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July 30, 2007

United States of America

Upgrading Intelligence Law

Failing to Approve New Surveillance Legislation Puts Us All at Risk

By Michael Tanji | July 30, 2007

US law as it pertains to electronic surveillance has not caught up with the times. Much of the communication taking place between terrorists and extremists is done online. A full treatment of how terrorists use the Internet and related technologies is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that whatever you might use the ‘Net for, terrorists do too, and then some.

Part of the problem is that Internet communications are not carried out in a single point-to-single point fashion; the whole point of having a widely dispersed network is that you can route traffic accordingly depending on load, priority and other factors. A message sent from Pakistan to the UK might traverse wires or wireless spectrum resident in several countries before reaching its final destination.

As a global hub of Internet activity the US is probably one of those nations, and as things currently stand our intelligence collection system cannot legally intercept those communications because of our old fashioned definition of what constitutes “spying on Americans.” A computer or Internet address is of course not a “person” but as things are viewed in the intelligence community, if there is a hint that an American might be at the keyboard of that computer (or bought it, or maintains it, or has it residing in his basement), it might as well be, hence the community’s request for new, clear and specific guidance on what they may be allowed to do expressly against bad actors, not neutral equipment or transnational mediums.

This has little if anything to do with the need to get a warrant to listen in on the conversations of actual Americans who may be supporting Islamic extremism or terrorism outright – no one is arguing that we should abridge citizens of their rights – but everything to do with executing extensive as well as expedient action against non-citizens that we know or suspect – usually via non-communications means – of being actual, bona fide evil doers. We can and should seek warrants for the former; the latter have no right to expect such treatment.

Notice that the intelligence community is asking for guidance on what they can do to track down and monitor terrorists. It is not asking for blanket power to monitor citizens or randomly scan traffic for potentially shady activity. This is not about legalizing a surveillance culture, it is focused and specific. The reasons for this are myriad but the most important is that, as a steady stream of reports have been pointing out, the NSA – the agency most likely to carry out these missions - is in danger of failing.

The NSA is running out of power and it can barely handle the missions it has now. Lobbying for the power to surveillance on a wholesale level would push them over the edge, and forwards the argument that agency leadership is not merely guilty of poor planning (what manager with half a wit doesn’t foresee that an increased demand for computing power is not also going to require an increased demand in electrical power?) but outright insanity. Intelligence agencies are loathe to say “no” to any request, even if they know they’ll never deliver an ideal product, but to think that they would set themselves up for failure on such a scale boggles even this skeptical mind.

That the community is asking for new and specific legal authority is also a sign to those that have labeled this the age of surveillance that it is anything but. If government surveillance efforts were as pervasive and intrusive as some would have us believe, there would be no need to go through the charade of asking for legal clearance. The political and administrative tools currently available to the intelligence community would suffice to preclude effective oversight of its activities. Even if the existence of such a program were to leak to the press, it is clear that Congress is not seriously inclined to do anything about real or perceived violations of intelligence law, or fallout from the domestic terrorist surveillance program, the SWIFT banking program and the FBI’s misuse and abuse of national security letters would have resulted in more than just show-hearings.

Congressional foot-dragging of these issues under the guise of protecting innocent citizens from the intrusions of Big Brother does nothing to actually protect innocents and does everything to put them at risk. By not giving our intelligence agencies the legal clearance they need to execute terrorist surveillance missions with the confidence that they are righteous with regards to the law, Congress is ensuring that already scandal-wary intelligence agencies do not bother aggressively pursuing all of the means at their disposal to find terrorists and disrupt their plots. Make no mistake: adherence to the law is something that every intelligence officer, regardless of agency (and I have worked at several, so I know about what I speak) has drilled into them from day one and every day thereafter. Those who serve in the nation’s silent services know that they are far more likely to wind up unemployed or imprisoned for violating intelligence law than they are to die at the hands of al-Qaeda.

Unless Congress thoroughly discusses and rapidly approves (in some format) new legal authority, there is a possibility that elements with the intelligence system will take it upon itself to act in a manner that they see as righteous despite the law. The release of the CIA’s “family jewels” report is a reminder of what such a time was like, and even the most strident supporter of the US intelligence community does not support a return to the bad old days.

Bringing intelligence law up to date is essential for tearing down the barriers that preclude aggressive, powerful, and legal pursuit of terrorists worldwide. Hindering that process pushes the odds of success in favor of our enemies.

July 20, 2007


The Damage Caused by Lies

If there is to be honest debate about the war, it is not going to come from liars

By Michael Tanji | July 20, 2007

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last several days, you are no doubt aware of the Shock Troops story published at the New Republic as well as the corresponding Fact or Fiction article in the Weekly Standard. Wrapping all of this controversy up is the related blogswarm, which is addressed by more milblogs than can be captured here. I will save you some time though and gist the general consensus about Shock Troops from anyone who has worn the uniform in recent history: its bunk.

(In the interest of full disclosure it is important to note that your author has written for the Weekly Standard, which in the minds of some colors this commentary slightly red. It is left to the readers to determine if this is a political piece or one focused simply on issues related to reason.)

It is no secret that readers of the New Republic are not fans of the war. They are exercising their right to say so, but they do not have the right to perpetrate frauds and disseminate slander in order to bolster their arguments. "All is fair in love and war," but that does not extend to war correspondence, at least not responsible correspondence.

I expect reasonable people to disagree about myriad issues, but in a sort-of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington fashion, I expect them to do so honestly. This is particularly important when it comes to issues related to war, because as opposed to issues like wetlands, the consequences are so lasting and severe.

Those who would claim the article in question is factual will no doubt point to Abu Gharib and Hamdania and justify their beliefs using the broad brush theory, but given the number of soldiers in Iraq and the sheer volume of operations that take place there, these horrific incidents are clearly aberrations. In a zero-defect Army where troops are as likely to be spending time in "sensitivity training" as combat training, that such blatantly offensive and reprehensible behavior would occur repeatedly without adverse action is inconceivable.

This is not to say that the military does not have its share of jerks, tools, and other offensive personalities, but to imagine a unit filled with nothing but such reprobates is to imagine that your average combat arms unit are extras from the movie Platoon. Remember that this is the war where small teams of soldiers can and are identified as murder suspects, and violators of human rights and dignity capture their antics on digital cameras, yet we are to believe that an entire squad or more of men spend their days violating the UCMJ with impunity. At best, it strains credulity.

While it is probably a safe bet that the editors of the New Republic are not well versed in all things military, one would think that the former home of fabulist Stephen Glass would pay particular attention to checking facts, but there are ample reasons to doubt that this was done. The only reasonable explanation then is that the New Republic is unconcerned with facts when it comes to the war. If true, and absent a retraction or rock-solid proof of these activities, they cannot be trusted to engage in honest war-related discourse: there is no hope in arguing with a liar.

The most amazing thing about this situation is that knowing they were at a disadvantage when it came to military issues and facts on the ground, and knowing the power of bloggers - particularly milbloggers - they ran such a suspect story anyway. Did they think such an item would go unnoticed? Do they have some secret cache of corroborating evidence they are going to trot out in order to shut up and embarrass all the nay-sayers? If so, why not run a rock solid piece to begin with?

Iraq is not a garden party. Iraqis are dying daily and the surge, which just started in earnest a few weeks ago, is not guaranteed to bring about the conditions necessary for a political solution to Iraq's problems. There is plenty of bad news to go around without having to make up stories about war crimes. Such efforts only feed the propaganda machines of our enemies and fuel the distrust if not outright hatred of those who are dying for Iraq: soldiers. Soldiers who now also have to suffer the slander of those who lack the intestinal fortitude to state their case publicly.

July 17, 2007


Redeploy and Then?

Defeatists Are Not Looking Past 2008 Elections

By Michael Tanji | July 17, 2007

Most of those in Congress who now oppose the war were at one time all for it. Today of course they claim to have been duped, lied to, though there is pretty solid evidence that most of them did not bother to evaluate the available information themselves. Politicians are busy, fair enough, but if they are determined not to be fooled again then you would think that they would wait to get some solid, authoritative information about the state of Iraq before they decided on their strategy for Iraq. The surge did not begin in earnest until a few weeks ago and General Petraeus is not due to give his first status report until September. So why are some already calling the surge a failure and arguing for withdrawal now?

The fact is that those calling for "re-deployment" are less motivated by data or facts and more keen on supporting anything "not-Bush." These are politicians after all, so that is to be expected, but such a strategy is only going to be useful until 2008. Then what?

Let us assume that after the next presidential election those who oppose the President and the surge take control of the White House and gain an even larger majority in both houses of Congress. What is the first order of business with regards to Iraq once a new national security team is in place? If a pull-out is their goal (let's be clear: "re-deployment" means sending troops home, not surging on Kabul) what is their position or strategy for dealing with:

  • The post-retreat violence and chaos that is sure to kick off when we leave? Does that fall under the umbrella of "tough love" or is genocide a plank on a Party platform?
  • The terrorist safe-haven that Iraq will become? Do they believe that Syria and Iran - state sponsors of terrorism both – will suddenly abandon the practice and bring law and order to Mesopotamia?
  • The deadly blow to American credibility? America: that country that talks a lot about freedom but leaves innocents to suffer and die under oppression.

The fact of the matter is that those calling for retreat have no ideas of substance beyond their own bumper-sticker slogans on how to deal with these very real and pressing issues. A review of the Web sites of those in Congress who call Iraq lost and aspire to lead the nation down a new path reveals some common points on how they would deal with Iraq:

  • Set a date for withdrawal
  • Establish political and military benchmarks with consequences
  • Micro-manage and over-regulate the armed forces
  • Convince those who are helping tear Iraq apart to make nice

There are a few minor variations, but you get the gist.

Set aside the fact that some of these goals – a politically stable and functioning government, a fully capability Iraqi military – are shared with the President. The remaining balance all share a common theme: a disconnect with reality.

A firm date for withdrawal of US forces is just another way of establishing a terrorist-liberation-day in Iraq. US military might is the only thing that is keeping a relative lid on violence in Iraq. A date-certain for withdrawal would bring about a temporary drop in violence, but only because terrorists would be taking advantage of the down-time to prepare for the slaughter that was to come.

We successfully defeated the old Iraq. What the surge is doing is trying to set the conditions for the rise of a new Iraq. Benchmarks are essential for that rise. But what consequences do we impose absent progress? For some the answer seems to be "progress or die," because that is what will happen if we leave prematurely. The results-now-or-else caucus want Iraq to be post-war Germany or Japan: at best an apples to oranges comparison given the size of the forces involved and the differences in the nature of the two wars.

More troops would allow the US to exert more control over the security situation in Iraq, but caps on troop levels are a key factor in the strategies of most defeatists. The leaving behind of a token force of trainers is a viable option, but only if the security situation affords them a level of protection that does not result in a repeat of Little Big Horn. Having the Secretary of Defense "certify" that every troop sent forward is perfectly trained and outfitted is the Sarbanes-Oxley-fication of war. Ask any business executive what a pleasure work has been since that legislation passed and you will have some idea of what it will take for the US to defend its interests and principles.

A full-court press with regards to diplomacy in the Middle East is essential, but there is no indication that any of the major players interfering in Iraq today are of a mind to stop no matter how nicely we ask. The lesson of the Palestinian Territories seems to have been lost on "realists": every despot and dictator needs an injustice to blame on someone else in order to justify the injustices they inflict on their own. A stable, strong and even vaguely pro-Western Iraq means more trouble for these regimes, not less.

Putting ideas into the heads of others is always a dicey prospect, but we can get a pretty good idea of what other changes to war-time strategy we can expect if the defeatists seize political power in 2008: indictments. After all, terrorism is a crime and nothing deters crime like indictments. Look what is has done for Osama Bin Laden, who has been under indictment in the US since 1998.

Beyond indictments there may also be the occasional missile strike against the odd pharmaceutical factory, and if we are feeling particularly aggressive, the deployment of an undersized ground force to some terrorist safe-haven where a series of unfortunate events will lead to withdrawal and reinforce further still the view that Americans hit hard, but will not stick around to finish the job.

Where the defeatists are likely to make real headway is in the realm of intelligence, where most if not all of the programs put in place since 9/11 to seek out, monitor and disrupt terrorists at home and abroad will more than likely come to a screeching halt. Terrorists have rights after all (hence the need for indictments) and if there is one thing we cannot have in this country it is a citizen's right to life and liberty trumping a terrorists right to kill and imprison.

If the defeatists truly thought their positions on the war were supported by a majority of the people, they would have no qualms about tossing aside the half-baked legislation they have been offering to date and outright vote on a bill that de-funds the war. They would repeatedly and loudly offer nothing but such legislation – despite the threat of a Presidential veto - knowing that the same public outcry that killed the recent immigration reform bill would also rally to support them. The people will always rally to a righteous cause.

They do not take such action because they know they have no such support. It's not that American's do not like war; they do not like losing in wars. The current administration has not executed the war as smartly as it could have - there is extensive room for improvement - but the fact that they are changing strategies to adapt to changing conditions and threats flies in the face of charges that this is a President who does not listen and who makes decisions in a vacuum.

You do not have to take our word for it though; just note the actions of those who know this war up close and personal, like the hundreds of soldiers who re-enlisted en masse in Iraq this past July 4th. Most have probably served multiple tours in at least one of the war zones and many had probably rolled out of combat not long before the ceremony, swore their allegiance and fidelity to a cause far greater than themselves, and not long after rolled back out into combat once more. They know the reality and horror of war and they willingly go back because they know the consequences of failure.

Were only the defeatist caucus so stalwart and forward looking.

July 13, 2007


Honing The Message In Iraq Reporting

Language and Absent Context Explain Much On Flagging US Public Opinion

By Steve Schippert | July 13, 2007

The devil's always in the details, no matter the subject or issue. And when it comes to reporting, words are everything and every detail. Few Americans pick up a newspaper to analyze events of the day. Unless they are on the OpEd/Opinion pages, they read to simply find out what happened. They pick up a newspaper and read what they read presuming that they are consuming reporting and neither commentary nor analysis.

Yet, what they read more often than not is reporting written in a language that displays the writer's inability or unwillingness to extract outlook, view or opinion from what passes as straight news reporting. And when it comes to honing a message (consciously or subconsciously), subtlety reigns supreme.

It's no wonder so many Americans take a decidedly dim view of the only battlefield in which we are actively (and overtly) hunting and killing al-Qaeda terrorists in large numbers.

Case in point, today's Washington Post article, Iraqi Military's Readiness Slips.

Right from the beginning, including the headline, bad news in an internal assessment is reported as either accepted fact or authoritative information.

Despite stepped-up training, the readiness of the Iraqi military to operate independently of U.S. forces has decreased since President Bush's new strategy was launched in January, according to the White House progress report released yesterday.

Combat losses, a dearth of officers and senior enlisted personnel, and an Iraqi army that has expanded faster than the equipment available for it have resulted in a "slight reduction" in the number of units designated at Level 1 status, or "capable of independent operations," the report said.

That recruitment has expanded faster than equipment can keep up is a significantly important (positive) development that is difficult to overstate (and customarily understated in this media report.) If one employs just a touch of logic, the frenzied pace of recruitment explains the shortage of officers and NCO's, too. Few go to recruit training and emerge as Staff Sergeants or Captains required to guide newly formed or expanded units in my humble military experience. But that's another issue.

At issue is the factual treatment of the bad news as compared to the qualifying statement that precedes the same Washington Post article's citing of the internal report's stated Iraqi progress.

The report's assessment of progress on 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks is likely to fuel ongoing disputes over what is really happening in Iraq. But the fine print in the 25-page document contains some remarkably candid descriptions of problems, as well as qualifiers for claimed achievements and briefly referenced, unexplained new facts.

The power of words on clear display.

"Problems" in the report are not challenged in any way, but even buttressed and supported by the the Post's glowing note of "remarkably candid descriptions" of apparently factual "problems."

"Achievements?" That's another story. They're not even really factual yet, like the "problems" are. Achievements are, of course, merely "claimed." And their descriptions are certainly not "remarkably candid" like the "problems." No, their descriptions are merely "qualifiers," surely not to be trusted and perhaps even manipulated. They must presumably be vetted with exponentially greater veracity than that afforded local stringers. Lest we trust our own military commanders and White House more than a stringer.

One can seemingly understand more about the article's subtle message than the report it is covering, which sometimes seems the very aim of some media outlets.

To be sure, even good fortune has its problems, such as exploding recruitment levels. But don't trust me, trust those whose knowledge and authority on Iraq far exceeds.

The tribal leaders in Anbar came together to negotiate an accord that ultimately produced the Anbar Awakening, an association of Anbar tribes dedicated to fighting al Qaeda. Recruiting for the Iraqi Security Forces in Anbar increased from virtually zero through 2006 to more than 14,000 by mid-2007.

This is the equivalent of an entire American Army Division worth of men, fluxing into the military at entry-level without waiting equipment. The alternative was zero recruitment in Anbar. The consequences of that were most certainly reported negatively, if one recalls the daily carnage reports (sans context, of course) from Ramadi, Fallujah and elsewhere in Anbar.

PoliceYet, how the Iraqi security forces arrived at its state of operational challenge - like a lottery winner suddenly besieged with requests for cash - seems to perhaps exceed the comprehension or concern of the journalist - a journalist whom my parents and yours trust is both knowledgeable and straight. And we wonder why they and their friends are so convinced of quagmire and defeat in Iraq?

When even good news is reported without such context and as simply another negative development that does not need to be couched as a "claimed" problem, this is the public opinion you get.

Even General Petraeus openly fears a "mini-Tet offensive" at the end of the summer, where the enemy employs our own media in message domination in order to sway public opinion when he cannot sway true conditions on the ground.

He would be worried much less about al-Qaeda attacks if it weren't for our media's propensity to grant al-Qaeda headline dominance over the successful missions of our own military, of which few Americans can even name or cite. Al-Qaeda's car bomb attacks have very little if any impact on our ability to hunt and kill them in the field, which continues apace. Yet, with the imbalanced prominence alloted to such enemy attacks, the enemy is permitted to eat at public support and furthers a misperception that we are losing in Iraq.

Perhaps Petraeus fears many journalists are anxiously awaiting the headlines supplied by an al-Qaeda car bomb surge orchestrated before his September report to Congress. Could he be blamed?

Language and context are critically important to proper understanding of the conflict at hand. And the disparity between public opinion and the actual situation on the ground in Iraq is the direct result of words chosen by those who make words the primary tool in their tradecraft.

Simply stated, "Words Mean Things."

July 11, 2007


Summer of Terror?

New attack or not, our actions now will reverberate well into the future

By Michael Tanji | July 11, 2007

The White House is reportedly summoning its top national security experts to assess the situation relative to al-Qaeda and its ability to strike at the US homeland this summer. A variety of signals – some serious, some less so - are suggesting that the time is ripe for such a strike.

The recent attempted attacks in London and Glasgow indicate that the potential for serious, relatively large, and certainly deadly attacks is a reality. A failed syringe is all that spared hundreds of lives, which indicates that the learning curve for Jihadists is flattening. That the alleged perpetrators were medical doctors indicates that al-Qaeda’s message is resonating with a broader and more sophisticated audience, which in turn makes the pool of potential attackers larger and more destructive.

That al-Qaeda attacks have often occurred during summers past – July seems like a favorite month – is at best a superficial way to judge the timeline for an attack. It is not that dates are not important, but generally speaking people assign too much importance to anniversaries

If there is a factor that would cause al-Qaeda to strike it is more likely the current political climate here at home. Ayman al Zawahri made it clear after the US elections in 2006 that he is paying close attention to our domestic political situation. News that support for the war is waning even in the minority party only serves to reinforce the idea that his terror campaign is working and that a strike now could shift the political tides dramatically in his favor.

A successful attack or series of attacks – even if more London Tiger-Tiger than New York World Trade Center – drives home the point that even after five years of war our primary enemy is still a viable and potent force. The post-mortem of any such attack will undoubtedly reveal a well-designed, low-cost, high-impact plan that leveraged some gap that our earnest but feeble attempts at defending ourselves left open: something that will be leveraged by politicians looking to find fault with counterterrorism efforts undertaken to date.

A successful attack will also knock the various political fence-sitters off into one of two camps: those who are unwilling to fight this battle to the fullest extent and those who are. In the aftermath victims and survivors will be asking “why?” but political leadership in both parties will be asking “how?” How do we bring this madness to a halt? Two different answers will come to the fore but only one will be implemented in the next two years.

If those who advocate reinvigoration and reinforcement win out, we will need to redouble our efforts in all aspects of national power. Our full military might must come to bear where it is needed, but a full-spectrum effort that includes diplomatic, economic and social efforts – the weakest part of our alleged national mobilization – is also needed if we are to succeed. Evil-doers have to die, but we need to simultaneously reduce the need for people to feel compelled to do evil in the first place.

If those who advocate retraction and retrenchment win out, we will watch in horror as our pull out from Iraq and Afghanistan (make no mistake – “redeployment” does not mean we surge on Kabul) turns the violence of the past four years look like it was amateur hour. Iran will have a sandbox in which to maintain and nurture its proxy soldiers; Syria will have another Lebanon in which it can play its deadly games; and everyone wearing an Iraqi uniform will eventually be found face down in a ditch.

Our actions during a summer of terror will send a loud and unambiguous message to the freedom-loving peoples around the world who wonder if the United States is still the nation to turn to in order to help defeat hatred, oppression and totalitarianism. Do we understand the nature of that message, or will we continue to think that our rhetoric will be taken more seriously than our actions?

July 8, 2007

United States of America

When Disaster Strikes

The Importance of Public-Private Partnerships

By Jay Fraser | July 8, 2007

When disaster strikes, how do you get all of the critical things done that need to be done? If you watch the government move in whatever direction it takes on any particular issue, often its like watching the ocean waves lapping up on shore and moving the sand from one spot to the next. It's valuable time we can't afford. Approaching the sixth anniversary of the shattering of American complacency, while many people’s minds are eased by the fact that there hasn’t been another attack, many others are quite concerned about our ability to respond to another attack or to a natural disaster.

Just two years ago Hurricane Katrina (formed August 23, 2005 and made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2005) and then Hurricane Rita (formed September 17 and made landfall September 24, 2005) devastated the Gulf Coast. Almost 2000 people died and losses approached $100 billion. Among the key lessons learned from Katrina/Rita was the lack of interoperable communications, and the resulting human suffering and loss of property. The nation continues to be plagued by deficiencies in the interoperability of its critical information infrastructure, particularly among first responders and the agencies that deploy them. Additionally, Katrina showed that it was unrealistic to depend solely on government agencies to react and respond to a disaster, whether man-induced (a terrorist attack) or naturally occurring.

Recently, Col. (ret.) Ken Allard wrote an editorial in which he wrote:

“…the biggest single factor determining how effectively we can respond to any disaster, natural or man-made, is communications. Neither Internet nor iPods have fundamentally altered the basic truth that crusty old Curtis Lemay summarized for his generals at the dawn of the nuclear age: "Congress may have given you your stars. But communications make you a commander." True then and true now. But more than five years after 9-11, we still have a problem…

What will it actually take for us to respond to a disaster like Katrina or to another terrorist attack on U.S. soil? It is clear that while the role of the federal government in such responses is significant, it is also clear that an essential component of our responses requires the involvement of the private sector.

How do you effectively bridge that gap between public and private sector? The real question, in fact, is how do you integrate the actions of the federal and state governments (see Katrina), in some cases the military, and those of local utilities and other infrastructure, as well as businesses and the citizenry? That task is challenging if not daunting.

Public safety and emergency response are two of the components of the three-legged stool of homeland security. The essential third component is infrastructure. Police need to cooperate with the fire department; the fire departments need to cooperate with the police departments; adjacent jurisdictions need to cooperate with each other; emergency response agencies need to cooperate with law enforcement and with the fire departments. And in a crisis, all of these need to communicate and work with local citizens.

None of this is talking about private ownership of public utilities (like Entergy owning and operating the Indian Point Power Plant in New York) or like huge contractors like Battelle (Memorial Institute) operating and managing five Department of Energy Laboratories. And this is certainly not talking about the controversial partnerships referred to when speaking about the Trans-Texas Corridor.

This is much more local, and much more something that touches the lives of every American, even if it only becomes apparent to them when the system breaks down (as it did so vividly in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina). Today, in business, people are talking about the role of public-private partnerships. In the business world, it is called partnering. In the realm of disaster preparedness and response, the underlying principle is cooperation.

Using the Michigan State University (MSU) Critical Incident Protocol – Community Facilitation Program as an example:

Community teams, comprised of public sector representatives (e.g., police, fire, or emergency services) and private sector representatives (e.g., security, facilities management, etc.), form partnerships to participate in joint planning, training and exercise activities…

Further, this CIP effort was developed by the School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University (MSU) to build public-private partnerships in cities, counties, and regions across the nation for joint critical incident management utilizing an all hazards approach. The goal, to promote and enhance security and safety, by bringing together members of the private sector (businesses and non-profit organizations) and the public sector (government and regulatory services). The program objectives are to:

  • Create public and private sector understanding of common goals to protect lives and property while sustaining continuity of community life.
  • Encourage public and private sector entities that already engage in the assessment and planning process in isolation to form cooperative partnerships.
  • Assist those businesses and communities that lack emergency planning experience in the development of a joint emergency planning process.
  • Develop an understanding of mutual or respective goals and understand how public and private resources can compliment and support each other.
  • Serve as a resource for those engaged in the joint planning process.

This discussion can go on for volumes and may continue at some point in the future once an effort in which I am involved actually launches (so I can relate personal experiences). But before ending, it is important to highlight the work of one of the country’s experts in the field of Public-Private Partnerships, Paula Scalingi, a very recent acquaintance.

In one of her presentations from a program called BLACK ICE she outlines the importance of understanding the infrastructure interdependency issues (this particular program was focused on the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, but the strategies and lessons are transferable):

  • Need to better understand what interdependencies really are, and their importance to the operation of the infrastructures
    - Normal operations
    - Disruptions
    - Repair and restoration (for example, implications of increased outage duration times)
  • Need to expand dialog and close interaction among infrastructure service providers about their interdependencies
  • Need to understand the dependence of community and venue facilities on the interdependent infrastructures
  • Need to identify and understand Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system vulnerabilities and interdependencies

In another paper, Paula Scalingi wrote about the different types of interdependencies.

  • Cascading failure – a disruption in one infrastructure causes a disruption in a second
  • Escalating failure – a disruption in one infrastructure exacerbates an independent disruption of a second infrastructure
  • Common cause failure –disruption of two or more infrastructures simultaneously because of a common cause or common location

More recently (April 2007), Ms. Scalingi made a presentation titled Regional Resilience: Prerequisite for Defense Industry Base Resilience. From this presentation, I want to focus on two slides:

Scoping the Problem
  • Region—any area defined as such by “key stakeholders” that has a particular culture and coincides with infrastructure service areas; Can be a city, state, multi-jurisdictional area, and/or cross national borders
  • Key stakeholders—private and public sector infrastructures and organizations, non-profits, academic/research and community institutions, other entities that play significant roles in providing essential products and services and/or which are necessary for disaster preparedness and management

Ensuring that the right organizations and people are involved and “buy-in” to the cooperative effort is obviously a key to success. Overcoming distrust and fostering cooperation requires strong people skills and a bit of arm-wringing.

From the same presentation, Scalingi raises some lessons learned that are transferable to many disaster recovery situations:

  • No knowledge base of pandemic impacts re interdependencies effects and related vulnerabilities
  • Need for cross-jurisdiction, cross-sector cooperation/coordination
  • Information sharing—mechanisms and procedures
  • Roles and responsibilities—“who’s in charge?”
  • Response/recovery challenges many and varied
  • Public information needs huge/role of media as a “first responder” and communicator needs exploring
  • Major Cyber/Com resilience challenges make telecommuting no silver bullet

It is critically important that regions begin to understand the ways in which they are connected both internally (inside the fence) and externally (outside the fence). When another Katrina hits, the city has to understand how it will respond and what dominoes falling will affect others. And further, it is essential that regions begin to better recognize how to operate in concert. The problem is more than just inter-operable communications, although it will be start. Unfortunately, the “other” problem is that nearly six years after the September 11th attacks, many people believe that the U.S. is not much better prepared to react, respond and recover from a disaster. Katrina is only two years ago.

July 2, 2007


Fireworks Or Fortitude

Al-Qaeda Beheaded Their Children - We Must Ask Ourselves, What Is Worth Fighting For?

By Steve Schippert | July 2, 2007

In a village on the outskirts of Baqubah, the animals of al-Qaeda destroyed everything in sight and slaughtered that which possessed life, including the people and even the livestock. As Michael Yon describes in Bless the Beasts and Children, "The village had the apparent misfortune of being located near a main road—about 3.5 miles from FOB Warhorse—that al Qaeda liked to bomb. Al Qaeda had taken over the village." They did not just kill the villagers, they mutilated them and beheaded the children in a horror that stretched over time. The bodies were at various stages of decomposition and decay.

This is our enemy. He is in Iraq, his self declared 'central front' against America and the "Jews and Crusaders" named in al-Qaeda's 1998 declaration of war. He is in Pakistan. He is in Afghanistan. He is in Iran and Lebanon. He is in Indonesia and the Philippines. He is in Somalia, Algeria, Mali and Sudan. And he is in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Morocco, Canada and the United States. He is wherever concealment or hospitality provides.

And in Baqubah lies a glimpse of his savage legacy.

Yet, we are relentlessly implored, we have lost to him in Iraq and must therefor 'redeploy' to the disengaged climes of elsewhere, anywhere else but Iraq. With eloquence, we are bombarded with calls for a 'new direction' and a "political solution in Iraq," such as was uttered by one congressman in a Sunday talk show this week. And in place of truly defeating a ruthless enemy is disengagement under the guise of an intellectually aggressive sounding "diplomatic offensive."

What political or diplomatic solution, short of ceding these animals both territory and the subjugated for unimpeded horrors, quenches the bloodlust of the animals of al-Qaeda?

We are inundated with political armchair commanders who already declare "the surge" a failure. That the full complement of "the surge" has only been fully constituted for a matter of days is an apparently meaningless observation.

Yet, millions of Americans will trek safely and comfortably to "Fourth of July" celebrations across the country this week, with the meaning of the celebration, Independence Day, largely abandoned for the more readily recognizable pleasures of a day off and an evening looking toward the sky.

It is therefor sadly understandable that when the words in our National Anthem include "the rockets' red glare," many will associate that with beautiful displays of entertaining fireworks. When, in fact, those "rockets' red glare" written about so eloquently were the trails of destruction, seeking their targets and bringing death and carnage to those who were defending something worth fighting for in the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Yet for many, little today seems to be worth fighting for at all.

Perhaps it is because the beheaded children are not our own. Perhaps because the slaughtered share not our names. But underlying, among those who refuse to engage our enemy where he slaughters without grief or remorse, is a clear disassociation with the distant victims of such horrors. Comfortably concluded is that we somehow brought the unspeakable upon them. Present also is a refusal to acknowledge that the distant 'they' are 'we' in a greater war we did not declare and did not seek.

It must be acknowledged that, if we disengage and leave Iraq and its children to the hands of al-Qaeda, millions will suffer the consequences of our ultimate decision. For the unspeakable horrors of children beheaded will not be averted by our absence. Rather, they will be simply unchallenged and the only thing averted will be our eyes. Once again. And a relative few will then seek the distant disassociation that will allow them to sleep peaceably at night, purposefully disconnected from the consequences of their powerful actions by the necessity their collective conscience requires.

Our media ran with a false story of mass beheadings last week. And it was somehow perceivably meant to convey why we should disengage the carnage brought upon the Iraqi people, presumably by our own actions and effectively by the ever-evasive and generic 'sectarian strife and violence.'

Meanwhile, the true story of al-Qaeda's animals beheading the children of a Diyala province village is unlikely to receive the same immediate and mass exposure. Yet, unlike the unverified and ultimately false story of 20 beheaded in Salman Pak, the witnessed and recorded aftermath of the horror of beasts will likely net relative silence.

We must ask ourselves, collectively, "Why?"

Perhaps it is because a story of twenty beheaded in Salman Pak is difficult to associate with a specific group and therefor easily chalked up to 'sectarian strife,' which we presumably can do nothing about. Perhaps because the Baquba beheadings are attributed not to 'sectarian strife' but rather to the inhumane evil of a precisely identifiable and thus defeatable enemy. Perhaps.

But at the end of the day, we surely must ask ourselves, "What is worth fighting for?"

And we must conclude, now and for the foreseeable future, if "the rockets' red glare" truly should come to mean nothing more than the evening sparkle of annual fireworks over our pleasant picnics and parties.

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