Showing posts with label Homeland Security. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homeland Security. Show all posts

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How-To: Map Ebola Like A Pro In Ten Easy Steps

(Photo: US Army)
I have been doing a few posts about Ebola the last two weeks, in order to explain the challenges we face in security with this epidemic and where we can find resources to help. This past week, I received an email to attend a workshop held at a local college to learn how to map the Ebola virus. This was a challenge I would gladly accept and so off I went to the land of academia in order to save the world. The instructor, geographer Theresa Cleary began the course by explaining the problem facing all of the disaster relief organizations.

The Problem

With countless agencies now operating in Africa to combat Ebola’s consistent climb upwards, medical personnel operating there are finding out they face unique challenges in Africa. I experienced much of what they’re going through while stationed in Korea my first tour as a security advisor and driver. At the time, the biggest obstacle I faced was getting around Seoul. While I had the benefit of transliterated maps, I would have killed for a GPS unit. Relief workers in Africa are facing a similar dilemma. Most people don’t realize how much of the African urban and rural settings are not mapped. There are entire road networks and villages no map has officially recognized. In a situation where you have to make contact with every single potential victim, being able to safely navigate to them is paramount.

The Solution

So how do we make sure we have the areas are mapped? Well, by way of open source mapping. In other words, citizen volunteers sit at computers and outline and label every nuance of interest to aid organizations. Once the citizen volunteers do their part, validators spot-check your work and send off the information you collected that was accurate and send back anything you sent off that was wrong. In the entire timeframe of instruction to operation, I mapped over 17 buildings and a few roads. Shortly before writing this post, I mapped 7 roads and 3 foot paths. Total time to do all of this was roughly 30 minutes with only an hour and half worth of instruction. Most importantly, the software this is done on is free and open-source.


I know you’re curious how you can do the same thing. At least you should be. If you don’t think you should be, call me and I’ll explain rather vigorously. So here’s how to get started.
  1. Go to and sign-up for an account. Once your email is confirmed, then follow Step 2.
  2. Go to to see the open tasks for humanitarian groups working on Ebola.
  3. Before accepting any tasks, I HIGHLY suggest you go to and read the articles on how to navgate and what exactly the various terrain feature labels correspond to visually on a map.
  4. Once you’re done there, go back to and find your tasks.
  5. Click on the task you want and then go to the side map and click on an are that is not “done” or “validated”. It should be the grid with no coloring. Once you click there, look to the left sidebar and you should see where it says start mapping, click there.
  6. Next, click on the arrow next to where it says “Edit with” and go to iD Browser. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
  7. From there a map should have opened up in another browser where you will do your edits.
  8. Find your area and zoom in on areas where there’s a lack of data and outlines are not done for features.
  9. Click on either the line or poly pointers at the top menu bar and then outline the shapes of what you’re tasked. When done, click on the last point of the shape again. If necessary, click on any line in the shape to bring up a mini-menu that will “square” edges away.
  10. When you feel like you’re done, click on the save button at the top menu bar. Feel free to leave a comment in the sidebar. I was told to put “task-whatever the number was-hotosm – whatever feature the task called for” Go back to original hotosm screen and make sure you “unlock” this map so others can work on it. Before you unlock, be sure to leave a comment stating what you did.

That’s it. Easy peasy. By the end of the day, you will have helped out relief efforts in perhaps one of the biggest public health crises the world has seen in a while. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think. Also, share this information with other people.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

LIST: A Few Good “Official” Ebola Resources


As an ongoing effort to disseminate objective information to my readers, regarding Ebola, I’ve decided to put together a list of sources I consider minimally unbiased who have the data to give security practitioners an idea of how the outbreak is progressing. NOTE: I REALIZE THIS LIST IS NOT ALL-INCLUSIVE. THESE ARE MERELY SOURCES I THINK ARE IN THE BEST POSITION TO DELIVER OBJECTIVE DATA AND ALLOW FOR SECURITY PRACTITIONERS TO MAKE THEIR OWN ANALYSIS.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's The Nature of Your Emergency?

These are words often spoken by dispatchers and those working in emergency response centers throughout the world. They are the first words spoken and often lead to some of the most confusing and panic-driven conversations. People who have something to report, whether it be suspicious or an actual emergency, report as if the person on the other line is there with them. The descriptions of the situation are often muddled, suspect descriptions are either ignored or extremely vague, and other information is untold or dragged out by the dispatcher from the caller. So how do we fix this?

The problem is not the caller but how we cultivate information from them. We assume, wrongly, they understand what it is we need or that any information is good information. Both assumptions are dead wrong. Don't fall into this trap. People don't know what emergency dispatch or law enforcement truly need. They assume you will ask all of the relevant questions from the "fog of war". Luckily, we do - sometimes. So how do we fix it? We start by giving them the format that will deliver the best results for us and get the information from them as quickly as possible so we can notify the appropriate personnel.

A format that I'm very familiar with and I used extensively in the military was called S.A.L.U.T.E.
  1. Size:  How many people do you see? How big is the object? How many gunshots did you hear?
  2. Activity:  What are they doing? Is he shooting at you? What did he say?
  3. Location:  Where are they? Where did they go? Where are you? Where did the vehicle come from? Where did you see that? Where is the object?
  4. Uniform:  What color were his clothes? What kind of clothes was she wearing? What color was the vehicle? What was the make and model?
  5. Time: When did this happen? When was the last time you heard from him? What time did the letter say the explosion would happen?
  6. Equipment:  What kind of gun did he have? Was the knife serrated? Did you see a rocket launcher? Did you see them carrying anything else?
This is all great information that when given to dispatchers aids in faster information flow which means faster mitigation/response times. I recommend agencies, if they haven't already, have their organizations begin indoctrinating their communities on the specific formatting you need. Trust me, as a former dispatcher and emergency operations center controller, I can tell you nothing is better than getting the right information to the right people as soon as possible.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Terrorism and Intelligence Legislation You Should Know About But Don't

Now that this NSA story has spawned the insane amount of nonsensical and baseless conjecture on my Twitter feed, I thought I'd take a moment and educate everyone on intelligence and terrorism legislation they should already know about but don't for various reasons.

  • Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989
  • Executive Order 12947 signed by President Bill Clinton Jan. 23, 1995, Prohibiting Transactions With Terrorists Who Threaten To Disrupt the Middle East Peace Process, and later expanded to include freezing the assets of Osama bin Laden and others.
  • Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995
  • US Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (see also the LaGrand case which opposed in 1999-2001 Germany to the US in the International Court of Justice concerning a German citizen convicted of armed robbery and murder, and sentenced to death)
  • Executive Order 13224, signed by President George W. Bush Sept. 23, 2001, among other things, authorizes the seizure of assets of organizations or individuals designated by the Secretary of the Treasury to assist, sponsor, or provide material or financial support or who are otherwise associated with terrorists. 66 Fed. Reg. 49,079 (Sept. 23, 2001).
  • 2001 Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools for Intercepting and Obstructing Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act)(amended March 2006) (the Financial Anti-Terrorism Act was integrated to it) - I don't have enough energy to discuss the Patriot Act. All you need to know is that it gives the US government very broad powers in order to combat terrorism.
  • Homeland Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. 107-296.
  • Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act (SAFETY Act) of 2002
  • REAL ID Act of 2005 - Perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of legislation from the Bush era, it set forth certain requirements for state driver's licenses and ID cards to be accepted by the federal government for "official purposes", as defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security. It also outlines the following: 
    • Title II of the act establishes new federal standards for state-issued driver licenses and non-driver identification cards.
    • Changing visa limits for temporary workers, nurses, and Australian citizens.
    • Funding some reports and pilot projects related to border security.
    • Introducing rules covering "delivery bonds" (similar to bail bonds but for aliens who have been released pending hearings).
    • Updating and tightening the laws on application for asylum and deportation of aliens for terrorist activity.
    • Waiving laws that interfere with construction of physical barriers at the borders
  • Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006 - The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) prohibits any person from engaging in certain conduct "for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise." and extends to any act that either "damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property" or "places a person in reasonable fear" of injury. 
  • Military Commissions Act of 2006 - The United States Military Commissions Act of 2006, also known as HR-6166, was an Act of Congress signed by President George W. Bush on October 17, 2006. The Act's stated purpose was "To authorize trial by military commission for violations of the law of war, and for other purposes." It was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008 but parts remain in order to use commissions to prosecute war crimes.
  • National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 - The second most controversial piece of legislation from the War on Terror authorizes "the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.
    (b) Covered Persons- A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
    (1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
    (2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
    (c) Disposition Under Law of War- The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following:
    (1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
    (2) Trial under chapter 47A of title 10, United States Code (as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (title XVIII of Public Law 111-84)).
    (3) Transfer for trial by an alternative court or competent tribunal having lawful jurisdiction.
    (4) Transfer to the custody or control of the person’s country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity.
    (d) Construction- Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
    (e) Authorities- Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.
    (f) Requirement for Briefings of Congress- The Secretary of Defense shall regularly brief Congress regarding the application of the authority described in this section, including the organizations, entities, and individuals considered to be ‘covered persons’ for purposes of subsection (b)(2).
  • Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-5 requires all federal and state agencies establish response protocols for critical domestic incidents in line with the National Incident Management System.


Monday, June 3, 2013


I often dish out a lot of criticism towards he Department of Homeland Security. However, it is not without understanding the sheer vastness of what their work undertakes. I often peruse their site (and so should you) to gain insight into what they face. This site has always been a great information source and has been very responsive towards citizen queries. Though, I'm sure some would disagree. After you take a look, I highly recommend giving their site a look.

Department of Homeland Security Site:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

VIDEO: Kenyan Presidential Security

While reviewing the latest YouTube videos on security, I came across the video above. If you're not aware, Kenya recently held its presidential elections where Uhuru Kenyatta was named its fourth president-elect. As is the case in the United States, Kenya's head of state has a protection detail.

Here's what I gleaned from the video:
  1. Kenyans have a different protection mentality than most Westerners which may actually be good. The news anchors were briefly explaining what happens once the election has been certified, when she said "he'll become the 'property of the state'". Additionally, the detail and not the principle control his/her security.
  2. While awaiting the election to not be challenged, Uhuru will have a temporary detail and a code name assigned to him much like in the States where the president-elect receives his/her detail as soon he receives his party's nomination.
  3. There details seem to be structured somewhat similarly as Western nations. There is an exterior perimeter surrounding the vehicle and an interior as well. The exterior appears to be doing some outward surveillance while the inner perimeter concentrates on the road ahead. They also seem to have control over the reception line as well.
While researching this story, I came across another video which was a bit more telling.

From this video, we can see a few similarities and some differences.
  1. Changing radio call signs. No secrets here. Great tactic that is used all over the world.
  2. Route clearance. Another great move. Though, I am curious why took this road. Many details would have avoided it for its obvious issues.
  3. Open air vehicles should ALWAYS be a no-no.
  4. Giving the principle the threat information briefing every night is good. Though, I think this should be something he gets along with his intelligence report first thing in the morning.
The Kenyans are moving in the right direction towards VIP security. There were lots of things I like from a protection specialist perspective. And there were things I did not like. Most of the things I did not like are lessons best learned through countless drills and exercises to hone in how vulnerable your principle is. In light of al Shabab's threats and terrorist activities against the Kenyans, it's safe to assume they are working out some of the kinks.

Friday, January 25, 2013

INTERVIEW: The Coolest Mass Spectrometer At the Airport You Know Nothing About - The Griffin 824

Griffin 824 in operation (Photo FLIR)
Last week, I had the privilege and esteemed honor to interview Garth Patterson from FLIR about a product I’m dying to tell you about – the Griffin 824.  Before I begin, I’d like to remind you I was in military law enforcement/security for 10 years.  However, my knowledge of the science behind the Griffin 824 is cursory at best.  So, I called every person I knew who understood mass spectrometry to give me a brief tutorial.  As you can tell, Garth explained things perfectly.

Garth, can you tell me about your background and the product?  Let’s begin with you and then what it actually does?
Well, I’m the program manager for the Griffin 824.  I previously worked for Griffin before it became a part of FLIR.  The device is a mass spectrometry device which analyzes chemical compounds at the molecular level.  It is used in a variety of field applications ranging from corrections, law enforcement, border crossings, airports, etc. It looks for explosives and narcotic traces from a user-gathered sample.
Wow, that sounds pretty interesting.  How exactly does it do that? *At this point, I’m hoping Garth doesn’t go over my head.*
What happens is the user swipes a surface with a 1-inch paper-like sheet.  The sheet contains a surface area that picks up trace elements from the surface to be examined.  The user then inputs the sample in the Griffin 824 which then inserts the sheet between two stainless steel plates.  The plates are heated to vaporize the sheet and the elements.  The ions are then manipulated using electromagnetic fields and an analysis is conducted using software in the Griffin 824.  The device can differentiate between “junk” and actual compounds.  Something ion scanners previously weren’t so good with. 
How does a user know they have a “hit”?
The machine will display a green light at the initial startup and will then go to yellow when analyzing.  After the analysis is complete, the light will either go green again to signal a negative result or go red to annunciate a positive result.
How long does it take to start up the 824?
It takes approximately 20 minutes. Though, analysis takes about 10 seconds.
Why mass spectrometry?
It’s the standard for quality lab analysis for chemical compounds.  It’s also court-friendly.
So what separates this from the lab?
It can be taken into the field.  Mass spectrometry uses a lot of big expensive equipment in a lab, as is the case with Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.  Because it’s transportable as a single unit and has many field user-friendly applications, it’s a natural fit for field analysis.
Going over some of the literature, it claims the 824 is equipped for both audio and visual alert cues. 
Yes.  We felt there was a need for operators not to have a loud, audible cue annunciate in front of a subject.
Are there any other applications that set the Griffin 824 apart from other technology?
It’s network addressable.  This means you can presumably plug the 824 into a network and have results shared over a network to a command and control center.  The 824 also has administrative and user profiles for individual operators in addition to a USB report for flash drives.  The screen is also a touch screen.  There is also no carrier gases needed which means no big helium tanks.  The unit is self-contained.  Given its ease of use, it takes a little under a day to train personnel on how to use the 824.
Garth, to say I’m impressed is an understatement.  How long from inception to production?
About 4 years.  We have another mass spectrometer, the Griffin 460 where we received feedback from operators wanting something for field use for narcotics and explosive detection analysis.  We saw the biggest need initially in airports for trace detection.
Garth, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me.  It was truly an honor.  

For more on the Griffin 824, please click on the links below.

FLIR Griffin 824 web page

FLIR Griffin 824 Datasheet 
To see the Griffin 824 in action check out the video below (no audio)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cybersecurity | Senator Lieberman speaks before Senate about the need for cybersecurity legislation by JoeLieberman

The U.S. Senate Wednesday rejected a second chance to move forward with critical cybersecurity legislation supported by top-ranking members of the nation's intelligence, national, and homeland security communities. By a vote of 51-47, the Senate failed to approve a procedural motion to end debate on the bill, S. 3414, and move to a final vote. Read the full text of the Senator's statement here:

Senator Feinstein on Cybersecurity by SenatorFeinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke on the Senate floor on Nov. 12, 2012, about cybersecurity and the need to protect the United States from devastating cyber attacks.

Why Senator Tom Coburn Is Wrong About Columbus

Pro 3XE Underwater Search and Recovery Vehicle cited in Senator Tom Coburn's report

Last week, Senator Tom Coburn released a report criticizing various municipalities and the Department of Homeland Security for spending taxpayer dollars frivolously on various pieces of equipment, training exercises, and conferences.  His report, titled “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in US Cities, mentioned several cities including Columbus, Ohio.  I grew up in the Buckeye state for a while. As such, I pay attention to any allegations against our capital city, particularly with respect to homeland security.   So, I read the report and was surprised by its allegations.

On his web site, Senator Coburn states,
"Columbus, OH’s Underwater Robot: Columbus, Ohio recently purchased an “underwater robot” using a $98,000 UASI grant. The robot is mounted with a video providing a full-color display to a vehicle on shore. Officials on the Columbus City Council went so far as to declare the purchase an “emergency,” not because of security needs, but because of “federal grant deadlines.” If the money was not spent quickly, it would have returned to the Treasury. (Pg. 27 & 28 )"
In the report, he goes on further to state,
"The Columbus dive team, however, is responsible only for underwater search and recovery missions – not for rescue missions that may happen during a terror attack.  One of the team’s higher profile missions in recent years was the recovery of a
$2 million “sunken treasure” in the Scioto River."
So, naturally I did my own "investigation" into this allegation made against Columbus and DHS. Here's what I found out:
  1. Columbus's police department is solely responsible for search and recovery.  It's in the standard operation procedures.  That much is true.  What his report fails to acknowledge is that after a terror attack the most important job any first responder agency can have is the search for human remains and evidence.  That too is in their SOP.  It states, "Underwater search and recovery operations encompass underwater criminal investigations, the recovery of bodies and property, and other operations, which by their nature fall into the scope of duties and obligations of the Division of Police."  Additionally, the Scioto River is 218 miles long and goes through downtown Columbus.  It also lays along the "approach" for Columbus International Airport.  Any counter-terrorism expert worth his/her salary will tell you this would be a natural place for an attack to occur and for law enforcement to begin search and recovery operations.  Given that debris fields from most major attacks extend for miles, it would be prudent for any law enforcement agency to look for evidence and possible human remains along this river.  My favorite item to back this up came from the FBI dive team site.  Yup.  The FBI says, "Our underwater experts can find clues and map out crime scenes in exactly those places and more...They’ve got some fancy tools and technologies to help them do their jobs: “side-scan sonar” that can detect debris...miniature remote-controlled subs that send real-time color video to the surface for on-the-spot identification and that can make videotapes of underwater searches for future use.  We’ve called on our dive teams many times over the years since the first one was launched in 1982. For example:  When TWA Flight 800 exploded over the Atlantic in 1996, our New York team helped scour a 40-square mile patch of the ocean floor, recovering the remains of all 230 victims and 96 percent of the airplane....Our teams have even traveled overseas to support such investigations as the terrorist attack on the USS Cole."
  2. Columbus, Ohio is/was a terrorist target.  Many people don't think of Columbus, Ohio as being of major interest to al Qaeda.  However, in 2004, we learned different.  Nuradin Abdi, a Somali native plotted with three of his friends to attack a Columbus mall. Abdi entered this country with the sole intent to target Americans, after illegally entering in 1999.  In 2002, he along with two friends discussed bombing a mall in Columbus.  Abdi was sentenced to 10 years and was deported back to Somalia in November 2012.  Here's a link to his indictment -  Here's a map of downtown Columbus.  Note it's approximal distance to the airport and the Scioto River:
    View Larger Map
  3. The Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) this grant is managed states its purpose is "to directly support expanding regional collaboration and is meant to assist participants in their creation of regional systems for prevention, protection, response, and recovery."  Part of any response and recovery effort is search and recovery.  Seriously.  Anyone who took Emergency Management 101 knows that much.  The quicker you get to the bodies and the evidence the sooner you can figure who attacked you and more importantly, how.
  4. The New York Police Department has the same robot.  How is it that I'm the only one who caught that?  That's right.  NYPD uses this robot on the missions I described and for bomb detection as well.  Why?  Because they have a river that flows through the heart of their city.  The only exception is the Scioto currently doesn't allow commercial ships due to the 2012 drought.
  5. DHS did have a deadline that was approaching and the city council deemed funding was neccessary and determined it an emergency.  Why would call this an emergency?  Because of the ridiculous amount of time it takes for a city to make any purchases on their own.  The city simply didn't have $98k for an underwater robot.  What the report failed to mention was the city had done this numerous other times in an attempt to stockpile on homeland security equipment they felt they needed.  They purchased a similar robot for their fire department.  The exception is the fire department can't use their robot or their divers for recovery of evidence or remains.  This simply is not in their area of operations (AO).
So there you have it.  The truth about Columbus isn't what Senator Coburn made it out to be.  Senator Coburn is trying to bill himself as a good steward of taxpayer money.  While I appreciate his diligence, I am struggling with why he didn't go to these cities himself and ask the same questions I did.  Moreover, why isn't his staff asking these questions instead of producing hilarious cover art for his reports.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Force projection Mexican Style

Drug cartels in Mexico have a proven need for force projection in order to secure their territory. Learning from dictators and criminal enterprises before them, they use a variety of tools to accomplish this ranging from public execution to kidnappings. In the video below, a cartel is filmed using armored civilian vehicles with armed men to demonstrate the prowess of their strength akin to what one would expect to see in far away lands like Somalia not a city a few hundred miles from the world's most powerful democracy.

Does the Border Fence work? by thewalldoc

Is the Border fence "working"? Is it stopping illegal immigrants and drug smugglers? Go to to watch more. The Wall is available on DVD on!

South Carolina Governor Discusses Cyber Intrusion by ThePentagonChannel

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley talks to TPC anchor SSgt Josh Hauser about South Carolina's recent cyber intrusion and what help is out there for those affected.

Friday, November 30, 2012

New Amendments to NDAA To Rectify Old Issues?? (not really)

“Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. The detainees will be given a basic physical exam by a doctor, to include a chest x-ray and blood samples drawn to assess their health. DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy.”

Soooo....I caught this little gem while looking over the new National Defense Authorization Act 2013 amendments being voted on by the US Senate:
    (b) Report.--
(1) IN GENERAL.--Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a report on the use of naval vessels for the detention outside the United States of any individual who is captured pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Such report shall include--
(A) procedures and any limitations on detaining such individuals at sea on board United States naval vessels;
(B) an assessment of any force protection issues associated with detaining such individuals on such vessels;
(C) an assessment of the likely effect of such detentions on the original mission of the naval vessel; and
(D) any restrictions on long-term detention of individuals on United States naval vessels.
(2) FORM OF REPORT.--The report required under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.
(a) Notice to Congress.--Not later than five days after first detaining an individual who is captured pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) on a naval vessel outside the United States, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a notice of the detention.
So when did we start detaining people on boats? You do realize this is what this alludes to? We have or had a need to so and someone in Congress wasn't notified until it was almost too late. Oh wait. That did happen to a guy named Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali terrorist held for over 2 months on a Navy ship.

This is the one that will surely make headlines (if it hasn't already):
(1) by redesignating subsection (b) as subsection (c); and
(2) by inserting after subsection (a) the following:
``(b)(1) An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.
``(2) Paragraph (1) applies to an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority enacted before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2013.
``(3) Paragraph (1) shall not be construed to authorize the detention of a citizen of the United States, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, or any other person who is apprehended in the United States.''.
Yup. You read it right. No more arrests of US citizens or permanent residents overseas without arresting them and bringing them before a US court. Actually. That's not exactly true. Check out what the folks at the ACLU think:
  • It would NOT make America off-limits to the military being used to imprison civilians without charge or trial. That's because its focus on protections for citizens and green-card holders implies that non-citizens could be militarily detained. The goal should be to prohibit domestic use of the military entirely. That's the protection provided to everyone in the United States by the Posse Comitatus Act. That principle would be broken if the military can find an opening to operate against civilians here at home, maybe under the guise of going after non-citizens. This is truly an instance where, when some lose their rights, all lose rights -- even those who look like they are being protected.
  • It is inconsistent with the Constitution, which makes clear that basic due process rights apply to everyone in the United States. No group of immigrants should be denied the most basic due process right of all -- the right to be charged and tried before being imprisoned.
  • It would set some dangerous precedents for Congress: that the military may have a role in America itself, that indefinite detention without charge or trial can be contemplated in the United States, and that some immigrants can be easily carved out of the most basic due process protections.
 It appears the contention about NDAA still stands.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Could Israel's "Iron Dome" Make the Case for a Missile Defense Shield?

The last few days have been extraordinary in the Middle East to say the least.  Israel was attacked by a barrage of missiles fired from Gaza.  However, nearly all of those missiles were defeated by Israel's missile defense shield known as "Iron Dome".  Missile defense systems are nothing new and we've seen them work in a variety of theaters of operation.  Most recently, they were highly effective during the United States' invasion of Iraq where Patriot missile batteries went toe-to-toe with Scud missile launchers.

A recent article from explains the breadth of that success:
Israeli officials are claiming that the shield is destroying 90 percent of missiles and rockets it aims at that have been fired into southern Israel by Hamas. This level of success is unprecedented compared with older missile defense systems such as the American-made Patriot model used during the 1991 Gulf War. Israelis have almost always suffered far fewer casualties than Palestinians have, but Iron Dome has made that disparity even larger. As of Monday, Israel has reported three casualties, all of which occurred during a temporary malfunction in the missile-defense system.
Credit: Voice of America;

To say the least, this is a huge boom for future missile defense deployments. Hamas has launched 1,147 rockets at Israel between 14 November 2012 and 20 November 2012. Israel has claimed to have shot down 90 percent of those missiles. Did I forget what makes this system so unique? With the exception of a minor glitch that occurred at the beginning of the hostilities, Iron Dome is reported to have been 90 percent accurate with 400 kills in its first few days of days of operation.

A typical battery includes a radar and three launchers, each holding 20 Tamir interceptors. It reportedly had a 100% success rate in tests prior to deployment.


This graph provides an idea as to the area Iron Dome has to cover and what it is supposed to counter.

Many argue this missile defense shield is a "game changer". There is a lot to say that it has. Hamas and Hezebollah have used these attacks in the past as leverage and to demonstrate their resolve to see the conflicts to the end. By "taking the wind out of their sails", Israel has certainly taken much of the "punch" out of Hamas' most potent psychological weapons.

Most telling is the language and support coming from the United States before the November attacks.  The U.S. House of Representatives stated in its FY-2013 Defense Authorization Act  which not only supported Iron Dome with a $680 million investment.  It went a step further by directing the Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, to "explore any opportunity to enter into co-production of the Iron Dome system with Israel, in light of the significant U.S. investment in this system." You don't have to be an expert in missile defense technology to know why the US considers this an "investment". We want to develop our own to deploy in the States. Stop rolling your eyes. Given the cost and logistics of coordinating prevention, mitigation, and response to surface-to-air missile threats in the U.S., this has the potential for a lot of "traction" in certain circles.

Will this put an end to rocket attacks? Probably not. I say this because the technology behind these rockets is constantly evolving. Unless Israel can shore up the transportation/smuggling routes arms dealers use, then there will never be an end to such attacks. However, as Israel has convincingly demonstrated, their relative lethality can be greatly reduced by missile defense shields such as Iron Dome.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

GRAPHIC: UAV fleet breakdown

Here's a pretty cool graphic from the folks at The Post.   It gives a breakdown of our current drone fleet.

The growing U.S. drone fleet - The Washington Post

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Commentary: Is censorship a security tool or a huge mistake?

Recently, I learned the U.S. government was looking at legal options to compel Twitter to cancel the accounts of foreign terrorist organizations such as Al Shabaab and the Taliban who are very active on the social media site.  These unnamed officials believe these groups are using their accounts to recruit and promote their propaganda.  As an observer and a person engaged in dialogue (okay - its taunting) with both of these groups, I can attest to the sort of messages they are referring to.  Often, the messages are full of their "exploits" and fail to address their brutality within Somalia's or Afghanistan's civilian populations.  Nor do they address any real plans for Somalia's future given its current economic and political situation.

However, I find the request to be somewhat superficial and insufficient.  It's as if they have no concept of how global the Internet has become in both scope and depth.  I'm perplexed as to what good they foresee coming from this.  By limiting the use of Twitter and other major social media sites, these officials have failed to address other sites for which they have ZERO jurisdiction over and would still be accessible to Al Shabaab and the Taliban's intended audience.  What happens when another site comes along and replaces Twitter as the messenger de facto of major transnational terrorist organizations and their franchises?  What happens when these sites are created and maintained on servers, the U.S. government has no control over?  The United States does not nor should it ever have a firewall like the Chinese do.

Also, they negate how this plays exactly into what these organizations want.  It demonstrates to young, disillusioned, frustrated, and impressionable people how the freedoms our government is supposed to uphold above all else mean very little to it.  In other words, we would be behaving like the governments these groups originally rose up against and from whose failings they gained significant momentum.  Don't get me wrong - I despise what these organizations are and what they really stand for.  I wholeheartedly believe they have an interpretation of Islam that is fundamentally flawed and inherently destructive for the Ummah.  However, censorship like torture, no matter how well-intentioned, produces none of the results you expect to get.

My final question to these lawmakers is, "Can we include domestic terrorist groups and organized crime organizations to the list to be banned?"  They create and promote atmospheres of violence and fear to achieve political goals.  We seem to be proclaiming a war on terrorism and actually fighting only one enemy.  What about the Jewish Defense League, Hutaree, the New Black Panther Party, or the countless other domestic groups that have or are using social media?  The Jewish Defense League whose members attempted to kill a U.S. Congressman in 2001 still has an active Twitter account.  Hutaree, which received notoriety after its members were arrested for plotting events which they believed would bring about the apocalypse, maintained and utilized their YouTube videos to showcase their tactical prowess. Google any violent hate group and their popular slogans and you will discover they or their members maintain and use a vast amount of social media for the same reasons as Al Shabaab or the Taliban. Yet, we've made no moves until now to remove a single group from these sites.

What good does it do to allow them to keep their accounts?  Any casual observers of the Taliban's "tweets" knows they usually receive a "special" reply from a certain other Twitter account.  That's right - the folks at NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have an account and they get into a verbal skirmish almost weekly.  This is what Twitter is all about - the ability to say what you want and some other guy having the ability to quickly call "BS" on whatever crap you spewed out.  So while the Taliban uses this space to pass along its propaganda and possibly recruit active members or sympathizers (more likely), NATO has many people capable of answering back.  

Finally, it allows those people involved in intelligence to gather information we might not otherwise get.  It's like I used to tell younger cops - you want your suspect to keep talking even if he's lying because you can tell a lot even from a lie.  The FBI and Justice Department bust organized crime groups all the time using electronic surveillance.  Osama bin Laden was found because someone "talked on the wire".  People get careless the more they talk.  Take it from this former cop-turned-security pro - that's exactly what you want.
"Once you permit those who are convinced of their own superior rightness to censor and silence and suppress those who hold contrary opinions, just at that moment the citadel has been surrendered." ~Archibald MacLeish

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