managers and consultants requiring a strategy and specific policies to cope with this increasingly destructive phenomenon.

Managing the Insider Threat: No Dark Corners is a book that is just as academically relevant as it is practitioner-relevant. The book is superbly organized, clearly written and provides excellent analysis, while also being very readable.

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