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2011 has been an extraordinary year for security. From regime change to nuclear disaster; from acts of cowardice, violence & anger to acts of bravery and remembrance; and from justice delivered in and out of court, the new events and consequences of past ones that have played out in 2011 have dominated the headlines and greatly impacted the world. How technology has and could have made a difference to this year’s leading security news stories is the focus of this week’s communication.
Let’s consider the death of Osama Bin Laden:
Arguably “the most expensive manhunt in history”, efforts to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice began years before 9/11 (i.e. he was indicted in the Southern District of New York in 1998; see: http://www.fas.org/irp/news/1998/11/98110602_nlt.html). The intelligence developed on Bin Laden’s courier to locate him at the Abbottabad, Pakistan compound where he was killed by Seal Team Six was built on over a decade of work by prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and the defense and intelligence communities to profile, locate, and ultimately administer the justice that occurred on May 2nd of this year.
From indictment to raid, technology played an important role.
As intelligence on Bin Laden and his affiliates grew before and after 9/11, advances in “social network” intelligence analysis tools (i.e. software) helped to make non-obvious connections among individuals, locations, accounts and events (the underlying “data” itself made known through both non-technical and technical intelligence gathering efforts).
When interrogations at Guantanamo and other intelligence collection efforts led to the identity of Bin Laden’s courier, the ability to monitor, intercept and analyze a single cell phone call made by the courier led to the location of the Abbottabad compound. Once identified, further intelligence on the physical characteristics and inhabitants of the compound was developed with both satellite imaging and visual and audio monitoring devices deployed by intelligence operatives on the ground in Pakistan. Before the raid, Seal Team Six was able to train and otherwise prepare for the mission using advanced simulation software that included the physical layout of the building, who would likely be there, and what to do in various scenarios.
During the raid Seal Team Six utilized advanced weaponry, personal protective gear and communications, command and control technology to support swift and effective domination of the situation. The dual mission of capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden and gathering valuable intelligence on Al Qaeda was carried out with forensic devices to rapidly confirm the identify of the target (killed in the first 18 minutes) and gather electronic evidence (over 2 terrabytes collected throughout the 40 minute mission).
Interestingly, it was the lack of technology at the otherwise large compound that contributed to its profile as a location where Osama Bin Laden would likely be hiding.
Now let’s consider the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster:
On March 11th, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the east coast of Japan generated a tsunami with 15 foot waves. Whether future —and currently deferred —investigation reveals that it was the impact of the earthquake itself on the plant’s safety systems or the result of the Tsunami’s waves cutting power supplies to the seaside reactors that “caused” the multiple meltdowns, the devastating and tragic occurrences at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Complex joined Chernobyl as only the second Level 7 nuclear accident in history (i.e. a “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures”).
The evacuation of surrounding areas in the radiation zone, efforts to contain and limit the impact of the meltdowns and the decades of cleanup that will follow (i.e. “decommissioning”) all show the importance and limitations of technology. While the actions and omissions of TEPCO and the Japanese government before and during the continuing disaster are viewed by many as a lesson in what NOT to do to effectively prevent or respond to a crisis, certain technology challenges highlight how difficult and complex in a nuclear accident of this magnitude it is to answer the simple questions “How bad is it?” and “What do I need to do?”
Even though each of the three active nuclear reactors did automatically “SCRAM” (i.e. shut down), the dangerously rising steam made it so that valves needed to be manually opened, thus exposing the brave humans who did this work to extreme levels of radiation. When it was decided that seawater was the only viable cooling option for the reactors (a last resort because it ruins them), with damage to the plants’ control instrumentation and water feeding systems from the Pacific Ocean, such cooling needed to be done for the first few days with fire trucks from the fire department (which for a period of time ran out of available water at the plant!). The subsequent cooling, venting , controlled and unintentional releases of radiation into the air were reportedly all based on difficult to discern and inconclusive information about what was happening and what would happen next.
Correspondingly, the very act of measuring a nuclear accident is difficult and dangerous – so much so that when fixed sensors are damaged onsite (or not in place at all as in the TEPCO plant), robots are necessary to do the job. TEPCO’s inability to quickly and effectively deploy robots (eventually American ones were flown in) or otherwise measure radiation levels to help model what happened and what they could do to address it, contributed to the multiple revisions of the accident first announced as a “Level 4”, upgraded to a “Level 5” and eventually declared a “Level 7” on the International Atomic Energy Association’s (IAEA) International and Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).
The immediate — and thankfully, orderly — evacuation of 185,000 people from surrounding areas was thus based on incomplete information. According to then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, difficulties in understanding what was really going on at the plant and the possibility of “worst-case scenarios” nearly led him to order the evacuation of 30 million people in a 250km radius, an event that would have in his estimation made it difficult for Japan to continue to function as a state (as it was, the uncertainty led to nationwide panic buying, and both voluntary and official diplomatic exodus from the country by several countries).
As individuals, governments and other organizations continue to measure radiation levels in areas both near and far from the disaster site, the uncertain consequences of what these radiation levels mean to health, safety and habitability will continue for years to come. It was only last week that the government of Japan officially declared “cold shutdown” (i.e. water in the containment unit is below the boiling point and thus the nuclear fuel does not heat up; see http://why.knovel.com/all-engineering-news/1055-japanese-government-declares-fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-reactor-successfully-contained.html). The decommissioning process is expected to take up to 40 years and will be funded by the people of Japan which has bailed out the bankrupt TEPCO company. The consequences of the radiation emitted will likewise become known over generations.
Now, let’s consider the Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal:
Human failures to properly report or act upon eyewitness accounts and accusations of Jerry Sandusky’s acts —allegedly continuously perpetrated and known about since 1995 — have outraged a nation and cost a revered institution its reputation. As the November 4th grand jury indictment leads to Sandusky’s trial (or apparently unlikely plea), whether or not technology will make a difference in his prosecution or could have made a difference in preventing any of Sandusky’s crimes and/or bringing him to justice sooner is a challenging question.
The accounts of Victims 1 through Victim 8 in the recent Grand Jury indictment describe a consistent pattern and modus operandi of escalating criminal abuse allegedly perpetrated by Mr. Sandusky in his car, home and the showers of Penn State’s athletic facilities — exactly the places where human patrol or electronic surveillance technology such as video or audio recording typically do not cover (the indictment is publicly available at http://www.freep.com/assets/freep/pdf/C4181508116.PDF ; please be advised that it is both graphic and disturbing).
The most compelling technological witness in sexual abuse cases if often DNA forensic evidence whereby matches of blood, saliva, semen or even epithelial skin cells left by mere touch between assailant and victim can establish or corroborate facts. In the Sandusky case, the lack of rapid reporting to police has led to significant missed opportunity for DNA (and other potentially helpful forensic technologies) to play a role, but it is certainly not inconceivable that Sandusky and/or a victim’s DNA found on the clothes and/or possessions of Sandusky and/or a victim will play a role in evidencing Sandusky’s guilt.
Regarding whether or not technology could have played a role in the prevention of Sandusky’s alleged acts (or those of other future abusers), it is interesting that the mother of the victim who’s testimony led to Sandusky’s full-scale investigation/grand jury indictment first became suspicious of the former coach when her son started asking her questions about a database for “sex weirdos”. Differing by states and required to meet minimum federal standards under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2007, sexual offender database registries track, give public notice and help manage restrictions of individuals who have been convicted of various levels of child sexual abuse. Perhaps it’s a good idea for law enforcement to consider – with all the appropriate privacy and constitutional protections – to use database technology to specifically track those arrested for child sex abuse, as Sandusky has finally now been (perhaps integrated with efforts to collect DNA from arrestees now available or being considered in most states). Without doing so “connecting the dots” across jurisdictions and years and protecting the most vulnerable will continue to be tragically challenging.
Finally, let’s consider the “Arab Spring”:
Whether or not you identify the December 17, 2010 actions of a Tunisian fruit vendor setting himself on fire in protest of his treatment as a critical spark that ignited the “Arab Spring”, set against a backdrop of clashing cultural, political, religious, economic and military forces that will continue to play out for years, it is undeniable that technology was an important factor as regimes were challenged, resisted and ultimately changed in the Middle East and North Africa.
The media has primarily focused on the role of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking technologies. Chicken-and-egg questions as to how they did or did not “cause” the revolutions will never be fully answered, but for those with internet access they certainly did have an impact in mobilizing, catalyzing, and branding revolutions that otherwise did not gravitate around a single charismatic leader or group but “the people” themselves (see: http://www.technologyreview.com/web/38379/ and http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67693/lisa-anderson/demystifying-the-arab-spring for interesting opposing points of view on the importance of social media in the Arab Spring).
Equally interesting to me is the role that non-lethal weapons have played and will continue to play in the Arab Spring. Whether it’s tear gas used in the dismantling of a protest camp in Tahrir Square on November 19th, at thousands of protesters at a Bahraini funeral just two days ago, or throughout Syria this year as its situation continues to progress into civil war, using technology that commands and controls but does not intentionally kill raises a panoply of strategic and tactical questions for law enforcement and the military. In western societies we see less than lethal weapons as the second-to-last resort / best worst choice to properly maintain law and order where deadly force is not authorized or desirable. As the coming months will surely see their continued use in the countries of the Arab Spring (and also elsewhere and here) we’ll be watching to see what we can learn about how they can be used most humanely.
This is the time of year that we need to reflect on our blessings and family, and to remember those who serve both in law enforcement and the military.
I know that each of us came to our positions not as a job but as a calling. Those who put themselves in harm’s way are so special.
Let us say a prayer for those serving to be safe, and for the families of the fallen. We owe them an unpayable debt.
To all of our friends and clients, a most happy and healthy New Year.
Chairman and CEO
Vigilant Resources International (VRI)
About This Communication
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The intention of this weekly communication series is to explore security threats and vulnerabilities and the technology that can help avoid or minimize them. I’m writing this series because I believe that security operations and technology — depending on how they are implemented and utilized — can either be byzantine, distracting and harmful or tremendously helpful in protecting lives, assets and reputations. I enjoy doing what I can to help people and organizations achieve the latter.
Security threats and vulnerabilities discussed in this series may include (and certainly will not be limited to) a full spectrum of physical, cyber, economic, reputational, man-made and natural disaster/weather related threats and vulnerabilities. Security technology considered may include (and certainly will not be limited to) physical security technology (cameras, alarms, access controls), cybersecurity, cybersurveillance, personal protective equipment gear, emergency communications, data mining, fusion centers, pin-mapping, predictive modeling, internal controls, and forensics.