A lot of homeland security discussion revolves around looking at what happens internationally and specifically relying on international press reports of events and opinions.
Wrapped up in this practice are a couple of unexamined problems that have generally (as far as I can tell) gone unexamined and, therefore, have not been controlled for.
First, is the assumption that what happens elsewhere is automatically relevant here. Does an IED attack in Kandahar mean anything for Omaha? Does a bombing in Bulgaria mean anything for Tallahassee? The answer is: It depends. All too frequently, however, no effort is made to determine if there is any relevance. Instead, the thinking goes ‘If it happens elsewhere, it can happen here. If it can happen here, it’s probable it’ll happen here. If it’s probable to happen here, it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.
This, in turn, (my opinion here) is a function of too little threat to go around. I’ve written before about the plethora of fusion centers, JTTFs, etc., out there and the rather poor state of analysis that accompanies them. Well, if you’re one of those agencies and you don’t have a good vision of what you want to do analytically, it becomes easier to just follow the news. Of course that means if it doesn’t make the news (which usually means the big 3 cable channels) it won’t even get on the radar.
In those rare cases in which it does, however, we often see the second problem: the inability to provide context both to the event but also to the reporting. There’s frequently an assumption that the press is the same the world over and a media report is a media report, regardless if it originates in the US, Korea, Kenya or Sweden. Yet, different nations, regions, and subpopulations may view and report the same news very differently (and that’s separate from different media outlets having their own perspective). My own interest in Swedish affairs has given me an orientation to what Swedes view as newsworthy, the norms that apply in reporting and how some of those outlets may ‘spin’ particular news. But even after years of reading The Local, listening to Radio Sweden and having my very own resident Swede to talk about Swedish language media I make very basic mistakes. Just imagine how many errors are possible when readers aren’t even aware of these distinctions…
And all of this doesn’t even consider the possibility of willful misreading of reporting, deception or the limits of language itself. Regarding those issues I’d suggest this article from the Atlantic about reporting of Iranian reaction to the recent bombing in Bulgaria. It’s worth a full read so I won’t excerpt here but just look at the multiple ways in which information can be distorted.
Now, I’m a HUGE fan of open source information but it’s not as simple as reading something on the web and regurgitating it. It is its own skill set that requires practice, time and effort.