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August 31, 2009

On Lessons not Learned

There seems to be a continuing disconnect between current time and what is now just eight years ago. The question must be asked, "Have we learned nothing?"

Time stamp, September 10, 2001: While the public record is difficult to track, it is cited that Attorney General John Ashcroft rejected the funding request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to hire additional Arabic translators. Further, it is also held that China was considered to pose a greater threat to U.S. security than al Qaeda (prior to September 11, 2001).

Today, as if a revelation we can read that we still have a lack of foreign language speakers and translators, and that our ability to understand Pashto, Dari and Urdu are non-existent.

Finding or training people to speak obscure languages is easier said than done.

The former officer, who asked not to be named because the information is classified, said intelligence agency representatives have visited polyglot locations such as Detroit to recruit native speakers.

"They were able to find many recent immigrants and first-generation U.S. citizens with needed language skills," he said. "But none of them could pass a background check."

Somehow, this continues to be a problem unsolved. Yet, the importance of finding a solution is no less compelling today, less than two weeks from the eighth commemoration of the attacks that changed our Nation, than it was then. Answers?

August 21, 2009

Post Inauguration Threats (V4) - Change Itself

It is not fed by media frenzy or the emotional outbursts of a few people at town hall meetings to debate "health care reform." Under the umbrella cry, "Change! Yes, We Can," the new Administration has from its earliest moments set off to change the tune and tenor of America as if turning a 35 rpm record (remember those) to the other side will bring more happiness when the music plays. There are people in this country who actually believe (or at least profess) that the Constitution of the United States needs to be drastically re-written to match the World as we know it today. Our Founding Fathers should be turning over in their graves right now at that thought.

While such drastic measures as a scrapping and re-writing of the Constitution are far from reality, we, the American people, are now on the edge of a new era of change and challenge.

My colleagues, when they wrote the masterful piece, Threats in the Age of Obama could not have predicted that one of the greatest threats posed by or to be experienced during the new Administration was the very change that scurried it into office, and the public debate that has ensued. After all, change is a double-edged sword that is sharp on both sides. People who have something to lose will argue that change is bad, and those who perceive that they have much to gain will argue that change is good.

No matter the side of the political spectrum, it is pretty clear that confusion still reigns and public sentiment is still in flux .

In the survey, 52% said they favor the government's creation of a new health insurance plan to compete with private insurers, and 46% are opposed. That is a big shift from late June, when 62% backed the notion and 33% opposed it.

Emotions are running quite high. And perhaps more of a concern is the blending of issues, with health care becoming a lightening rod, even for such other "Rights" issues such as the Second Amendment and more generally, states' rights.

The fact that protesters at President Obama's political events have begun showing up bearing arms may be disquieting, but it's perfectly legal -- and the Secret Service, charged with protecting the President, insists that it is not unduly alarmed by the development. That's because while the Second Amendment guarantees Americans the right to carry guns, federal law also gives the Secret Service the right to keep gun-toting folks away from the President.

Change, seemingly and often for change sake. But change in the context of this country involves gaining consensus, clear communication of the issues, compromise among the parties, and somewhere along the way, the cooperation of Congress. Real change takes time to accomplish. With the urge to change without the patience of time, grows the undercurrent of discontent. Generally, there is a return to the middle after dramatic swings to either direction.

August 16, 2009

The Difference

The government continues to shed cyber security seniors, but one leg of the cyber security stool has no problem gathering up talent:

RSA, The Security Division of EMC today announced that Mischel Kwon will join RSA's Worldwide Professional Services unit as Vice President of Public Sector Security Solutions. Ms. Kwon is the outgoing Director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) at the Department of Homeland Security.

A hint as to why can be found when you compare what she is leaving...

Kwon, who is the fourth US-CERT director in five years, was frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of authority to fulfill her mission,

...to what she is joining...

[Kwon] will also use her technical expertise to help develop the strategy and direction for RSA's products and security solutions.

(Responsibility + Authority + Resources) * Clear Mission = Good place to be with high probability of mission accomplishment. Take one factor out of the equation and the result is obvious. Improving cyber security on a national level at this rate? No chance. That's a shame because neither the pervasiveness of technology nor the threats are slowing down.

Cartels: More than Drugs & Violence

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, Mexico is among the top four countries of origin for U.S. petroleum, with 1,174,000 barrels per day YTD through May 2009. It should be noted that Canada and Mexico combined actually provide 44% more than Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. However, what is more disturbing, is the recent trend toward the cartels' involvement in illicit shipments of petroleum products across the U.S.-Mexican border (Los Zetas specifically) either directly or indirectly by providing "protection" for shipments. In April it was reported that Mexican authorities had seized $46 million from the Zetas that they say came from selling stolen oil.

Last week, it was reported that U.S. officials had returned $2.4 million in procedes from contraband oil shipments to Mexican authorities.

Smugglers have managed to slip at least $100 million in stolen oil products in tanker trucks past U.S. border inspectors in South Texas for years, raising questions about how the illicit trade flourished for so long.

Mexican investigators say stolen natural gas condensate, a gasoline-like liquid that forms in pipelines, crosses the border with falsified paperwork that claims it's something else.

U.S. authorities Friday declined to discuss why the discrepancies went undetected, saying it was part of the ongoing investigation into how smuggled petroleum ended up in U.S refineries.

The condensate is a by-product of oil pipeline transmission and production, and is later reintroduced by refineries into the heavy crude to make refining easier. While the Mexican petroleum company, PEMEX seems to have been victimized in this, a number of U.S. companies have been implicated in this smuggling operation.

It isn't too hard to understand that as security forces on both sides of the border attempt to quell the narco-violence and cross-border shipment of narcotics, that the cartels might turn to other sources of revenue. Of course, one final question should be asked. Will terrorists exploit these transportation channels?

Unconscionable Choices

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against First Choice Armor and Equipment, a supplier of bulletproof vests for selling defective products to law enforcement and military customers. Apparently, the company's product uses a fiber material called "Zylon." Problem is that Zylon degrades, especially in hot and humid conditions.

According to the Government Executive article First Choice (also mistakenly referred to in the text as "Second" Choice), was alerted to the problem following testing by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in which all of the Zylon-based ballistic vests failed.

While the Company's position is that the claims are without merit, after learning of the NIJ testing, the Justice Department investigation alleges that its founder and president took $5 million of company funds and through shell companies, purchased expensive automobiles and a private jet.

All other judgments aside, these types of unconscionable actions by one company make it considerably more difficult for other companies that play by the rules to do business with the government.

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