Tag Archives: homeland security

State of Emergency OpED

State of Emergency

Rutland Herald, Sunday, September 22, 2013

In case you missed it, it’s National Preparedness Month, one of those earnest government PR campaigns that is half propaganda and half patronage.

For the Department of Homeland Security, which also is celebrating its 10th anniversary, it’s a bittersweet month. The post- 9/11 department, which has established a permanent foothold in Washington, comes in for constant criticism and has little actual authority.

But it has also sold the idea of the need for a whole-of-nation, whole-of-community approach to domestic security, and that idea successfully enlists more and more normal Americans into vastly expanded ranks of national first-responders.

The impact at the state and local level has been profound. From California to Maine, and here in Vermont, terrorism task forces, homeland security departments, and intelligence fusion centers mimic Big Brother.

Even the state National Guard, venerable offspring of citizen militias that predate the United States, is not just a local response force or called out for federal service overseas. The Guard is also increasingly reoriented as a regional and national homeland response force, less and less the governor’s reserve or connected to the local community, more and more an undifferentiated federal government adjunct.

The specter of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction hangs over all of this — it was after all, why the Department of Homeland Security was created in the first place. Yet the real need at the local level remains an Irene and not an Iraq.

That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in all of the swag emanating from the feds promoting National Preparedness Month, there isn’t a word about terrorism. “We as individuals and communities must do our part to become safer by following some commonsense advice,” FEMA’s Ready Campaign urges.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the threat is. It just matters that the American public feels threatened enough to either join in the ranks or stay obediently out of the way.

If it were only preparation for hurricanes we were talking about, none of this hyper-preparedness would threaten any of our liberties or challenge our system of federalism. That system, under the Constitution, places police powers in the hands of the local community and gives states the authority to ask for federal assistance rather than have it imposed. Yet for the sake of national security and its baby brother, homeland security, both principles have been subtly reversed in the past decade.

Syria may seem so distant to Vermonters, and a concern only played out in Washington. But since Washington unquestioningly asserts that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction trump every other concern, that’s where the resources go — even almost a decade after the abysmal response to Hurricane Katrina showed the dangers of neglecting day-to-day needs.

In Vermont, with a northern border and a significant federal presence given how small the state is, all of the “security” and response levers of the state are increasingly pushed to be militarized and hierarchical under national security command.

It’s not just federal dollars and the names of organizations. It’s a way of thinking and organizing ourselves that shortchanges civilian society and shifts the emphasis from building a more resilient country to preparing for its inevitable collapse.

If you missed National Preparedness Month, perhaps it is because you are not part of the 60 million Americans, about one-third of the adult population ages 20-64, whom the Department of Homeland Security counts as part of the regimented conglomeration of troops, government workers, first-responders, private-sector enlistees and civilian volunteers — a gigantic all-hazards reserve trained in everything from storm spotting and first aid to animal rescue and crowd control.

Precisely because preparedness for Washington’s priority concerns and fears is more important than the need (or the focus) of the actual readiness for real threats, intelligence collectors (and increasingly state and local police as new spies) need to feed a constant search for signs of disturbance.

Of course, there are real terrorists and criminals already on the radar screen of the authorities, but in this world, everyone who isn’t friendly is a potential enemy, that is, in a post-enemy kind of way.

As these ginormous databases of potential threats become available to state authorities, and as collection devices such as license plate readers and drones begin the proliferate to feed the insatiable appetite for intelligence information, Vermonters should ask if this emergency apparatus, set up with such panic after 9/11, still serves our interests, or even the national interest, any longer.

William M. Arkin, who lives in South Pomfret, is author of “American Coup: How a Terrified Government is Destroying the Constitution” and co-author of the national bestseller “Top Secret America.”


Homeland Security Fear Factors

EmergencyPrep10thAnv_Infographic11.inddHere’s how I read this new poster from Ready.gov.  Fifty percent increase in disasters in the past 10 years?  Government incentives to have a disaster declared and more, in everyone’s interest.  But the number of people who actually participate in this idiotic and no doubt expensive government pep-rally is tiny.  The only real statistic here is the claim that more than half of Americans have prepared emergency kits.  I don’t know whether that’s true but it is an indicator of a lack of public confidence in government’s ability to deal with disaster.  So as a self-help program, I guess the government telling everyone that they are on their own is working.

Want to understand the manufacture of fear and obedience in America?  Read my new book, American Coup: How A Terrified Government is Destroying the Constitution.

Homeland Security Decides ‘Open Source’ is in Name Only

Here’s an oddity of the Obama administration’s promoted transparency campaign, and a contradicting trend to the routine availability of government information online: The Department of Homeland Security has ended public distribution of its “open source” reports, pulling them behind a controlled firewall and limiting their distribution.

I know this because I’ve been receiving these reports – such as the DHS Daily Cyber Report — for years, and even note that when they did arrive in my inbox, the formerly helpful department “encouraged” redistribution.  “Please feel free to forward this email w/attachment to your co-workers and colleagues that might be interested in this product,” the daily email said.  The Report mostly ended up in my trash – they were little more than clippings and news summaries – but they were useful to get a sense of what DHS was distributing.

Now the Department is developing a closed “Community of Interest (COI)” on the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) and inviting its “partners” to apply for “secure” access to the reports.  If one is not already an HSIN user – limited to government, law enforcement, and contractors – one can apply for access.  New users should be nominated for access into one or more of the following HSIN communities:

  • DHS Federal Operations
  • FEMA Emergency Management
  • Emergency Services Information Sharing
  • Federal Law Enforcement
  • HSIN Critical Sectors

Oh, and only government and contractor personnel who are citizens of the United States will be given access.

The A-students of the Obama government have already elevated the status of unclassified information – that is, information whose release has no impact on national security – by creating a new category called “controlled unclassified information” (CUI), a way in which more not less can be withheld in the name of standardization.

The DHS, always seeking ways to be more national security, is intrinsically also forcing everyone to get special privileges before they can be members of a not very exclusive club.  This is the story of government, particularly in the excuse-laden era of cyber defense and Wikileaks: Nothing will be voluntarily surrendered to the people unless legislation demands it, and even then, what is formerly innocuous is then declared controlled and security in order to serve only the interests of those inside.

Fusion Centers and the Homeland: Shouldn’t Somebody Say Something?

“Homeland security begins with hometown security, and fusion centers play a vital role in keeping communities safe all across America,” homeland security commandant Janet Napolitano said at the government-sponsored National Fusion Center Training Event held in Phoenix, Arizona last week.

Amid controversy over the federal government’s spending on lavish conferences (hence the rapid deployment of the name training event), Napolitano’s obsession with making all of America snitches under her See Something, Say Something campaign, continued controversy over ICE’s secure communities program, and even speculation that the former Arizona governor will step down if Obama wins a second term, no one actually paid attention to the Secretary’s central message.

The “war” on terror, the one over there that was supposed to have been a magnet for terrorists so that American itself would be safe, shows no sign of either ultimate success or conclusion, and it is turning these United States into an even greater battlefield.

Napolitano even says that the threat of home-grown terrorism is “increasing,” and she anchors federal government strategy to turn state-level fusion centers as increasingly essential links between local law enforcement and the Washington intelligence machine.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, looking stern. Source: AP

I know that Napolitano’s piece of this forever war is the homeland, but who would have thought that eleven years after 9/11, some federal government official could stand up before 600 state and local government intelligence officers cheering them on, and it’s a non-story?

To be fair to the locals, fusion centers represent not just threat early warning; they are also federal support at a time when police budgets are declining, they are a seat at the information table, and they are a new and exotic career pursuit, one that promises the big times.  Under the rubric of “all hazards” most fusion centers admittedly focus more on everyday crime.”  But the funding, and the push, is all about terrorism, and the justification, is that there are an abundance of terrorists in our midst.

Terrorists are “not just those coming from abroad we’re concerned about, it’s those that are U.S. citizens – that are home grown, that are right here,” Napolitano declares.

“It can be people who are right here and who we don’t have much knowledge about,” Napolitano said.

Not knowing much about them of course means information collection, Internet stalking, surveillance, even reconnaissance drones at the local level.

Ron Brooks, chairman of the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council and a San Francisco-area fusion center official told the Arizona Republic: “We’re worried about the al-Qaida attack, the self-radicalized homegrown extremism attack, the far-right violence, but we’re also worried about everyday crime that impacts our community.”

Brooks says a lot of work needs to be done to educate people about what to look for in their search for the home-grown.  “There are times when we get suspicious activity reported to us by law enforcement or the public, and it really is about how someone is dressing or talking or worshiping, and we push that back and say, ‘That’s not appropriate’…” he says.

But fear not, civil liberties and privacy is all being taken care of: as Napolitano says, there’s an organization at homeland security responsible for it.

And See Something, Say Something is working, according to Napolitano, because the campaign has recently expanded to include partnerships with sports teams, sports leagues, transportation agencies and colleges and universities.  Hooray!

Putting aside my view that there shouldn’t even be something called homeland security – it’s just law enforcement at home, not national security – is Napolitano right that homeland security begins with hometown security?  Are the states even intended to be so intimately involved in national security in the first place?  Isn’t that the fundamental role of the federal government?  The United States has transformed, and we are less secure, and what’s the news?  How much money some agency spends on conferences or the fact that sports leagues are now part of the homeland security reserves…

The Enemy Nation of Non-Joiners

This week, in case you missed it, the federal government announced the creation of yet another citizen war reserve organization.  FEMA Corps will be a unit of 1,600 from AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps who are solely devoted to FEMA disaster response and recovery.  On the surface, it sounds great.  But the surface is way too glossy.

Ever since the Presidential Task Force on Citizen Preparedness in the War on Terrorism, established by George W. Bush just weeks after 9/11; and Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information Prevention System) established in 2002 and then scaled back the same year, the federal government has been struggling with the question of public involvement and mobilization in the war on terror.

In the ways of bureaucracy, every agency of the Department of Homeland Security, and every other department – from the Department of Agriculture to the FBI have jumped on the bandwagon, and more than two dozen “public-private” partnerships have been created since 9/11.  The NSA has its network of research affiliates in the private sectors coding to its specifications to enhance cyber security against outsiders.  The Director of National Intelligence even opened its own Office of Private Sector Partnerships in 2009.  These are not contracts or contractors, though money does flow from the federal government and the cumulative effort I’m sure is a pretty penny from our pockets.

These are volunteer organizations, voluntary efforts, that is, if you think that standing up and singing the national anthem at a public event is optional.

I’ve already written about “whole-of-society” efforts by Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to do its version of nation building on the homeland battlefield and I’m trying to wrap my head around what this boundless effort means.  There are, of course, the standard concerns of privacy, civil liberties, and even the hopeless Washington preoccupation with ‘fraud, waste, and abuse’ (which I liken to the medical establishment’s declaring war on microbes), but somewhere I fear there is also a fundamental reordering of American society, one that places too much emphasis on national security and one that puts too much power into the hands of the federal government.

But most important, in enlisting certain segments of society, people of a certain predilection, many others are left behind.  As a commenter said yesterday in response to my blog, the missions and capabilities of organizations become “predestined” by their very structure.  So after the people who are predisposed to  be volunteer firemen, after the businesses that are part of the so-called critical infrastructure cluster under the government umbrella, after ‘good Muslims’ or the civic-minded sign up, the enemy becomes who’s left.  Well, at least who’s left is the universe of dots to search for.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the Obama administration’s weird attachment to its  “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign, which is the citizen-participation counterpart of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.

On some level, this is just a case of a bunch of Boy Scouts and A-students cleaning up and trying to do better than their predecessors – in other words, cleaning up the paperwork for the same ugly effort and then repackaging it as reformed.  But there is also a problem of asking Boy Scouts to run a killing machine.

In the case of See Something, Say Something, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) goes out of its way to assure that it “respects civil rights or civil liberties by emphasizing behavior, rather than appearance, in identifying suspicious activity.”  That’s part of the smokescreen of accepting the banality of evil.

So, if you see something that doesn’t have anything to do with race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech, unless it has to do with terrorism – and I’m not joking, that what the DHS says – report it.

Sound kind of hopeless?  How is someone supposed to figure out the differences?  They aren’t; you can’t.  So you either better enlist in the army of common sense or else we’ll make a note of the fact that you didn’t.

Whole-of-Society: When Did I Get Drafted?

“Our global reach is being challenged by both symmetric and asymmetric threats in and across space, cyberspace, land, sea, and air.  Combining appropriate whole-of-government and whole-of-society efforts, we will keep our homelands safe by giving priority to technologies and collaborative interagency processes for anti-access/area denial against potential adversaries, including those who attack from the inside.”

This dense bit of gobbledygook was included in the prepared statement of Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., the commander of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6.

In addition to the promiscuity associated with characterizing so many threats to America, two elements caught my eye: “whole-of-society efforts” and “appropriate.”

The whole-of-government approach to homeland security, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, and nation building has become the routine since 9/11 and is a no-brainer.  No one agency can do it all, and if our government actually worked, agencies other than the Department of Defense would have both the resources and the capabilities to get the military out of so many areas where it has no business being.

But in an inter-networked world, with so many assets residing in the private sector, whole-of-government has morphed into whole-of-society.

The military defines “whole-of-society” as “bringing in a wide range of perspectives by integrating U.S. and nongovernmental agencies, academic institutions, international organizations, and private-sector partners to better execute … operations.”  This includes entities outside of the U.S. Government, including academia, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, private businesses, and international organizations.  When it comes to disaster relief or humanitarian response, there is a definite advantage for all.

NORTHCOM held its first whole-of-society conference in 2008, examining the lessons from hurricane Katrina and the lack of coordination between the private sector and the government. “When something disastrous happens in America – it’s in all of our interests to know each other before-hand so that we can work better together,” the head of the head of the domestic initiative team at NORTHCOM said.

The February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Report then stated, under a section “Strengthening Interagency Partnerships,” that:

“The Department of Defense supports the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal civilian agencies, as part of a whole-of government, whole-of-nation approach to both domestic security and domestic incident response.  It is essential that DoD improve its capabilities for contributing to civilian-led activities and operations, supporting “unity of effort” in homeland security. The Department continues to work closely with its interagency partners, in particular the Department of Homeland Security, to build capacity vertically from the federal level down to the local level, and horizontally across the federal government. DoD also values its engagement with stakeholders in the private sector, with nonprofit organizations, and with other elements of the public.” (QDR, 2010, p. 70)

A National Defense Intelligence College conference “Intelligence Support to Combating Terrorism” in August 2010 further looked at the counter-terrorism effort, and made recommendations regarding a ‘broader approach to intelligence,’ according to the College’s annual report.

“Specifically, their new framework consisted of building a common counterterrorism identity based on multilateral education (courses, seminars, workshops, etc.) to foster cooperation, engagement, and knowledge/understanding. Additionally, the Fellows recommended avoiding the dramatization of the “terrorism” label. They emphasized that the fight against terrorism requires a “whole-of-society” approach which includes citizen responsibility and minimizes media sensationalism.”

Whole of society has thus become not just a matter of response and unity of effort but also “domestic security” and “citizen responsibility.”

We may have thought that Total Information Awareness and spy-on-your-neighbors programs found their way to the trash bin of history, but in fact such programs are extensive, organized, growing and increasingly intrusive, from homeland security’s ‘see something, say something’ campaign to state-run intelligence fusion centers to moves afoot on the part of the federal government to mandate cyber security rules for the private sector and even more, to take over control and protection of utilities such as electrical power.

Here’s the future as it’s unfolding: While the government wrestles with the private sector and the utilities over their enlistment in the permanent ubiquitous war footing, NORTHCOM is also examining ways to build self-sustaining ‘micro-grids’ on military bases and federal reservations so that if electrical power is lost, the government won’t be affected.  Under continuity of government programs the federal government has built their own emergency cellphone services so that when your telephone system and Internet goes down in a disaster, theirs doesn’t.  Where is the line drawn between the haves and the have-nots, between what is ‘critical’ to the war effort and what isn’t?  With whole-of-society, I guess the answer is there is no line.

Defense By the Numbers: An Analysis of the Budget

The FY 2013 defense budget request to Congress totals 125 volumes (so far), a half-a-gigabyte of data in hundreds of thousands of pages.  I’m looking for gold, even insight, but until then here is another word analysis of what the budget says (DHS yesterday).

How many times something is mentioned is a questionable methodology for insight into anything, and yet, there’s China while Syria and Iran are hardly to be found.  As if the same case with al Qaeda, and Islam.  Of course, terrorism does rule, including cyber-terrorism, the latest-latest, but for those who advocate (or fear) nuclear disarmament, one can’t help notice the enduring value of weapons of mass destruction language as the main threat.

“Soft” power also seems a tough sell, at least in the budget, because, well, what is it that you are buying to make it?  That’s not the case though with unmanned systems, which rule, even though the Pentagon hates to use the word “drone,” which just happens to be the media’s hot-button.

The Geography of the Budget (times word is mentioned in defense budget materials)

OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) 2534
Diego Garcia 2155
Afghanistan 1320
China 799
Iraq 765
Japan 395
Russia 303
Korea 291
Guam 281
Mexico 259
Pakistan 113
India 89
Cuba 42
Peru 15
Egypt 13
Colombia 10
Iran 10
Israel 3
Syria 0

The Threats

nuclear 6490
chemical 2709
border 2336
terror, terrorism, terrorist, terrorists 2272
biological 2035
anti-terrorism 1725
WMD 1345
CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosives) 816
counter-terrorism 329
virus 72
WMD-terrorism 68
Narco-terrorism 58
Bioterrorism 56
biological warfare 48
extremism 46
extremists 35
Al Qaeda 19
counter-unmanned 18
suicide-bomber 12
radical 11
Pandemic 9
Islamic, Islamists 9
agro-terrorism 8
homegrown 4
Muslim 4
radicalization 2

The Buzz

analysis, analyses 22086
Networks 15860
target, targeting 12573
threat, threats 11351
intelligence 10634
future 9909
architecture 9125
enterprise 8080
detection 7852
strategy 7770
surveillance 7267
studies 7261
global 6795
strategic 6103
homeland 5106
cyber, cyberspace, cybersecurity 4641
human 4606
awareness 4572
survivability 3984
reconnaissance 3926
identification 3724
secure 3451
realtime 3354
situational 3112
expeditionary 3047
enforcement 2633
collection 2516
net-centric 2026
autonomous 1762
exploitation 1724
persistent 1560
fusion 1512
denial 518
transparent 217
human-centric 86

The Bureaucratic Stuff

OCO (overseas contingency operations) 21536
Change 14540
Special 8285
modernization 8097
Readiness 7619
reduce 5257
metrics 4026
reductions 3955
increases 3709
decreases 3069
legacy 2869
oversight 2664
obsolescence 2492
complex 2379
transformation 2135
vision 2004
sharing 1729

Fighting for the Money

aircraft 27916
missile, missiles 13062
ship, ships 10262
sensor 8916
munitions, ammunition 7518
vehicles 6848
radar 6703
sensors 6286
unmanned 4664
engine 4521
submarine 4340
antisubmarine 4047
satellite 3805
laser 3675
carrier 3565
infrared 3360
GPS 3177
precision 3013
aerial 2994
P-3A 2848
DCGS 2828
mobility 2751
ASW 2719
acoustic 2600
ISR 2579
propulsion 2519
countermeasures 2454
nonlethal 2391
UAS, UAV (unmanned aerial systems/vehicles) 2383

English Words (Almost)

combat 15477
fire 6239
strike 3613
battle 3195
explosive 3140
duty 2922
kill, hard-kill, killings 1170
destroy, destroyed 329
death, deaths 246
hunter-killer 64
soft-kill 60

War of the Words

security 21235
warfare 11130
protection 10535
warfighter, warfighting 7522
war, wars 4004
combatant 2534
disaster 2417
peace, peaceful, peacekeeper 216
violence 52

Pay Attention

traumatic 231
suicide 224
TBI (traumatic brain injury) 79