Tina K. Russell

October 22, 2008

Safety Tips

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:45 pm

Safety Concerns Eclipse Civic Lessons as Schools Cancel Classes on Election Day – NYTimes.com
“School districts across the country now spend millions of dollars each year on controlling access to buildings with locked doors and surveillance cameras to keep strangers out,” said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, an advocacy group, in Cleveland. “In a post-Columbine, post-9/11 world, we shouldn’t be opening the doors at our schools on Election Day, and just hoping everything will be O.K.”

That’s right… in a post-9/11, post-Columbine, post-Cuban Missile Crisis, post-Boston Massacre, post-Spanish Inquisition, post-Black Plague, post-Boxer Rebellion, post-fall of Rome, post-extinction of the dinosaurs world, you just can’t be too careful. You never know when there could be another Irish potato famine… or a Mongol invasion.

October 4, 2008

And here I thought they just hated our freedoms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:27 pm

Here’s security guru Bruce Schneier on the motivations for terrorism. I added emphasis to the key sentences, but you really oughta read the full article. (Schneier is discussing a paper published this year in International Security.)

Security Matters: The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists
Conventional wisdom holds that terrorism is inherently political, and that people become terrorists for political reasons. … It’s assumed, for example, that people join Hamas to achieve a Palestinian state; that people join the PKK to attain a Kurdish national homeland; and that people join al-Qaida to, among other things, get the United States out of the Persian Gulf.

Max Abrahms, a predoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, has studied dozens of terrorist groups from all over the world. He argues that the model is wrong. … [S]even tendencies are seen in terrorist organizations all over the world, and they directly contradict the theory that terrorists are political maximizers:

Terrorists, he writes, (1) attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want; (2) treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections; (3) don’t compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically; (4) have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change; (5) often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them; (6) regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform; and (7) resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.

Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.

I always suspected this was true, and I’m happy to be vindicated by a fancy-pants social scientist. There must be a deceptive allure to being able to see the world in black and white. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you grow up watching the Autobots fight the Decepticons, and then you grow up and things are not so simple. There must be something comforting in being able to say “we’re good, they’re bad, kill them all.”

…Then again, Abrahms seems to be arguing that the motivations for joining a terrorist group are even shallower than that: there’s a motivation, often, to join a group simply for the sake of joining a group. Abrahms (and, in turn, Schneier) argues, rightly, that any effective counterterrorism strategy must include ensuring that other, better groups are available for young people to fall into. (That’s part of why I’m proud to belong both to a church and to the open-source community, both institutions that give people a place to use their skills and hobbies for the betterment of all while at the same time having fun.) (Abrahms and Shneier also mention more direct counterterrorism strategies that should prove to be effective, such as using the social dynamics of a terrorist group to get them to turn on one another, and to crack down on hate crime to avoid creating dangerous situations.)

I hope we use the principle of “creating better groups” to fight gang violence in our inner cities, too. It means a lot to have a place where you feel you belong and can form friendships, and it’s important that such a place is not in the business of killing people. Anyway, I hope all those of you who belong to a church or a club or something can make this a goal.

July 23, 2008

Rearranging the org chart on the Titanic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:23 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – The Risk of Too Much Oversight – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
To appreciate the challenge we face, it is important to remember that the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was a classic “low-probability, high-consequence” event. In the pre-9/11 era, if experts had generated a list of risks to our country — various terrorist attacks, hurricanes, contagious diseases and so on — they probably would have concluded that terrorists flying planes into skyscrapers and government buildings was unlikely, in light of the security and logistical obstacles the terrorists would have to overcome. While those experts would have acknowledged that such an attack would have grave results, before 9/11, relatively few people worried about such low-probability, high-consequence security events. After 9/11, however, many people began thinking about a broad range of such attacks.

Not surprisingly, when people started to focus on bad things that might happen to us, they identified a seemingly infinite catalogue of worrisome possibilities: nuclear, chemical and biological terrorist attacks delivered by planes, ships, cars or other mechanisms; conventional explosives on mass transit systems; gunmen in public places; cyber attacks on computer and communication networks; and natural hazards like earthquakes and hurricanes. This is just a sliver of the ever-evolving list of homeland security concerns.

But resources are limited and it’s not possible to do everything, so we need to think carefully about the risk: the likelihood of the event and the consequences if it were to occur. Ideally, we would be able to rationally rank homeland security risks, and resources would follow. Though some prioritizing efforts are under way, the process has been made unnecessarily difficult.

I’m glad that this person recognizes the danger in what Bruce Scheier calls “movie plot” security (that is, the monastic delineation of everything that might happen). Prioritization would be an improvement, but I’m not sure it would still be the best.

Perhaps the DHS could organize all possible threats into broad strokes–like hijackings, bombings of population centers, espionage, infrastructural attacks, etc–and ensure that the related agencies are doing their jobs. That is, it would be impossible for the DHS to pick one plot–say, Snidely Whiplash blowing up a dam–out of a hat in time to prevent one in progress. But, the agencies responsible for the dam could be responsible for ensuring the structure is resilient and the security is sound. In turn, Homeland Security could make sure that this work is taking place and proceeding well.

You cannot predict every terrorist attack, but every terrorist needs tools to carry them out, and those common threads–a train station, an airplane, a dam–can be secured to ensure such plots, known or yet to be invented, could be prevented. In the meantime, experts at the DHS could watch the terrorist chatter like hawks, and indeed prioritize the likely methods and trouble spots for the benefit of other agencies. The DHS could in turn check that these agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities, and send liason officers to offer support and expertise.

Turf wars are common in government, and my impression is that the DHS tries to be a jack of all trades, ensnaring them further in multi-front battles. A support organization at the nexus of government security matters could be more effective than one lording over government with a heavy hand. An agency with the CIA and FBI whispering in its ear may be more effective than one fumbling to interlocute or aspiring to the status of a third player. Then again, I may have misinterpreted how the DHS works. I simply doubt that their reputation as a staggering and understaffed bureaucracy is entirely unfounded, and we’re all stinging from the department’s first major test: Hurricane Katrina.

June 3, 2008

We Have Met the Enemy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:17 pm

Chávez Decree Tightens Hold on Intelligence – NYTimes.com
President Hugo Chávez has used his decree powers to carry out a major overhaul of this country’s intelligence agencies, provoking a fierce backlash here from human rights groups and legal scholars who say the measures will force citizens to inform on one another to avoid prison terms.

Under the new intelligence law, which took effect last week, Venezuela’s two main intelligence services, the DISIP secret police and the DIM military intelligence agency, will be replaced with new agencies, the General Intelligence Office and General Counterintelligence Office, under the control of Mr. Chávez.

The new law requires people in the country to comply with requests to assist the agencies, secret police or community activist groups loyal to Mr. Chávez. Refusal can result in prison terms of two to four years for most people and four to six years for government employees.

On Sunday, Mr. Chávez referred to critics of the intelligence law as de facto supporters of the Bush administration and of the Patriot Act, the American antiterrorism law that enhances the ability of security agencies to monitor personal telephone and e-mail communications.

Mr. Chávez’s new intelligence law has similar flourishes. For instance, it authorizes his new intelligence agencies to use “any special or technically designed method” to intercept and obtain information.

There’s a saying that you know a man by his enemies; if you really want to know all about someone, look at the people he or she hates. And so, Hugo Chávez, while rightly criticizing American imperialism, chooses to fight it with a Patriot Act on steroids. Believe me, I loathe the federal government’s newfound love affair with spying on its own citizens, the national security letters, and the scandals of FBI agents seeding terrorist plots only to unmask them in hope of getting promoted. But the US government still has yet to propose a merged FBI and CIA (though the Department of Homeland Security could be considered a messy, understaffed, and ineffective version of that vision) and place it solely under Dick Cheney’s control, and meanwhile, the national security letter flood has subsided (though it’s our lawmakers’ responsibility to make them explicitly illegal). There’s a reason why we have separate domestic investigation and foreign intelligence agencies: while we should encourage the agencies to share the kind of information that could have prevented 9/11, it must be clear from the start that investigating criminal gangs in the United States is separate from keeping tabs on foreign governments, lest we begin spying on our own citizens. (Whoops…)

Shame on you, Hugo Chávez, for employing Bush-style “look over there!” tactics to distract people from your imperialist power grabs. You shoulda listened to the King of Spain when you had the chance.

–Hold on a second. There’s an “intelligence” and a “counterintelligence” agency? That sounds suspiciously like an attempt to portray all criminals as being insidious foreign actors. That’s what we do, Chávez! He’s like a Japanese automaker; he surprises us all by taking our models and making new ones far more advanced and efficient. That’s… terrifying.

May 13, 2008

The Obvious

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:41 pm

Iraq Contractor in Shooting Case Makes Comeback – New York Times

Last fall, Blackwater Worldwide was in deep peril.

Guards for the security company were involved in a shooting in September that left at least 17 Iraqis dead at a Baghdad intersection. Outrage over the killings prompted the Iraqi government to demand Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and led to a criminal investigation by the F.B.I., a series of internal investigations by the State Department and the Pentagon, and high-profile Congressional hearings.

But after an intense public and private lobbying campaign, Blackwater appears to be back to business as usual.

The chief reason for the company’s survival? State Department officials said Friday that they did not believe they had any alternative to Blackwater, which supplies about 800 guards to the department to provide security for diplomats in Baghdad. Officials say only three companies in the world meet their requirements for protective services in Iraq, and the other two do not have the capability to take on Blackwater’s role in Baghdad. After the shooting in September, the State Department did not even open talks with the other two companies, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, to see if they could take over from Blackwater, which is based in North Carolina.

“We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq,” said Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management. “If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq.”

And wouldn’t that be a shame?

March 31, 2008

A Winner is U

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:19 pm

TippingPoint | DVLabs | PWN to OWN: Final Day (and another winner!)

Ubuntu, that is! From the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter:

CanSecWest PWN2OWN 2008 contest had laptops with various operating systems: VAIO VGN-TZ37CN running Ubuntu 7.10, Fujitsu U810 running Vista Ultimate SP1, and a MacBook Air running OSX 10.5.2. All in typical client configurations with typical user configurations. Anyone who could expose vulnerabilities on one of the machines, could keep it.

At the end of the last day of the contest, only the Sony VAIO laptop running Ubuntu was left standing, and unhacked.

Ubuntu is not only secure, it is easy-to-use, powerful, and generally awesome. And I’m pimping it, so you know it’s good. http://www.ubuntu.com/

March 29, 2008

Shed a tear… or two

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:43 am

Palestinians Fear Two-Tier Road System – New York Times

BEIT SIRA, West Bank — Ali Abu Safia, mayor of this Palestinian village, steers his car up one potholed road, then another, finding each exit blocked by huge concrete chunks placed there by the Israeli Army. On a sleek highway 100 yards away, Israeli cars whiz by.

“They took our land to build this road, and now we can’t even use it,” Mr. Abu Safia says bitterly, pointing to the highway with one hand as he drives with the other. “Israel says it is because of security. But it’s politics.”

That is just gross. As much as I can sympathize with the plight of the Israeli people, attacked with guns and rockets by ruthless terrorists, that’s merely a convenient excuse for the government to build a highway on Palestinian land and then restrict it to Israeli nationals and kick Palestinian citizens to the curb. Apparently, the Israeli government is okay with keeping Palestine in the kind of economic hole that breeds terrorism and prevents peace. It’s an entirely unstable situation that this two-tier highway is exacerbating.


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