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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Law Enforcement, Body Cameras, and Homeland Security

Substantially increased use of so-called body cameras for front-line members of the law enforcement community appears to be soon arriving, particularly with the frequent riots that claim a foundation in alleged police brutality and the vocal support of political heavyweights.  Despite notably mixed opinions on the utility, security, and need for such measures for one of the most trusted communities in all levels of government, the coming ubiquity of body cameras should be lauded for reasons not often considered.  For reasons that are very much in the favor of both members of law enforcement and the security of the American public.

The most simple reason for the acceptance -- however grudging -- of body cameras in law enforcement is to avoid the present climate of instant culpability and trial-by-media.  In any scenario where an individual files a complaint of harassment, abuse, or brutality, there will exist the audio and video files to substantiate, when appropriate, such complaints to be false.  In fact, the number of complaints against members of law enforcement may even decrease, since the public will know there is a tangible record of their interactions, rather than a case of circumstantial evidence and media sympathy.  For this reason, the law enforcement and security communities -- including any front-line, public-facing actor in positions requiring the enforcement of rules and regulations upon a sometimes-uncooperative public -- should embrace the use of body cameras.  The cost and hassle of the cameras themselves will surely be outweighed by the cost, time, and irritation of lengthy investigations and baseless complaints.

The least simple, but most important, reason for accepting the use of body cameras is their extended utility, a point not yet circulating within general conversation.  By placing a camera on the head or chest of a member of law enforcement, this creates an additional method of recording valuable audio and video while at-large in the public.  As such, and with the proper cloud-based software operating in near-real-time, every police officer, deputy sheriff, special agent, or investigator can easily become a mobile node in the surveillance network, wherein face recognition, speech pattern matching, and object recognition can alert law enforcement to issues of known concern simply through being physically present.  In this way, members of the public wanted for any level of investigation, known terrorists, or even individuals with expired visas may be identified, at a much higher rate of accuracy, and quickly addressed.

Through body cameras, the safety of both law enforcement members and the public can be substantially increased, while simultaneously increasing the efficacy of homeland security efforts.  This is, by no means, some form of pervasive, so-called Big Brother effort, but it is a way to develop maximum utility from the use of surveillance devices the public seems to strongly desire.  If they are to be used, they should be used for more than simply providing evidence to either side of a law enforcement complaint.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Brief: Homeland Security and Academia

Note: this is a response to a PSU course prompt regarding the current academic approach to homeland security.

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The academic field of homeland security study is important to the further development of its practice and implementation to better protect the American public, but revisions and reorganizations must be made to the academic approach.

First, a greater emphasis needs to be placed upon human activities that present threats to domestic security within, and at, American borders. Terrorism (both domestic- and foreign-sourced) and border security, as simply two examples, are extraordinarily important subjects of focus for any study of homeland security, yet they are very often sidelined for issues more familiar to the study of public administration or emergency management. Although the frequency of terror acts is comparatively small to that of other aspects of homeland security, it is no less important: terrorism has a far greater capacity for damage than any other all-hazards threat. Since terrorism can inflict such great damage -- physically, psychologically, and economically -- upon the United States, it must be better studied and understood within the homeland security discipline. It is not simply a topic for security studies, international relations, or national security academics. Moreover, border security -- particularly as an overwhelming component within the Department of Homeland Security, itself -- deserves far greater attention than it currently receives within academic study of the field.

Second, far greater academic efforts need to be made in understanding the vulnerabilities of American infrastructure -- in all aspects, including electricity, water, communications, and transportation -- and undertaking efforts to protect them. This is not simply a function of emergency response or disaster management; rather, it is a preventative, proactive effort that must be actively approached. Moreover, when combined with a terror actor’s intentional activities, infrastructure security presents itself as an intersection of interests to those who study homeland security.

Third, homeland security must be better separated from the academic disciplines of emergency management and public administration. Although these two fields have distinct and noteworthy contributions to the related-but-separate field of homeland security, their understanding of the homeland security worldview is inherently and impossibly incomplete: terrorism and other active threats play too great a role to be ignored. Moreover, homeland security must abandon a less bureaucratic approach, even within academia, for a more active, engaged, and evolving one that incorporates relevant aspects from more diverse fields such as psychology, international relations, security studies, political science, political theory, and economics. There exists no reason to limit the academic study of homeland security so severely, particularly when such unnatural distinctions do not exist in the actual practice of homeland security.

Finally, academic study of homeland security must expand its view beyond that of management and into that of practice. Law enforcement and other emergency/first response officials are often the greatest asset for homeland security, but they are regularly sidelined for a more managerial/planner focus. There is simply no opportunity for homeland security practitioners, particularly those actively in the field, to consult the variety of plans and strategies the academic discipline often rigorously (and cyclically) studies -- this must be made clear. If these first responders are seen by academics, appropriately, as those with the greatest day-to-day influence on homeland security efforts, then the study of the field would shift to one much more practical and pragmatic. This is particularly important, given that, without such field operators, the management of homeland security would be entirely fruitless.

In Brief: The Flaws of Homeland Security

Note: this is a response to a PSU course prompt regarding the flaws of the current approach to homeland security.

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Homeland security, as a split-focus field, is inherently complex while simultaneously still growing. This creates a field that, of necessity, draws from others more than it creates its own theories and practices. Consequently, homeland security -- in 2015 -- largely amounts to a fusion of public administration, emergency management, and security studies, with a distinct emphasis on preparation and response. The results of this fusion, and the inherent problems, can be seen in the creation of the various Strategies, Plans, Frameworks, Systems, and other such planning-documents from both DHS and FEMA. All of these have a distinct tendency to over-architect the ways in which the response-recovery cycle of homeland security is understood and executed, complicating the efforts of first responders and field operatives alike. The motivation to understand and better structure homeland security within the United States is, of course, clear and laudable; however, it has gone too far.

Moreover, homeland security seems to very often become synonymous with emergency response. This, while similarly understandable, is unnecessary. The field of homeland security is so much more than simply responding to all-hazards incidents (including terrorism) or preparing for major disasters: it’s about preventing them, wherever and however possible. DHS and FEMA, as well as many of the field’s practitioners, seem to understand the field as response-motivated rather than prevention-motivated. National security efforts seek to prevent incidents, beyond American borders, from occurring that would affect national interests -- homeland security should be viewed as the same, simply from within American borders. Whether prevention is discussed in terms of terrorism or a more traditional all-hazards, more must be done to take actual, productive, and preventative action, rather than preparing response systems with a semi-fatalistic and distinctly non-pragmatic approach.

Finally, as is repeatedly noted, DHS is -- as an organization -- unwieldy and overwrought. Although this is a product of both its formation and its youth, its flaws need to be corrected. The appropriate solution is not to dismantle the Department or take other drastic courses of action, but, rather, to actively seek to improve the Department and its constituent components. Examples abound within DHS of mismanagement and poor personnel decisions -- particularly within the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Transportation Security Administration -- that demonstrate a greater required emphasis on personnel education, high quality hiring, termination authority for legacy/non-performing employees, and, most importantly, a need for management accountability. Without such changes, DHS will continue to make plans and strategies that are largely unrelated to the way in which homeland security actually functions, remaining disconnected from first responders and field operators.

An evolution of homeland security strategy is essential to the continued security and safety of the American public, but, sadly, it seems to have yet arrived.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Publishing Note: "The Homeland Security Grant Program: Opportunities, Challenges, and Obstacles to Preparedness"

My latest graduate paper, "The Homeland Security Grant Program: Opportunities, Challenges, and Obstacles to Preparedness," is now available on Academia.edu.  It reviews some of the details of the Homeland Security Grant Program, some of its flaws, and provides recommendations on moving forward.

Abstract:
Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Grant Program -- with its three major sub-grants: the State Homeland Security Program, the Urban Areas Support Initiative, and Operation Stonegarden -- has, as administered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, created a system of funding opportunities for all levels of government to produce improved results in the theatre of homeland security. Across the United States, these funding mechanisms have expanded the use of intelligence at a non-federal level, hardened potential targets, increased preparation and training activities for mitigation and response efforts, and enhanced border security. However, there remain both challenges and obstacles for the access and use of the Homeland Security Grant Program.

Brady, K. (2015). The Homeland Security Grant Program: Opportunities, Challenges, and Obstacles to Preparedness. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/12112754/The_Homeland_Security_Grant_Program_Opportunities_Challenges_and_Obstacles_to_Preparedness

Friday, April 24, 2015

Publishing Note: "Secure Management of American Borders in the Modern Era: Developing an Evolving Strategy"

A new graduate paper, "Secure Management of American Borders in the Modern Era: Developing an Evolving Strategy," is now available on Academia.edu.  It addresses some of the serious security concerns raised by the nature of the borders of the United States and how to enhance border security in a tangible fashion.

Abstract:
In a threat environment that includes the regular possibility of both terrorist attacks and cyber attacks on domestic American targets, far less attention is paid to a more traditional concern: border security. Although often a topic in high-stakes political contests or certain moments of Congressional dramatization, rarely does the topic of border security garner any serious attention or consideration, much less the variety of border types -- maritime, land, aviation, orbital, and digital -- relevant to the United States. The modern, post-9/11 era presents a variety of potential solutions to a long-standing problem that has become only more complex as the threats of terrorism, domestic attacks, and foreign threat vectors have grown. Therefore, exploring the unique nature of American border security, the problems it presents, and ways in which it may be strengthened is clearly and fundamentally important to the overall security of the United States, its citizens, and its interests.

Brady, K. (2015). Secure Management of American Borders in the Modern Era: Developing an Evolving Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/11928471/Secure_Management_of_American_Borders_in_the_Modern_Era_Developing_an_Evolving_Strategy

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In Brief: Three Faulty Assumptions of the Response FIOP

Note: this is a response to a PSU course prompt regarding the assumptions of the Federal Interagency Operational Plans (FIOPs).

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When reviewing the planning assumptions of DHS'/FEMA’s “Response Federal Interagency Operational Plan (FIOP),” three issues make themselves immediately apparent. The second assumption made -- “only one catastrophic incident [will occur] at a time” (p8) -- is a dangerous one to make, particularly given both the events of September 11, 2001 and the intelligence community’s understanding of desires for future attacks. Even on the day that initiated FEMA’s interest and involvement in non-natural incidents and eventually birthed the Department of Homeland Security, attacks were conducted in parallel: two in New York City, one at the Pentagon, and another with an unknown destination assumed to be also in Washington, D.C. If the plane in question had not gone down in the fields of Pennsylvania, it would be impossible -- based on simple empiricism -- to assume one catastrophic incident occurs at a time, even in the same geolocation. Moreover, intelligence collection and attacks abroad have made clear there exists a strong interest in an attack plan that conducts separate, coordinated attacks in parallel. It is not difficult to see how two major “catastrophic incidents” could occur at, or very near to, the same time and in the same location through the intentional actions of terror actors. Extending this concept to natural or man-made, non-terror incidents is more complicated, but not prohibitively so.

The Response FIOP further assumes non-federal “aid capabilities will be exhausted” (p8), despite the existence of, as a solitary and glaring example, the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) that exists to specifically build the resources and capabilities of non-federal governments, while helping to fund prevention efforts. Whether this assumption is made out of a lack of awareness of the intended use of HSGP or through a further assumption that its efforts will be ultimately unsuccessful is unclear. However, this assumption is inconsistent with the efforts of DHS, in general, and FEMA, in particular, in this particular area of preparation, hardening, and resource development.

Additionally, this FIOP assumes “[f]ew Federal community-based resources … will be able to respond” (p8) and that “Federal response resources will be unable to arrive … until 24 to 72 hours after the incident” (p9). This, again, disregards the present efforts of the federal government, as well as a fundamental part of understanding any future incident: geography. If the catastrophic incident is, for the purposes of an example, again one of terror, then the likelihood of its geographical location being in a major city (including Washington, D.C.) is very high. In cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, and others, the federal government has ample pre-existing resources that could be quickly deployed. In the case of Washington, D.C. or its surrounding Metropolitan area, the home-town of the federal government and most of its agencies -- including a variety of federal law enforcement agencies -- the amount of resources that could be quickly brought to bear is far from minimal. The assumption, therefore, that geography is unimportant and that all incidents will generally hold the same basic principles or characteristics is fundamentally and fatally flawed.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

In Brief: Terrorism, Hazards, and the Future

Note: this is a response to a PSU course prompt on risk management, homeland security, terrorism, related hazards, and preparedness.

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Terrorism is predictably unpredictable in both its actions and consequences, and in all theatres, foreign and domestic. As such, it remains extraordinarily difficult to predict how terrorism and its related hazards will evolve, in any timeframe. The expectation remains, however, that terror actors will continue to follow past behaviors and interests, while exploring new opportunities, targets, techniques, and vehicles for action. The United States and the West will likely remain high-interest targets for terror actors and preparedness, at all levels, is key -- so is identifying any lapses that may be exploited.

As previously noted in “The Persistent Threat to American Transportation Infrastructure: an Unaddressed Homeland Security Issue” (Brady, 2014b), the transportation infrastructure of the United States -- bridges, roads, highways, public transportation systems, and much more -- is very vulnerable to nearly any form of attack conceivable. So, too, is the so-called digital infrastructure to both physical and cyber attack (Brady, 2014a). This, however, ignores a simple fact: acts of terror can be conducted anywhere and upon any target deemed valuable. A small group of people -- in line, perhaps, to buy movie tickets -- or a large group of people -- such as at a mall -- are differentiated only by the number of individuals directly affected, not the resultant terror: effective terrorism, even on a small scale, has a predictably outsized response in the minds of the public. It is a physical attack with highly desired psychological, and second-order, consequences.

However, it appears that, in many cases, terror attacks on domestic territory -- particularly the United States -- are repetitive in their attempts to replicate prior successes. This explains the continued interest in consumer aviation, large-scale public gatherings, and high-value/high-risk targets, despite the difficulty in achieving such terror objectives. Therefore, all interested parties -- including all levels of government and relevant private sector entities -- must continue to execute the functions of homeland security, force protection, and asset protection as has become normal over the past decade: anything valuable may be a target and it must be protected to the fullest extent possible. Often there is very little that may be done to protect people and property in specific circumstances, given the widespread nature of the homeland security effort. Risk management and prioritization is, of course, a necessary aspect of such an effort, but any analysis should not presume to fully understand what may happen -- if terrorism is inherently unpredictable, then predictive equations meant to estimate risk are inherently flawed.


References

Brady, K. (2014). The Digital Age and the United States of America: a Pervasive Cybersecurity Threat. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/7216345/The_Digital_Age_and_the_United_States_of_America_a_Pervasive_Cybersecurity_Threat

Brady, K. (2014). The Persistent Threat to American Transportation Infrastructure: an Unaddressed Homeland Security Issue. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/7443119/The_Persistent_Threat_to_American_Transportation_Infrastructure_an_Unaddressed_Homeland_Security_Issue