Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 10, 2012

Brennan defines “bad guys” (NYPD looks for bad guys)

Wednesday, John Brennan, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, spoke to the  Council on Foreign Relations.  His remarks focus on US operations in Yemen including the use of drones.  This is the latest in a series of extended statements by Mr. Brennan designed to explain and defend US policy regarding the lethal use of drone technology beyond Afghanistan.

Ritika Singh at LAWFARE has posted the first transcript I could find.

There is a Question and Answer session with Mr. Brennan that is considerably longer than his prepared remarks.  During this element of the program he engaged a range of issues, including Syria and cybersecurity… and bad guys.

While looking for the transcript, I stumbled across a very helpful consideration of the NYPD’s new “Domain Awareness System” at the Council on Foreign Relations website.  (If CFR can headline attention to NYPD technology projects,  I think HLSWatch can clearly address Yemen.)  Please see the CFR briefing by Matthew Waxman.

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August 9, 2012

US v Japan: Adversity and resilience

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 9, 2012

This afternoon — Thursday — at 2:45 PM Eastern the Japanese and US women’s soccer teams will meet in a rematch of last year’s World Cup championship.

The 2011 match was played in the still early-days of Japan’s recovery from the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear emergency. The Japanese surprised many, winning in a penalty goal shoot-off. Abby Wambach, the star US forward, said, “Maybe their country needed them to win more than our country needed us to win.”

Each team’s style and strategy tend to reinforce national stereotypes.

Elliott Almond, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, explains popular excitement with the US team, “It is difficult to remain composed while watching soccer’s version of the Cardiac Kids. The Americans have a penchant for breathtaking rallies… The resilience has been a big part of why the latest soccer heroines have captured their country’s imagination like few others.”

AP reporter Joseph White describes the Japanese team as, “disciplined, tactical and savvy.”

Japanese mid-fielder Homare Sawa told Kyodo news service, “They (the Americans) are very physical and know where to put long balls and we have as a team to make sure we don’t let Wambach and (Alex) Morgan show what they are capable of doing. At the end of the day it comes down to the will to win,” said Sawa. “Our strength lies in our never-say-die attitude and obviously I don’t know how the game is going to pan out but we just have to dig in deep and give it our all.”

Ganbatte ne!

In team sports we can tease out the interplay of individual and group resilience.   The doubt, hurt, failure of one can be absorbed into the strength of the team.  The courage and conviction of one can like lightning transform everyone else.  Home court can — often does — offer an advantage.  The relationship with fans and between members of the team can complement or detract from individual competence.

After last year’s loss the US women’s soccer team may have faltered abit.  According to Joseph White, “coach and players were bummed out. Coach Pia Sundhage went home to Sweden and tuned out soccer completely for a while. Goalkeeper Hope Solo went on “Dancing With the Stars.”  But they were soon back together, practicing and playing as hard as ever.  The US team entered the Olympics ranked number 1 in the world.

“Every single player on this team, whether they’re even here or not, even players that are left back in the United States, they’ve given us all an opportunity to train, to work, to dedicate, to sacrifice, every single day since the World Cup, so that we can have this one chance, the one more chance, the 90 more minutes,” Wambach said.

The sports narrative tracks what science is beginning to tell us about resilience.  According to the science, losing to Japan last year could even enhance the chances of the US team this afternoon.

Resilience emerges from adversity.

There is, however, a Goldilocks aspect to the kind and amount adversity that generates resilience.  Either too little or too much adversity seems to suppress resilience.  According to Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability and Resilience, “Experiencing low but nonzero levels of adversity could teach effective coping skills, help engage social support networks, create a sense of mastery over past adversity, foster beliefs in the ability to cope successfully in the future, and generate psychophysiological toughness.”

Psychological research has found that peripheral engagement with adversity (such as the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake-and-tsunami) can enhance resilience.   Findings also suggest that very low experience with adversity results in non-resilience.  I know it’s gratuitous, but did Tiger Woods’ phenomenal success since age 8 leave him  vulnerable to the inevitable losses the years would bring? Extraordinary adversity also undermines resilience.  Did American Somoa’s soccer team’s 16 years of constant losing produce resilience?

My reading of the science (potentially suspect) suggests the US team’s resilience is likely to be higher against Japan than any other team, precisely because the US lost to Japan last year.  The science is clear that we are more resilient to, for example, our second or third flood, but resilience to floods does not necessarily enhance resilience to wildfires or other natural disasters.

Nearly two decades after playing my last high school football game our coach told me, “I would never have said this out loud, but my goal was much more about teaching you how to lose than how to win.”  We were conference co-champions, so he had also taught us to win.  But by my late 30s  I understood — and deeply appreciated — the wisdom needed to lose.

This afternoon two teams that have each known the agony of defeat and thrill of victory will face each other.  Both will bring to the game great skill and deep passion. Whichever team is victorious many of us will look to the losers as well as the winners for inspiration.  We will wince at anger.  We will cheer grace and determination.

How well we lose has much to do with how well we live.

–+–

GAME UPDATE

At the end of the first half it’s US 1/Japan 0.  Graham Parker is live blogging the game for The Guardian.  During the half-time hiatus he writes:

Fascinating game, as the US came storming out in the opening moments with all of the adrenaline of the semi-final still seemingly coursing through them.

Japan though are not World Champions by accident and were consistently dangerous – both on speedy counters and with their ability to unlock tight defenses. Solo had to make one fantastic save to keep her team ahead, but it’s clear that Japan will have more chances in this one.

That said, the US are always dangerous, and could have doubled their lead with Iwashimizu’s desperate clearance bouncing off the post. The game is fantastically poised for the second half. As I said earlier – next goal may be absolutely crucial.

The US scored a second goal at about minute 55 of the game.  Relevant to our resilience topic, Graham Parker remarks:

If this were almost any other team than the Japanese you’d think this was game over, but they seem to play the same game regardless of the score.

The Japanese score for the first time in minute 62 (of a 90 minute game).  It’s US 2/Japan 1.

A frenetic second half demonstrates the strength, persistence, and — perhaps — resilience of each team.

The US wins the gold, 2 to 1.

After the win, Parker reports:

The Japanese players are in tears, but Sasaki (Japanese coach) smiling stoically as he consoles them. They’ve really played their part in this tournament.

Catharsis for the USA as they gather round the flag on the sideline, beaming broadly in relief and joy.

The Friday New York Times has a report on the soccer game that is full of resilience implications.  Please see:  For Determined Japanese Team; Silver Must be Good Enough.

At least the implications pop for me.   A friend has written, “you are, as usual, being way too subtle.  Be explicit about the analogy you are suggesting for homeland security.”  I think there are many meaningful analogies, but in the comments I have been more explicit regarding one.

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August 8, 2012

Perfecting Patience

Filed under: Strategy — by Mark Chubb on August 8, 2012

If you’re anything like me, patience does not come easy. Don’t get me wrong, I am neither relentlessly achievement-focused nor all that goal-driven. I am just as prone to distraction and procrastination as anyone else. But when I think I know what to do, and others aren’t ready to join me to get it done, I find it hard to hold back.

As I have matured (read: gotten older), I’ve come to appreciate the importance of patience and its role in helping me achieve strategic successes. I’ve also come to appreciate what make it distinctive and worthy of my effort and focus.

In my younger years, I was encouraged to be persistent. The importance of perseverance was often emphasized too. I’m sure both of these practices have their place, but they clearly are not the same as patience.

Persistence is mostly about repetition. It’s externally focused and emphasizes doing something over again until you perfect it or it succeeds. This certainly has merit, as no one gets very good at any complex task without repeating and perfecting its essential elements. At the same time, persistence neither requires patience nor particularly benefits from its application. The harder you work, the more time you devote to perfecting execution, the faster you will achieve proficiency.

Perseverance suggests a mindset or internal orientation toward challenging or difficult tasks. We are much more likely to persevere when we think we’re right and all we need is time for people to come around to our view. It’s easier to persevere when we see things happening before others and expect the environment or their understanding of it to evolve in ways that will convince them to see the rightness of our advice. It’s only difficult to persevere when we don’t think that will happen in time to avert a bad outcome or we have to accept accountability for a failure to convince them to see things our way.

If procrastination is about failing to take action when we know we should and perseverance is mostly a question of keeping our powder dry and waiting for the solution to become apparent to others then patience must mean something else altogether.

I have become convinced that patience differs qualitatively from both persistence and perseverance in that it requires the alignment of both of these disciplines. Patience does not imply inaction. Indeed, patient people use their time wisely to perfect the essential elements of their craft. At the same time, they must display perseverance while waiting for the right opportunity to deploy their skills in ways that will influence outcomes.

In these ways, patience is a proactive rather than reactive response to circumstances beyond our control. Rather than resigning ourselves to accept external circumstance, patience affords us an opportunity to work on what we can control while waiting and watching for the right opportunity to arise. In some cases, it also opens our eyes to opportunities to acquire new skills that complement or enable us to fulfill our aspirations.

The discipline of patience requires us to approach problems in a different way. We usually think intentions influence our actions. This view suggests we get the results we desire by aligning our efforts to what we want to achieve. In reality, this works less often than it should because we tend to focus on what we know or think we know, which blinds us to opportunities to succeed by adapting our execution to changing circumstances. Sometimes it blinds us to change altogether.

Exercising patience requires us to recognize that more often than not our intentions follow our attention. We see opportunities only when we look actively for them. As such, patience requires us to adopt a perspective outside ourselves. This demands much more of us than persistence or perseverance. Putting ourselves in the position of others also exposes us to risks because it may make us seem less in control from others’ perspectives.

Anyone with genuine accountability for performance inevitably encounters situations that require her to cede control in exchange for getting others to take responsibility for tasks. This is especially true in a complex world where no one person possesses all the skills required to complete complex missions.

As it has become clearer to me that patience really is the paramount strategic virtue and differs significantly from persistence and perseverance, it has also become clear to me that perfecting patience requires persistence and perseverance. You only become good at it through focus and repetition.

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August 7, 2012

Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an active shooter event. And more.

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on August 7, 2012

From the people at Ready Houston: a six minute video suggesting what to do if you’re at work, or church or elsewhere and someone starts shooting.

———————
FEMA offers an online course called “Active Shooter: What You Can Do.” It takes about 45 minutes to complete the course, according to the website.

———————

If you live in Oregon and you want a license to carry a concealed handgun, you can take your certification test online (at this link).  The website describes the simple three step process:

Step 1: Watch the safety class below and then when you are done click “Begin Test” to start your FREE test.
Step 2: If you pass the test you will then be able to add the certificate to your cart ($47).
Step 3: Get your certificate in the mail and take it to your local sheriff’s office for processing to recieve your ID Card.
Note: Your official Oregon Concealed License Certification will be promptly mailed via the US Postal Service within 24 hours of purchasing your certificate.

———————

DHS issued a two page document called “PERFORMANCE VENUES – INDICATORS OF VIOLENCE & PROTECTIVE MEASURES,” available at this link.

———————
According to the DHS document, one indicator “of surveillance by potential attackers” includes Persons using or carrying video/camera/observation equipment in or near the facility over an extended period.

Julio Rausseo, an “independent journalist,” believes “It has now come to the point in this Country where filming and taking a picture has turned into suspicious activity, and could lead to some sort of violence.”

You can hear his debate with an Amtrak police officer about the First Amendment, homeland security, TSA, journalism, videos, threats and related issues at this link.

———————
Nothing especially new in any of this. Just the measureless more.

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August 6, 2012

Hiroshima: the weapons of war must be abolished, before they abolish us

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 6, 2012

“A blinding flash swept across my eyes.  In a fraction of a second, I looked out the window towards the garden as a huge band of light fell from the sky down to the trees.  A thunderous explosion gripped the earth and shook it.  There seemed no alternative to death as the earth heaved.”

A survivor of Hiroshima, 1945

Today was the 67th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.  Let us keep firmly in our mind the consequences of any single nuclear explosion.

When the blow came, I closed my eyes but I could still feel the extreme heat.  It was like being roasted alive many times over.  I noticed that the side of my body was very hot.  It was on fire.  I tried to put it out, but it would not go out so easily.  You could hardly recognize me, my lips and my face were all popped up and I had to force my eyes open with my fingers in order to see.

The blast was so intense it felt like hundreds of needles were stabbing me all at once.

People had no hair because their hair was burned, and at a glance you couldn’t tell whether you were looking at them from in front or in back.

There were lots of naked people who were so badly burned that the skin of their whole body was hanging from them like rags.

A tremendous blast wave struck our ship.  A giant ball of fire rose as though from the bowels of the earth, belching forth enormous white smoke rings.  Next we saw a giant pillar of purple fire, ten thousand feet high, shooting skyward with enormous speed.  Awestruck, we watched it shoot upward like a meteor coming from the earth instead of from outer space.  It was a living thing, a new species of being, born right before our incredulous eyes.  It was a living totem pole, carved with many grotesque masks grimacing at the earth.

I looked at the face to see if I knew her.  It was a woman of about forty. A gold tooth gleamed in the wide open mouth.  A handful of singed hair hung down from the left temple over her cheek, dangling in her mouth.  Her eyelids were drawn up, showing black holes where the eyes had been burned out.

–“Testimony of Toshiko Saeki,” and “Testimony of Yoshito Matsushige,” Voice of Hibakusha, http://www.inicom.com/hibakusha/index.html.  Fujie Urata Matsumoto, as quoted in Takashi Nagai, We of Nagasaki: The Story of Survivors in an Atomic Wasteland

For a visual history, watch this video shot nine months after the explosion:

If you can stand more, I would strongly suggest reading John Hersey’s powerful New Yorker piece: http://archive.org/details/hiroshima035082mbp

If you have been moved to do something, please support the Global Zero campaign:

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“Dare Mighty Things”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 6, 2012

Yesterday began with the horrible news of yet another mass shooting incident, this time at a Sikh temple in a Milwaukee suburb. Yet it ended (late) with the amazing news that the newest Mars probe landed successfully. I am not trying to demean the lives of the victims of this latest tragedy, just attempting to focus on the amazing positive outcome of the latest space science success.

Yes, I know this has nothing to do with homeland security.  But it is still a reason to celebrate and congratulate NASA employees and the all the other people involved with this amazing project:

With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s “habitability.”

Why is it a big deal?  It’s the largest and most sophisticated rover ever to land on the Martian surface.  And the first since the seventies where the express mission is to search for potential signs of life. And getting it there and on the surface in one piece was never expected to be easy.  How would you deal with the “7 Minutes of Terror?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISmWAyQxqqs

Despite all the daunting challenges, it got there.  Don’t believe me?  Well, the rover has a Twitter account, so you can follow it yourself…

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August 2, 2012

Core characteristics of resilience

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 2, 2012

Resilience is often accused of being a homeland security “buzzword,” something regularly referenced and rarely understood.

In ecology and engineering resilience is well-researched, widely understood, even measurable.

In psychology there is substantial consensus regarding the reality of resilience and non-resilience.  There is increasing agreement on those human traits that  correlate with resilience.  There is less agreement on the nature-nurture origins of resilience and whether adults can learn to be more resilient.  But the case for adult learning has been sufficient to produce a US Army program aimed at enhancing soldier/family/community resilience.

There is a growing set of empirical findings related to social resilience (I especially recommend the Digital Library of the Commons).  But the sociology of resilience is less mature than the psychology of resilience.  For the purposes of homeland security we might learn from the psychological findings and try to test them in our more psycho-social domain.

In 2004 Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson at the University of Michigan co-authored the 800 page Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.  According to the American Psychological Association (co-publisher with Oxford University Press) the text is the:

… first progress report from a prestigious group of researchers in the Values in Action Classification Project, which has undertaken a systematic classification and measurement of universal strengths and virtues. This landmark work makes possible for the first time a science of human strengths that goes beyond armchair philosophy and political science. The handbook begins with the background of the VIA classification scheme and defines terms before describing in thorough detail the current state of knowledge with respect to each of the 24 character strengths in the classification.

Here are the twenty-four human characteristics which some clinical studies suggest are correlated with resilience (taken from the table of contents).

Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge

  • Creativity [Originality, Ingenuity]
  • Curiosity [Interest, Novelty-Seeking, Openness to Experience]
  • Open-Mindedness [Judgment, Critical Thinking]
  • Love of Learning
  • Perspective [Wisdom]

Strengths of Courage

  • Bravery [Valor]
  • Persistence [Perseverance, Industriousness]
  • Integrity [Authenticity, Honesty]
  • Vitality [Zest, Enthusiasm, Vigor, Energy]

Strengths of Humanity

  • Love
  • Kindness [Generosity, Nurturance, Care, Compassion, Altruistic Love, "Niceness"]
  • Social Intelligence [Emotional Intelligence, Personal Intelligence]

Strengths of Justice

  • Citizenship [Social Responsibility, Loyalty, Teamwork]
  • Fairness
  • Leadership

Strengths of Temperance

  • Forgiveness and Mercy
  • Humility and Modesty
  • Prudence
  • Self-Regulation [Self-Control]

Strengths of Transcendence

  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence [Awe, Wonder, Elevation]
  • Gratitude
  • Hope [Optimism, Future-Mindedness, Future Orientation]
  • Humor [Playfulness]
  • Spirituality [Religiousness, Faith, Purpose]

These are framed — and claimed — as preliminary, but meaningful scientific findings.  According to field and clinical results the more an individual demonstrates these strengths, the more resilient the personality.  Research is continuing to refine tests for each trait and better understand co-variances.  But more than a prima facie case has been established for key characteristics of psychological resilience.

The more  a community demonstrates these strengths, the more resilient the community?  The organization?  The nation?

Just for the sake of discussion, what if Seligman and Peterson are at least 80 percent correct in their inventory?  Seligman, in particular, is a strong advocate for resilience “training” (ala the Army program).  What if it is indeed possible to enhance resilience among adults and groups of adults?

How might homeland security (the enterprise) and/or Homeland Security (the government function) meaningfully and appropriately work to advance these characteristics?

–+–

Postscript

Last week we had an extended discussion of “Boydian” concepts.   At the core of John Boyd’s framework is our own orientation and the orientation of our adversaries. Orientation consists of genetic, cultural, and other inputs.  Seligman and Peterson offer evidence and argument that the characteristics listed above are “universal” across the human population.   In other words, these are core elements in the Orientation of resilient individuals.  I wonder what Boyd would do with this claim?  While I’m not sure what Boyd might say, it occurs to me that the Seligman/Peterson characteristics are at least as unfriendly to command-and-control as Boyd.

UPDATE: SUNDAY AUGUST 5

The National Academy of Sciences has released an online pre-publication copy of its forthcoming Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. I appreciate Claire Rubin bringing it to my attention.  Following is an introductory paragraph.

One way to reduce the impacts of disasters on the nation and its communities is to invest in enhancing resilience–the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events. Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative addresses the broad issue of increasing the nation’s resilience to disasters. This book defines “national resilience”, describes the state of knowledge about resilience to hazards and disasters, and frames the main issues related to increasing resilience in the United States. It also provide goals, baseline conditions, or performance metrics for national resilience and outlines additional information, data, gaps, and/or obstacles that need to be addressed to increase the nation’s resilience to disasters. Additionally, the book’s authoring committee makes recommendations about the necessary approaches to elevate national resilience to disasters in the United States.

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NYT editorial and op-ed on cybersecurity

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Cybersecurity,General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 2, 2012

The issue certainly deserves sustained and serious attention.   It is not, however, where I spend most of my time.  So… without further comment and just to be sure you did not miss: two recent pieces from the New York Times editorial page. To read the commentary in full please click on the link.

Cybersecurity at Risk

Published: July 31, 2012

Relentless assaults on America’s computer networks by China and other foreign governments, hackers and criminals have created an urgent need for safeguards to protect these vital systems. The question now is whether the Senate will provide them. Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, and the Chamber of Commerce have already exacted compromises from sponsors of a reasonably strong bill, and are asking for more. Their demands should be resisted and the original bill approved by the Senate.

READ THE FULL EDITORIAL

A Law to Strengthen Our Cyberdefense

By ASHTON B. CARTER and JANE HOLL LUTE
Published: August 1, 2012

OVER the last decade, the United States has built a sophisticated security system to protect the nation’s seaports against terrorists and criminals. But our nation’s critical infrastructure is not similarly secured from cyberattack. Although we have made progress in recent years, Congressional action is needed to ensure that our laws keep pace with the electronically connected world we live in. The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012, currently before the Senate, offers a way forward.

READ THE FULL OP-ED

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August 1, 2012

State Department Terrorism Report

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 1, 2012

Yesterday — July 31 — the Department of State released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism.  In a media briefing at which the report was publicly released Daniel Benjamin,  State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, noted that despite the killing of bin-Laden and other successful operations against al-Qaeda:

…Terrorists could still cause to significant disruptions for states undergoing very challenging democratic transitions. The report’s narrative notes, among other things, the continued weakening of the al-Qaida core in Pakistan, but it also demonstrates that the al-Qaida affiliates, while also suffering losses, increased their overall operational ability. And this is particularly true of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. So for all the counterterrorism successes that we’ve seen against al-Qaida and its affiliates, the group and violent extremist ideology and rhetoric continue to spread in some parts of the world.

The report also notes that al-Qaida and its affiliates are not the only terrorist threat that the United States faces. We are increasingly concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism and Hezbollah’s activities as they’ve both stepped up their level of terrorist plotting over the past year and engaging in – and are engaging in their most active and aggressive campaigns since the 1990s. Iran’s use of terrorism as an instrument of policy was exemplified, as you’re all aware, by the involvement of elements of the Iranian Government in the 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington.

Download the full report.

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July 31, 2012

If Thad Allen ran DHS

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Christopher Bellavita on July 31, 2012

The homeland security enterprise got a glimpse of what DHS might look like if Thad Allen becomes the Secretary of Homeland Security.

He testified a few weeks ago at a senate hearing about “The Evolution of the Homeland Security Department’s Roles and Missions.”

Here’s some of what he had to say in his written statement.

———————————————————–

Allen reminded people how quickly DHS got started 10 years ago. The perception of urgency in 2002 meant “little time was available for deliberate planning and thoughtful consideration of available alternatives” for establishing the Department.

The consequence of “fire before aiming?”

Basic mission support functions of the department such as financial accounting, human resource management, real property management, information resource management, procurement, and logistics were retained largely at the component level in legacy systems that varied widely. Funding for those functions was retained at the component level as well. In those cases where new entities were created (i.e. Departmental level management and operations, the Under Secretary for Science and Technology, the Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office) support systems had to be created rapidly to meet immediate demands of mission execution. Finally, components and departmental offices that did not preexist the legislation were located in available space around the Washington DC area and the Secretary and number of new functions were located at the Nebraska Avenue Complex in Northwest Washington.

The result was an organizational mess.

According to Allen,

Many of these issues persist today, ten years later. Despite several attempts to centralize and consolidate functions …, most support functions remain located in departmental components and the funding to support those functions remains in their appropriations. Because of dissimilarities between appropriations structures of components transferred from legacy departments there is a lack of uniformity, comparability, and transparency in budget presentations across the department. As a result it is difficult to clearly differentiate, for example, between personnel costs, operations and maintenance costs, information technology costs, and capital investment….”

Allen outlines other structural and process problems that have “severely constrained the ability [of] the Department [to] mature as an enterprise.”

What to do about it?

In the May/June issue of Public Administration Review (subscription required), Allen wrote an article called “Confronting Complexity and Leading Unity of Effort.”  The title summarizes the approach he’d take to remedy the structural disarray that is DHS.

I proposed that the major emerging challenge of public administration and governing is the increased level of complexity we confront in mission operations, execution of government programs, and managing non-routine and crisis events. Driving this complexity are rapid changes in technology, the emergence of global community, and the ever-expanding human-built environment that intersects with the natural environment in new more extreme ways.

So far nothing very new here. Just another statement from someone stuck in what Sebastian Gorka, Michael J. Gallagher, and Joshua A. Geltzer call the Complexity Trap [one of the few articles I've found that challenges the assumption almost everything interesting is complex.]

Allen moves away in his testimony from the theoretical and suggests what his complexity analysis could mean for DHS: as a unit of analysis, DHS may be too small.

No single department, agency, or bureau has the authorizing legislation, appropriation, capability, competency or capacity to address complexity alone. The result is that most government programs or services are “co-produced” by multiple agencies. Many involve the private/non-governmental sector, and, in some cases, international partners. Collaboration, cooperation, the ability to build networks, and partner are emerging as critical organizational and leadership skills. Homeland Security is a complex “system of systems” that interrelates and interacts with virtually every department of government at all levels and the private sector as well. It is integral to the larger national security system. We need the capabilities, capacities and competency to create unity of effort within the Department and across the homeland security enterprise.

Allen is unwilling to wait for complexity and the magic of emergence to produce unity of effort in the system of systems that is the homeland security. He wants to create unity of effort. He’s shifting from a managerial toward a leadership perspective.

What is Allen’s vision for DHS?

As we look forward to the next decade I would propose we consider two basic simple concepts: Mission execution and mission support. Mission execution is deciding what [you do] and how to do it. Mission support enables mission execution.

For the mission execution piece of the vision, Allen wants to take another look (through the next QHSR) at what DHS is responsible for.

[T]here should be a baseline assessment of the current legal authorities, regulatory responsibilities, treaty obligations, and current policy direction (i.e. HSPD/NSPD). I do not believe there has been sufficient visibility provided on the broad spectrum of authorities and responsibilities that moved to the department with the components in 2003….

Once that’s done, he wants to look at how homeland security missions still worth pursuing are carried out, and “without regard to current stove piped component activities.”

Using borders as an example, Allen writes

…envision the border as an aggregation of functions across physical and virtual domains instead of the isolated and separate authorities, jurisdictions, capabilities, and competencies of individual components.

Resilience also would get a new, expanded look:

Instead of focusing on “insuring resiliency to disasters” we should focus on the creation and sustainment of national resiliency that is informed by the collective threat/risks presented by both the natural and human built environments. The latter is a more expansive concept than “infrastructure” and the overall concept subsumes the term “disaster” into [the] larger problem set that we will face. This strategic approach would allow integration of activities and synergies between activities that are currently stove piped within FEMA, NPPD, and other components. It also allows cyber security to be seen as activity that touches virtually every player in the homeland security enterprise.”

Allen succinctly illustrates the mission support element of his DHS vision this way:

…[W]hen you go to work … every day you [do] one of two things: you either execute the mission or you support the mission…. [If] you cannot explain which one of these jobs you are doing, then we have done one of two things wrong … we haven’t explained your job properly or we don’t need your job.

How to accomplish the vision Allen sets out?

… I see three possible ways forward. The desirable course of action would be build the trust and transparency necessary for the Department and components to [collectively] agree to rationalize the mission support structure and come to agreements on shared services. The existing barriers are considerable but the first principals of mission execution apply here as well … unambiguous, clearly communicated strategic intent and unity of effort supported by transparency and exploitation of information. A less palatable course of action is top down directed action that is enforced through the budget process. The least desirable course of action is externally mandated change.

I think what that paragraph says to the people in DHS is “You’ve been building this agency for a decade. Get your act together internally and fix what you know is not working. If you don’t do it on your own, you will be directed to do it either through the budget or through law.”

I don’t believe the last two options can work. They depend on control, and I think the evidence — including DHS’s first decade — is very clear: deliberate control is not a property of a complex social system, like homeland security.

The first option might work. But it’s up to the men and women inside DHS and the enterprise to make it work. That takes leadership. Not leaders.

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July 30, 2012

Savor Complexity

Filed under: Humor — by Philip J. Palin on July 30, 2012

Earlier today I received a solicitation for paid advertising at Homeland Security Watch.   The placement would be part of a national campaign that you may have seen in your neighborhood.

I’m pleased to say the taste-test was a great success.  I also appreciated the obvious effort made to match the advertising to the sophisticated expectations of HLSWatch readers.

But the HLSWatch mission requires continued allegiance to our long-time non-commercial values.  No paid  advertising here.  We can, however, promise plenty more complexity to savor.

(The “Savor Complexity” campaign is real.)

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July 27, 2012

SnOODAn: Boyd, Snowden, and Resilience

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on July 27, 2012

Last Thursday I posted a bit on Cynefin. Developed by David Snowden and others, the Cynefin Framework can be a helpful tool for engaging reality’s varied flows, especially the flows — sometimes floods —  from known to knowable to complex to chaotic and betwixt and between.

Cynefin is both a strategic and an operational tool. Depending on one’s strategic perception it calls for adjusting how reality is engaged. For example, dealing with what is known is a matter of sensing, then categorizing, and responding appropriately. We choose a response to match our understanding of what is happening, our prior experience with what is happening, and how we have previously dealt with this category of event.

In contrast, a complex context presents a novel environment that needs to be probed in order to sense what is happening and then we respond to that understanding… often an incremental understanding that comes from multiple probes (some helpful and some not). Snowden argues that chaos does not allow for investigatory probes, but requires full-fledged actions and adaptation as we move with reality’s cascade.

In a comment to last week’s post John Plodinec suggested that Cynefin reminds him a bit of the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) framework developed by John Boyd.  I agree.  The two frameworks are especially helpful when applied together.

I use Cynefin to understand the context in which I find myself.  I use OODA to better understand myself.  Simultaneous application helps me adjust effectively to unfolding reality.

The principal impediment to recognizing a shift from a complicated context into complexity or from complexity into chaos is my own orientation, my own readiness and (un)willingness to recognize reality.

By clicking on the illustration a larger version will appear in a new window

My orientation has significant influence on my observation.  Instead of seeing unfolding circumstances I often “see” a prior circumstance.  Instead of receiving outside information, I may depend on inside information (often inside my own mind).  Instead of interacting directly with the environment, I interact with data-feeds, indirect reports, and other representations of reality rather than reality-itself.

Not surprisingly given this warped view of reality my decisions (conscious or usually not)  can produce actions wildly mis-matched to reality.  In mistaking a complex context for a merely complicated context, my decisions and actions amplify the complexity.  By mistaking a chaotic situation for a complex situation I undertake tentative decisions and actions that merely delay the bolder steps that are the best bet for stabilization.

Snowden warns that mistaking chaos for a known — and controllable — situation is often the precursor to catastrophe.  This is an error to which experienced experts are, paradoxically, especially susceptible.

The Orientation element of the OODA framework (inside the blue in the illustration) consists of what Boyd suggests are five anchors… predispositions… core capabilities…

  • Genetic Heritage:  We see, hear, smell, taste,  feel and think within the limits of our species.
  • Previous Experiences:  We tend to expect what we have previously experienced.
  • Cultural Traditions:  We tend to process new experiences with concepts derived from our social experience.
  • Analysis and Synthesis: Boyd especially emphasized the speed with which we can analyze and synthesize, greater speed providing greater potential advantage.
  • New Information:  Our receptiveness to novelty can profoundly affect every other aspect of orientation.

The more open I am to new information, the quicker I am to analyze/synthesize new information, and the less constricted I am by genetics, culture, and prior experience the more resilient I am likely to be in dealing with complexity and chaos.

Another way of saying the same thing:  My resilience is advanced when I can take thoughtful action even when seriously doubting my own judgment.  The more complex and chaotic the context, the more self-doubt is productively adaptive… as long as I take action, monitor outcomes, and adjust as best I can.   Will this work for a group?  For a community?  For a region?  For a nation?

Can a society increasingly organized around specializations affirmatively embrace self-doubt?  We usually speak of self-doubt as a problem.  Yet Jim Collins found that Level 5 Leaders “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”  What is humility, but self-doubt courageously deployed?

–+–

I constantly stumble over pronouncing cynefin (it’s Welsh and sounds something like “kuh-ne-vin”.  Whenever I ask someone if they know about OODA they seem to think I’m asking about a breakfast cereal.   So I’m going to start writing and talking about “The Snoodan Frameworks” (Say Snowden with a kind of Scottish brogue or Scandinavian sing-song.)

We’re about one-third or so through a series on catastrophe, resilience, and civil liberties that started with a post on May 18. The series will continue next Thursday or Friday.

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July 25, 2012

Ungrateful, Unfeeling or Just Numb

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on July 25, 2012

When Vice President Joe Biden addressed a hotel ballroom in Philadelphia this afternoon, he probably expected the blue-collar throng to be a friendly crowd. After all, firefighters have few friends in Washington, DC more loyal or admiring than he’s been. Few politicians appreciate the influence wielded by firefighters better than Mr. Biden, who once referred to them as Delaware’s third major political party.

As you might expect, the Vice President set a complimentary tone in his remarks, assuring firefighters that he and the President see them as the key to protecting America’s middle class. It was unclear whether he meant this literally or metaphorically. Perhaps it was both.

For the most part, the Vice President’s remarks suggested he was aiming to evoke the sort of mutual adulation that firefighters and politicians routinely share with one another in public. GIven the political season, Mr. Biden did not shy away from taking shots at the other side by suggesting the Obama Administration supports firefighters and their brothers and sisters in blue, the police, but those other guys, represented by Mr. Romney, do not.

Not long after he finished speaking, the reviews were in. Most firefighters were glad to see the second-highest ranking elected Democrat reaching out to the party’s traditional base at a union convention. But some expected more.

One of those who was not exactly thrilled with Mr. Biden’s remarks was the president of the Philadelphia local of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who expressed dismay bordering on disgust because the Vice President had not explicitly cited and endorsed the union’s victory in an arbitration case that awarded Pennsylvania firefighters protection against furloughs and a pay raise. City officials in Philadelphia, like those in Mr. Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which recently implemented unilateral cuts to all city workers’ pay in a desperate bid to avoid bankruptcy, are appealing that decision.

These are tough times for cities. And that’s because times have been tough for city-dwellers. Not only have many Americans seen the value of their homes plummet, but many have seen real wages shrink even as their workplace tenure has become more tenuous.

Firefighters face few of these problems. For the most part, their pay has been stable or increasing since the recession started . Their benefits remain far more generous than those available to comparably trained workers in similar occupations. (I know, firefighters think no one has a job like theirs. They are right about that, many far riskier jobs provide far less secure employment and much poorer pay and benefits. Take fishing for instance. Or driving a taxi.) And until recently, they could be reasonably confident that they would continue being employed.

Now that the recession has lingered far longer than anyone expected, many firefighters are finding themselves in much the same position as those they protect. And that doesn’t sit well with a group that sees themselves as different, even special.

Firefighters have a difficult time relating to the plight of cities. Perhaps this is because so few of them live there. In most urban communities the days when fire departments were composed of neighbors stepping up to help one another is long gone. Today, the fire department is just another municipal service we pay others to provide.

Mr. Biden suggested that firefighters are the very soul of their communities. I am sure he meant to imply this was true of the communities where firefighters work, not the ones where they live, since these are rarely the same place anymore. I’m not sure he didn’t get this the wrong way around though.

Like Mr. Biden, though, I still admire firefighters. After all, it’s hard not to like anyone who enjoys his or her job as much as firefighters do, especially when they take so much pride in doing it well. But this does not make firefighters special. Neither do the risks they take. Although firefighting has its dangers, firefighters succumb to these far less often than one might imagine. The same things that kill other workers in far less dangerous occupations claim firefighters lives too, and take many more of them than fires do.

What makes firefighters special in my book is the peculiar compassion they show for others in their times of greatest need. Mr. Biden recognized this when he spoke of the selfless actions of responders to the Aurora theater massacre. Sure, these men and women faced perils in responding to an active shooter call. But the actions they took caring for the wounded was not simply about confronting risks or the skillful performance of well-practiced routines. It was also about the concern they showed not just for the physical wellbeing of those involved, but for their emotional and psychological welfare as well.

You can’t really train people to do this. They either feel empathy or they do not. The fact most of them do feel empathy means that the mere act of showing up when needed is the point at which they add the most value.

This value can easily get lost in debates about what the work people do is really worth. It can also get lost in the heat of a political fight for the heart and soul of a great nation whose public servants like her people have started to become just a little too numb to the pain most of us share.

 

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July 24, 2012

All Olympics are the same. All Olympics are different.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 24, 2012

The 30th Olympiad — otherwise known as London 2012 — officially starts on Friday.

Forty years ago, terrorists killed 11 athletes, coaches and a police officer during the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Here’s what a senior official of the Black September group said about the attack at the Munich Games:

In our assessment, and in light of the result, we have made one of the best achievements of Palestinian commando action. A bomb in the White House, a mine in the Vatican, the death of Mao Tse-tung, an earthquake in Paris could not have echoed through the consciousness of every man in the world like the operation at Munich. The Olympiad arouses the people’s interest and attention more than anything in the world. The choice of the Olympics, from the purely propagandistic viewpoint, was 100 percent successful. It was like painting the name of Palestine on a mountain that can be seen from the four corners of the earth.” (cited in One Day In September, p. 248)

……………

I’ve had the fortune to participate in or observe security operations for six Olympiads. Based mostly on that experience, I’m not a fan of the Olympic Games.

The Olympics are a circus that comes to town for a little while, selling promises and dreams. It helps separate people from their money, then packs up the tents and moves on to the next stop.

Athletes also participate in the Olympics.

I think the Olympics — like college football — commodify athletes. Since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, competition for the actual gold takes place among corporations, not the men and women who spend lifetimes getting ready for what may, in retrospect, seem like an instant.

But I believe mine is a minority opinion.

……………

While I’m not fond of the Olympics, I am a fan of Olympic Security.

There is an aphorism in the event security world that says all Olympics are the same and all Olympics are different.

All the Games are similar when it comes to the rhythm and patterns of security planning. But one enters dangerous territory relying too much on sameness. The differences can bite.

……………

London was awarded the 2012 Games on July 6, 2005. The next day, suicide terrorists detonated 4 bombs in the city.

Even without an attack to arouse “the people’s interest and attention,” security planning for the Olympics starts the day after a city gets the Games, and continues for 7 years. At least it has for every Olympiad I’ve seen.

Security officials can’t just plan for venues. Anything significant that happens anywhere in the host city has the potential to be perceived as an Olympic incident. So they have to protect a circus watched by the world, and at the same time take care of everything else they are normally responsible for. It’s a tough and mostly thankless job, made more difficult and more expensive each time the Olympics comes to town.

Every two years I try to ignore the Summer and Winter Olympics. This Olympiad — this week — is no exception.

But Olympic memories seep through the slough.

……………

Barcelona 1992

The Spanish National Police provided my housing during the 1992 Games. I stayed on a heavily fortified paramilitary police base. There were humvee-like vehicles and heavily armed guards everywhere in and around the base.

“Can’t get much safer than this,” I thought.

Then someone told me the police lost an average of 2 officers a month to terrorist attacks during the 7 year planning period.

I got to watch one athletic event: a baseball game between two countries I did not even knew played baseball. I think that was my first introduction to globalism.

Baseball is no longer an Olympic sport.

Globalism still is.

In Munich, terrorists broke into the athletes’ village.

The village was also a huge security problem in Barcelona. But the problem mostly had to do with athletes who finished competing. They were breaking out of the village at night to enjoy one of the most spectacular cities in Europe.

The village also ran out of condoms.

Athletes may be commodified. But they are in incredible physical shape.

……………

Atlanta 1996

The Atlanta Police Department procured the services of a blimp to fly “observation missions” over the city during the Games. One location the blimp frequently observed was the roof of a downtown strip club. I think there was a clothing optional swimming pool on the roof. It provided a training opportunity during the 100 degree Georgia days to practice sending real time videos from the blimp to the command center.

I recall one day during the Games someone found a suspicious package in an underground mall in Atlanta. CNN thoughtfully televised images of the bomb squad responding to the package. When police found out what was going out on live television, they asked CNN to stop doing that. CNN complied.

In Munich, television helped the terrorists in the village know what the police outside were up to. Now most everyone carries a video camera in their pocket.

The Centennial Olympic Park was created by the games organizers (malappropriately called ACOG) for people to enjoy the Olympic ambiance. It was not a secure venue, in the parlance of the security planning world. It was a public park. A place to hang out.

At 1:20 am on July 27th, while a band called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was about the play “Take me to the river,” a bomb planted by Eric Rudolph exploded, killing Alice Hawthorne and Melih Uzunyol, and wounding 111 people.

Rudolph later said:

In the summer of 1996, the world converged upon Atlanta for the Olympic Games. Under the protection and auspices of the regime in Washington millions of people came to celebrate the ideals of global socialism. Multinational corporations spent billions of dollars, and Washington organized an army of security to protect these best of all games. Even though the conception and purpose of the so-called Olympic movement is to promote the values of global socialism, as perfectly expressed in the song Imagine by John Lennon, which was the theme of the 1996 Games even though the purpose of the Olympics is to promote these despicable ideals, the purpose of the attack on July 27 was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand. The plan was to force the cancellation of the Games, or at least create a state of insecurity to empty the streets around the venues and thereby eat into the vast amounts of money invested.


July 27, 2012 is the 16th anniversary of the Centennial Park bombing. It’s also opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Games.

I will be surprised if the 2012 Games take a moment to remember the people killed and injured in 1996 or in 1972.

I hope I’m wrong, but during the Olympics it’s bad form to dwell on the negative.

……………

Sydney 2000

These were the greatest Olympic Games I’ve seen. The entire nation — or at least the Sydney part of the nation — was transfixed by the spectacle. You could not go anywhere without hearing crowds yelling Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy; Oi, Oi, Oi, whatever that meant.

As loud as those cheers were, they were a whisper compared to the roar that exploded across the city when the Australian Cathy Freeman won the 400 meter gold medal.

At that moment, even someone cynical about the Olympics felt a chill. A good chill.

On the last night of the Games, two million people lined Sydney Harbor to watch the closing fireworks. I was on the roof of a hotel watching crowd control operations. Two million people can’t be controlled, I pontificated to myself, especially when there is as much alcohol flowing as there was that night.

“This should be something,” I thought.

It was something.

Two million people watched the fireworks, had a good time, then left. Peacefully. From a public safety perspective, it was thoroughly uneventful.

I do remember one obviously drunk young man staggering around in the crowd picking up empty beer bottles. He was putting them into recycle bins.

Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy; Oi, Oi, Oi.

……………

Salt Lake City 2002

I heard a reporter describe the Winter Olympics as a competition involving “various forms of sliding.”

Opening ceremonies took place 5 months after the September 11, 2001 attacks. US athletes and New York City Port Authority police carried the American flag recovered from the World Trade Center into the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium. 55,000 people did not make a sound.

A few days later there was a traffic problem at one of the mountain venues. The head of the Olympic organizing committee (known as SLOC) reportedly used the F word while chastising one of the Olympic traffic control volunteers. Mr. Romney said he did not use the F word. Other people had a different memory of the incident.

One night during the Games, “a sample from the [Salt Lake City airport's] C concourse tested positive for anthrax.”

A detection system had been set up as a prototype for what eventualy would become the Biowatch program. If anthrax were present, the Salt Lake City airport — maybe every airport in the nation — would have to be shut down.

There’s an instructive story about the executive decision making process used during this incident. But that will have to wait for a different post.

Turned out it wasn’t anthrax.

The February night before closing ceremonies was a warm spring-like Salt Lake City Saturday. Too many people — mostly young — tried getting into the Bud World tent. Because even Utah’s famous “3.2 beer” can get to you in the high mountains, the crowd got a bit unruly. The unruliness turned into a riot.

I particularly remember one very drunk woman in the front of the crowd, screaming at the police, “You can’t arrest me! You can’t arrest me!” She held a small, thin dog in her arms.

Later I learned the police did not arrest her because “We didn’t know what to do with the dog.”

Even if you have seven years, you can’t plan for everything.

The riot was latter called “the riot that wasn’t a riot,” because during the Olympics it’s bad form to point out the negative.

An explosion caused a power outage near the Salt Lake City airport the day of closing ceremonies. It wasn’t terrorist related, we discovered later. But still — Olympics? Explosion? Who knew for sure?

……………

Athens 2004

(This post is already much longer than I thought it would be.  Must. Stop. Remembering.)

One memory from Athens. The Europeans — and a guy from the US State Department — were nervous the Olympic venues in Athens would not be ready for the Games.

I worked with a general from the Hellenic police. He laughed at the criticism. “We started the Olympics in 776 BC,” he said. “The venues weren’t finished then either. But we managed.”

That’s one reason why I don’t worry too much about the Greek “financial crisis.” Somehow Greece always seems to manage.

……………

Turin 2006

One more memory. I had a colleague from the Carabinieri who was the lead security planner in Turin for awhile. (Another Olympic truism: all lead security planners are only lead security planners for awhile.)

He was getting ready for a headquarter’s inspection of the Olympic security plan. According to him, the inspection consisted of people from Rome who knew nothing about Olympics or security. The visit would be a waste of his time.

“I hate the Romans,” he said, as if he were talking about one of the Caesars.

“We all hate it when the Romans come. Nothing good can come of it. But it’s Rome. What can you do?”

If he were an American Olympic security planner, or maybe even a state, local or tribal homeland security professional, he could just as easily have been talking about a visit by someone from Washington DC.

“But it’s Washington. What can you do?”

……………

Last point, again from Simon Reeve’s book about the Munich attack.

Reeve writes about Israeli officials who wanted to retaliate against the Black September group.

The officials cited the ancient “Olympic Truce.” The words of the truce portray an ideal for the Olympiad. They coldly warn anyone who seeks to disrupt the Games. They sear an inviolable duty on all charged with protecting the Olympics.

Olympia is a sacred place.
Anyone who dares to enter it
by force of arms commits an
offense against the gods.
Equally guilty is he who has
it in his power to avenge a
misdeed and fails to do so.

From a security perspective — since 776 BC through 2012 AD — all Olympics are the same.

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July 23, 2012

Damned If You Trim, Damned If You Don’t

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 23, 2012

One of the primary complaints made against power companies following major power outages seems to be their deficiencies in the field of tree cutting/pruning/etc. Basically, the story is told that X amount of customers would not be without power following Y “unforeseen” event if the utilities had done a better job of cutting down trees that grow next to power lines.

A seemingly related phenomenon is the uproar when those same utilities attempt to address the issue but don’t take into account aesthetic value of the same trees (when in non-stormy times they don’t represent a threat to the transmission of electricity but instead add value to home, uh, values).

On the same day similar articles appeared in the Boston Globe and Washington Post. First the paper addressing the most recent event:

Like so many other people in the area, Rock Creek Woods residents were already furious with Pepco for the multiple days they endured without power during a relentless heat wave a few weeks ago. Now neighbors here are angry over Pepco’s strategy to prevent future outages: the slicing and dicing of much-beloved Yoshino cherry trees.

The outrage in Rock Creek Woods, just north of Kensington, and elsewhere in Maryland signifies the conundrum faced by Pepco: People get mad when trees fall on power lines and cause long outages. But residents also fume when they feel Pepco prunes too aggressively and spoils their neighborhood’s aesthetic charms.

Surprising to me was that fact that this issue appeared in the press up in New England around the same time, despite the lag in time since their similar “event” last fall:

Officials at NStar, which came under heavy criticism after widespread power outages last year, say clear-cutting around transmission lines is the only way to guarantee consistently reliable power. But communities are increasingly up in arms over the the utility’s integrated vegetation management program, launched in 2010. In Sudbury, tensions between tree cutters and residents ran so high that a police detail was called in to keep the peace.

While I can sympathize with the general concern about the impact on the nature of the, uh, nature in these neighborhoods, I can’t but help wonder if in terms of increasing resilience we have already met our most intractable foe–and it is us.

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What happens when a drone has one too many drinks?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 23, 2012

It apparently tweets and pens op-eds for Foreign Policy:

Every morning, the hangar doors roll open and the sunlight flares my electro-optical sensors. I drag myself onto the flight line, load up my pylons with Hellfire and Griffin missiles, and try to get some coffee into my tank before takeoff. If all goes well, I lumber into the air, loiter over some godforsaken warzone du jour, and occasionally lob weaponry at those I’m told are the enemies of the free world. By broad consensus, I’m pretty good at my job — and when I’m not soaring above the mountains of Afghanistan or Yemen, I even find time for hobbies, like posting on Twitter. But after I return to base, I self-medicate with extreme prejudice. Because I’m a Predator drone, and you people make me drink.

Beyond the imaginative premise, the vehicle, if you will, of a drunken drone provides what in my mind is a reasonable response to the important question posed by regular commenter Michael Brady in response to my last drone post:

Shall we have any moral, philosophical, or legal concerns for the collateral maiming and killing of untargeted persons or innocent bystanders who happen to be in the house or the vehicle when the Hellfire arrives?

The drone, after finishing it’s martini, answers:

But I’ll simply say this: Blaming a new weapon for the consequences of a society’s willingness to use deadly force against its enemies obscures the real issues of America’s adventures abroad. And it’s terrible for my self-esteem. But you humans show no signs of letting up, and so … I drink.

I think that cuts to the point of this argument against drones.  Thinking about the bigger picture, aren’t we better off as a nation arguing about the collateral damage from a drone strike as compared to what constituted the largest plank of our national defense strategy from just a decade or two ago? Has everyone forgotten that to defend our freedom we were ready to launch nuclear weapons against a full menu of targets that would have resulted in the deaths of millions of non-combatants?

Instead, we have these philosophical questions posted on a New York Times blog site:

First, we might remember Marx’s comment that “the windmill gives you a society with the feudal lord; the steam engine gives you one with the industrial capitalist.” And precision guided munitions and drones give you a society with perpetual asymmetric wars.

Second, assassination and targeted killings have always been in the repertoires of military planners, but never in the history of warfare have they been so cheap and easy.   The relatively low number of troop casualties for a military that has turned to drones means that there is relatively little domestic blowback against these wars. The United States and its allies have created the material conditions whereby these wars can carry on indefinitely.

Third, the impressive expediency and accuracy in drone targeting may also allow policymakers and strategists to become lax in their moral decision-making about who exactly should be targeted.  Consider the stark contrast between the ambiguous language used to define legitimate targets and the specific technical means a military uses to neutralize these targets.

Again, the history of recent military conflicts and of the Cold War seems to have escaped the authors. The ending of the draft effectively disconnected the suffering of a the martial class from the rest of society. Intelligence and Special Forces operations have been ongoing for years, without the benefit of drone or other technology but far from public perception.  Where is the outcry? And the moral decision making about those in the path of countless hydrogen bombs seemed not to be questioned during the Cold War by those within the national security-related academic community.

(Just as an aside, my favorite line of that post is: “However, technology itself (the physical stuff of robotic warfare) is neither smart nor dumb, moral nor immoral.”  Just because I’m willing to wager a nice dinner that no drone follows Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics…)

For those concerned I’m getting too far out of the homeland security box, the drunken drone addresses your concerns:

The second constituency I’ll call the “Orwells.” Their primary concern about drones is domestic. They see the technological potential for drone surveillance, the interest from law enforcement and government agencies, and the massive aerospace industry primed to meet the demand. While there are often noises made about UAV safety, the primary gripe of Orwells- who can point to an actual passage in 1984 which describes small unmanned aircraft peering through people’s windows- is that drones are vanguards of a pervasive surveillance culture. The police watch you outside with robots, corporations like Facebook and Google parse your user data to better bombard you with ads, and the NSA hoovers up your phone and email communications to feed through a secret counter-terrorism algorithm.

But the Orwells face a problem of domestic case law. Despite fractious debate over “reasonable expectations of privacy,” the Supreme Court has consistently held that police departments are permitted to conduct aerial surveillance of private citizens and property, so long as they traverse publicly-available airspace and use the same technology commonly available to members of the public. Those rulings made no distinction between whether the platform used for such surveillance was manned or unmanned, nor do many court-watchers expect that precedent to be soon overturned.

This is a serious issue that requires serious thinking.  All jokes aside, the authors of both the drunken drone work and the New York Times blog should be commended for addressing some of the larger issues in the room when it comes to drone technology.  I suppose I consider drone technology still far enough away from being the true civil liberties game changer that some believe it to represent.  No one within the continental United States are going to be killed by a drone anytime soon.  Neither will their civil liberties be challenged.  But what will come in the future?

Perhaps the worst case scenarios where robots kill with almost no trace….or a society where new technology is successfully integrated into a moral construct upon which (almost) everyone agrees.

(h/t to the Lawfare Blog)

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