Friday, July 3, 2015

White House Fence Gets an Almost-Perceptible Security Improvement

The new spikes are on the left; if you squint, you might see them

Wasn't it all the way back in September 2014 that the White House had that fence-climbing intruder? The one who ran into the house despite all the security countermeasures in place to prevent something like that? And the administration is only now getting around to doing some tangible security improvement to the White House fence?

Better late than never, I guess. But, after nine months, you'd think they could have come up with something a lot more impressive than those tiny fence-top spikes. Those little things provide no appreciable gain in physical security, so far as I can see.

Here's the ABC News article on that minor perimeter security improvement - Metal Spikes Installed on White House Fence in Latest Security Renovation:

Metal spikes were installed atop the White House fence today, the latest enhancement to fortify the security perimeter at the White House.

U.S. Secret Service and the National Park Service mounted the "removable anti-climb feature" this afternoon, but the entire installation process will take six weeks. Designed by Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, the metal spikes installed today are only a temporary and will be replaced once a long-term solution is implemented, officials said.

Honestly, if a complete fence replacement is coming - someday? - why even bother with an insignificant interim improvement?

New Threat Warning, Same As the Old Threat Warning

It's a holiday weekend, and that means the bureaucrats of Homeland Security are at it again, issuing another vague but dire terrorism threat warning:

WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- Parades, fireworks and barbecues are annual July 4 traditions. So are reports of terrorist threats. And that makes Americans less likely to take them seriously even though this year's situation is new, experts say.

-- snip --

This week, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and National Counterterrorism Center issued a joint intelligence bulletin to law enforcement across the U.S. warning of threats from extremists tied to Independence Day.

"They can't not put out a warning, even if they have no indication of increased threat," said former FBI senior official Christopher Voss. "If an attack occurs, they would have no defense for not putting out a warning."

Voss, Clarke [an associate political scientist who researches counterterrorism and the Middle East at RAND Corporation] and other homeland security experts said these raised alerts could be less about safeguarding the public than making certain that the government is on the record about the seriousness of the threat should something happen.

"What's the alternative? Not take these things seriously then have something happen? If it ends up being overblown, I'll take that 10 times out of 10 over the alternative," said Clarke.

Thank You, noted Homeland Security Experts Voss and Clarke, for adding a moment of honesty amidst the panic-mongering of this latest baseless threat warning.

Indeed, what is the alternative to DHS, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the FBI all covering their collective bureaucrat asses by issuing vague warnings about non-specific threats? I guess the only alternative would be to say nothing when they have nothing to say. And then where would they be?

I could make some snarky remarks at this point about how nothing ever changes with these cynical threat warnings, but instead I'll just re-run what I said on the subject way back in 2008:

The FBI and Homeland Security have issued another of their vague terrorism warnings ("analytical notes") to local law enforcement agencies. See the Washington Post article Feds Warn About Possible Terrorist Plot Targeting NYC. As usual, they have no specific threat information and, consequently, no security countermeasures to recommend. They just want to drop their warning and let you make of it what you will.

Here are some quotes from the story:

We have no specific details to confirm that this plot has developed beyond aspirational planning, but we are issuing this warning out of concern that such an attack could possibly be conducted during the forthcoming holiday season," states the warning, which is dated Tuesday.

While federal agencies regularly issue all sorts of advisory warnings, the language of this one is particularly blunt.

Intelligence and homeland security officials are working with local authorities to try to corroborate the information "and will continue to investigate every possible lead," the memo says.

Knocke, the DHS spokesman, said the warning was issued "out of an abundance of caution going into this holiday season."

No changes are being made to the nation's threat level, or for transit systems at this time.

Here are news reports of two previous warnings, from November, 2007, and October, 2008.

The warnings always follow the same script. Timing is critical, since you want the threat to sound like it is imminent, but under no circumstances do you want it to be specific or linked to a certain date, like, 'next Monday,' otherwise people will start keeping track of how often these warnings are duds. The latest warning covers "the forthcoming holiday season," which is a nicely broad time frame. By the time the holiday season is over, we'll have new things to worry about and will have forgotten that something or other was supposed to have happened in New York.

I think of these FBI / DHS warnings as the Hallmark cards of the security industry, since they are sent out before all anniversaries and major occasions, religious holidays, national day celebrations, Presidential inaugurations, summit conferences, and so on. And that leads me to try my hand at some Hallmark-ish doggerel.

Roses are red, violets are blue,
here's a new analytical note for you.
You might be attacked this holiday season
or maybe not, who can tell? (there's no reason)

Our warnings we can't substantiate,
and against them there's no way to mitigate.
But take it from us and start to panic,
one day you'll go down just like the Titanic

We've been wrong in the past, but that's OK,
al Qaeda will strike again one of these days.
Maybe not now but someday, and soon,
we'll be right if we keep predicting your doom

Read us and worry, you never can tell,
it will do you no good, but then, what the hell?
It keeps us employed and no one minds,
So believe all our notes and our portents and signs!

I think that bit of bad poetry still holds up! BTW, nothing happened after that old threat warning, just as nothing will happen after this new threat warning. That's a bold statement, I know, given that anything can happen in this crazy world. But I do not live my life in a constant state of fear, and I hope you wouldn't, either.

Notice how that "analytical note" of a threat warning from November 2008 could be substituted word for word for today's July Fourth warning. That kind of language - no specific details ... an attack could possibly be conducted ... while federal agencies regularly issue all sorts of advisory warnings, the language of this one is particularly blunt ... the warning was issued out of an abundance of caution going into this holiday season - is meaningless and therefore endlessly repeatable for occasions of every sort.

Have a Happy Independence Day weekend, my fellow Americans. I'll see you all on Monday.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Forget the Mañana and Come to Havana With Me

They called him Cuban Pete, and I predict there will be a small Desi Arnaz revival once we normalize relations with Cuba.

That normalization will start tomorrow, according to AP's Matt Lee:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will announce Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba have finalized an agreement to reopen embassies in each other's capitals, a major step in ending hostilities between the Cold War foes, a senior administration official said.

The U.S. and Cuba have been negotiating the reestablishment of embassies following the historic December announcement that they would move to restore ties after a half-century of animosity. The U.S. embassy in Havana is expected to open in July.

Havana is a place I have always wanted to visit but, somehow, in TDYs to 70+ posts, I've never gotten there. This might be my chance at last.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What Fresh Hell Can This Be?

No, this can't be real. Bud Light - bad enough by itself - with clam juice?  With clam juice! No amount of lime and salt could possibly make that tolerable.

And it has only 4.2 percent alcohol, so there is no way I could ever got drunk enough on that stuff to not care that I was drinking beer with clam juice.

Who thought that up? And who drinks it, except maybe on a bet?

Coming soon: beer with goat cheese!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

It'd be a dull Big Fat Greek Wedding if no one got arrested

"Seven arrested at wedding reception melee in Ontelaunee" - Reading Eagle

About a dozen police departments in Berks County responded to restore order in the melee Saturday at Blue Falls Grove.

The bride was on the ground, surrounded by several females, police said. Showalter asked if she was all right, and she said she was not but “was just very upset at what happened” … The bride was later treated by Muhlenberg ambulance for alcohol poisoning and dehydration.

As police tried to restore order, the groom, Nicholas Papoutsis, 31 … challenged the officers to fight … “I tried reasoning with him, telling him that he didn't really want to get arrested on his wedding night,” Showalter wrote in the affidavit.

U.S. Embassy Bujumbura Has Got What You'd Call "Vulnerability"

To all the critics who claim that Fortress Embassies appear intimidating and unwelcoming to our foreign visitors, I say, look at that picture from U.S. Embassy Bujumbura, a safe, secure, and functional new embassy compound that opened only two years ago.

According to the WaPo story about today's incident, that old man in a blue suit who replaced the adorable Marie Harf as State Department spokesperson - what's his name again? - said that "There was never any penetration of the actual embassy compound, and none of our State Department employees were under any physical threat whatsoever.”

Okay, that's all good. But just as importantly, our foreign visitors really look like they were not the least bit unwilling to drop by despite our security architecture, don't they?

My good friends in OBO must be doing something right.

Please understand that I'm not criticizing. After all, how much protection can we reasonably expect from a simple gate? Even the best of them have a soft spot, as you might remember from Pinky's vulnerability assessment of Checkpoint 19 in The Grand Budapest Hotel:

Checkpoint 19 ain't no two-bit hoosegow. You got broad-gauge iron bars on every door, vent and window. You got 72 guards on the floor and 16 more in the towers. You got a 325-foot drop into a moat full of crocodiles. But, like the best of them, it's got a soft spot, which in this case happens to take the form of a storm-drain sewer system dating from the time of the original rock fortification way back in the Middle Ages.

Now, nobody's saying it's a stroll down a tree-lined promenade with a fine lady and a white poodle, but it's got what you'd call "vulnerability."

I'm still not criticizing, but, you know, maybe we could do something about that soft spot. Pinky, any ideas?

Sunday, June 21, 2015