Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 18, 2012

Three issues, thirty posts, can we improve homeland security?

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 18, 2012

If you haven’t noticed, Fridays are my responsibility here.

Daily blogging — most blogging — tends toward multiple short pieces.  Whether news or commentary,  unpaid (and many paid) bloggers seldom have enough time to do much more than aggregate, trying to make interesting connections that might otherwise go unnoticed.

With more contributors — one for each weekday — HLSWatch has morphed toward analysis and advocacy.  It will probably seem a strange analogy, but drafting these weekly contributions is for me a bit like attending church.  It is a discipline that I find helpful in focusing attention to aspects of reality I might otherwise neglect.

In this vein, I perceive the need for a bit more continuity between weekly services: a kind of lectionary.   Since beginning to post in 2009 my choice of topics has been opportunistic, even impressionistic.  Over the next few months I intend to give more consistent attention to three issues:

Catastrophes –  I am increasingly persuaded the federal role in homeland security should mostly be focused on preventing, preparing for, mitigating, responding to, and recovering from very high consequence events.  I also perceive the federal government has a key role in encouraging some modest, but consistent attention to catastrophic potential by other levels of government and the private sector.  Catastrophes and potential catastrophes are, I will argue, complex events that unfold in distinct ways, different than emergencies or disasters.  Some of the skills that are essential to managing emergencies and disasters can be profoundly counterproductive in potential catastrophes.   At least these are my current perceptions.  Can these claims hold up to my own analysis and your criticism?

Private Resilience – There’s lots of talk — often empty talk — about private-public partnerships.  I’m all in favor of meaningful and practically focused private-public relationships. I am, though, much more interested in readiness and resilience that does not depend on the public sector.  There is some intriguing evidence that many resilient neighborhoods have emerged in contention with the public sector.  Is resilience a synthesis of a private antithesis engaging a public thesis? My interest in private resilience is related to my focus on potential catastrophes.  In the very worst events private need will exceed public supply by several multiples. What are the characteristics of systemic resilience?  How is such resilience engendered?  Resilience can wither, how and why? My colleague Arnold Bogis has been clear that he perceives “resilience” to be little more than an intellectually sloppy buzz word.  Can I convince him otherwise? Will he convince me?

Civil Liberties - Since 9/11 several legal measures have been undertaken that challenge — even directly assault — freedoms that were previously taken for granted. Other than various indignities at the airport, the narrowing of our liberties has not seemed to elicit sustained citizen concern… and even at the airport the protests have more often been whines than something more substantive. The explosive expansion of digital commerce and sociability provides the government (and others) unprecedented opportunity for intruding into civil and private “space.”  There are reasonable motivations — preventative and protective — for this intrusion.  The long-term consequences for our civil liberties are worth careful consideration and active engagement.  Related, at least for me, is the issue of individual responsibility and the role of citizenship.  Perhaps the government is not so much taking away civil liberties as the citizens are trading them away.

I have other homeland security-related interests — religious conflict and supply chains, to name two — but I have chosen these three topics for some sustained attention because I wonder if these three may, in combination, point us to an overarching reality.

Is there a persistent cascading complexity that we perpetually endeavor to deny?  Do we regularly walk the edge of chaos, one step from catastrophe, but choose not to notice?  What might be the outcome of noticing?  Are the key components of resilience — flexibility, agility, adaptability, what else? — more effective than command-and-control to deal with cascading, unpredictable consequences?  Is the active application of our civil liberties an essential  tool for effectively engaging this complexity?

I will not post next week.  Between the first Friday in June and Christmas there are 30 Fridays.  In thirty posts, no more than 30,000 words — plus our discussions — can these questions be meaningfully answered?  Will you participate?  Argue with me?  Propose your alternatives?  Can we co-create an enhanced understanding of homeland security through our engagement with these three issues?

Claire Rubin has suggested blogs are not the best format for such extended considerations.  Claire is one of the wisest women I know.  But I have often found creative benefits in gentle foolishness.  So, I will try.

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May 16, 2012

See No Evil? Then Just Do It

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Private Sector — by Mark Chubb on May 16, 2012

It’s been awhile since I have managed to post something. The last wholehearted attempt I made was a reflection on May Day observances that I never finished. For some reason or another I could never come to a conclusion to that piece that really satisfied me. At least not in the sense that I was getting to the heart of what I was watching on the news and in the streets, especially here in Seattle. As a result, it sits mouldering in my queue still waiting for rewrite or deletion.

Somehow, though, a few of the themes I struggled with just a couple of weeks ago came into sharper focus for me this week in the form of two articles I read. The first described the effects of growing income inequality on individual mortality. Put simply, those who earn the least can not only expect to live shorter lives, but they can also expect their longevity to diminish as the length or the depth of the gap widens between their earnings and those at the top. The article cites other studies’ speculation as to the causes of income inequality-related mortality while noting that the academic research cited has reached no firm conclusion about specific causes, especially over the short-term. At the same time, the study provides compelling evidence of the cumulative effect of income inequality on health.

The second article suggested that crime really does pay. Or rather that unethical behavior or at the very least less-than-ethical behavior has its rewards. The Harvard Business Review item noted a recent study that displayed significant gaps between the earnings of those men who self-reported improvements in ethical awareness and subsequent ethical conduct as a result of exposure to ethical principles and practices in their post-graduate management curricula. (Sorry, no word on how the women did. Let’s just hope it was considerably better than the boys.) Sadly, but probably not too surprisingly, those who earned the most reported little awareness of or influence from exposure to ethics while earning their MBAs.

These two items got me reflecting anew on a third item that aired on May 1. NPR’s Planet Money Team produced a truly exceptional segment entitled Psychology of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things. This piece examined the story of Toby Groves, a convicted mortgage fraudster who convinced colleagues to conspire with him to create a ghost mortgage, a very real loan for an utterly fictitious property, to cover mismanagement of his business.

In the simplest terms, Toby and his colleagues justified their actions by framing the problem in two very simple but compelling ways. First, instead of seeing their actions as unethical, which they openly acknowledged they were, they reframed the decision as one of business necessity. They supported this framing in a second but equally compelling way by seeing their actions as a personal favor for a trusted friend and valued colleague. In other words, they saw Toby as someone they liked and enjoyed working with who now needed a small favor from them as opposed to the illegal and craven actions of a desperate man at his wits’ end. In short, their decisions to be helpful were aided by the notion that Toby Groves was a business associate, his business was at risk due to financial decisions they all make, and the actions he requested of them (which he openly acknowledged could get them all in heaps of trouble) required little effort on their part and were actions in which they were routinely engaged as part of their normal and legitimate business practices. Clearly, the road to hell — and prison — is paved with good intentions.

If the NPR story had any shortcomings, it was in the lack of resolution I felt from the reforms they suggested might arise to combat the problem of inappropriate cognitive framing of ethical dilemmas in the business environment. How, I wondered, might it help the situation to remind people on the forms they are signing that lying or misrepresentation are unethical or illegal? Don’t they know this already? And who reads the fine print anyway? Sure, it might help to change auditors frequently to keep them from becoming too cosy with those they oversee. But don’t we want auditors to be both rational and fair? Does this not suggest a need for some sort of empathy? How much then is too much?

Clearly, the dilemmas we face are becoming more complex just as they problems that give rise to them become more complicated and even convoluted. The credit crunch that led to the lingering economic stagnation we still endure, the ideological and political excesses of violent extremists here and abroad, and the inability to reconcile political differences for the common good not only reflect certain states of mind but also provoke powerful emotions in us that arise largely from our own cognitive biases. The challenge then is not to oversimplify any of these issues but to see them for what they are: Situations that require us to apply many different frames to achieve not only the proper resolution but sufficient perspective to interpret correctly what sits before our eyes.

We can look upon the health effects of income inequality as the sad but unintended consequences of an otherwise salutary economic system or an injustice that demands redress. We can reward unethical conduct in the workplace and accept unequal rewards for those who look after themselves before others or we can hold one another to account for what each of us thinks, says and does. If it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then it’s also worth noting that there’s more than one way to skin a cat and we should try them all rather than looking for the easy way out.

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May 15, 2012

Permanent Emergency — Kip Hawley’s time at TSA

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 15, 2012

I have one chapter left to read in Kip Hawley and Nathan Means’ book Permanent Emergency.  The book describes Hawley’s term as TSA Administrator, from 2005 until 2009.

I don’t want the book to end.  It’s really good.

I’ve read Tom Ridge’s and Michael Chertoff’s after-office books.   Permanent Emergency is in its own class, at least when it comes to back-in-the-day homeland security memoirs.  Ridge’s book engages the reader.  Chertoff’s book challenges (ok, it’s a hard read).

Hawley and Means’ work is a page turner.  I will not be surprised if Permanent Emergency is made into a movie.  A made-for-TV movie. But still, a movie. (By then, maybe the book can lose the melodramatic subtitle, “Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security.”)

—————————————————-

Here are some of the questions the book asks and answers:

How did TSA get into the behavioral detection business?  Why do passengers really have to take their shoes off during screening? (It’s not because of the shoe bomber.)

What’s life like for a screener? Why do they check wheelchairs and people who’s hips have been replaced?  Why do they follow rules instead of use their discretion?  What was the only professional decoration Hawley had on his “love me” wall?

What command center did the TV show 24 model?  What law enforcement agency receives “the best and most specialized firearms training?” How long does it take to fire a senior executive who’s not doing his job?

How credible was the UK liquid bomb threat? How long did TSA have to implement the liquids ban? How did they get it done? Why is the 3 ounce rule actually 3.4 ounces? (Ask someone who knows the metric system.) And why plastic bags? What happened to the man in Milwakee who wrote “Kip Haweley is an idiot” on his plastic bag?

How did the TSA blog get started?  And how did Blogger Bob get his job?  Why did TSA use the Blogger platform (available free from Google) instead of spending millions to develop a proprietary blogging platform? Why did the blog change its name from the empirically accurate “Evolution of Security” to the bureaucratically bland “TSA Blog.” (The book doesn’t answer the last two questions, but inquiring minds remain interested.)

Where did Hawley get his ideas from about aviation security as a complex adaptive system?  Why was he told not to talk about complexity theory in public? (Seriously.)

—————————————————-

Every man is the hero of a biography he had a hand in writing. This book is no exception.  At times Permanent Emergency reads like a 21st century version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Like Mr. Smith, Hawley (and the talented team of people he collected and credits) got things done. Not everything he wanted to do. But progress.

Also like Mr. Smith, I’m sure there were people in Washington who wanted Hawley gone before he did leave.  I spoke with a few of them over the years.  The consensus from those few was “nice guy, but in over his head.”

OK, but who’s not in over their head in this homeland security business? That does not mean you can’t learn how to get things accomplished.

Permanent Emergency would be a valuable addition to almost any homeland security academic program in the country. For one thing, it’s written so well students will actually read it. I’m not kidding when I say it’s a page turner.

For another, it shows how one person (ok, one person with great contacts and experience) can make a difference. It shows the importance of being able to spot talent and clear the path for that talent to disrupt — in creative and productive ways – staid organizations. It shows the role politics, bureaucracy, leadership, science, research, trial and error, communication, good and bad luck, public relations, physical energy, commitment, intelligence, risk management, sacrifice and persistence play in getting things done in homeland security.

It also reminds the reader how much uncertainty and stumbling and making things up characterized homeland security’s first years.

—————————————————-

I met Kip Hawley twice. I found him creatively thoughtful, sincere, and caring. He also appears to listen to the people talking to him. Those traits come through in the book.

Before I read Permanent Emergency I was not a fan of how TSA does its mission. For a lot of reasons, I think on balance the costs — including the privacy we surrender to fly — are greater than the benefits we receive from submitting to the government.  I recognize there are other views — including Kip Hawley’s.

After reading Hawley and Means’ book, I’m still not a TSA fan.  But the authors make me doubt some of the reasons why I hold the postion I do.

Whether you largely agree with TSA’s role in homeland security or not, if you read this book your views about the agency and the people who serve in it will change.  Maybe permanently.

 

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May 14, 2012

Nuclear Terrorism: Are We Winning or Losing?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 14, 2012

As regular readers of this blog know, we’ve hosted a robust back-and-forth regarding the risks of nuclear terrorism.  Along those lines, for those wishing to read a succinct and interesting summary of arguments for both sides, I would recommend a recent Arms Control Wonk post by Michael Krepon (please follow the link for a full bio, but the short version is: Co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center. Prior to co-founding the Stimson Center, Krepon worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Carter administration, and in the US House of Representatives, assisting Congressman Norm Dicks.)

He gives voice to those concerned about the threat:

Graham Allison predicted in Nuclear Terrorism (2004) that, “In my considered judgment, on the current path, a nuclear terrorist attack on America in the decade ahead is more likely than not.”

And those slightly more dismissive:

John Mueller’s answer, in Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (2010) is that nuclear dangers are far less than we presume:

Fears and anxieties about them, while understandable, have been excessive, and they have severely, detrimentally, and even absurdly distorted spending priorities while inspiring policies that have often been overwrought, ill conceived, counterproductive, and sometimes massively destructive. And they continue to do so.

It is not a long post, so I instead of continuing to post quotes in absence of my own analysis, I’ll just end with his conclusion:

Are we winning or losing the battle against proliferation? There are indicators that point in both directions. How you answer this question probably reflects your optimistic or pessimistic nature.

Again, if you’re interested in the topic (and proliferation in general, which he addresses in an earlier related post) it is worth your time:

http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/3439/are-we-winning-or-losing-continued

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May 11, 2012

National Preparedness Report: Voice, vision, and a reality beyond systems engineering

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 11, 2012

This is the second in a two-part consideration of the recently released National Preparedness Report.  Please see the prior discussion immediately below.

–+–

As was the case with NSC-68, the National Preparedness series is being authored by a collective.  This is the way of government.  Recall that Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration was edited first by a committee and then by the entire Continental Congress.  It is unusual for clarity of thought to survive such a process.

I know — and respect — several individuals who are contributing to the National Preparedness series.  I don’t know their individual contributions and have not asked for their private critiques, concerns, or enthusiasms.  I empathize with their struggle to deal with the tensions involved in generating any document of this sort — and even more, the challenges to practically advancing policy.

I am using the National Preparedness series to press my arguments and make my own contributions to national resilience. The documents are helpful to this work.  I appreciate the outcomes, even as I unfavorably compare the outcomes to the Declaration of Independence and NSC-68.

At least I did not choose Shakespeare and Lincoln as your benchmarks.

The music of the Declaration reflects the remnant of Thomas Jefferson’s voice that survived the editorial process.  The clarity-of-argument in NSC-68 is a double-echo of the dialectic between Kennan and Nitze.   In some ways, the document is Nitze’s edit of Kennan’s Long Telegram.  Two superb minds engaging the same problem, disagreeing, agreeing, refining and reframing.  In the end, Nitze’s voice was strongest, but he would not have sung this song without Kennan’s prelude.

If there is a principal author of the National Preparedness series I do not hear his or her voice.

This is typical of most government reports, even those, as from GAO or CRS, who identify specific authors.  There are a host of motivations for this default anonymity.  Potentially the most powerful — and least credible — is the desire to achieve a tone of omniscient authority.

By contrast, in both the Declaration and NSC-68 any discerning reader is fully aware an argument is being offered, a case is being made, counter-arguments are anticipated, a dialogue is assumed… even as the author(s) scrambles for the moral high ground and persuasive preemption.  With all his personal confidence, network of influence, and even with the power of the President’s pen expected, Nitze does not proclaim.  He describes.  He questions.  He argues.

Why is that sort  of voice so rare?

This is a substantive, not merely stylistic difference.  The vain attempt for omniscient authority asserts right-and-wrong and a claim to compliance.  Offering an argument honors  and invites the independent judgment of your readers.

From section VI, A of NSC-68:

The full power which resides within the American people will be evoked only through the traditional democratic process: This process requires, firstly, that sufficient information regarding the basic political, economic, and military elements of the present situation be made publicly available so that an intelligent popular opinion may be formed. Having achieved a comprehension of the issues now confronting this Republic, it will then be possible for the American people and the American Government to arrive at a consensus. Out of this common view will develop a determination of the national will and a solid resolute expression of that will.

Again, this was a classified document.  No one was trying to pander to a political audience.  The document itself circulated among mostly elite circles at a time when both classified documents and elite circles were more tightly contained than today.  What would be the reaction of “intelligent public opinion” if the National Preparedness series included the quoted paragraph?

What might it mean if Nitze actually believed and behaved as if the stated assumption were true? Do we?

–+–

Homeland security suffers from taxonomy-obsession.

What is prevention?  How is it differentiated from protection?  Doesn’t mitigation sometimes prevent?  Sometimes protect?  Isn’t mitigation often a “response” to a prior event?  When does response become recovery?  Are some events non-recoverable?  I have asked each of these questions in earnest more than once. (“Hi, my name is Phil, and I’m obsessive-compulsive regarding the seams between the homeland security mission areas.”)

There has been a persisting tendency to perceive that if we could just accurately frame the homeland security domain and its principal parts, we could then assign roles and responsibilities with clarity, fund appropriately, and craft the best of all possible worlds.

Systems engineering was especially hot at the turn of the century, perhaps this discipline is more a part of the homeland security field’s DNA than we have fully acknowledged.  Are we hard-wired by the time-and-place of homeland security’s genesis to constantly cycle through requirements analyses? (There’s a vision of hell if I’ve ever heard one.)

Whatever its source, there is a continuing fascination with finding the right taxonomy.  Below, again, is the National Preparedness framework of five mission areas and thirty-one core capabilities.  Farther below is Carl Linnaeus‘ taxonomy for the animal kingdom: six classes consisting of various orders, then families and so on (by clicking on the image you can see a larger version).  The parallels are, I think, remarkable.

If you are over 45 you probably have a vague memory of Linnaean taxonomy from 7th grade science.  If you’re under 45 and/or a biologist you know this system has been mostly superseded by other descriptive systems.  Linnaeus sought to distinguish by function. Many of the newer systems highlight origins and relationships.

Linnaeus advanced our understanding.  The five mission areas and 31 core capabilities also advance our understanding.  But the greatest value will almost certainly emerge from recognizing and making sense of the relationships across the mission areas and core capabilities.  There are, and will need to be, functional divisions within the homeland security “kingdom.”  But these divisions are means, not ends.

The November 2011 version of the National Preparedness System closes with the following two paragraphs:

While the National Preparedness System builds on a number of proven processes, it will evolve to capitalize on new opportunities and meet emerging challenges. Many of the programs and processes that support the components of the National Preparedness System exist and are currently in use; others will need to be updated or developed. As the remaining PPD-8 deliverables are developed, further details will be provided on how the National Preparedness System will be implemented across the five mission areas in order to achieve the National Preparedness Goal.

This document describes a collaborative environment and living system whose components will be routinely evaluated and updated to ensure their continued effectiveness. This environment will be supported through collaboration and cooperation with international partners, including working closely with our neighbors Canada and Mexico, with whom we share common borders. In the end,the National Preparedness System’s strength relies on ensuring the whole community has the opportunity to contribute to its implementation to achieve the goal of a secure and resilient Nation.

The National Preparedness System is emerging.  As it does, can it find a unique voice, well-matched to its extraordinary mission, capable of effectively advancing the purposes articulated in PPD-8?  As it emerges, can the National Preparedness System avoid the reductionist specialization that is endemic to modern organizations? With the second annual National Preparedness Report will we read and believe that relationships are being fostered across mission areas and core capabilities, among jurisdictions, and between private, public and civic sectors?

Linnaeus warned, “Nature does not proceed by leaps.”   Neither does the best policy-making.  But each can grow, change, and evolve.

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May 10, 2012

The National Preparedness Report: Trying to describe reality and outlining how to engage it

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 10, 2012

Presidential Policy Directive 8 begat the National Preparedness Goal, the NPG begat the National Preparedness System.  This lineage has now begat the National Preparedness Report.

The forebears for this race of documents might be extended into the mist of history and myth: a veritable Book of Numbers or Metamorphoses of policy-making.

But surely the one common ancestor looming over this titillating thicket of conceptual coupling would be NSC-68.    If ever there was an Ur text, this is one.  In fifty-eight pages a national policy was articulated with such clarity and strength that it seemed to call-forth — creating not just framing — a half-century of national purpose.   President Truman signed the document on September 30, 1950.  Some suggest NSC-68 achieved its apotheosis on November 9, 1989.

The problem of preparedness is no less acute or consequential than the problems facing Truman, Acheson, Nitze, Kennan, et al.  Here’s how PPD-8 situates our current challenge:

This directive is aimed at strengthening the security and resilience of the United States through systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the Nation, including acts of terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters. Our national preparedness is the shared responsibility of all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and individual citizens. Everyone can contribute to safeguarding the Nation from harm. As such, while this directive is intended to galvanize action by the Federal Government, it is also aimed at facilitating an integrated, all-of-Nation, capabilities-based approach to preparedness.

This is a big idea.  Read it again, not as a dollop of  political/bureaucratic prose but as if it was an earnest expression of national intent.

NSC-68 was also capabilities-oriented.  A long quote:

In examining our capabilities it is relevant to ask at the outset–capabilities for what? The answer cannot be stated solely in the negative terms of resisting the Kremlin design. It includes also our capabilities to attain the fundamental purpose of the United States, and to foster a world environment in which our free society can survive and flourish.

Potentially we have these capabilities. We know we have them in the economic and military fields. Potentially we also have them in the political and psychological fields. The vast majority of Americans are confident that the system of values which animates our society–the principles of freedom, tolerance, the importance of the individual, and the supremacy of reason over will–are valid and more vital than the ideology which is the fuel of Soviet dynamism. Translated into terms relevant to the lives of other peoples–our system of values can become perhaps a powerful appeal to millions who now seek or find in authoritarianism a refuge from anxieties, bafflement, and insecurity…

These capabilities within us constitute a great potential force in our international relations. The potential within us of bearing witness to the values by which we live holds promise for a dynamic manifestation to the rest of the world of the vitality of our system. The essential tolerance of our world outlook, our generous and constructive impulses, and the absence of covetousness in our international relations are assets of potentially enormous influence.

These then are our potential capabilities. Between them and our capabilities currently being utilized is a wide gap of unactualized power.

It is worth recalling that NSC-68 was a classified document.  The public did not see it until a quarter-century after the President’s signature.   In our Ur text policy-makers are self-consciously communicating, arguing, analyzing, trying to persuade their fellow policy-makers.

The National Preparedness Goal lists thirty-one core capabilities.  The National Preparedness Report gives attention to each.  ”Freedom, tolerance, the importance of the individual, and the supremacy of reason over will” are not  among the thirty-one.

Each of the core capabilities are organized by five mission priorities.  Within the government, these mission-with-capability-clusters increasingly reflect lines of authority and responsibility.  What we have in the NPG, NPS, and NPR is an effort to describe reality and an emerging structure for engaging that reality.

It tends to be a very instrumental view of reality, almost mechanistic.   It is, at least in my judgment, consistent with observations of reality. It is also complicated.  The National Preparedness System has begun to remind me of Ptolemy’s eccentric, epicycle,  and equant.  It works, but is less than elegant.

This is not meant as a fundamental critique of the National Preparedness collection and is certainly not a criticism of these documents’ authors.

It is an expression of concern regarding contemporary rhetoric, by which I mean the art of decision making.

If the National Preparedness authors had used a rhetoric similar to NSC-68, my obscure voice at this little blog would have congratulated them.  From nearly every other corner they would have been savaged, being accused of superficiality, hypocrisy, and — probably — jaw-dropping hubris.  Yet this older rhetoric and its now seemingly quaint gathering of evidence and argument is still honored for having set-the-stage for winning the Cold War.

Beyond matters of style, I perceive an important substantive difference between the intellectual and operational assumptions set out in NSC-68 and those unfolding from the National Preparedness collection.  What are those differences?  What may be their practical implications?

Take some time to read NSC-68 and come back tomorrow.

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May 8, 2012

It’s Physics: Why Women Shouldn’t be Allowed to Fight with the Marine Corps Infantry

Filed under: Homeland Defense — by Dan OConnor on May 8, 2012

This summer, for the first time in the Marine Corps’ 237-year history, women will be enrolled in the Officer Infantry Course, one of the most demanding training evolutions in the entire military. Women Marines now serve in a variety of combat support and combat service support roles splendidly, as they do in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

It should stay that way.

Not because men are superior to women, or because male Marines want to discriminate against female Marines. Marines are Marines. But men are different from women. And that difference, when exposed in combat will be deadly, not only for the fighting female Marine, but for her male and female counterparts.

The Infantry Officer Course (IOC) teaches Marine Officers to be better leaders and killers than their enemies. It’s where we build Marine Infantry skills to win our wars and lead our Marines. War is killing. Let that sink in. It is legal murder, encouraged, ordered and demanded. In order to be effective at it, proficiency must not only be gained, but practiced and perfected.

The Basic School is where all Marine Second Lieutenants go to become basically trained officers prior to their military occupational assignment. During one of their training exercises years ago, the evaluators “killed” a 6’1”, 195 lb. male Marine Officer. He was within prescribed height and weight standards, and in an excellent state of fitness. He was also 30 years old. The evaluator then assigned the only available Marine, a female officer to carry the “dead” officer from the training battle field. The female officer was within the “normal” or “average” range for size; she was 5’4” and 125-130 lb. She was in superior physical condition, was 23 years old, and had a perfect physical fitness score on her most recent test. Both were wearing typical combat loads of 65-80 lb. of gear.

What happened? The female could not lift the male Marine. She could barely move him. She removed her gear to improve her strength-to- weight ratio. She still was unable to manage the weight.

Then what happened?

In order to move the problem along, the evaluator “unkilled” the male and “killed” the female and reversed their roles. The male put back on all his combat gear. So did the female officer, both adding the additional weight. Even though the male was not in the same physical condition as his female peer, he bent over and scooped her up, gear and all, and carried her several hundred yards.

Years before the phrase entered the language, the evaluator engaged in what today is called “gender norming.”

Military gender norming is the practice of judging female military service members, applicants or recruits by less stringent standards than their male counterparts. Physical standards are lowered, modified, or just plain overlooked. Norming is all about fairness and equity. Norming metrics allow for “equal competition”.

But there’s nothing equal, normal or fair about war. Anyone who’s ever fought in one can tell you that.

Women Marines have every bit of integrity and are every bit as good and possibly better than their male counterparts in marksmanship, intellect, problem solving, managing stress, and leadership. But it’s for the same reason women don’t play in the NFL, NBA, NHL, or run marathons as fast as men, or bench-press 1,000+ pounds, nor will they ever be truly equal in combat.

The march of women’s rights simply cannot overpower the Laws of Physics. The average man is 5” taller and 50 lb. heavier than the average woman. Men have a lower body fat percentage than women, more lean body mass, and are anatomically different in terms of physical make up, angles of leverage, and skeletally. The physics favor the male species, not the female. Men create more force.

This is Newton’s second law of motion. Force is equal to mass times acceleration. Bigger things that go faster create more force. They always have and always will. There is no engineering feat or physics norming phenomena that can mitigate the capability of a male to lift more, jump higher, run faster, hit harder, and execute violence better than a woman. There is no formula to replicate the combination of force and aggression.

Combat is the most physically demanding, most mentally fatiguing, and most forceful violent interaction humans can perpetuate against one another. It is highly kinetic in nature; blunt force trauma if you will. And it’s final.

It follows, then, as sure as the laws of physics, that if women are introduced to Marine Combat Infantry Units the readiness and capability of those units will be denigrated. If women are not successful in completing the training, the uproar against the “sexist men’s club” and purposeful exclusion will rain down from the sky. In either case trust will be compromised, and trust is a vital element in successful combat.

Those who advocate that women and men are the same and can perpetuate physical brutality equally are far more abusive and anti-women than any group who advocates against putting females into this “opportunity”. There is nothing “Pro Woman” about making women second-class killers.

From a national security perspective, this latest experiment by the Marine Corps, conducted largely because of politics, will only damage and weaken our nation and our ‘Corps.

We have met the enemy, and it is us.

Dan O’Connor is a retired Marine officer with 22 years service.  These are his opinions.

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May 6, 2012

Cyber attack currently underway targeting natural gas industry

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on May 6, 2012

Here’s something worth reading.  I am only displaying the first three paragraphs of a fairly indepth piece of reporting.

By Mark Clayton writing in the Christian Science Montior.

A major cyber attack is currently underway aimed squarely at computer networks belonging to US natural gas pipeline companies, according to alerts issued to the industry by the US Department of Homeland Security.

At least three confidential “amber” alerts – the second most sensitive next to “red” – were issued by DHS beginning March 29, all warning of a “gas pipeline sector cyber intrusion campaign” against multiple pipeline companies. But the wave of cyber attacks, which apparently began four months ago – and may also affect Canadian natural gas pipeline companies – is continuing.

That fact was reaffirmed late Friday in a public, albeit less detailed, “incident response” report from the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), an arm of DHS based in Idaho Falls. It reiterated warnings in the earlier confidential alerts made directly to pipeline companies and some power companies.

MORE AT THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

During the House of Representatives so-called Cyber Week there was disagreement regarding the nature of the cyber threat.  Following is a recent Richard Clark quote differentiating an acute threat from a chronic threat:

People keep asking, well, do we have to have a cyber Pearl Harbor in order for people to do the right thing? Implicit in that question is sort of a hope that that will happen and then maybe we’ll fix everything. I don’t know that there ever will be a cyber Pearl Harbor. What I do know is that we’re suffering the death of a thousand cuts in the little Pearl Harbors that are happening every day, where cyberespionage and cybercrime are having a huge cumulative and negative effect. The theft of research and development information, the theft of intellectual property, the theft even of transactional data is giving huge economic advantage to our competitive opponents in other countries. If we all sit around waiting for the apocalypse to do something appropriate on cybersecurity, it may never happen and we may never solve the problem.

In the New York Time’s Friday piece on the National Preparedness Report, the reporter emphasized cyber vulnerabilities (not where my first read took me):

… it was the report’s findings about cybersecurity that appeared to be the most troubling, and they continued a drumbeat from the Obama administration about the need for Congress to pass legislation giving the Department of Homeland Security the authority to regulate computer security for the country’s infrastructure.

The report said that cybersecurity “was the single core capability where states had made the least amount of overall progress” and that only 42 percent of state and local officials believed that theirs was adequate.

I hope HLSWatch readers will take the time to read the NPR.  I would welcome your comments, concerns, or more here.   How should we read it?  What are the major take-aways?  What are the major questions raised?  What should we do with it? What can we do with it?  If there is a delta between should and can, what does that tell us?

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May 5, 2012

Poetics of homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 5, 2012

For the ancient Greeks poeisis was the making, producing, creating of anything… including verse.

At this blog — especially with the encouragement of Christopher Bellavita (the Greek and Latin amalgam meaning Christ-bearer/Beautiful Life) — we periodically wonder and argue about the making of homeland security.

The last few days I have been in New England on various homeland security assignments.  After my last Saturday morning appointment I discovered the Brattle Bookshop at 9 West Street in Boston.  From their open air shelves (and shelves and shelves) of $1, $3, and $5 books, I purchased The Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden (Random House, 1945).

This edition includes September 1, 1939, that Auden later exiled from his authorized oeuvre, but was so often quoted in the days following September 11, 2001.  Especially:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night…

The last stanza is my favorite, but it has been less associated with homeland security.  See comments for this bit.

So down a dim alley I found an old restaurant where I shared a late lunch with Auden.  Adam Gopnik later joined us, helpfully explaining what the poet means by “Double Man.”

At the time, and even at Auden’s death, the war poems were not critically admired.  Many claimed America had confused, even cheapened the Englishman.

But in our own war-time the words have found renewed resonance.  From Spring 1940:

O not even war can frighten us enough,
That last attempt to eliminate the Strange
By uniting us all in terror
Of something known, even that’s a failure
Which cannot stop us taking our walks alone,
Scared by the unknown unconditional dark,
Down the avenues of our longing:
For however they dream they are scattered,
Our bones cannot help reassembling themselves
Into the philosophic city where dwells
The knowledge they cannot get out of;
And neither a Spring nor a war can ever
So condition his ears as to keep the song
That is not a sorrow from the Double Man.
O what weeps is the love that hears, an
Accident occurring in his substance.

Last weekend I returned to my childhood home.  There most do not share our concerns.  The debt is a bigger deal than any pending disaster (rather is the pending disaster). For them TSA is a bigger threat than terrorism.  Should I disagree? Though I was happy to have an old friend guide me through the full-body scanner at the Peoria airport.

A bare remnant seeks the philosophic city where dwells The knowledge.

What are we to make of that, O Christ-bearer?

What are we to make of that, O beautiful life?

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May 4, 2012

A tale of two cities… two sectors… two mindsets… stronger together

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Private Sector — by Philip J. Palin on May 4, 2012

A few weeks ago I attended a regional summit of emergency managers, firefighters, law enforcement and related public officials for a major city and its metro region. My task was to invite these jurisdictions and their agencies to participate in an exercise program that would feature a catastrophic event in another large city a few hundred miles away.

In case of such a horrific event,  the creative assistance of those at the summit would be needed. The exercise would especially focus on the movement of supplies toward the impact zone.

First question, “Why should we share our supplies?”

My response, “Thanks for the chance to clairfy, I’m not talking about sharing your emergency inventory or anything owned by your agencies. The focus would be on facilitating a surge of private sector supply chains, private sector goods — water, food, and pharma, for example — that either originate in this area or need to move through this area.”

“I understood you the first time,” the questioner stated. “Why should we do that? If there’s a real catastrophe in (insert city name) we’ll probably need everything we can get here.”

While I offered some answers and justifications, my responses were not persuasive. Several agreed with the need to keep what they had. Others probably disagreed, but they were quiet. If there is ever a real need, I fully expect the first urban area will move mountains to help the second urban area. But for a whole host of reasons, they were not at all interested in thinking through the problems and process in advance.

Last week I was in another meeting in a different urban area, this time with private sector leaders from power, communications, water, food, pharma, banking, trucking, medical care and other key sectors. The issue was more or less the same: it is a very bad day in the big city. Your local capability is offline, even flattened. Will you work with us and participate in some exercises to think through the problem of re-supply?

The response was enthusiastic. “It’s a very interesting problem,” one offered. “Thinking through this worst-case will help us with other everyday issues,” another said. After a wide-ranging conversation one of the private sector leaders at the table stated, “This is in our self-interest. It is also in the common interest. We should have done this a long time ago.”

In each case there are back-stories, details that help explain the very different reactions. This is not an issue of good versus bad. But it is a story of two very different mind-sets.

After a few years –a lifetime? — of such contrasting experiences, I have a heuristic, a rule of thumb: Humankind is divided between those who are inclined to control and those who are inclined to create. There is a continuum with nearly everyone suspended somewhere between these two extremes (among other axes).  Where do you fall?

Those who seek to control tend to be more pessimistic. Those who seek to create tend to be more optimistic.

Pessimism may have roots in the past, but is expressed prospectively.  Optimism is mostly a matter of how the future is expected to unfold.  Each is an orientation that can skew observation and as a result be self-fulfilling.  At the extremes, both pessimism and optimism are probably forms of psychological self-protection.  Some recent research seems to suggest genetic predispositions are also in play.

The two mind-sets can be complementary, but more often clash and compete. The “control-freak” is an idiot. The “innovator” is a fool.

Any meaningful homeland security strategy must find a way to blend and benefit from both mind-sets and apply them in the here-and-now. Doing so systematically is something that requires much more attention than we currently invest.

–+–

Late Thursday afternoon I received a copy of the National Preparedness Report, the first annual as required by PPD-8.  It deserves a closer read and more complete analysis.   But even on a first read, it is easy to perceive the struggle between control or create.  In raw form  the tension of these worldviews warps the strength of each.  When the tension is synthesized, the resilience of the whole system is enhanced.

–+–

IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

“… I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long long to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.” (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

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May 3, 2012

Reading over two terrorists shoulders

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 3, 2012

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released 17 of the documents retrieved from the compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was killed.  In addition to English translations and the original Arabic versions  –  posted online today at 9:00 AM EST — the CTC has issued a short report contextualizing the documents.

See: Last Year at Abbottabad.

While you’re at the CTC site scan their other publications.  Good stuff.

Many HLSWatch readers will also be interested in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs staff report on the radicalization of Zac Chesser.  Please access: A Case Study in Online Islamist Radicalization and Its Meaning for the Threat of Homegrown Terrorism.

In July 2010 I posted a piece entitled: Could you or I have talked Zac Chesser out of violent extremism? Arnold Bogis (not yet a fellow poster) and I had a quick exchange on the question.  In the Senate report there is  a tantalizing reference to Chesser almost being talked back from the edge.

Each set of resources offers fascinating insights into terrorist realities.

I recently discovered a cache of letters I had written (rough drafts) and received (in reply) from the early 1980s.  I came away wondering about the vagaries of memory and the often fluid nature of what purports to be real.

It’s a tad intimidating to think how these posts and comments may be read thirty years from now.  If we’re lucky these bytes may prove even more fragile than the thin airmail paper I found in a long forgotten file.   Based on all three examples, humility ages more gracefully than its opposite.

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May 1, 2012

Water challenges and US national security

Filed under: Futures — by Christopher Bellavita on May 1, 2012

Time out for a moment from our regularly scheduled cyber issues and al Qaeda commentary for a word from the future, sponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Global Water Security is a report published in February by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  The 30 page intelligence “product” is available here.

The document tries to answer the following question (for the State Department): How will water problems (shortages, poor water quality, or floods) impact US national security interests over the next 30 years?

Here is the Report’s answer:

During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives. Between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.

The Report mostly focuses on the relationship between water security and US global interests.  But the future of water has domestic implications also.

Although most of the Colorado River originates in the basin’s upper states (i.e., Colorado, Utah, Wyoming), a 1922 Colorado River Compact allocates most of the water to the lower states (i.e., California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico).

Unfortunately, the agreement was based on data from the unseasonably wet five years prior to 1922, estimating the average flow to be 17.5 million acre-feet (maf). The actual average flow over the last 100 years has been nowhere near this number, averaging about 13 maf, with high variability ranging from 4.4 maf to over 22 maf.

A 2009 study by the University of Colorado projects that all reservoirs along the Colorado River—which provide water for 27 million people—could dry up by 2057 because of climate change and overuse. More recently, drought and low Lake Mead water levels have resulted in a multi-billion dollar plan to build a 285-mile pipeline to pump groundwater to the Las Vegas area from as far away as Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah state line.

A 1944 agreement between the United States and Mexico stipulates the terms of water-sharing between the two countries, with water delivery obligations on each side.

The Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, as well as their major tributaries, are covered in the agreement. The agreement allows the United States access to tributary contributions from Mexican rivers, and no Mexican access to contributions from US tributary rivers, and therefore many view the agreement as unfair. Delayed water deliveries, and even efforts to reduce canal water leakage, have occasionally complicated broader relations but have not been a major source of stress.

Not yet anyway.

Thanks to Dr. James Tindall for telling me about this report.

 

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April 30, 2012

Secrecy as Contangion

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 30, 2012

Alex Wellerstein, historian of science and blogger at “Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog,” shares a great quote about the adverse effects of secrecy. In a post about “Cold War Sex, Cold War Secrecy” (in a nutshell: starting from recent news that Britain’s MI6 made public a dead officer’s somewhat unusual sexual practices with the idea that if they publicly acknowledge and accept (almost) any such practice it cannot be used as blackmail, Alex sketches the history of related-concerns during the Cold War), he includes what I consider a fantastic quote about the unforeseen dangers of excessive secrecy.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb and The Worst-Kept Secret, the books on the history of the Israeli nuclear program. He shared with me a quote from Mordechai Vanunu’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, that I’ve been coming back to a lot lately:

“If something is secret, and something else touches it, it too becomes secret. Secrecy becomes a disease. Everything around the secret issue becomes secret, so the trial became a secret, so I became a secret.”

Secrecy, as Avner puts it, is contagious. It spreads. It goes from something that we might all agree ought to be secret — how to make a weapon of mass destruction, to take the canonical example. But from that point of apparent agreement, it seeps out, worming its way into the lives of everyone who comes near it — even into the bedroom, that most private of places.

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Lessons Learned From The Bin Laden Raid

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 30, 2012

The one year anniversary of the raid that resulted in Osama Bin Laden’s death has brought with it a steady stream of analysis.  You have the stories about while what traditionally (if less than a decade can be considered “traditional”) is referred to as “Al Qaeda Central” is on the ropes and what Secretary of Defenese Leon Panetta called “within reach” of strategic defeat, the franchises persist:

The emerging picture is of a network that is crumpled at its core, apparently incapable of an attack on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, yet poised to survive its founder’s demise.

“The organization that brought us 9/11 is essentially gone,” said the official, among several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. intelligence assessments of al-Qaeda with reporters a year after bin Laden was killed. “But the movement .?.?. the ideology of the global jihad, bin Laden’s philosophy — that survives in a variety of places outside Pakistan.”

You have those concerned that despite it’s weakened state, the franchises are robust and many still hope to avenge Bin Laden’s death:

“It’s wishful thinking to say al-Qaida is on the brink of defeat,” says Seth Jones, a Rand analyst and adviser to U.S. special operations forces. “They have increased global presence, the number of attacks by affiliates has risen, and in some places like Yemen, they’ve expanded control of territory.”

By the numbers, al-Qaida’s greatest presence is still greatest in Iraq, where intelligence officials estimate up to a 1,000 fighters have refocused their campaign from striking now-absent U.S. troops to hitting the country’s Shiite-dominated government.

Yemen’s al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is becoming a major draw for foreign fighters as it carves out a stronghold in the south of the country, easily defeating Yemeni forces preoccupied battling tribal and political unrest. The White House recently agreed to expanded drone strikes to give the CIA and the military greater leeway to target militant leaders.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius puts forward the provocative idea that Bin Laden is winning, even from beyond the grave:

In the year since Osama bin Laden’s death, it has been a comforting thought for Westerners to say that he failed. And that’s certainly true in terms of al-Qaeda, whose scorched-earth jihad tactics alienated Muslims along with everyone else. But in terms of bin Laden’s broader goal of moving the Islamic world away from Western influence, he has done better than we might like to think.

So, a year on, it’s a time to think about bin Laden’s failures but also about the ways his fellow Islamists have morphed toward a political movement more successful than even bin Laden could have dreamed.

However, I think perhaps the most interesting analysis, and that which adds the most value long-term to homeland security in general, is the Time magazine cover piece (behind a pay-wall) by Harvard professor Graham Allison.  He examines the policy-making process behind the decision when and how to carry out the raid, as well as identifies lessons for future foreign policy challenges.  The bottom line, in his words, “is that American government worked.”

His lessons:

The first lesson this case demonstrates is that the US government is capable of extraordinary performance—in extraordinary circumstances. The challenge is to find ways to apply lessons learned here to improve performance in ordinary cases.

Second, sometimes secrets matter. And when they do, secrecy matters more. The bin Laden case demonstrates why success requires both discovering secrets and then keeping them, allowing a President time to reflect in private, and permitting him to reach a decision and act.

Third, secrecy comes with a price. Tightening the decision loop in order to prevent leaks means that important angles will not be adequately considered. If other officials had been brought in earlier and told to design an alternative storyline about imaginary Pakistani cooperation in the raid, that might have avoided humiliating the Pakistani military in their own backyard. The consequences of this for our prospects not only of finding an acceptable exit from Afghanistan, but also of securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, are becoming clearer every day.

Fourth, the most troubling lesson from this case is the dog that has not barked. In the aftermath of Abbottabad, we are left with two possibilities: either the Pakistanis knew that bin Laden was there—or they did not. It is hard to know which is more frightening.

All readily applicable to homeland security challenges.

(Note: while the Time piece is currently behind a pay-wall, Professor Allison and others were interviewed on the most recent episode of CBS’ “Face the Nation.”  The video is available here: http://tiny.cc/chfkdw)

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April 27, 2012

Cybersecurity: A gale is brewing in the rocky waters of unknowing

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on April 27, 2012

From Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Late Thursday afternoon the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was passed by the House on a bipartisan vote of 248-168.  Forty-two Democrats voted for the bill and 28 Republicans voted against it. Senate approval seems unlikely.  The White House has raised the prospect of a veto.

Cybersecurity is a compound derived from cybernetics, a term coined in 1948.  Cybernetics is the study of biological and cultural systems of control adapted to mechanical or electronic devices.  Norbert Wiener based his neologism on the classical Greek kybernetike meaning helmsman, navigator, pilot and in some contexts: governor.  (Some will recall that Mao was called the “Great Helmsman”.)

As a matter of etymology, cybersecurity means “steering-to-be-carefree” or less literally, “navigating for open water.”

This week several members of the House, operating on a bipartisan basis, attempted to advance substantive cybersecurity legislation even in the shadow of a quadrennial election marked by especially sharp partisanship.  The proposals encountered bipartisan opposition.

It is worth acknowledging good faith on each side.  This was an example of our legislators attempting to navigate the ship-of-state through treacherous waters.  We can disagree with individual choices.  I don’t see cause to question individual intentions.

Nonetheless, such questions were deployed, accusations traded, and nefarious purposes perceived.  No great surprise in regard to cybersecurity or anything else.

Each side is attempting to steer between what many perceive as two great rocks: one threatening to turn our own government into a privacy-devouring monster while the other is already undermining our economic and military strength.  Which rock is more dangerous?  Toward which is the current pushing us?  Is there a safe way between? (To see the solution found by Jason and the Argonauts, check out this YouTube.)

–+–

Until the mid-19th Century students were usually introduced to Plato with First Alcibiades.  In this dialogue Socrates engages in his well-known method of inquiry with a promising young politician. The narrative explores the tension between decisions made for effect and decisions that are effective.

Below is a Reader’s Digest version of First Alcibiades.  For me it has implications for the current cybersecurity legislation, homeland security policy/strategy, and probably much more.

Socrates: Do you not see, then, that mistakes in life and practice are likewise to be attributed to the ignorance which has conceit of knowledge?
Alcibiades: Once more, what do you mean?
Socrates: I suppose that we begin to act when we think that we know what we are doing?
Alcibiades: Yes.
Socrates: But when people think that they do not know, they entrust their business to others?
Alcibiades: Yes.
Socrates: And so there is a class of ignorant persons who do not make mistakes in life, because they trust others about things of which they are ignorant?
Alcibiades: True.
Socrates: Who, then, are the persons who make mistakes? They cannot, of course, be those who know?
Alcibiades: Certainly not.
Socrates: But if neither those who know, nor those who know that they do not know, make mistakes, there remain those only who do not know and think that they know. (Bold highlight not in the original.)
Alcibiades: Yes, only those.
Socrates: Then this is ignorance of the disgraceful sort which is mischievous?
Alcibiades: Yes.
Socrates: And most mischievous and most disgraceful when having to do with the greatest matters?
Alcibiades: By far.
Socrates: And can there be any matters greater than the just, the honourable, the good, and the expedient?

Are our legislators asking authentic questions of those opposed to their proposals?  Are they listening carefully to the answers? Are we?  Do our answers acknowledge the reasonable and substantive concern of those asking questions?  Alcibiades was not so inclined.  He tended to see his political rivals as his enemy.  Socrates argued otherwise.

Socrates: And suppose that you were going to steer a ship into action, would you only aim at being the best pilot on board? Would you not, while acknowledging that you must possess this degree of excellence, rather look to your antagonists, and not, as you are now doing, to your fellow combatants?

What do we really know about our cyber-antagonists: criminals, vandals, terrorists, and more?  Technically, tactically, strategically what are the capabilities and objectives of our adversaries?  What is our claim?  What is our case?  Does the evidence persuade? Do we sometimes — inappropriately, even self-destructively — see those who question our claims as adversaries rather than allies in a common cause?

Socrates: What art makes men know how to rule over their fellow-sailors,— how would you answer?
Alcibiades: The art of the pilot. (Palin: aretes kybernetike)…
Socrates: And what do you call the art of fellow-citizens?
Alcibiades: I should say, good counsel, Socrates.
Socrates: And is the art of the pilot evil counsel?
Alcibiades: No.
Socrates: But good counsel?
Alcibiades: Yes, that is what I should say,— good counsel, of which the aim is the preservation of the voyagers.
Socrates: True. And what is the aim of that other good counsel of which you speak?
Alcibiades: The aim is the better order and preservation of the city.

How do we take good counsel together? Is there any way other than asking questions, listening carefully — even sympathetically — to uncomfortable answers, and then asking uncomfortable questions before listening again?  Is this what we saw in the House this week?  Is this what you experienced in your home, neighborhood, workplace and city this week?

Socrates: O my friend, be persuaded by me, and hear the Delphian inscription, ‘Know thyself’— not the men whom you think, but these kings are our rivals, and we can only overcome them by pains and skill…
Alcibiades: I entirely believe you; but what are the sort of pains which are required, Socrates,— can you tell me?

If  Socrates’ claim — Know Thyself — seems off-topic, irrelevant to cybersecurity, and impractical for present purposes, please explain why.  Socrates, or probably Plato, makes this case:

Socrates: Consider; if some one were to say to the eye, ‘See thyself,’ as you might say to a man, ‘Know thyself,’ what is the nature and meaning of this precept? Would not his meaning be:— That the eye should look at that in which it would see itself?
Alcibiades: Clearly.
Socrates: And what are the objects in looking at which we see ourselves?
Alcibiades: Clearly, Socrates, in looking at mirrors and the like.
Socrates: Very true; and is there not something of the nature of a mirror in our own eyes?
Alcibiades: Certainly.
Socrates: Did you ever observe that the face of the person looking into the eye of another is reflected as in a mirror; and in the visual organ which is over against him, and which is called the pupil, there is a sort of image of the person looking?
Alcibiades: That is quite true.
Socrates: Then the eye, looking at another eye, and at that in the eye which is most perfect, and which is the instrument of vision, will there see itself?
Alcibiades: That is evident.
Socrates: But looking at anything else either in man or in the world, and not to what resembles this, it will not see itself?
Alcibiades: Very true.
Socrates: Then if the eye is to see itself, it must look at the eye, and at that part of the eye where sight which is the virtue of the eye resides?
Alcibiades: True.
Socrates: And if the soul, my dear Alcibiades, is ever to know herself, must she not look at the soul; and especially at that part of the soul in which her virtue resides, and to any other which is like this?
Alcibiades: I agree, Socrates.
Socrates: And do we know of any part of our souls more divine than that which has to do with wisdom and knowledge?
Alcibiades: There is none.
Socrates: Then this is that part of the soul which resembles the divine; and he who looks at this and at the whole class of things divine, will be most likely to know himself?
Alcibiades: Clearly.
Socrates: And self-knowledge we agree to be wisdom?
Alcibiades: True.

Let’s look each other in the eye, ask, answer, and listen carefully.  We depend on this dialogue — especially with those who disagree with us — to open the way to any sort of wisdom.

By the way: despite Socrates best effort, Alcibiades became a successful politician and a catastrophic helmsman. Athens suffered horribly from his persistent lack of self-knowledge. This did not dissuade Socrates from encouraging self-knowledge among others.  But this was not always well-received.  See the Apology.

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April 26, 2012

Shared cybersecurity sensibilities squandered in the scuffle

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on April 26, 2012

One side compromised with the other, alleged deals were done, criticisms were leveled, a possible veto was signaled (threatened would be too strong in this case),  alleged deals unraveled, unprincipled behavior was alleged.  Further compromise was probably undermined. See Declan McCollough’s report  at CNET.

Yesterday was a typical afternoon on Capitol Hill.   A very similar summary might be written of your local City Hall, union hall, church board, or any place that decision making takes place.  Something like this has happened since we first gathered around pre-historic fire pits.

Unlike many of our challenges, differences of judgment on cybersecurity cross partisan and ideological divides.  This is a good thing suggesting the potential for actual thinking and creativity has not — yet — been extinguished.

There is also a widely shared judgment that something needs to be done.

Four Senators blogging at The Hill criticize the House legislation as insufficient, but also argue, “The system is already blinking red in warning. FBI Director Robert Mueller has predicted that, in the near future, cyberattacks will surpass terrorism as the country’s greatest threat, while Chertoff, who served in the George W. Bush administration, said cyber threats are “one of the most seriously disruptive challenges to our national security since the onset of the nuclear age.”

In a Statement of Administration Policy, unidentified authors at the Office of Management and Budget write:

The Administration is committed to increasing public-private sharing of information about cybersecurity threats as an essential part of comprehensive legislation to protect the Nation’s vital information systems and critical infrastructure. The sharing of information must be conducted in a manner that preserves Americans’ privacy, data confidentiality, and civil liberties and recognizes the civilian nature of cyberspace. Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, information sharing, while an essential component of comprehensive legislation, is not alone enough to protect the Nation’s core critical infrastructure from cyber threats. Accordingly, the Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, in its current form.

In an opinion piece Congressman Mac Thornberry writes, “We cannot let the quest for the perfect, overarching bill prevent us from achieving the good, a-step-in-the-right-direction bill. In cybersecurity, we cannot afford to wait any longer to get it done perfectly. We need to act now.”

For most of those engaged in this legislative process the question is not if, but how.   Would be remarkable if the contestants might recognize how much they agree.  I wonder what sort of legislation might emerge from such an epiphany?

The four pieces of cybersecurity legislation should be considered by the Committee of the Whole later today.  I will be offline, but will join you in watching and listening for what the process might say about cybersecurity and more.

LATE THURSDAY UPDATE: Late this afternoon the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was passed by the House on a bipartisan vote of 248-168.  Forty-two Democrats voted for the bill and 28 Republicans voted against it. Senate approval is unlikely.  The White House has raised the prospect of a veto.

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