Daily Archives: September 27, 2010

To Reign in Hell

So, I see they’ve greenlighted a film based on Paradise Lost.  I suppose it might be pretty good but (and I’m ashamed to admit it), I was never able to work my way through Milton’s work and worry that given they’ve decided for it to be”crafted as an action vehicle that will include aerial warfare, possibly shot in 3D.” the heavenly hosts might, in fact, demonstrate their wrath upon the human race.

If you’re going to go that route, I’d recommend a film adaptation of Steven Brust‘s To Reign in Hell.  It’s a clever update of the story of the Battle for Heaven with lots of room for action and (if the film makers decide to go totally edgy) a good plot with interesting characters.  Since they won’t do that, check out the book, it’s a lot of fun.

Music monday…sucky job edition

Reflecting my day at work today…and potentially the foreseeable future…Methinks I need to get serious about finding alternate employment.

Soundgarden with Fell on Black Days

What an intelligence product should NOT look like

Will Potter over at Green Is the New Red has a couple of posts about a recent Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin that has been released.  There’s a lot to talk about here to get comfy…

Ok, first.  The Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security has hired a private agency to produce intelligence products like this.  Without knowing all the details of the agreement, oversight, etc. this is bad, on the whole.  The whole homeland security industry depends on the existence of a continual series of threats to keep the money rolling in.  After the post 9/11 ‘glory days’ of blank checks to anyone and everyone who could cram the word terrorism or security into their resume or business description, politicians began to want some return on their security investment dollars and so the domain of homeland security agencies and fusion centers began to expand to the monstrosity that is ‘All crimes, all hazards’.  I’m beginning to think we’d be better off with an “Agency for Infinitesimally Unlikely but Really Scary Events”.

But, before I get too deep into this allow me to throw some props to Pennsylvania.

  • The bulletin is unclassified!  That, quite frankly, is amazing.  I can’t find a recognizable classification caveat anywhere in the document.  They’d be my heroes if they didn’t have to end the document with the weasley:

This document is provided to organizations/stakeholders associated with the security of Pennsylvania critical
infrastructures, key resources and significant special events. It is not to be distributed beyond those Pennsylvania stakeholders without the express permission of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.

  • While the PA Office of Homeland security website is by no means perfect, it isn’t the worst I’ve seen and seems to indicate an intent to provide some information to the public.  Given the abysmal performance of most such agencies in this arena, they do deserve a nod for that.

Ok…in the words of Benjamin J. Grimm, ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’

The first part of the report is a ‘Dates of Interest’ section.  This entire part of the document is a HUGE red warning flag that calls into question the analytical capabilities, political orientation, ethical standards and understanding of U.S. law of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response.  It also calls into question the judgment and competence of whoever is approving and evaluating these products with the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.  Yes, my friends, the rot runs deep.

This section really speaks more to the writers (and, perhaps their perceived audience) than it does about actual threats.  So, you’ll find a lot of warnings about Muslims, anti-war activists, environmentalists, animal rights activists and left leaning groups.  There is not one incident where ‘right wing’ groups or individuals are noted.  This is particularly problematic given the time frame of this portion of the report which covers 31 August to 4 October.  Remember all that hoopla about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’?  No one had any concern that there might be violence or protests aimed at Muslims?  Apparently not.  The fine folks at ITRR seemed to only see the threat coming from teh Muslims.  Were there no Tea Party rallies planned during this time period?  You know, the ones where people talk about watering the tree of liberty with blood?  Apparently not.

I suspect the writers of the report knew that they were peddling crap and so attempted to create the illusion of credibility by peppering in phrases like ‘increased risk of escalation’, or ‘Targeting communications indicate a focus on evading or sabotaging law enforcement’ but they see no need to substantiate anything and so such phrases are meaningless.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing in those first three pages that should be anywhere near a law enforcement intelligence product without a lot more context and a clear explanation of the link to criminal activity.  The analysts involved need a great deal of remedial training and whoever is in charged probably needs to be moved to accounts receivable.

But let me not stop at the first three pages.  The best place for the whole document would be the crapper if the paper it was printed on was super soft and absorbent.  The rest of the bulletin is more bullshit trying to conflate political activism, civil disobedience and terrorism.  Really, the authors should be ashamed of themselves for producing this nonsense.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we can say it’s an outlier.  This sort of non-intelligence intelligence is quite common and (in my opinion) the result of weak, unqualified leadership of agencies that 1) don’t understand intelligence 2) don’t understand analysis and 3) have no idea what a ‘homeland security’ agency or fusion center is actually supposed to do.  Rather, these yahoos are just winging it based upon what they gathered from watching Jack Bauer or reading Tom Clancy.

The (sort of) good news is that the public release of this document got the governor to reject it in pretty strong terms and ordered the cancellation of the contract with ITRR.  That’s a nice start but they problem remains, the people that thought ITRR was producing a quality product are still running the ship and will face no consequences for their actions.  Is there a stronger way to demonstrate that you think intelligence issues aren’t important and high standards aren’t needed?

It’s even more problematic when the guy in charge doesn’t recognize that Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist (although that might explain the dearth of ‘right wing threats’ in the bulletin).

But here’s the real important bit of information that might have gotten missed.  As outrageous as these bulletins are, they don’t mean much (in the short term at least).  The fact of the matter is many agencies have been producing such voluminous amounts of crap since 9/11 that most of it goes directly from inbox to trash without being read.  So, while many people within the state government may have known about the garbage IRTT was producing, the head of the PA State Police may have summed up best why this may not be as nefarious as it sounds at first blush:

State Police Commissioner Colonel Frank E. Pawlowski was aware of the bulletins; at least, they were distributed to the State Police and Rendell said Tuesday that Pawlowski told him nothing in the bulletins “was of any value to the State Police.”

In short, it might just be that nobody was really reading these things (Really, how many times can you read ‘While we have no evidence of a threat, we recommend everyone remain alert’ which just translates to ‘Hey, if something happens, we’re going to use this as proof that we gave you the dots and you didn’t connect them’?)