Friday, August 24, 2007

Viral Transmission of Information on Explosives

Here's another post from Douglas Farah that's well worth the time. The threat from terrorists is quickly evolving, allowing them to rapidly learn how to use deadly technologies more effectively.

One of the most alarming things about the new transnationalism among terrorist groups is the rapid ability to transfer knowledge and technology, both through the the Internet and through individual training.
A possible point of relevance: In a post last week I wondered if it's reasonable to conclude that travel overseas is necessary before a jihadist can become an operational threat. Farah's piece lends credence to the idea that, from a technological perspective, overseas in-person training is becoming less necessary.

In this case, the more significant reason for overseas travel seems to be to take the last steps toward ultimate allegiance to the cause - a finding which the recent NYPD report on the radicalization process also indicated.

Farah again:
[W]hat is making the current situation different is that, instead of having to travel and hold clandestine meetings to trade information and methods, much of the information can now be transferred in the blink of an eye or the touch of a computer key.

Military sources say that the switching from low tech Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to high tech back to low tech is mirrored almost in real time between insurgents in Iraq and those fighting in Afghanistan.

What's becoming clear is that the operational information that permits someone to learn the terrorist trade is becoming commoditized:
With decentralized networks, sort of like Napster in the music world or Skype in the computer/telecommunications world, once a technology is invented to solve a certain problem, it is put out there with no strings attached. People can take it, improve it, merge it, and it belongs to no one and everyone.

In reality we are fighting a viral network that can be disrupted, hurt, but which has a regenerative capacity that is only limited by the number of people wanting to wage jihad against us.
Farah's last point is instructive. Strategic success in the war against jihadists is determined by the number of people wanting to wage jihad, because it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a lid on the operational knowledge required to commit a terrorist act.

The operational knowledge for committing terrorism is becoming a commodity.

However, developing the motivation for committing terrorism is still entirely reliant on social networks. It is this aspect of the terrorist threat (and here I'm extending terrorism beyond jihadist terrorism) that provides a real vulnerability for the terrorist and a real opportunity for those seeking to prevent terrorism.

Final thought: Are we sharing information as well as the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

North American Plan for Avian & Pandemic Influenza

Courtesy of the State Department, we have a new North American Plan for Avian & Pandemic Influenza, which outlines a coordinated effort by Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to prepare for and respond to the threat of avian and/or pandemic flu.

Here's its stated purpose:

The North American Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza outlines how Canada, Mexico and the United States intend to work together to combat an outbreak of avian influenza or an influenza pandemic in North America.
That word "how" may be a bit misleading, as the plan is short on operational details. In many places it simply says the three countries will "develop a plan to do X." Some snags are inevitable during the development and implementation of the operational elements.

the plan does seem to be based on the right principles. The plan is explicitly collaborative - appropriately so, as influenza ignores borders:
Coordination among Canada, Mexico and the United States will be critical in the event of an avian influenza outbreak or pandemic. The Plan, therefore, describes the organizational emergency management frameworks in each of the three countries and how they intend to coordinate their activities.
Of course, this isn't happening in a vacuum. Each country already has plans to deal with pandemic flu, including:
The coordination among the three countries would be governed by:
It's nice to see the plan pay attention to cascading effects, particularly critical infrastructure:
While influenza cannot physically damage critical infrastructure, a pandemic could weaken it by diverting essential resources or removing essential personnel from the workplace. This Plan, therefore, extends beyond the health sector to include a coordinated approach to critical infrastructure protection, including the importance of business continuity planning and recognition of interdependencies among sectors.
The coordination would start at the top:
Canada, Mexico and the United States have established the senior level Coordinating Body on Avian and Pandemic Influenza to facilitate planning and preparedness ... This Coordinating Body is to serve as the contact group in the event of an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza or a novel strain of human influenza. It is to convene to support rapid and coordinated decision making, facilitate information sharing and address other coordination issues. Because the trilateral Coordinating Body includes senior officials from most of the key agencies that would be involved in supporting the response to an avian influenza outbreak or pandemic influenza, it is intended to play a significant role in promoting coordination among the three countries at senior official levels.
On the ground level, the plan calls for emergency response assistance in the event of a pandemic, as well as joint training in preparation for a potential pandemic:
Specifically, the authorities of Canada, Mexico and the United States intend to conduct trilateral or bilateral exercises to assess and strengthen their emergency response and contingency plans.
One of the more interesting parts of the plan is the communications strategy. The three countries intend to:
• Meet regularly on communications issues and seek opportunities to work together on communications planning and messaging;
• Establish procedures and pathways to exchange pre-release information during the event;
• Identify appropriate communications point persons from each country to maintain regular contact, share information, and identify and address emerging issues;
• Develop plans for communications coordination during the actual event of an outbreak of avian or pandemic influenza;
• Undertake the development of risk communications strategies to provide stakeholders with information on disease prevention, disease recognition, bio-security procedures and their responsibilities in the event of an incursion of avian or pandemic influenza;
Pursue the development of risk communications strategies in relation to pandemic influenza to help decision makers and individuals make well-informed decisions and take appropriate actions on health risk issues to help reduce mortality, morbidity and socio-economic disruption;
Develop key messages related to avian and pandemic influenza for the specific use of senior officials;
Pursue the development of communications messages for avian influenza and both pre-pandemic and pandemic periods. Messages would focus on core themes such as efforts to control spread of avian influenza, import/export measures, border measure, etc.;
The three countries plan to share information in a variety of relevant areas, including outbreaks in animals, surveillance, epidemiology, traits of the virus, and vaccine development and production.

Sharing personnel is a concern. The approach is rather encouraging - the plan is to expedite licensing recognition as well as create established liaison positions among public health personnel.
It is possible that a state or province will request additional health care personnel through its national government to respond to an emergency. Because each state or province in the United States and Canada, respectively, controls the licensure of health professionals, the national government should encourage its states or provinces to develop procedures for the exchange of licensed personnel that may include the temporary, rapid recognition of existing licenses or certificates. In the case of the Mexican states, the Federal Labor Law governs licensure. Thus, movement of personnel among and within the Mexican states and municipalities requires no additional procedures. Issues such as liability, indemnification and proper documentation necessary to work in the other countries should be addressed through relevant national, state or provincial authorities.

Canada, Mexico and the United States intend to establish protocols for the exchange of appropriate public health liaison officers. Each country, at the request of one of the other countries, should deploy a liaison officer to the public health department/agency of that country on an ongoing basis. The public health liaison officer should act as a liaison for the other national public health department/agency, facilitate communications among emergency operations centers (EOCs) and be a point of contact for the officer’s particular national public health agency.
The creation of dedicated liaisons should only help the collaborative efforts of the public health systems in the three countries. Dedicated liaisons will be able to create closer, more trusting relationships than ad hoc liaisons would be able to.

On critical infrastructure issues, the plan has the right intentions, if few details:
Where appropriate, governments should coordinate timely national, regional and local support among appropriate public and private sector resources.
This is a bit confusing:
The countries intend to develop mutually acceptable risk, vulnerability and interdependency assessment procedures and methodologies. The countries also intend to undertake joint and/or coordinated risk assessments.
Wait a minute. They're going to start by developing procedures and methodologies for evaluating the risk, vulnerability and interdependency of critical infrastructure sectors? And then they're going to conduct the risk assessments?

In the U.S., that work is supposed to be ongoing already, as part of the ongoing National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP). While I grant that there may be specific ways in which cross-border interdependencies differ from intra-border interdependencies, the general interrelationships among critical infrastructure sectors ought to be similar whether you're examining the infrastructure in a nation or a region. So - are we doing the same work twice? (See these two posts for background on the NIPP's status.) Another problem: The risk assessments aren't due to be complete until December 2009.

Even without consulting a thorough risk assessment, the plan identifies the food sector as a particularly obvious vulnerability:
Given the significant degree of North American integration, the agri-food sector is particularly vulnerable to disruptions in cross-border trade, as there is significant cross-border movement in key farm inputs, intermediate agricultural products and final food products.
Here's a half-a-loaf idea:
The countries should develop contact lists of all appropriate key critical infrastructure public and private sector partners in order to improve coordination among all partners domestically and internationally during a pandemic. These lists should be updated regularly, perhaps annually, and should also include clearly established communications roles and responsibilities.
That's a good start, but the simple fact of the list isn't going to make collaboration better. To the contrary, the existence of the list may provide a false sense of security unless the key critical infrastructure partners actually do some on-the-ground coordination. To its credit the plan encourages this but also seems to equivocate on the idea, as the critical infrastructure owners are mostly private sector entities which can't be easily co-opted into the international plan. Here's some rather wishy-washy language for you:
To the best of their abilities, the three countries are to endeavor to include an array of relevant public and private sector critical infrastructure partners and appropriate public health officials in their pandemic preparedness training and exercises to help uncover potential weaknesses in established systems and to forge bonds among personnel.
That last bolded bit is good - it is a good reason to succeed in this effort. But the first two bolded bits already seem to indicate some backtracking in case the private sector partners don't want to play along.

As I said earlier, the plan does seem to have the right idea regarding coordinated effort. But it's easy to have the right idea at the outset of a project. When you get down to the operational level, that's the real test. Most of the tasks required by the plan are due to be completed within the next 12-18 months, and they'll give a better idea of the operational details. We'll see where it goes from here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Excellent Questions, Good Responses

At The Logbook, Justin asks an excellent question - one I hadn't seen asked before - regarding the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

The bridge disaster was bad enough; but the threat can multiply quickly in the event of cascading failures. Intentional actors such as terrorists will seek to create cascading failures, so accounting for them is an essential element of preparedness.

Fortunately, emergency managers in Minneapolis were prepared for a number of contingencies that presented themselves in the bridge collapse - in some cases, the plans had recently been completed:

Before the bridge fell:

  • The state practiced snap assembly of an emergency operations center, where agencies could quickly coordinate their immediate response to a tragedy.
  • Minneapolis studied where to place massive amounts of debris in a disaster.
  • Most local law enforcement officials had updated radio systems, allowing them to talk to each other in emergencies.
  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation developed traffic plans in case a bridge failed.

  • "We had a state bridge, in a county river, between two banks of a city. ... But we didn't have one problem with any of these issues, because we knew who was in charge of the assets," said Rocco Forte, Minneapolis emergency preparedness director.

    Rescuers also could talk to each other on emergency radios. ... Carver, Anoka and Hennepin counties' emergency responders all use new-generation 800 MHz radios.

    The planning and preparations also paid off in almost eerily specific ways.

    "We do have a plan for if a bridge goes down. Our folks didn't have to sit there and say: 'OK, what are we going to do?' We had a plan in place. That's why it could happen as quickly as it did," Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau said.

    And Minneapolis officials were trained and equipped to deal with a structural collapse. In 2002, city, county and state officials realized they had no one ready to deal with a massive building collapse. "It was a huge gap to have identified," said Tim Turnbull, director of emergency preparedness for Hennepin County. ... The city of Minneapolis secured about $3.5 million for training and equipping a collapsed-structure team.
    There's simply no substitute for preparedness - as this well-written post from ThreatsWatch points out. The crux of the argument:
    Much more important than planning, preparedness is about setting up social structures so that people fall into doing something sensible when things go wrong.

    It really doesn’t matter what disaster scenario you’re testing. The real disaster won’t be like the test, regardless of what you do, so just pick one and go.

    National Bio-Surveillance System Falls Short

    Over at In Case of Emergency, Jimmy Jazz walks us through the recent DHS Inspector General's report on the National Bio-Surveillance Integration System (NBIS). It's not a pretty sight. The DHS OIG concludes that:

    NBIS, a key element of DHS’ bio-protection program, is falling short of its objectives. Specifically, DHS has not provided consistent leadership and staff support to ensure successful execution of the NBIS program.
    Jimmy summarizes the problem:
    To date, there is no coordinated effort to coalesce the data gathered into anything resembling intelligence - never mind injecting actual intelligence reports into the soup that is bio-surveillance.
    The challenge of creating and/or integrating information sharing systems continues to be an ongoing problem - from HSIN to fusion centers to the NBIS.

    Fighting Leaderless Networks

    Here's a nice post from Douglas Farah on the increasing phenomenon of decentralized, leaderless networks such as the "new" al Qaeda or revamped organized crime networks. Farah argues that a new strategy is required for fighting these networks. A few key paragraphs:

    As a starfish can reconstitute itself out of almost any part that is severed, and has no real, centralized brain but a series of nerve impulses that guide its movements, so terrorist groups and criminal groups often thrive when deprived of centralized leadership.

    This leads to deeply-troubling scenarios, because so much emphasis, both here and abroad, has focused on decapitating the leadership, rather than dealing with the network as a network.

    Decapitation is often the key strategic objective, because our entire system is geared toward fighting organizations with a strict hierarchy, as our organizations are.

    Successfully countering these groups and their growing reach will require a radical new assessment of both strategy and tactics in the military, intelligence community and law enforcement. But that will require a willingness to dump old assumptions and paradigms, something that has not really happened since 9-11.
    Random thoughts:

    1. Perhaps the network-vs-network element of the current anti-al Qaeda strategy in Iraq (i.e., cooperating with local tribes and former insurgent groups) is one reason for its effectiveness, as compared to former tactical approaches.

    2. From a local homeland security perspective, what are the active local networks that could be used to counter the terrorist threat? What do we know about "our turf" that can be turned to strategic or tactical advantage?

    3. What potential local networks do not exist yet?

    4. What local networks could be made more effective?

    Other Views on the NYPD Report

    In a follow-up to last week's post about the NYPD report on jihadist radicalization, today I did a quick review of what others are saying about the report. I've tried to avoid the shallow analyses and partisan sniping that the report has generated and focus on some substantive comments from various corners:

    TPM Muckraker argues that the radicalization process described by the NYPD is too generic to be of much practical value:

    [T]he process is itself a generic description of the process of joining any identity-oriented group. al-Qaeda adherents or al-Qaeda-inspired radicals are a maddeningly diverse bunch, extending in background from former high-tech engineers to Mary Kay cosmetics representatives to former metalheads. They can be second-generation U.S. or European Muslims, or converts.

    As a result, describing patterns of "pre-jihadist" behavior inclines towards the generic, making it difficult to know what to do with the information.
    Point acknowledged. There are two ways to deal with this, as I see it:

    1. To locate potential emerging jihadist radicals, make sure you've got trustworthy contacts within the local Muslim community. (More on this below.) Unlike other major battles that law enforcement must fight (e.g., against organized crime, drug gangs, etc.) the fight against jihadist radicalization includes an element that can potentially serve as a major advantage: The presence of trustworthy people who may be in close proximity to potential jihadist radicals. It's worth remembering that as radicalization proceeds, jihadists tend to leave the mosque. They want to separate themselves from our potential allies within the Muslim community, who can help guard against emerging radicalism. The challenge for homeland security is developing a trusting relationship, often across religious and ethnic boundaries. It can be done, however.

    2. Watch for precursor crimes that emerging terrorists tend to commit. The commission of these crimes differentiates potential terrorists from other identity-oriented groups.

    Columnist Peggy Noonan argues that we make it easy for potential terrorists to see us as "bad":
    The only thing I'd add is that all modern young people come from two environments. The first is the immediate family, which is human and therefore by definition imperfect, sometimes to a serious and destructive degree. The other is the broader culture in which we all live, and which includes everything from schools to the neighborhood to the media. It's not a new thing to say but it's still true that the latter, which is more powerful than ever, is wholly devoted to the material. People are money winners or luxury item enjoyers. They just want stuff. It is soulless.

    The view we show of life to ourselves, and to whatever lost young men are watching, is not broad and inspiriting. It is limited and dispiriting. It is every man for himself.

    We make it too easy for those who want to hate us to hate us. We make ourselves look bad in our media, which helps future jihadists think that they must, by hating us, be good.
    Even if Noonan is right that the root of the problem is a "soulless" culture, this is such a broad take on the problem that it's hard to know what to do with it. Such a broad, sweeping problem would require a broad, sweeping solution.

    On the local level, I suppose it's possible to do everything we can as individuals to show that American culture is not soulless. Most people already do that every day. I suppose it's always good to remind ourselves to be good, though.

    Senator Joseph Lieberman (I - CT) issued a statement which mostly consisted of bland platitudes. But I though this particular bland platitude was worth repeating:
    The report underscores the critical role of local law enforcement in proactive efforts to find the terrorists before they strike.
    I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't consider the reaction from major American Muslim organizations; after all, this is a report about the potential growth of jihadism in the U.S. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the report would cast suspicion on all Muslims:
    [A] new NYPD report on "radicalization" may result in all U.S. Muslims being viewed with suspicion.

    "Whatever one thinks of the analysis contained in the report, its sweeping generalizations and mixing of unrelated elements may serve to cast a pall of suspicion over the entire American Muslim community."
    The Muslim Public Affairs council added:
    The report and comments made by NYPD officials use overly broad language to describe average Muslim American young people who they say could pose a threat. ... This generalization could potentially lead to further isolation of youth who will feel like they are being singled out due to their racial or religious background.
    Meanwhile, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) commended the report and criticized the reaction of CAIR and MPAC, arguing that:
    Understanding the ideological footprints which create a radicalized Islamist is vitally necessary in detecting and preventing future tragedies from occurring. Vigilance and caution is far different from blanket suspicion.
    My take: If everyone acts incredibly dumb about this, then CAIR and MPAC could be right. If law enforcement agencies do in fact read the report as MPAC reads it (i.e., as a direction to "be on the lookout for Arab males between the ages of 18-35") then they'll cast a net that's far too broad and in the end they'll end up alienating the very people who could be helpful allies in this ideological struggle.

    If, however, everyone is smart about it, then no such scenario needs to occur. Jihadist-inspired terrorism is a fact, and the U.S. is vulnerable to it (New York in particular). It is perfectly reasonable for the NYPD to examine this phenomenon and its roots - in fact it would be a dereliction of duty for the NYPD not to examine it. Furthermore the NYPD is right to point out that you can't predict where a jihadist will come from. The profile of jihadists is incredibly diverse. The stories of John Walker Lindh and Adam Gadahn are more than enough evidence of that.

    I'll go out on a fairly sturdy limb and say that the average U.S. police officer does not have a deep, highly sophisticated understanding of Islamic theology and/or a very intimate familiarity with the Muslim community in their jurisdiction. To avoid counterproductive, "broad brush" anti-terrorism efforts, they need better information. They need to understand the subtleties that may indicate cells of jihadism within the Muslim community. The best way to gain this understanding is through sharing information with the Muslim community itself.

    If both law enforcement and American Muslims are smart, they'll collaborate in the interest of a common goal: preventing radicalization and jihadism in the U.S. If neither makes the attempt, then an important opportunity will be missed.

    Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    NYPD Report on Homegrown Terrorism

    The NYPD Intelligence Division has released a major new report on homegrown terrorism, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. Specifically, the report focuses on the process by which seemingly ordinary citizens become radicalized as jihadists.

    The report has been briefly covered elsewhere. Here, I'll try to dig a bit deeper and connect it to some other sources on the radicalization and recruitment processes.

    A few initial thoughts:

    1. The NYPD study spends virtually all of its energy examining the activities of terrorists during the radicalization process - the phases during which radicals are recruited, become committed to the cause, and eventually go operational. As I've emphasized before, I think that the recruiting and radicalization process are absolutely the place to undertake counterterrorist activities. The earlier phases present the best opportunities for detecting existing radicals and for preventing the radicalization of potential recruits. The report itself says:

    Where once we would have defined the initial indicator of the threat at the point where a terrorist or group of terrorists would actually plan an attack, we have now shifted our focus to a much earlier point—a point where we believe the potential terrorist or group of terrorists begin and progress through a process of radicalization.
    2. From a theoretical perspective, the study does not really provide much new insight into the radicalization process. The four-step process described in the NYPD study (Pre-Radicalization, Self-Identification, Indoctrination, Jihadization) has been described elsewhere, albeit in different terms. For example, see the State Department's recent e-journal Countering the Terrorist Mentality, this chapter of the McGraw-Hill Homeland Security Handbook, or the excellent book Unconquerable Nation by Brian Michael Jenkins, who also participated in the creation of the NYPD report.) However, the NYPD study still has great value in that it describes how this process has played out in the real world, in 11 different cases of jihadism, both inside the US and in other Western countries.

    In other words, the study bridges the gap between theory and practice. As such, it provides a useful blueprint for law enforcement and other agencies (such as the FDNY) who seek to prevent future terrorist activities.

    3. The title of the NYPD report, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat" strikes me a a misnomer, since the report focuses exclusively on jihadist radicalism. Generally speaking, the process of radicalization, as well as the attendant threat of terrorism, applies to other ideologies as well (e.g., the anti-government ideology of Timothy McVeigh).

    So ... on to the review.

    The guts of the NYPD report is as follows. If you read nothing else of this bloated post, read this:
    An assessment of the various reported models of radicalization leads to the conclusion
    that the radicalization process is composed of four distinct phases:

    • Stage 1: Pre-Radicalization • Stage 2: Self-Identification • Stage 3: Indoctrination • Stage 4: Jihadization

    o Each of these phases is unique and has specific signatures
    o All individuals who begin this process do not necessarily pass through all the stages
    o Many stop or abandon this process at different points
    o Although this model is sequential, individuals do not always follow a perfectly linear progression
    o Individuals who do pass through this entire process are quite likely to be involved in the planning or implementation of a terrorist act
    Significantly, NYPD makes an important note which I've argued before: There are "markers" to the radicalization process, and these present a significant vulnerability for potential terrorists:
    The four stages of the radicalization process, each with its distinct set of indicators and signatures, are clearly evident in each of the nearly one dozen terrorist-related case studies reviewed in this report.

    o In spite of the differences in both circumstances and environment in each of the cases, there is a remarkable consistency in the behaviors and trajectory of each of the plots across all the stages.
    o This consistency provides a tool for predictability.
    I'll take a closer look at the four stages suggested by the NYPD and then offer some insights into where we might go from here.


    The NYPD points out that, for the most part, jihadists are self-selected. They move voluntarily into the radicalization process. (A point that was also made by Brian Michael Jenkins in his April testimony before Congress.) There are no specific triggers that spur the start of the radicalization process:
    [T]he transformation of a Western-based individual to a terrorist is not triggered by oppression, suffering, revenge, or desperation. Rather, it is a phenomenon that occurs because the individual is looking for an identity and a cause and unfortunately, often finds them in the extremist Islam.

    There is no useful profile to assist law enforcement or intelligence to predict who will follow this trajectory of radicalization. Rather, the individuals who take this course begin as “unremarkable” from various walks of life.
    It's been argued before that there is "no profile" for a jihadist, but I prefer the NYPD language - that there's "no useful profile." It's possible to create a profile, using the broad outlines that NYPD and others have suggested. Jihadist recruits do tend to be young males who are searching for something that will give their life meaning. But since that describes almost every male in the world between the ages of - say - 15 and 25, it's not particularly useful as a predictive model.
    This [Salafist] ideology is proliferating in Western democracies at a logarithmic rate. The Internet, certain Salafi-based NGO’s (non-governmental organizations), extremist sermons /study groups, Salafi literature, jihadi videotapes, extremist - sponsored trips to radical madrassas and militant training camps abroad have served as “extremist incubators” for young, susceptible Muslims -- especially ones living in diaspora communities in the West.

    The Internet is a driver and enabler for the process of radicalization.

    The radicalization process is accelerating in terms of how long it takes and the individuals are continuing to get younger. [JB: Trends that have also been noted in Britain.] Moreover, with the higher risks associated with heading down this pathway, individuals will seek to conceal their actions earlier, making intelligence and law enforcement’s job even more difficult.

    Individuals generally appear to begin the radicalization process on their own. Invariably, as they progress through the stages of radicalization they seek like-minded individuals. This leads to the creation of groups or clusters. These clusters appear almost essential to progressing to the Jihadization stage—the critical stage that leads to a terrorist act.
    The last paragraph above is vital: Radicalization is a social process. Groups of like-minded people are almost always involved.

    There are very few Ted Kacynski's out there - loners who are drawn into radical beliefs and progress on their own through the process of becoming operational terrorists.

    This is a vulnerability for terrorists. They must cluster together. They must have safe spaces. They must, at some point, share their radical beliefs with one another. As they go operational, they must maintain security.

    There is not only an actual vulnerability in all of these social activities; there is also a strong perception of vulnerability. Terrorists have to look over their shoulders. Even the perception of a threat can be a strong de-motivating factor to them, as the anxieties of the Fort Dix plotters suggest.

    And even top al Qaeda strategists recognize the vulnerability of operations if the participants are not fully indoctrinated into the ideology.

    As a social process, radicalization relies on leaders:
    Although there are many groups or clusters of individuals that are on the path of radicalization, each group needs certain archetypes to evolve from just being a “bunch of guys” to an operational terrorist cell. All eleven case studies had a “spiritual sanctioner” who provides the justification for jihad—a justification that is especially essential for the suicide terrorist [as well as] an “operational leader” who is essential as the group decides to conduct a terrorist act--organizing, controlling and keeping the group focused and its motivation high.

    The sanctioner is responsible for developing the “Us-versus-Them/War on Islam” worldview among the group that provides the moral justification for jihad. The sanctioner is often a “self-taught” Islamic scholar and will spend countless hours providing a “cut-and-paste” version of Islam which radicalizes his followers. In many cases, the sanctioner is not involved in any operational planning but is vital in creating the jihadi mindset. The role of this “spiritual sanctioner” cannot be underestimated because “if an individual respects an Islamic scholar and that scholar tells him that fighting in the jihad is a religious duty and the only way to please God, the advice can have an enormous effect on choices.”
    The "self-taught" nature of the sanctioner is a vulnerability. Islam does not typically encourage freelancing where theology is concerned, which can help to undermine the perceived religious justification for jihadism. Of course, to adopt this strategy will imply the development of a relationship with local, respected Muslim imams.

    Without a solid foundation in ideology, the terrorist project can crumble:
    Ideology is the bedrock and catalyst for radicalization. It defines the conflict, guides movements, identifies the issues, drives recruitment, and is the basis for action.
    See also the recent testimony by Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington U, who argued that "extremists have woven an effective tale of an imaginary “clash of civilizations.” The extremists’ compelling “call to action” based partly on myths and falsehoods begs for the development of an effective counter-narrative that forcefully refutes and responds to the extremists’ own.

    Of course, along with ideological grounding there are more practical concerns. Since radicalization is a social process, jihadists need physical spaces in which to operate:

    Critically important to the process of radicalization are the different venues that provide the extremist fodder or fuel for radicalizing—venues, to which we refer to as “radicalization incubators.”

    Generally these locations, which together comprise the radical subculture of a community, are rife with extremist rhetoric. Though the locations can be mosques, more likely incubators include cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores. While it is difficult to predict who will radicalize, these nodes are likely places where like-minded individuals will congregate as they move through the radicalization process. The Internet, with its thousands of extremist websites and chat-rooms, is a virtual incubator of its own. In fact, many of the extremists began their radical conversion while researching or just surfing in the cyber world.
    The existence of these "incubators" can facilitate the transition from peaceful, pre-radicalized citizen to self-identified jihadist.

    Self-Identification Phase

    As indicated before, potential jihadists are typically seeking a cause - something to give meaning to their lives. If they find a cause and meaning in a radical group, they are susceptible to radicalization themselves:
    Individuals most vulnerable to experiencing this phase are often those who are at a crossroad in life—those who are trying to establish an identity, or a direction, while seeking approval and validation for the path taken.

    Ultimately the individual is alienated from his former life and affiliates with like-minded individuals, who, via small group dynamics, strengthen his dedication to Salafi Islam. Importantly, this phase is characterized by a self-selection process by which individuals first join a group that then becomes radicalized.

    These crises often compel these individuals to seek out other like-minded individuals, who may be experiencing the same inner conflict. Subsequently, clusters of like-minded individuals begin to form, usually around social circles that germinate within the extremist incubators.
    It should be noted that this process of self-identification is not unique to the jihadist enterprise. Young people want to join something that gives structure and meaning to their lives.

    In a healthy environment, young people will have a wide range of positive choices to do so. These may be affiliated with churches, schools, civic organizations, the military, a trade or technical profession - just about anything.

    But the negative side, young people may find meaning and support within gangs, criminal organizations, or even terrorist organizations. This suggests that it is vital to ensure that young people are exposed to a wide range of positive choices.


    As suggested by the al Qaeda doctrine referred to above, it is essential for jihadists to entirely accept the ideology. This occurs during the Indoctrination stage.
    Indoctrination is the stage in which an individual progressively intensifies his beliefs, wholly adopts jihadi-Salafi ideology and concludes, without question, that the conditions and circumstances exist where action is required to support and further the Salafist cause.

    The key aspect of this stage is the acceptance of a religious-political worldview that justifies, legitimizes, encourages, or supports violence against anything kufr, or un-Islamic, including the West, its citizens, its allies, or other Muslims whose opinions are contrary to the extremist agenda. In effect, as the individuals become indoctrinated, they re-define their direction in life.
    NYPD suggests that, for jihadists, one of the key indicators of this stage is ironically:
    Withdrawal from the Mosque. As individuals begin to conceive militant jihad as an objective, they retreat from the mosque—the mosque that not only served as an extremist incubator for their formative years in becoming radicalized but also and often as the place where these individuals met their like-minded cohorts. This withdrawal is sometimes provoked by the fact that the mosque no longer serves the individual’s radicalization needs. In other words, the individual’s level of extremism surpasses that of the mosque.
    This suggests that a trusting relationship with the local imam may be helpful in identifying potential radicals.


    During the final phase, Jihadization:
    [M]embers of the cluster accept their individual duty to participate in jihad and self-designate themselves as holy warriors or mujahedeen.
    The group is more important, but also harder to bust.
    By the jihadization phase, small group dynamics play a much more prominent role. While during the earlier stages, the group members may have been only acquaintances, meeting each other in Salafi chat rooms, at university or simply by being friends, by the jihadization phase the group has solidified and hardened. Individuals see themselves as part a movement and group loyalty becomes paramount above all other relationships.
    Once indoctrination is complete, the Jihadization stage may occur quickly. And for one or more members of the group, overseas travel may be a trigger:
    It is critical to note that while the other stages of radicalization may take place, gradually, over two to three years, the jihadization stage—the stage which defines the actual attack--can occur quickly, and with very little warning. In some cases, this stage runs its course in as little as a couple of weeks. The jihadization stage contains many substages, all of which usually occur, but not necessarily sequentially. Each of these substages is characterized by a unique set of indicator(s).

    • Accepting Jihad/Decision to Commit Jihad. As each group member accepts jihad, they often look abroad--seeking that one trigger that will lead to their final acceptance of jihad or for others an opportunity to actually conduct jihad.

    Frequently, but not always, one or more members of a particular Western-based cluster travels abroad. This travel often follows or contributes to a member’s decision to commit jihad. The travel is more often than not to a militant training camp—a camp usually in a country or region that is regarded as a field of jihad.
    There are also more mundane matters in going operational. All of these present opportunities for detection and intervention:
    Prior to launching the attack, many of these clusters have participated in some form of group training and preparation to include:

    “Outward Bound”-like Activities. Activities such as camping, white-water rafting, paintball games, target shooting, and even outdoor simulations of military-like maneuvers have been popular among these groups once they reach this stage of radicalization.

    Attack Planning. Once a cluster or group decides to conduct an attack, they begin conducting research while holding secretive tactical group discussions on targets, the mode of attack, the operational scenario (date, time, and hour), and the role of each group member. This sub-stage includes several indicators such as:

    o Reconnaissance/Surveillance. Drawing maps, videotaping targets, and staking out target areas will invariably be conducted in the run-up to any attack.

    o Acquiring Materiel/Developing the Device. The majority of the devices used or that were being planned to be used in the homegrown plots were either commercially available or reasonably obtainable. Fertilizer-based devices, commercial explosives, cell phones and explosive ignition devices have all been acquired with relative ease.

    That said, the acquisition of the materiel and the development of the weapon has on occasion been associated with low-end criminal activity and almost always suspicious activity such as: cooking chemicals to form explosives in bathtubs, purchasing large amounts of any one chemical or material, outfitting/modifying backpacks, buying TNT and wiring watches as detonators.
    If the signs of radicalization are not discovered by this time, it's essentially too late:
    The ultimate stage of jihadization is, of course, the actual attack. By this time, all the potential preemptive indicators have expired. The terrorists have attained both intention and capability and the chances for law enforcement and intelligence thwarting or preventing an attack is extremely low.
    This is the same point I made in this post regarding the London and Glasgow bombings.

    Strategies for Addressing the Radicalization Process

    What to do about the radicalization process, then? The challenges are clear:
    Identifying whether an individual is being radicalized is hard to detect, especially in the early stages.

    The individuals are not on the law enforcement radar. Most have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble. Other than some commonalities in age and religion, individuals undergoing radicalization appear as “ordinary” citizens, who look, act, talk, and walk like everyone around them. In fact, in the United Kingdom, it is precisely those “ordinary” middle class university students who are sought after by local extremists because they are “clean skins”.

    In the early stages of their radicalization, these individuals rarely travel, are not participating in any kind of militant activity, yet they are slowly building the mindset, intention, and commitment to conduct jihad.

    As evidenced by all eleven case studies these groups, or clusters of extremists:

    Act autonomously, can radicalize quickly, and often are made up of individuals, who on the surface, appear to be well-integrated into society.

    Are not “name brand” terrorists or part of any known terrorist group. For the most part, they have little or no links to known militant groups or actors. Rather they are like-minded individuals who spend time together in clusters organized, originally, by previously established social network links.

    Are not crime syndicates and therefore, applying organized crime strategies will fail.
    The NYPD report does not delve deeply into potential solutions, but instead provides a template for understanding how solutions may be developed.

    In his introduction to the NYPD report, RAND's Brian Michael Jenkins also contextualizes the challenge for law enforcement:
    [E]fforts should be made to enhance the intelligence capabilities of local police, who through community policing, routine criminal investigations, or dedicated intelligence operations may be best positioned to uncover future terrorist plots. Of these, continued intelligence operations are the most important. Radicalization makes little noise. It borders on areas protected by the First and Fourth Amendments. It takes place over a long period of time. It therefore does not lend itself to a traditional criminal investigations approach.
    NYPD notes that signs of radicalization are often subtle:
    The subtle and non-criminal nature of the behaviors involved in the process of radicalization makes it difficult to identify or even monitor from a law enforcement standpoint. Taken in isolation, individual behaviors can be seen as innocuous; however, when seen as part of the continuum of the radicalization process, their significance becomes more important. Considering the sequencing of these behaviors and the need to identify those entering this process at the earliest possible stage makes intelligence the critical tool in helping to thwart an attack or even prevent the planning of future plots.
    In the US cases examined by NYPD, it was not always even readily apparent that radicalization had occurred:
    The three U.S.-based cases provided fewer examples of signature activities during the stages and sub-stages of the radicalization process than the five foreign examples. The lack of rich details on these U.S. cases, coupled with the fact that they were disrupted at a relatively early stage, obscured the fact that radicalization had occurred.
    Although NYPD does not provide a blueprint for intervention, others have suggested potential approaches to countering the radicalization process. I think there's a nice dovetail between the radicalization process identified by NYPD and the solution set offered by the State Department in Countering the Terrorist Mentality:
    To make such active measures effective, the three strategic components of the terrorist threat that must be neutralized are leaders, safe havens, and underlying conditions.
    Addressing underlying conditions will affect the Pre-Radicalization stage. Disrupting the perceived security of safe havens will frustrate the Self-Identification and Indoctrination stages. Identifying and neutralizing leaders will deter action during the Indoctrination and Jihadization stages.

    Another preventive approach is the "Capone Strategy" I've discussed before, which exploits the common vulnerability of terrorists: the commission of "precursor crimes." (See this CRS report for more on precursor crimes.)

    From a broader perspective, it is important to recognize that "top-down" approaches are likely to be ineffective. Per the previously cited testimony by Frank Cilluffo:
    [T]he solution sets for the problem under discussion must emanate principally from the grassroots, from local communities, their leaders and the citizens that reside there. ... law enforcement at the local level should develop new relationships and deepen existing ones within Muslim communities as local figures are best placed to identify radicalization at its earliest stages.
    There is, of course, a delicate balance to be maintained here, as Jenkins alluded to when he discussed First and Fourth Amendment concerns. The United States cannot become a police state. The nation was founded on the then-radical principle that if people are given liberty, they can be generally counted upon to do the right thing. In short, we are a nation built on trust. We cannot jeopardize that principle. As Frank Cilluffo and 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton argued on behalf of the Future of Terrorism Task Force:
    Trust is the most valuable currency we have in this battle because trust underpins all counterterrorism tools (e.g., military, diplomatic/policy, legal, economic and covert action).
    All things considered, the NYPD report is an excellent addition to the literature that can help local homeland security professionals develop a strategy to prepare for and prevent terrorism.

    Cross-posted in IPS Blogs at the Institute for Preventive Strategies.

    Got Infrastructure?

    A thought regarding the continued dust-up in New York over the Buckeye Pipeline:

    "Sections of this pipeline are located in areas not visible to routine police and security patrols," Rasinya said in his testimony to representatives of the state Senate and the Police Department, the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, the American Red Cross and local Civilian Emergency Response Teams.

    Right now, the pipeline is protected only by a broken Cyclone fence that is easy to break through or hop over.
    Putting aside the question of the seriousness of this particular plot, the attention on the pipeline raises a legitimate question for local emergency preparedness and response personnel:

    What are the critical infrastructure elements in your community?

    The US is criss-crossed with critical infrastructure networks. Besides fuel and natural gas pipelines, are there key nodes in the electric grid? Key chokepoints in the transportation and shipping network (e.g., bridges, tunnels, distribution centers)? Telecommunications hubs? Aqueducts? Financial centers?

    These questions apply to all-hazards preparedness, not just terrorism preparation and prevention. Knowing the critical infrastructure nodes translates into better opportunities for prevention, as well as improved response and recovery.

    U.S. Jihadists: Passport Required?

    The following snippet from Chris Heffelfinger's recent piece in Terrorism Monitor, "Behind the Indoctrination and Training of American Jihadis," caught my eye:

    After conducting numerous case studies at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, research has demonstrated a pattern for radicalization among Americans who embrace jihad, whether foreign or U.S. born. The cases of the Lackawanna Six, the Portland Seven, the Virginia Jihad Group, as well as John Walker Lindh, Adam Gadahn and others demonstrate the need to travel overseas to receive training. In all of the above cases, the individuals traveled, or attempted to travel, to Pakistan or Afghanistan.
    Yes ... but past performance does not necessarily indicate future results.

    Heffelfinger seems to be arguing that traveling and training overseas are necessary preconditions for jihadist radicalization among Americans.

    While I acknowledge that the U.S. terrorism suspects who have lacked overseas training have been more aspirational than operational, it seems premature to conclude that in the absence of overseas training, radicalization and/or technical proficiency in terrorist tactics is not possible.

    We are a nation awash in potential targets and the materials necessary to carry out a terrorist act. And while there is a strong social element to terrorist indoctrination, it certainly seems to be possible that a group of like-minded individuals could spur one another down the path to jihadism.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2007

    Disaster Communication and New Technologies

    A couple of notes regarding communication technologies:

    Via Jimmy Jazz, we learn that the LA Fire Department is using Twitter to provide quick updates and information - mostly responses to accidents, fires, etc., but also new postings on the LAFD blog.

    Via GovTech, we learn that Minneapolis' principal WiFi consultant discovered a number of new uses for the WiFi network during the recent bridge collapse:

    As the event unfolded, a number of immediate potential uses of the wireless network became apparent. They included
    • opening an alternate path to electronic communication and information for city personnel;
    • extending the Wi-Fi network infrastructure to fully blanket the scene of the bridge collapse for emergency personnel onsite connectivity;
    • implementing live multiple perspective camera coverage of the scene for EOC and Command Post uses;
    • and providing community links to city of Minneapolis resources, hospital emergency coordination units, state of Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) traffic routing information, Red Cross Blood Bank collection points, and local and national news outlets.
    As communication technologies proliferate, local agencies will have an ever-increasing range of communication options that may be used in an emergency situation. This also means that, if communications are to be coordinated and effective, plans will have to be strategic and constantly reviewed.

    Pandemic Preparedness and Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions

    The public health folks at Effect Measure do their usual good job as they analyze a study (subscription only) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which Time also covered.

    The JAMA study examined the effectiveness of various non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in mitigating the spread of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. For local communities, examining such a study is useful in light of the fact that the CDC's interim Community Flu Planning Guide emphasizes the early, layered, targeted use of non-pharmaceutical interventions (also see this post).

    In examining the JAMA study, Effect Measure finds:

    They classified the non pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) into three broad categories: school closures; bans on public gatherings; isolation and quarantine and looked at timing and timeliness as well as combinations of NPI categories for effects on excess mortality, height of epidemic peak and timing of epidemic peak, using multivariate analysis.

    What is quite clear from the analysis ... is that information about when, how long and in what combination NPIs were used in relation to the onset of the epidemic in a city explains a great deal of the variation in epidemic experience.

    The analysis showed that combinations were more effective than single interventions.
    Short answer: Layered interventions work.
    The bottom line is that the earlier a city acts and the more coordinated and multifaceted its response the better off it seemed to be -- in general. The data certainly do not demonstrate that quarantine itself is effective -- they are not able to make that statement. Cities that acted using isolation and quarantine did seem to do better, especially if in combination with other measures, but we don't know the effectiveness of either separately or in combination since they were not reported or analyzed separately in the paper.

    What these data do seem to establish is that the better prepared and organized a community is, the better off it will be. And the more a community ignores and denies a problem, the worse off it will be. This is the real message, not that "quarantines work."
    There is nothing surprising in learning that preparation is critical for an effective, coordinated response. It's always good to review empirical data, however.

    Wednesday, August 08, 2007

    More NRF: The Fur Flies

    Today's Washington Post reports on some significant backlash regarding the new, draft National Response Framework (NRF) that I mentioned a couple of days ago:

    A decision by the Bush administration to rewrite in secret the nation's emergency response blueprint has angered state and local emergency officials ...

    State and local officials in charge of responding to disasters say that their input in shaping the National Response Plan was ignored in recent months by senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials ...

    "In my 19 years in emergency management, I have never experienced a more polarized environment between state and federal government," said Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma's emergency management chief and president of a national association of state emergency managers.

    Bruce Baughman, Ashwood's predecessor as president of the National Emergency Management Association and a 32-year veteran of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that a draft of the revised plan released to state officials last week marks a step backward because its authors did not set requirements or consult with field operators nationwide who will use it to request federal aid, adjust state and county plans, and train workers.

    "Where's the beef?" asked Baughman, who is Alabama's emergency management chief. "I don't have any problems with a framework . . . but it's not a plan . . . and it's not national. Who are we fooling here?"

    Collaboration - real collaboration - always ought to be an exercise in mutual interest and trust. Has the collaborative process guiding the NRP revision been based on this principle - or has it been a more formal, perfunctory exercise?

    In this kind of process with multiple players at multiple levels, you have to expect some bureaucratic battles - it's not possible to create a plan that will please everyone, after all - but the acrimony between DHS and states is stronger than I'd expect. And for the wrong reasons.

    Specifically, the following is disappointing:
    DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner said that state and local officials were included earlier in the decision-making process, but that an initial draft they produced with FEMA and DHS preparedness officials in May "did not meet expectations." The initial collaboration resulted in what several federal officials familiar with the process described as a convoluted version that sought to satisfy too many constituencies and re-fought old bureaucratic battles.
    So DHS just set all that work aside and went ahead unilaterally? Apparently so.
    "Coordination between state and local governments and the feds . . . seems to be getting worse rather than better," said Timothy Manning, head of emergency management in New Mexico and a member of a DHS-appointed steering committee that initially worked on the emergency plan before being shut out of the deliberations in May.

    Federal officials, Ashwood said, appear to be trying to create a legalistic document to shield themselves from responsibility for future disasters and to shift blame to states. "It seems that the Katrina federal legacy is one of minimizing exposure for the next event and ensuring future focus is centered on state and local preparedness," he said.
    DHS offers a different rationale for editing and simplifying the plan:
    DHS Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson, who is preparing the new draft with Joel Bagnal, the White House deputy assistant for homeland security, said in May that the old plan was "impenetrable" and that a rewrite was necessary so that "people can use it and train to it and understand it at a governor's level, at a mayor's level, at the level of a congressman."
    This is quite revealing. In my mind it suggests a basic question: Who is the audience for the new NRF? Is it mayors, governors and congresspeople; or is it experienced emergency managers and response personnel?

    It's true that it would take quite a bit of training and operational experience to be able to implement the NRP effectively in an emergency. And the fact that it was released only a few months before Katrina did us absolutely no favors.

    Yet despite the NRP's bulk - 426 pages - and apparent "impenetrability," experienced emergency managers would have noticed quite a bit of shared DNA between the
    NRP (full text) and the 304-page Clinton-era Federal Response Plan (full text). In reading and implementing the NRP, these emergency managers would not have been starting from zero. In any discipline, an experienced person can much more quickly understand a technical document that appears impenetrable to a person who lacks experience and training in that discipline.

    I've only skimmed the early draft of the NRF; but the DHS comments above and below, as well as my own impressions, seem to indicate that the primary audience for the new NRF seems not to be emergency managers, but people outside the emergency management field.

    The NRF is clearly a significant mutation from the old plans:

    The new draft, which was released publicly only after it was leaked to Congressional Quarterly, states that it is a simplified but "essential playbook" that describes various responsibilities of government executives, private-sector business and nongovernmental leaders and operators. Acknowledging that its directives exceed current capabilities, however, the framework commits the federal government to developing later actual strategic and operational plans.

    Bush officials add that state, local and private-sector partners will get their say during a 30-day review when the plan is formally released later this year.
    Okay, then. Operational details are forthcoming...

    Still, the big question here has to do with the process rather than the product(s).
    By what process will these forthcoming strategic and operational plans be developed? If DHS repeats the process they've employed so far, they would seem to be asking for trouble.

    WaPo gives John Harrald the last word, and he hits the nail on the head:
    John R. Harrald, a professor at George Washington University's Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management, cautioned that shutting out state and local voices during the plan's preparation would be ill-advised. He said that the administration appears "to be guided by a desire to ensure centralized control of what is an inherently decentralized process. . . . Response to catastrophic events requires collaboration and trust in a broad network of organizations."
    Yes indeed.

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    Noncompliance Again

    A follow-up to this post from May regarding noncompliance with evacuation orders:

    A recent survey by the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted in June and July, found similar results in states that are susceptible to hurricanes:

    According to a new survey of people in high-risk hurricane areas conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security, one-third (31%) of residents said if government officials said they had to evacuate due to a major hurricane this season, they would not leave. This is an increase from 2006 when 23% said they would not evacuate.

    The survey was conducted in eight states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas—and only included residents of counties within 20 miles of the coast.

    Three-quarters (75%) say their home is well-built and they would be safe there. Over half (56%) feel that roads would be too crowded, and slightly more than one in three (36%) feels that evacuating would be dangerous. One-third (33%) worry that their possessions would be stolen or damaged while one in four (27%) say they would not evacuate because they do not want to leave their pets.
    Individual state data are here.

    There is some key information that can help the even those who choose to stay, however. Many people are simply not prepared to live for any length of time without basic services such as water and power:
    If running water were cut off due to a hurricane, one in four (23%) would run out of clean water after two days, and over half (54%) would run out after six days. If power were shut off, one in ten (9%) would be without food after two days, and nearly half (44%) after six days.

    A large majority of people would be at risk of eating food that has spoiled due to a loss of refrigeration in a power outage. The USDA recommends that perishable food should not be eaten if refrigeration has been turned off for four hours. Only one in five (20%) knew that perishable food would be safe for just a few hours. One in three (36%) said that food is safe for up to one day, one in four (25%) said two days, and 16% said three or more days. In addition, one in five did not know that each household member requires at least one gallon of clean water per day, the amount recommended by the CDC.
    It is reasonable to speculate that these numbers may be even worse in areas that are susceptible to other, less frequent disasters (e.g., earthquakes).

    Virginia Creates Interoperable Radio Caches

    From GovTech:

    Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced [Aug. 6] that the commonwealth will establish three strategic radio caches in Chesapeake, Fairfax County, and the Harrisonburg region to improve the state's ability to establish communications in the wake of a disaster or other large-scale emergency.

    Chesapeake and Fairfax County each will receive $1.9 million in grants, and Harrisonburg-Rockingham County will receive $1.2 million, to establish the radio caches. The localities submitted regional proposals that allow for the deployment of the equipment statewide, if requested.

    These regional radio caches will consist of a portable radio tower and between 300 and 500 radios in various frequency bands. The State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) established a team of local and state officials that developed minimum requirements for the radio caches.
    Though it's not clear to me exactly how the caches will work in practice (e.g., training on the equipment, distribution during an emergency, etc.), Virginia has done the right thing by seeking the close involvement of local officials. But perhaps this isn't surprising. Earlier this year, the First Response Coalition reported that Virginia was doing a good job on the "governance" element of establishing statewide interoperability. Said the FRC:
    Virginia led groundbreaking efforts in creating statewide communications interoperability plans and the model is promoted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to all other states.


    [T]he Commonwealth of Virginia has received national recognition for its partnership with the SAFECOM program to develop a stakeholder driven interoperability governance structure and Statewide Strategic Plan.
    "Governance" is generally suggested as the biggest hurdle to establishing interoperable systems (see this post), so this is something of an achievement.

    Monday, August 06, 2007

    Will We Call It "The Nerf?"

    Over at HLS Watch, Jonah Czerwinski provides a peek at the soon-to-be-released National Response Framework (NRF), the successor to the National Response Plan (NRP).

    Also available is this review from Congressional Quarterly.

    The NRF is remarkably thinner and at first glance seems less detailed, from an operational perspective, than its hefty predecessor. I'll be eager to see what changes are in store.

    But I do have to wonder ... why the name change? The last two times they did that, they tempted the fates and invited catastrophe. In 1992 the plan was changed, and here came Andrew. Then in 2005 they did it again - and voila! - Katrina.

    I think I'm going to double-check my family readiness kit, just in case.

    Fusion Centers as Funnels?

    Here's an update to this post from a few weeks ago, which reviewed the recent CRS report on fusion centers.

    In a recent article, Federal Computer Week also reviewed CRS report and provided a response from the intelligence community:

    "The ISE is pushing to use the fusion centers as a node of communication between federal and state and local governments," said [Thomas McNamara, program manager of the Information Sharing Environment at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence]. "It is hard to talk to everyone, so if Washington can talk to 50 states, who then communicate it down to the local level, that is much better."

    McNamara also said fusion centers should integrate and filter information from the local level to pass to the federal level.

    ISE soon will launch a new system that the organization will use to create and manage the flow of suspicious activity reports that come from fusion centers.

    "This is an example of one business process we need to change," McNamara said. "We have to figure out how to make reports from 17,000 to 20,000 police departments usable."
    Short version: The information-sharing network is funnel-shaped. The fusion centers are pass-throughs in an essentially hierarchical system. (Note that McNamara says information flows "down" to the local level.)

    I appreciate the difficulty of creating a viable information-sharing system to counter the terrorist threat, especially when some of the information is classified. But a hierarchical, bureaucratic system seems outmoded in an era of flat, multi-nodal information sharing systems. It also seems to imply that the function of the fusion center is, primarily, to distill the information from federal sources and distribute it to local officials. (The secondary duty is, of course, to distill information from local authorities and deliver it to federal agencies.)

    Therein lies the analytic function of the fusion center - determining what to pass on to whichever audience. Of course, fusion centers must be able to winnow the wheat from the chaff. Given CRS's finding that "the development of a process for gathering information according to clearly defined information requirements in fusion centers remains nascent," and given the fact that fusion centers aren't getting a full range of information from either local or federal agencies, their analytic function is certainly less than optimal - especially if they are operating in "reactive" mode as CRS indicates.

    A proactive stance is called for. Fusion centers should be in the business of asking questions and seeking answers (preferably with a full range of data sources available to them). They should not be in the business of searching for patterns in a whirlwind of data, received from an incomplete set of sources.

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Catastrophe Preparation and Response: Be the Strategy

    A few interesting points came out in Tuesday's testimony from William Jenkins, the Director of Homeland Security and Justice issues for GAO, in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

    Jenkins was discussing the national system for dealing with catastrophic events. Appropriately in my mind, he argues that a more strategic approach is needed - because in spite of all the shuffling that's happened over the past 6 years, it's still clear that we don't truly have an integrated national system for dealing with the risk of catastrophe:

    The Comptroller General has suggested one area for fundamental reform and oversight is ensuring a strategic and integrated approach to prepare for, respond to, recover, and rebuild after catastrophic events.

    It is important to view preparedness for and response to major disasters as a national system with linked responsibilities and capabilities. This is because effective preparedness for and response to major disasters requires the coordinated planning and actions of multiple actors from multiple first responder disciplines, jurisdictions, and levels of government as well as nongovernmental entities.

    In preparing for, responding to, and recovering from any catastrophic disaster, the legal authorities, roles and responsibilities, and lines of authority at all levels of government must be clearly defined, effectively communicated, and well understood to facilitate rapid and effective decision making.
    In spite of new plans such as the National Response Plan (NRP), the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and the National Preparedness Goal (NPG) - all of which are currently in the process of being revised - there is, as yet, no clarity, especially between levels of government. Some advanced work (e.g., naming Federal Coordinating Officers and Primary Federal Officials in advance) will help - but it's still incumbent on response agencies at all levels of government to make the personal connections:
    There is still some question among state and local first responders about the need for both [the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) and Primary Federal Official (PFO)] positions and how they will work together in disaster response. One potential benefit of naming the FCOs and PFOs in advance is that they have an opportunity to meet and discuss expectations, roles and responsibilities with state, local, and nongovernmental officials before an actual disaster, possibly setting the groundwork for improved coordination and communication in an actual disaster.

    While the Secretary of Homeland Security may avoid conflicts by appointing a single individual to serve in both [FCO and PFO] positions in non-terrorist incidents, confusion may persist if the Secretary of Homeland Security does not exercise this discretion to do so. Furthermore, this discretion does not exist for terrorist incidents, and the revised NRP does not specifically provide a rationale for this limitation.
    And here's something else came out that I need to examine more closely: The lack of full integration with the National Guard:
    [T]he types and quantities of equipment the National Guard needs to respond to large-scale disasters have not been fully identified because the multiple federal and state agencies that would have roles in responding to such events have not completed and integrated their plans.

    As a liaison between the Army, the Air Force, and the states, the National Guard Bureau is well positioned to facilitate state planning for National Guard forces. However, until the bureau’s charter and its civil support regulation are revised to define its role in facilitating state planning for multistate events, such planning may remain incomplete, and the National Guard may not be prepared to respond as effectively and efficiently as possible. In addition, questions have arisen about the level of resources the National Guard has available for domestic emergency response. DOD does not routinely measure the equipment readiness of nondeployed National Guard forces for domestic civil support missions or report this information to Congress.
    Some of the key questions remain only partially answered:
    Essentially, all levels of government are still struggling to define and act on the answers to basic, but hardly simple, questions about emergency preparedness and response:
    • What is important (that is, what are our priorities)?
    • How do we know what is important (e.g., risk assessments, performance standards)?
    • How do we measure, attain, and sustain success?
    • On what basis do we make necessary trade-offs, given finite resources?
    There are no simple, easy answers to these questions. The data available for answering them are incomplete and imperfect. We have better information and a better sense of what needs to be done for some types of major emergency events than for others. For some natural disasters, such as regional wildfires and flooding, there is more experience and therefore a better basis on which to assess preparation and response efforts and identify gaps that need to be addressed.
    For its part, DHS has the right idea in promoting regional and multistate planning, but it's still unclear how well it works on the ground:
    Through its grant guidance, DHS has encouraged regional and multistate planning and preparation. Planning and assistance have largely been focused on single jurisdictions and their immediately adjacent neighbors. However, well-documented problems with the abilities of first responders from multiple jurisdictions to communicate at the site of an incident and the potential for large-scale natural and terrorist disasters have generated a debate on the extent to which first responders should be focusing their planning and preparation on a regional and multi-governmental basis.

    As I mentioned earlier, an overarching national priority for the NPG is embracing regional approaches to building, sustaining, and sharing capabilities at all levels of government. All HSGP applications are to reflect regional coordination and show an investment strategy that institutionalizes regional security strategy integration. However, it is not known to what extent regional and multistate planning has progressed and is effective.
    Short answer: We're still muddling through.

    A final note on the National Preparedness Goal (NPG), which has enjoyed "interim" status since March 2005, by my count:
    FEMA officials have told us that the final version of the NPG and its corresponding documents are currently receiving final reviews by the White House and will be out shortly.
    I wonder what "shortly" means.