Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 10, 2013

The best police chief recruitment video I’ve ever seen

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

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

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

 

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August 9, 2013

Friday Free Forum

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

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

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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August 8, 2013

An abundance of caution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–+–

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

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

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

Is over-abundance possible?

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

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

 –+–

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

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

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

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

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

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August 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

3. Kem Playing Cards

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

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August 2, 2013

Friday Free Forum

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

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

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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August 1, 2013

Counter-anxiety mission?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 1, 2013

Rectification of names

Confucius — the Chinese philosopher and statesman — was asked what he would do if made sovereign of his own land.  He replied that he would focus on the rectification of names (Chinese characters above).  Confucius concluded that as long as we fail to correctly understand the words we use, we will never understand the concepts behind the words and confusion will reign (no matter who or what is sovereign).

A modest attempt at rectification, drawing on the etymology of the English words:

Home: abode, dwelling place, village, world

Land: meadow, heath, region

Security: without anxiety, absence of care (se- is a Latin prefix meaning without)

Homeland security is a populous area free of anxiety.

Given the role of anxiety, it is worth recognizing that anxiety is the anticipation of pain.

I am reminded of fragment from W.H. Auden:

Our thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our fever

Are precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond
To the medicine ad and the brochure of winter cruises
Have become invading battalions;
And our faces, the institute-face, the chain-store, the ruin

Are projecting their greed as the firing squad and the bomb. (Spain, 1937)

Homeland security is — evidently — an anti-anxiety therapeutic.  If so, we have, I worry, been giving more attention to symptoms than underlying cause.

(I am offline most of this week.  This post was cued-up long before August 1 and I will not be around to comment.  I hope today is mostly anxiety-free in terms of breaking homeland security news.)

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July 31, 2013

Throwing a little cold water on the Al Qaeda Threat?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 31, 2013

These are confusing…difficult…let’s just say unsettled times in the counter-terrorism field.

On one hand, the mainstream message seems to be that an extensive global drone strike campaign, combined with a vastly expanded intelligence and special forces capability, has disrupted not only Al Qaeda’s plots but the operations of it’s “central” organization and has kept the American homeland safe.

On the other, “Al Qaeda” is spreading among the chaos of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa.  While not the centralized, directed threat of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, it is often posited as nonetheless a worrisome national security risk.

I’m not taking a side in this argument…at this point anyway.  However, I do think that Harvard Professor Steve Walt’s analysis (keep in mind he comes from the realist school of international relations)” is worth considering:

What is needed is a much more fundamental rethinking of the entire anti-terrorism campaign. As I suggested last week, part of that rethink means asking whether the United States needs to do a lot more to discredit jihadi narratives, instead of persisting with policies that make the extremists’ charges sound plausible to their audiences. A second part is to keep the jihadi threat in better perspective: They are a challenge, but not a mortal threat to Americans’ way of life unless the country reacts to them in ways that cause more damage to its well-being and its values than they do. Sadly, a rational ranking of costs, benefits, and threats seems to be something that the U.S. foreign-policy establishment is largely incapable of these days.

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July 26, 2013

DHS Deputy Secretary confirmation fight exacerbates vacancies problem

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 26, 2013

In late June the President nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, current Director of USCIS, to be the next Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  This nomination was a critical first step in addressing the issue of DHS leadership vacancies that I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago, and which has attracted notable media attention since Secretary Napolitano announced her resignation two weeks ago.

Until a few days ago, I assumed that this nomination would move forward smoothly, given Mayorkas’ very good reputation and his performance leading USCIS for the last four years.   But as has been reported in the news this week, there’s been a bump in the road in his nomination process, related to a reported DHS Inspector General investigation into certain investments made via the Immigrant Investor Program (known as EB-5), and Mayorkas’ alleged involvement in key decisions related to this matter.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held its confirmation hearing for Mayorkas yesterday (July 25th), likely having scheduled this hearing before this news broke with the intent to try to get him confirmed before the August recess.  Senator Coburn and the other Republican members of the Committee boycotted the hearing, arguing that these  issues raised by the IG needed to be resolved before the nomination should move forward.

I’ve reviewed the transcript of yesterday’s hearing, all relevant news clippings on this EB-5 matter, and the relevant documents released by Senator Grassley yesterday.  This is definitely the kind of issue that Senate Committees need to look at and sort out as part of a confirmation process.  There’s still a lot of confusing and contradictory information in the public record on this matter, so I don’t feel confident to comment on the substance of the allegations.  But from a process standpoint, I would note that these allegations are being brought forward publicly by the IG (who is under his own investigative cloud) in a way that seems very unfair to Mayorkas – who was perplexed and blindsided by these allegations at the hearing, and appears to have had no opportunity to respond to them in the year that the IG’s investigation has been open.   The IG’s actions in relation to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also appear to be very strange – the Committee apparently only learned about this matter from the IG earlier this week, and Senator Carper indicated at the hearing that he found no relevant information on this matter in Mayorkas’ FBI background report.

And unfortunately, the net result of this matter is that it now seems unlikely that Mayorkas will be confirmed before Secretary Napolitano departs DHS on September 7th.  (The Senate will be on recess from August 3 to September 9, so will have no opportunity to confirm him after next Friday, August 3rd).  That will create a significant and troubling leadership gap at the top of DHS, just in time for the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and right in the middle of hurricane season.  The Department is also likely to have a full legislative agenda this fall (cyber security, border security, appropriations etc.) and on the policy front is charged with working on the second Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) and updating the National Infrastructure Protection Plan this fall.   These issues will all suffer if there is a prolonged senior leadership gap after Secretary Napolitano’s departure.

For these reasons, I hope that the Senate will find a way to resolve this issue and move forward soon on Mayorkas’s nomination.  And it is also imperative that the White House nominate someone as soon as possible to be the next Secretary of DHS, and also finally move forward on nominating and appointing individuals for other key vacant positions (CBP, I&A, ICE, IG, etc.) as soon as possible.

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Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 26, 2013

On this day in 2009 Boko Haram attacked a Nigerian police station in Bauchi, the first use of organized violence by the Salafist organization.  Over the next four days at least 700 people were killed in sectarian strife.  In subsequent years at least 10,000 have died in violence associated with Boko Haram activities.  Conflict continues.

What’s on your mind regarding homeland security?

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Congressional prospects for NSA operations

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 26, 2013

As I explained in an early June post, I have mostly been reassured by the controversy over NSA domestic intelligence gathering.  So far the evidence I have seen indicates operations have been undertaken consistent with the law, with judicial authorization, and with Congressional oversight.

The close vote on Wednesday night to continue funding NSA operations is another example of the system working as it ought.  It is helpful and appropriate that policy of this sort be actively and critically examined by the people’s representatives.  Our security mavens have been forcefully reminded of their obligation to consult with Congress on policy and strategy.  (And I even hope against hope that those in Congress may have learned to listen more carefully.  I know I’m a glutton for disappointment.)

If some are tempted to “learn” from this experience that they need to be even more secretive, they are idiots.  If they instead recognize the benefit of proactive and principled engagement at the policy level, we will all be better off: both in terms of our tactical security and the preservation of liberty.

I am glad the funding was continued.  I am glad the vote was close.  I am glad that other efforts are underway to ensure legal constraints on domestic intelligence operations.  Yesterday reporting by ProPublica identified six proposals still under consideration by Congress:

1) Raise the standard for what records are considered “relevant”

2) Require NSA analysts to obtain court approval before searching metadata

3) Declassify Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions

4) Change the way Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges are appointed

5) Appoint a public advocate to argue before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

6) End phone metadata collection on constitutional grounds

Read more on each proposal by Kara Brandeisky at ProPublica

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July 25, 2013

A missing link in strategy?

Earlier this week I was re-reading the DHS Strategic Plan (2012-2016).  I perceived something — actually its absence —  I had not noticed before.

Community involvement is, of course, a recurring mantra in the Strategic Plan and many other DHS policy, strategy, and operational documents. “Whole Community” is prominent in Mission 5: Ensuring Resilience to Disaster.  Other missions include similar language.  For example Mission 1: Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security has a goal to “Increase community participation in efforts to deter terrorists and other malicious actors and mitigate radicalization toward violence.”

A close reading of the Strategic Plan suggests the whole is made up of the following parts:

Individual
Family
Household
Neighborhood
Community
Private and Non-Profit Sectors
Faith Based organizations
Localities
States
Tribes
Federal Partners
Nation
All Segments of Society

Especially with those catch-all terms it’s not that my “absence” is excluded.  But it is not given explicit attention.  Certainly not priority.

What prominent place in the life of most Americans is not referenced?

The workplace.

Indirectly this is part of the private sector or non-profit-sector or local and state government or whatever other sector in which you work. But these “sectors” are abstractions. The workplace is a concrete — often literally glass, steel, and concrete — place. Yet the only time “workplace” is referenced in the Strategic Plan is with workplace standards for protecting intellectual property and “workplace wellness” programs for DHS employees.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Americans age 25-to-54 spend an average of 8.8 hours per day at work. This is a larger block than any other activity, much larger than any other non-sleeping activity surveyed.

Yet the places where we work are not regularly conceived or engaged as venues where homeland security priorities can be pursued.

There are exceptions. I am aware of a few.  I welcome you highlighting successful exceptions in the comments.

The absence of the workplace from the DHS Strategy reveals a strategic perspective.  It is another example of the disconnect between private and public domains.  Clearly government is a place where homeland security is to be practiced.  There is considerable effort to engage neighborhoods and sometimes schools. These are real places too, but much more public than private in their character.

Is a “community” — whole or not — a real place?  It depends, in my experience, on the community and how an outsider approaches the putative community.

There are offices, distribution centers, power plants, factories and refineries, restaurants, hotels, retail stores and many more real places where each day the vast majority of Americans spend the majority of their waking hours.  Most of these places feature a task-oriented culture with management processes already in place.  Most of these places are self-interested in a reasonable level of safety, continuity, and resilience.

In my personal experience most of these places are wonderful contexts for the practical practice of homeland security.

There is a tendency for modern strategic thinking to be more comfortable with space than place.  See battlespace and cyberspace, even Space Command.  I am often an advocate for differentiating between Theater Command and Incident Command and perceive we give too little attention to the Big Picture.  But it is not, of course, one or the other: it is a continuum.

Real risks, threats, vulnerabilities and consequences usually unfold in real places where people come and go everyday.

Interesting what you can miss even when it’s right in front of you.  I’ve read that strategy a half-dozen times.  Wonder what else is hiding in plain sight?

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July 23, 2013

Essence of Rat in Fed Insider Threat Program

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 23, 2013

Nick Catrantzos wrote today’s post.  Nick teaches Homeland Security and Emergency Management, is former security director for a regional water utility, and is the author of Managing the Insider Threat.  

————————

In a ham-handed implementation that can only be properly described as TSA-esque, the federal scramble to plug leaks now emerges as an exhortation to seize on coworker behaviors to flag them as suspicious and to rat out peers to some unmentioned body of enforcers with the wisdom and wherewithal to do something about real, impending betrayal.

Insider Threats mclatchy THUMB

That such a scheme should self-destruct is a surprise to no one but its armchair architects. (Details at this link.) It was doomed from inception. Why?

There are sins of omission and of commission raging through any program like this if it hasn’t been thought through. Let us begin with the latter.

Sins of Commission

1. Absent better guidance, such a scheme appeals to the baser instincts of human nature, becoming an instant invitation to settle scores.

Is Mary jealous of Irma for having won the last promotion? Then rat her out for too many restroom breaks on the pretext that she must be using them to pass on notes to terrorists. Is Fred unhappy that the boss turned down his requested leave dates because Joe has seniority and asked for them first? Then rat out the both of them for collusive behaviors that must be indicative of running a terror cell.

You get the idea.

Armchair theorists do not see this fatal flaw because they have never witnessed, from a manager’s perspective, the unintended consequences of a flawed implementation of an ethics or anti-harassment program. Run impetuously by amateurs, such programs invariably generate new — and spurious — business. The remedy soon becomes worse than the disease, a fear that dates back to Hippocrates’ warnings to early physicians.

2. The unthinking reliance on mass distribution of suspicious behavior checklists ends up making every worker the equivalent of the worst TSA automaton: a blind follower of printed instruction who is disincentivized from the all-important infusion of judgment.

Why does this happen?

Because we live in a society that slavishly follows the LITE mantra, namely Leave It To The Experts. We ask employees to rat others out but don’t trust them to think. That is the province of the unmentioned experts, whose expertise is usually assumed or self-conferred.

Sins of Omission

Perhaps the greater fatal flaw arises from what such programs neglect.

1. They respect neither the work force nor the workplace. Insider threats remain statistically rare. (See Managing The Insider Threat: No Dark Corners, for a lengthier and more scholarly treatment of this topic.) The bottom line is that most people, most of the time, are not going around betraying their employers or fellow workers.

It is mindless to treat the vast majority of honest employees as ex-cons scheming to violate their conditions of parole. It is equally unfair to the workplace to turn it into a Gestapo-run factory ruled by the lash. All organizations exist for a reason. They have a job that needs doing, and most of these employers cannot turn themselves into full-time witch-hunters without degrading their overall performance.

2. These programs hinge on the assumption that workers are fit only to spot suspicious behaviors as they exist on a checklist but not qualified to evaluate their own information. (See LITE, above.) So the employee who is urged to rat out a coworker is not trusted to do anything more. This situation invariable leaves the reporting employee bereft of feedback, while some self-styled expert runs with the lead or, equally, sits on it. No one can tell what happened outside the select cadre of experts.

This situation invites abuse and tends to incentivize expert lassitude, somnolence, and all the other kinds of reaction that attach to bureaucrats who are not, shall we say, all the way committed to excellence. Result? More sitting on data than timely intervention to prevent threats from materializing.

3. Finally, such programs neglect the value of lawful disruption. Face this reality: There are never enough experts or responders to handle every situation. Taking advantage of the initiative of someone on the scene of a catastrophic betrayal is not just the best chance for damage control. It’s usually the only chance. It’s also precisely the chance these insider programs squander by telling employees, “Leave it to the experts.” When insider threat programs stop short of saying this directly, they say it tacitly. They neglect to point out the nearly infinite options that exist for lawful disruption, that is, the short circuiting of pernicious activity through legally permissible actions (p. 135 of Managing the Insider Threat and also the beginning of the chapter on lawful disruption of the insider threat, as inspired by a Canadian senator leading an anti-terrorism committee who noted the importance of lawful disruption).

In the final analysis, this rat-out-your-peers approach to countering insider threats as outlined above epitomizes a potentially useful idea likely botched in its implementation.

It proves once again that there is no smart way to be stupid.

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July 22, 2013

NPR picks up HLSWatch topic

Filed under: DHS News — by Philip J. Palin on July 22, 2013

Monday’s All Things Considered featured an interview with Christian Beckner on the same topic as Christian’s most recent HLSWatch post. You can hear the interview and related news reporting at: Lack of Leaders Puts Strain on Homeland Security Department.

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Nuclear Explosion Simulators: Check out NUKEMAP 2.0…and 3D

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 22, 2013

The first NUKEMAP, a nuclear detonation simulator, appeared in February 2012. At the time I described it:

Created by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the American Institute of Physics and blogger at “Restricted Data The Nuclear Secrecy Blog,” this simulator is the best example of an admittedly small class of apps. It allows one to pick the target and yield of the device, either through drop down boxes or by entering unique values.  For the sake of simplicity, it defaults with an idealized air burst which eliminates the computational messiness of modeling the influence of unique geography and weather.

So this isn’t your National Lab/FEMA 3-D model tailored to individual cityscapes.  But it gives you a general idea about the varying effects of different sizes of nuclear weapons.

A year later that program hit “10 million detonations” and Wellerstein was able to publish on the subject.  What particularly struck him about the popularity of his program:

There’s only one lesson that I’ve been a little disturbed by. An awful lot of people are amazed at how small the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were compared to thermonuclear weapons. That’s true —but it’s because the megaton-range weapons were insane, not because the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were small. By human standards, 10-20 kilotons should still be horrifying. From a view of 100,000 feet, though, it’s a lot less impressive than the Tsar Bomba, even though the latter was a lot less of a realistic threat than weapons of “smaller” yields, and is certainly a lot less of a threat today. When you put “small” nukes next to monstrous nukes, it is easy to lose perspective. That’s not my goal — my goal is to help people get a sense of scale, something that I think is even more important in a post-Cold War age.

He’s followed through with those thoughts and has released the next version(s) of NUKEMAP: NUKEMAP 2.0 and NUKEMAP 3D.

2.0 is:

“a massive overhaul of the back-end of the old NUKEMAP, with much more flexible effects calculations and the ability to chart all sorts of other new phenomena — like radioactive fallout (finally!), casualty estimates, and the ability to specify airbursts versus ground bursts. All of these calculations are based on models developed by people working for the US government during the Cold War for use in government effects planning.”

There is also an option, powered by Google (so please do not blame the programmer for any discrepancies) that allows for a count of affected hospitals and other medical offices, schools, and churches.  The casualty estimate comes from data that averages the population in the affected area over a 24-hour period, so that means it doesn’t just take into account Census data that looks at residency but also at who might be working in the area during the day (i.e. the number of people in down or mid town Manhattan).

The 3D version gets to his concern that some users were underwhelmed by the effects produced by “small” nuclear weapons.  As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post, a little visual stimulus (combined with casualty estimates…) might go a long way to reversing this trend.

Alex developed the original and these follow up programs as educational tools for students of nuclear history and security programs/non-proliferation.  Yet I believe there is a strong argument for their use in the homeland security enterprise.

For those working in homeland security, I think a quote from Alex is very insightful in terms of the usefulness of this program:

“It hit this funny intersection between what people called ‘fun’ and ‘scary,’” Wellerstein said at a Thursday event, noting that this is “a really powerful intersection.”

Problem was, some users of Wellerstein’s original doomsday simulator have been surprised to find that the damage wrought on a city by a relatively low-yield bomb — say, one of 10 kilotons, the potential size of a North Korean or terrorist nuke — didn’t look all that catastrophic, he said.

“People lose the sense of scale because the big ones are so outrageously big,” he said.

I hope I’m wrong, but I would still bet that many professionals involved at the local or state level may still believe in the Cold War model that any nuclear explosion will mean that their city is gone.  They have no role.  Leave it up to the “feds.” While these sites represent educational rather than planning tools, the simulations made possible can still give local and state officials a picture of what they could face during their “worst case scenario.”  In addition, it could help those communities surrounding large urban areas begin to conceptualize what they could possibly face.

Nuclear attack is undoubtedly the definition of a low probability, high consequence event.  The NUKEMAP tools are useful educational tools for officials at any level.  And if you, or they, are concerned about the discrepencies that may emerge between the National Lab/FEMA reports and these programs, I would just suggest that those are also not useful for making specific plans.  I would argue they provide definitive answers regarding questions of sheltering in place vs. evacuation, but that the value of open source information could possible outweigh the “coolness” of FOUO reports and information.

At the very least, these sites deserve your interest:

2d: http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/

3d: http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap3d/

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July 19, 2013

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 19, 2013

During the night between July 18 and 19 in the year 64 CE the Great Fire of Rome began. The flames continued for six days consuming at least 10 percent and perhaps as much as 30 percent of the city. This is the event during which the Emperor Nero is remembered for playing his violin. But the most trustworthy sources report Nero was vigorous in organizing a response. Spin is not new.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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July 18, 2013

Repeating history and writing the future

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 18, 2013

In the early 1990s genocidal attacks against the Muslim population of the former Yugoslavia proceeded with little Western interference while the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulted in Western action to arm a wide range of insurgents, including a nascent Al Qaeda.

Some of the tactics and techniques developed in Afghanistan were deployed in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, eventually in Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, and lower Manhattan.  An echo of these days reverberated as recently as April 15.

Western hypocrisy and geopolitical competition fueled the emergence of a worldview, adversaries, and a preternatural expectation of cultures-in-conflict.

Today tens of thousands are killed in Syria and any mitigation — much less resolution — is stymied by Big Power geopolitical competition.  Across the Sahel Salafist fighters bomb and kill (Christian) teachers and school children.  In Somalia Ethiopian and Kenyan Christians are active in containing (Islamic) al Shabbab.  In Egypt a Western-funded military facilitates the overthrow of a popularly elected (conservative Islamic) President.

These are gross simplifications of very complex realities.  But this narrative sufficiently parallels reality that more complicated counter-arguments are seldom self-evidently compelling.

We have, perhaps, ten years to adjust the narrative. The analogy that comes to my mind is trying to write lyric poetry as Asiana Flight 214 hits the seawall at SFO. There is forward movement, there is a bit of time, you will probably survive to die another day, but the noise, destruction, fear, and pain do not lend themselves to much writing of any kind.

Yet if we cannot — in collaboration across religious, national, and tribal divides — craft a more mutually satisfactory narrative, we will suffer again and again explosions of self-righteous anger and revenge.

This week there was a modest effort, easily ignored and as easily dismissed, to at least conceive a different narrative.  Here’s a news release and here’s a 25-page report with recommendations.  Might be worth a glance between our show-trials, political melodramas, furloughs, and vacations.

We need better.  But we should start with what we’ve got.

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