Friday, January 9, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo Attack – A Foreshadowing of a U.S. Nightmare

At the risk of overstating causation, I have come to believe that the Jungian notion of collective unconsciousness operates like an unseen force in the world of terrorism.  This seems especially true in the context of modern, loosely affiliated terror groups.  While top-down organizational planning occurs in some cases, it is striking how many incidents are characterized as “lone wolf” exploits.  Despite this characterization, we know that these actors do not act alone in a broader sense.  Putting aside self-identification with a radical ideology, they also exhibit discernible patterns of approach and action.  Their tactics are drawn from a well of depravity over time and place, and show signs of adaptive continuity.  And, this brings me to my point.  I see a confluence of terror actions that reflect a shared vector of thinking which ought to raise alarms.  I am very worried that it is only a matter of time before a US school undergoes a commando style terrorist attack.  There are too many behavioral signals that lead in this direction.

The Paris terror attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine comes on the heels of the Pakistan school massacre where Taliban terrorists indiscriminately attacked a school and left 153 dead.  In the Pakistan school attack, a relatively few attackers were able to inflict massive casualties through a coordinated military style attack on a “soft” target.  The Charlie Hebdo attack was also a small coordinated action against a soft civilian target. But, the Paris attack also bears a similarity to the Boston Marathon bombings.  In each case, the perpetrators are disaffected immigrant bothers. Whether the Tsarnaev brothers influenced the suspected brothers in the Paris attack is not known, yet it bears a signature.

Following this Gestalt, the United States suffered the worst school shooting in history at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut in December 2012.  While not undertaken by a “terrorist” in the classical sense, the event was a proof point that very large casualties can be achieved by one actor, and schools are generally defenseless.  It also inflicted vast damage to the US national psyche.  Simply put, attack schools and you attack the very heart and soul of America.  Whether Adam Lanza inspired the Pakistan Taliban would be pure speculation, but again there is a signature of evil bearing a resemblance.  While the Taliban have routinely attacked small girls’ schools in Afghanistan under the pretense of religious offense, the Pakistan school attack had an entirely different tone. It was undertaken purely to exact great retribution and strike massive fear in the Pakistani population.  Framed differently, Sandy Hook showed feasibility and effect. A terror mind could not help but be influenced by the reality of its devastating effect.
The Paris attack has a linger to the Mumbai terror attacks in November of 2008 which resulted in 164 dead and over 300 wounded.  Mumbai was a tactical and behavioral departure point.  It showed that commando style attacks by a small coordinated group could exact large casualties on soft civilian targets.  While bombs were used, the use of automatic weapons was prominent.  The “success” of this style of attack again left its mark on the master psyche of terrorists.  The Charlie Hebdo attack just reinforced this notion. 

Going back even further though, it is possible to follow this deadly lineage and extract some lessons.  In 1998, the United States embassy bombings occurred which killed hundreds of people in simultaneous truck bomb explosions in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. The date of the bombings marked the eighth anniversary of the arrival of American forces in Saudi Arabia.  These bombings succeeded the Khobar Tower bombing in 1996, which was an attack on a US airman residential complex.  These attacks, while striking an arguably governmental targets, were nonetheless soft targets.  In the Khobar case, a petroleum truck bomb was detonated sheering off half of the building and killed 19 airmen in Saudi Arabia.   A year earlier, in 1995, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building with a truck bomb filled with fertilizer, collapsing half of the building and killing 168 people and injuring over 600 others.  The Oklahoma City attack was preceded by the first Twin Towers attack in 1993 when a truck bomb was driven into the belowground garage and detonated.  Even further back in time, we find the 1983 Marine Barracks attack in Beirut, which killed 229 servicemen with two truck bombs.  The Khobar attack a decade is eerily similar to it.  It is difficult to avoid the parallelism and conspiracy in thought that propels the next act of barbarity.
As far as the recent Paris attack is concerned, the perpetrators appear to have some connection with Syria.  As thousands easily move through Europe to fight with ISIS, these radicalized fighters will return as better trained, battle hardened zealots in Europe.  We can see the risks and challenges that European nations will continue to face.  But, the United States is hardly better off.  Without entering into the debate over semiautomatic weapons, the fact is powerful weapons are readily accessible and the United States’ porous borders affords small groups of terrorists relatively easy entry to the country. To assume we will remain insulated from motivated radical terrorists is a deadly mistake.  The means, proven feasibility, massive psychological terror factor and intent are all present.  The chance of commando style attach on a school by a few individuals is a real threat, as is a truck bomb attack.  While obtaining large quantities of explosive materials is difficult, hijacking or stealing a fuel tanker is not.  Driving a tanker into a school facility and detonating is a real possibility given past exploits.  Finally, using the two tactics in combination is also a possibility, given that have used similar tactics in Afghanistan and Iraq on police and army compounds.

In speaking with one law enforcement person about school safety, he indicated that most schools are not worried about active shooters, and are dealing with more practical day to day security problems.  While I can appreciate this pragmatism, there is an overarching pattern of potentiality borne out of past conduct that we ought to recognize.  I greatly fear that a terror attack on an U.S. school by militants is only a matter of time, and the effects will rock this Nation to its core.  I hope and pray that I am wrong. 
Yet, we need to heed the clarion call and continue to make changes in our security posture.  First, schools buildings need to be shielded from a truck assault.  Any large truck, like a tanker or trailer truck, needs to be routed and controlled outside a blast zone until it is verified.  Regional areas should have quick reaction counterterror swat teams that are equipped to respond and defeat well equipped and military trained terrorists.  Schools and law enforcement agencies need to have real time collaboration capabilities for situational awareness and ground truth for tactical advantage. Being able to communicate with school personnel and see inside schools is essential.  Glass windows and doors need to be upgraded to be more breach proof to delay an assault.  Reinforced safe areas should be created in schools.  More one-way exits should be installed to enable personnel and students to evacuate without going through bottleneck points and feeder spaces that create kill zones.  While many of these suggestions may seem over the top, a terrorist attack is by its nature dealing with the unthinkable.  The cost of hardening our schools is a small price to pay if it can save the lives of several hundred or more innocent children – namely ours.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why the Aereo Court Got it Wrong and What it Means

Image Credit: Wikipedia Public Domain
The US Supreme Court got it wrong in the Aereo[i] Decision, and it exemplifies a problem in US courts today.  Judges with little or no understanding of technology are making decisions that have far-reaching impacts on future innovation.  As a general matter, the Federal court system, especially at the appeals level, is comprised of older judges, many of whom are technically illiterate.[ii]  Further, even at the circuit level the vast percentage of judges as a matter of educational background and experience are lacking in the most basic technical understanding to be minimally equipped to make sound decisions.[iii]  Yet, it is nearly universally acknowledged that that our economy has undergone a shift from manufacturing to a digital information economy, and it is the court system that adjudicates disputes and is often forced to make decisions either based on outdated laws or immature digital laws that require an appreciation of technical context and nuance.   Aereo is a classic failure to intelligently navigate the realities of new technology that appear to trespass on old laws.   

In brief, Aereo Inc., is an innovative internet based video distribution company that uses individual antennas to receive locally broadcast TV transmissions then retransmits them to subscribers over the internet one a one to one basis.  The content of the transmission is not altered and is merely passed on to an individual subscriber that elects to request and receive the retransmitted stream for his viewing.   ABC and other broadcasters sued Aereo alleging copyright infringement.  In June, 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled that Aereo violated the Copyright Act of 1976 because Aereo infringed on a copyright owner’s exclusive right to perform the copyrighted work.  The Court relied on amendments to the Copyright Act that were introduced nearly 40 years ago when Congress took aim at Community Access Television (CATV) providers.  CATV providers were organizations that erected large antennas clusters to capture weak TV signal transmissions and retransmit them to underserved viewers in communities.  The Congress revised the Copyright Act to specifically state that the act of retransmission is a right reserved to copyright owners, reversing an earlier line of court decisions that held that merely retransmitting a broadcast without altering its content was not a performance protected under copyright laws.  Making an analogy to CATV providers, the Court essentially found that Aereo was performing the same function and therefore the Congress must have meant to prohibit Aereo’s activities.  

In reality, the Supreme Court made a decision on gut feel, effectively concluding Aereo had created some kind of “infernal machine” that beat the system.  In so many words, the Court divined that a 1970s Congress would have been offended by the outcome of Aereo’s technology rather than its substance.

In making its decision, the Supreme Court rejected several Aereo arguments that sought to distinguish it from a CATV provider.  These arguments included that unlike a CATV provider, Aereo was a one antenna to one viewer retransmission.  Whereas a CATV provider essentially rebroadcasts to anybody within its reception range, an Aereo subscriber, if it chooses to watch a show, must request the show and then when it does, a single antenna is enlisted to pick up the signal which is then converted to IP, temporarily stored and then forwarded to the requesting viewer.  In essence, Aereo argued that a one to one retransmission was not a public performance.  Aereo further argued that it was not a transmission within the meaning of the Copyright Act because it was not a broadcast transmission, meaning that it was not simultaneously transmitted in a wide area or a large number of viewers.    Calling upon poor analogies, the court rejected these arguments, and, most importantly, stated it was deferring to Congress’s intent.

When interpreting a law, deferring to the lawmaker’s intent, that is- determining what lawmakers meant when they enacted a law, has been recognized as the standard of proper judicial review since our founding.  However, despite the appearance of deference in this case, the Supreme Court, in reality, did the opposite.   Essentially, the Court took a nearly forty year old law that could not possibly have conceived or foreseen the technology at issue and speculated what Congress’ intent would have been if it understood the technology.  At some point, extrapolating intent to new circumstances moves beyond reasonable assumptions to activist speculation. This is the case here.

One of the fundamental principles underpinning the validity of any law is its certainty and clarity.  When a law is vague, it deprives all citizens of substantive due process, because a citizen cannot reliably determine whether an act is lawful or unlawful. Not knowing which the case is, a citizen must either forbear from an activity in fear that it may subsequently be determined unlawful or engage in activity under the threat of potential future jeopardy.  This is often referred to in the law as having a “chilling” effect.        

When the Aereo defendants claimed that the Court, if it sided with the plaintiffs, would chill innovation, the Court cast aside this concern while gratuitously acknowledging that Congress does not want to dissuade innovation.  Rather than undertake any substantive analysis, however, the Court merely ordained that the decision would have no adverse impact.  In justifying its determination, the Court emphasized that its ruling was limited and pointed to legislative history that the “[transmit amendment] does not determine whether different kinds of providers in different contexts also ‘perform’.”  But, this precisely what Aereo is.  A different kind of provider in a different context.   To this point, It should not go unnoticed that Court employed used car analogies and “knobs” in its decision to elucidate its technology analysis.  To prop up its finding, the Court turned to legislative history and selectively chose the history which best suited its decision.  Yet, by its own admission, it recognized that Congressional history specifically cautioned that new technology would not necessarily fall within the strictures of the retransmission amendment.    

So, how did the Aereo Court get it wrong? [iv] I would argue it simply did not understand technology to a degree necessary to appreciate the substantive technology issues in question. The Court was fumbling with and failed to grasp the concept of transmission.  A digital broadcast signal is encoded and then decoded when it is received.  This is the case with every TV with a digital receiver.  Once the signal is received, it is decoded and then “retransmitted” across a bus (a carrier) to a processor that then runs an application or function to visually display the data on a screen.  Aereo is simply distributing the same functions over space.[v]  Instead of using an internal bus, it is using the internet to deliver the signal to a computer viewer.  It is as if Aereo removed the box around the TV, and then separated and spread its components over distance and then reconnected the components with very long wires.  Is their a substantive difference merely because a passive box encloses the retransmission function?   Or, is it that the retransmission occurs within some undefined proximity to a viewer that the Court intuitively senses but never articulated?  As for the antenna aspect, again by viewing the function, Aero is no different from a viewer that rents a TV with a digital antenna, except the viewer just rents the antenna component in the Aereo case.  Again, we come to not so much to function as much as packaging and form factor.

When viewed within a comparative functional analysis, the court is simply off base.  The only valid argument one could raise is that transmitting a signal beyond is natural extent (i.e., the receivable coverage area) is exercising a transmission right more broadly than what the content owner intended.   Considered in this light, the question must be put whether any content owner or broadcaster that permits or engages in a broadcast over licensed spectrum to the general public at large is, by the very act itself, waiving its right to select who and how viewers may receive a signal.  It is as if an author dumped an unlimited number of copies of his book into the public square with a “free as long as you don’t tear out or add pages” sign, and then complains if Mr. Smith picks a few up and delivers them to the convalescent home.   If the format is generally decodable and the medium is receivable in the public airwaves, it certainly defies logic that a one-to-one re-transmission does anything more than the original act itself, assuming the viewer had the ability to or ought to have received the signal to start with. But the Court never reaches this level of inquiry in its decision.

Even assuming that Aero was engaged in something analogous to CCTV, the next question is what substantive harm has occurred if the content is unchanged and the content is broadcast for free.  If anything, the act of retransmission in unadulterated form advances the commercial interests of the broadcaster and owner.  It could be argued that the broadcaster suffers harm because the presentation has a particular placement in a series of presentations whereby if the presentation in question is not seen in series it diminishes its value.  This argument would be specious at best, because viewers have the unfettered ability to change channels, nor has any broadcaster attempted to impose a license condition that requires a viewer to be tethered to a channel for a series of programs.  Quite the opposite.  Each “show” is advertised and promoted as a separate work or performance such that no broadcaster adds any transformative value by showing a series of shows in any particular combination.      

Further, to the extent retransmission reaches a larger set of eyes and delivers the original advertising, it seems inexplicable how any broadcaster can claim harm.  If anything, retransmission furthers the economic interests of the broadcaster, and thus the owner of the work.  If the answer is “just because the owner is the copyright holder”, then the question must be whether there is a legally and morally sufficient basis to warrant the chilling of innovation when there is no readily apparent harm.   To this point, it is granted that an artist can control the distribution of his works.  For example, a private painting made for a person or special viewing may very well warrant protection because it was created with the specific purpose of a limited distribution.  The limited or private distribution is part of the original work itself.  It has a creative intimacy in its purpose.   On the other hand, by allowing broad public dissemination of a work to any and all who might view it, the work has lost its intimacy with its creator and there can be no compelling reason why it should be controlled as long as it does not cause economic harm. 

As technology accelerates and provides increasingly more ways in which viewers may receive, view, interpret, interact and enhance works, the courts need to recognize that technology is forcing courts to dig deeper into the substantive nature of intellectual property and understand precisely what is protectable and why a work is protected.  Simply dithering and fudging around the edges with narrow holdings and vague notions does not advance the interests of society, and harms innovation and creativity because of uncertainty.   They create vast uncertainty, because it is impossible to distill any rational boundaries that can be applied by a technologist. 

Our judiciary is in desperate need of qualified jurists with a sound understanding of technology, otherwise the ingenuity and creativity that drives our economy will suffer in the morass of legal uncertainty. 

Disclosure:  The author has no direct or indirect interest in Aereo or any party related or affiliated with Aereo.

[i]  American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2498 (2014) (Web Link:
[iii] See, discussion of general expertise of judges:
[iv] See, Copyright: ABC, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., 128 Harv. L. Rev. 371 (Nov. 2014), for an interesting discussion of “purposivism and textualism”.
[v] Id. Some describe this as raising uncertainty with “cloud” implementations.  Again, it misses the point.  Even the NIST definition of what a cloud service is ambiguous at best.  See, NIST Special Publication 800-146 which contemplates hybrid implementations.  An understanding of how technology is doing a function is essential as what it is doing in any substantive analysis, because the "how" informs the "what." 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ebola - A Global Terror Vector

This is a copy of an article submitted to the Yale Global Health Review in February, 2014 for publication.  It was never published.  This paper was a self study project undertaken by my daughter.  With the current emerging global Ebola crisis, this information is too important not to release to the web.  YGHR missed the boat on a critical global health issue. 

Joe Mazzarella 
Global Health Risks of Non-state Transnational Terror
Grace Mazzarella
January, 2014

In September of 2000, the United Nations, through its member states, agreed on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The MDGs are a series of goals aimed at making measurable improvements in alleviating worldwide poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women within a 15 year period.  Since its adoption, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that great strides have been in the intervening years.[1]  These gains are the result of concerted governmental and non-governmental programmatic efforts.   Despite this progress, these gains are vulnerable to being undermined by both well-known and less well-known and understood emerging systemic threats.  One of these less well-known and understood threats is the emerging systemic risks associated with the agents and causes of geopolitical conflict.   In the area of global health, the new paradigm of multinational, non-state sponsored terrorism represents a significant and growing risk factor with unique challenges for the world health community.   

Most state efforts to combat terrorism are motivated by a desire to prevent acts of terrorism and their immediate impacts, namely the indiscriminate loss of life and injury to civilians and noncombatant personnel.   While acts of terrorism catch worldwide media attention, terror groups can have significantly greater far reaching and lasting effects through sustained low intensity conflict.  Terror in itself is not the objective for terrorist groups inasmuch as it is to create conditions of increasing civil instability to achieve various ends.  These ends are often political, ethnic and/or religious in nature.  As a consequence, civilian populations are often targeted based upon on their ethnic and religious composition and political alignments.  For the ideological modern terrorist, the objective is to inflict not only death, but to instigate mass displacement and removal of objectionable segments of the civil population.  This, in turn, creates enclaves of control to stage, assemble and support larger operations with the intent of further challenging incumbent government forces, disrupting national systems of civilian and military support, such as commerce and transportation routes and utility infrastructure, and creating successively greater instability within the state.   These strategies and mass displacement effects have been observed in a variety of conflicts including Iraq, Syria and the Sudan.
Focusing on Syria, one needs to only consider the scale of humanitarian tragedy occurring in Syria to understand the scope and nature of this problem.    As of the writing of this Article, the United Nations High Commissioner Refugees (UNHCR), reports that over 2.3 Million refugees have been displaced from their Syrian homes as a result of ongoing civil war, and it is predicated that the refugee population could reach 4 Million if the conflict continues along it present course.[2]  Despite its political characterization, the greater reality is that the Syrian civil war is being fueled by an influx of multinational Islamic fighters, many of which are aligned with known terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and external state sponsors of terrorism like Iran.[3] Beyond the effects of conventional fighting between insurgents and government forces, civilian populations have been brutalized by numerous reported attacks of barbarity designed to terrorize and incite mass civilian departure.  In one of many similar reported incidents, on January 17, 2014, Al-Qaeda insurgents reportedly overran the western-backed Free Syrian Army held town of Jarabulus located in Northern Syria.  Al-Qaeda fighters then initiated an indiscriminate killing spree, murdering men, woman and children.   Among their heinous acts, over hundred men were rounded up and Al-Qaeda fighters began slaughtering them, including beheading their victims and posting heads on spikes.  As a result of this terror, nearly 1,000 civilians fled for the safety in Turkey.[4]   Syria’s civilians, much like in other recent modern terror infused conflicts, are suffering extreme and indiscriminate brutality which is driving mass population displacement.

But Syria is not unique.  In many of today’s conflicts around the globe, terrorist organizations operate to destabilize government institutions by sowing fear and insecurity among the populace, and eroding the will and capacity of government institutions to carry-out the delivery of basic services.[5]  Whether one begets the other is open for debate, however it is generally recognized that terror groups tend to coalesce and root themselves in places where governments are politically weak and have failing civil institutions.  Cases on point include Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Indonesia and Yemen, among others.[6]  In fact, the number of displaced person has risen year over year and reached its highest since 1994 with an estimated 45 Million refugees, and the UNHCR reports that vast percentage of refugees are arising within the aforementioned countries.[7] As non-state actors foment civil unrest and spread terror, large civilian displacement becomes a major pandemic disease vector that has broad regional and global implications.
By way of example, the Syrian war has given rise to an outbreak of polio, a disease that has been effectively eradicated from most of the global community, save a few, through decades of vaccination efforts.  Prior to the conflict, the last reported case of polio in Syria was reported in 1995.  In November of 2013, the WHO raised an alarm with an outbreak of up to 37 confirmed cases of polio. [8]    As result, a massive immunization effort has been launched to stem the outbreak.  Nonetheless, this in turn has raised fears that there is high risk of a polio outbreak in Europe given that large numbers of Syrian refuges may begin to migrate from temporary camps in neighboring countries to Europe as they search for better living conditions.[9]
Other places where polio has gained a foothold through disease importation include the African horn nation of Somalia, which is home to a nominally functioning government and numerous terror camps.  Other countries of polio importation, as reported by the WHO, include several African countries with terror based insurgencies such as Niger, Mali and the Congo.[10]  Meanwhile, the countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria remain polio endemic.  All of these locations share another common thread besides polio.  They are each suffering from ongoing conflict spurred by endemic terror groups operating within their borders are main drivers of forcible displacement.
 Overall, the Syrian conflict serves as a powerful example of the role that non-sate terror organizations play in breeding conditions for global health emergencies and potential pandemics.  While the twentieth century was occasioned by state conflicts, the twenty-first century has given rise to a new form of non-state entity conflict that is transnational in nature.  Hallmarked by internal destabilization, these forces operate to sow political instability and fear among the populace and ignite civil strife.   Unlike traditional sovereign conflicts, the ability for world organizations to reach into and operate in these conflict areas to stem global health emergencies is often hampered due to non-existent diplomatic functions and no reliable or formal command and control leadership capable of brokering necessary conditions of security and safety for non-combatant relief workers.   In Syria, the effort to provide humanitarian relief has been thwarted in many cases and nation-states have been unable to provide consistent meaningful humanitarian aid.[11]
In the emerging reality of geopolitical conflicts characterized by non-state terror groups, it is possible that global health emergencies may be exploited as another tactic to create large scale destabilization and fear.  In this vein, while seemingly remote, it is not unreasonable to assume that terror groups could seek to spread highly contagious diseases in target populations through one or more terrorist cells.  In essence, the dynamics of population displacement, nonfunctional health delivery systems, and access to contagious diseases becomes a vehicle for biological warfare, or coined another way its own weapon of mass destruction (WMD).  While polio would be an unlikely candidate due to mass vaccination, infectious diseases such as the hemorrhagic Ebola or Marburg viruses could be used to create a large scale pandemic with a small team of sickly volunteers. Further, proximate access to and vectors for movement by a multinational terror organization are present because they are coincident with terror endemic areas, notably the Sudan, Uganda (bordering South Sudan) and Democratic Republic of Congo.[12]  These viruses can be opportunistically identified in the population and then intentionally passed from a host to willing conspirators. Placing “ground zero” patients inside of highly dense refugee camps along and infecting several disparate international targets has the potential to create global impacts that could overwhelm response systems and resources.  This tactic, albeit crude by today’s standards, has a historical precedent within North America when British forces used infected blankets of small pox to eradicate Native Indians during the French Indian Wars.[13]
More generally, non-state controlled areas with largely collapsed or inoperative healthcare systems and large refugee populations present conditions for pandemic outbreaks that can impact local, regional and global security.   This risk requires collaboration and attention among not only world health authorities but political and policy leaders, security experts and institutions of research and higher learning in order to create the necessary programs to monitor, identify, respond to and mitigate these hazards.    As the world community makes progress towards its MDGs, it is important that it recognize emerging changes in geopolitical dynamics and be prepared to adapt its programs and strategies to counter their associated risks. 

[1] United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, 1 July 2013, ISBN 978-92-1-101284-2, available at:
[2] Syria Regional Refugee Response, UNHCR Interagency Information Sharing Portal –Regional Overview, Web. 20 Jan. 2014 (
[3]  Laub, Zachary, and Masters. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq (a.k.a. Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria)." Council on Foreign Relations, March 2013.
[4] Hunter, Isabel, Al-Qaeda slaughters on Syria's killing fields, AL Jazeera Online (January 21, 2014) (
[5] Audrey Cronin, Ending Terrorism – Lessons for Defeating Al Qaeda, International Institute for Strategic Studies (Adelphi Paper 393, 2008), Ch. 1.
[6] National Counter Terrorism Center, Counterterrorism Calendar 2014 – Interactive Map, Web, accessed January 22, 2014 (
[7] UNHCR-Global Trends Report 2012, Displacement-The New 21st Century Challenge, June 19, 2013 (
[8] Global Alert and Response, World Disease News, Polio in the Syrian Arab Republic – update, World Health Organization (November 23, 2013), Web (
[9] Eichner &Brockmann, Polio emergence in Syria and Israel endangers Europe, The Lancet,  Volume 382, Issue 9907, Page 1777, 30 November 2013 (Elsevier Ltd, pub. online November 8, 2013,
[10] Polio Global Eradication Initiative Annual Report 2012, World Health Organization (WHO, Geneva, March 2013). (
[11] Blanchard, Humud & Nikitin, Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and US Response, Congressional Research Service, Rel. RL33487, January 14, 2014 (avail., 10. “As with humanitarian assistance, U.S. efforts to support local security and service delivery efforts to date have been hindered by a lack of regular access to areas in need. According to Administration officials, border closures, ongoing fighting, and risks from extremist groups have presented unique challenges.”
[12] CDC, Known Cases and Outbreaks of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever in Chronological Order, Web, accessed January 23, 2014, and CDC, Known Cases and Outbreaks of Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever, in Chronological Order, Web, accessed January 23, 2014. (
[13] F. Fenner et al., The History of Small Pox and its Spread Around the World, (Geneva, WHO, 1988): 239.] See, also, Sheldon J. Watts, Epidemics and History: Disease, Power and Imperialism (Yale University Press, 1999) for a comprehensive exposition on the geopolitical impacts and epidemics in the Western world.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Moving Towards Smarter Immigration and Border Control

Significant political debate swirls around the issue of illegal immigration within the United States. Despite the great divergence of opinion regarding immigration policy, one would believe that controlling border entry is an area of consensus. If nothing else, a porous border presents significant risks of importation of disease, criminality and terrorism. One aspect of the border and immigration problem that has been overlooked is the effective use of systematic information gathering and sharing to begin to discover the source, means and methods being used to exploit our borders. Simply stated, a tremendous amount of intelligence with immense value is being left on the table. Whether intentionally or unintentionally so, we are operating with blinders as we play cat and mouse games at the border.

In large measure, the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States is being facilitated by systemic processes fostered by transnational drug cartels and other organized criminal groups that seek to profit from human smuggling. Successful border exploitation is a result of decades of experience through trial and error associated with drug trafficking. In the evolution path to human smuggling, there is the early experience of the “mule”. These are illegal aliens encouraged to cross borders with contraband. Enterprising criminality quickly recognized that humans themselves are merely another form of contraband form which to profit. Human smuggling is simply a natural outgrowth of a matured and operationalized illegal drug trafficking phenomena.

In this regard, Illegal immigration bears the hallmarks of a large scale, organized criminal enterprise with hierarchal command, divisions of labor and functions, specialization, communication and transportation systems and money laundering infrastructure. The picture of a poor immigrant family picking up roots on their own and making their way to a new way of life is outdated. Illegal immigration is big business. Criminal syndicates operate across borders through untold numbers of “street soldiers” recruited through gangs operating in the United States and abroad. Beneath the surface, a highly adaptive and effective system exists consisting of recruiters, safe houses, look-outs and counter intelligence, document forgers, identity thieves, chop shops and auto-body repairers, transporters, enforcers, money facilitators, and guides. Drug trafficking, human smuggling and gun smuggling all share the same ecosystem of illicit activities. When we fail to gather information that helps to define the nature and extent of this far reaching system and how it operates, we limit our understanding and deprive ourselves of the ability to effectively combat and defeat these activities.

In many ways, we are currently hindering our ability to discover essential information. Currently, efforts to police illegal immigration are effectively segregated from other law enforcement activities that focus on criminal activities. This is further compounded by numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have different jurisdictional and enforcement mandates rendering day to day cooperation and information sharing among agencies challenging. Local law enforcement is the most effective day to day information gathering agency because it is embedded in the local community and has a more intimidate understanding of what is happening on the street. Yet, as a matter of federal policy, local law enforcement is unable to enforce illegal immigration laws and detain illegal aliens. The best local law enforcement can do is refer the matter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement which, in turn, is overwhelmed and allows individuals to remain free on their own recognizance except in the most egregious cases. Being by nature transient and wishing to evade enforcement, most illegal aliens never report back and melt into the landscape. On the other side of the coin, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no idea where most illegal immigrants are located at any point in time and the data that is available is often stale or erroneous.

Despite these problems, illegal aliens have been given access to public educational and health and welfare programs without any form of verification as to their stay status, and in many cases stolen social security numbers and other false documentation is presented. Public welfare institutions and healthcare facilities are blocked from verifying identity or reporting the presence of illegal aliens to law enforcement. So, at all levels, the ability to gather information about the whereabouts of illegal immigrants, is either nonexistent or exists in silos.

Therefore, one of the first steps to beginning to solve illegal immigration problem is knowing the nature and extent of the problem, and beginning to unravel the means, methods, persons and organizations behind this phenomena. This can occur with a combined effort among federal, state and local agencies to actively track and record the presence of illegal aliens. Law enforcement, schools, hospitals, and public benefits programs must be enlisted to report the identity and presence of illegal immigrants. Further, the use of social security numbers should be required to be reported to a national database to begin to ferret out identify fraud. Assuming there will be policy towards allowing illegal immigrants to stay under a documented worker program, there should be a requirement that illegal immigrants provide key information that can assist authorities in developing a better understanding of the system they are fighting. This information would include where illegal immigrants came from, how they were recruited, who recruited them, who helped them and how they made their trip, where did they stop, etc. Just like an employment application, truthfulness and accuracy should be required as a condition to stay and any inaccuracy should be grounds for deportation.

Over time, a reservoir of data and associated trends and correlations will begin to emerge. Americans have an uncanny ability to tackle complex problems when they put their minds to it. Being able to track, quantify and analyze illegal immigration should be something that stands above immigration policy. Information collection will empower policy makers and those with the responsibility of enforcement. When we begin to recognize that the border does not stop at the border, and illegal immigration effects every community, we will recognize that border protection is an internal matter that is best addressed by all communities working together, and it starts with gathering and sharing information.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Global Crime & Sex Syndicates & the Internet

On a recent trip to a foreign country, I had the opportunity to meet with a leading law enforcement official of a major city who provided a glimpse into a typical “global ground zero” problem – a poverty racked slum area where drugs and sex intersect with the vulnerable poor of the world.  This location was one of countless other locations around the globe that are incubators feeding organized crime and terror.   Here, the buildings were ramshackle, itinerant men and woman, mostly young, mingled about in the shadows as drug and sex were sold in a virtual open market environment.    From a security camera we were able to observe in a matter of moments a potentially violent sexual act about to occur in a public area.  Police were called in and the two were arrested.   But this small incident is one of hundreds occurring every day.  Law enforcement can do little but standby and contain the area and address only the most egregious of situations.  In that moment, I had a realization.  These areas of abject poverty are merely a reflection of a greater disturbing global reality.  This city in a far-away place was connected to the US, and we connected to it in profound ways.   It is the money generated from the sale of illicit drugs, human trafficking and pornography that is undoubtedly financing the continuing growth of increasingly complex and interconnected global criminal and terror organizations.  These organizations have worldwide reach and shadow connectivity through the power of the internet.  Perhaps this is not a major revelation given that it has been printed elsewhere, but it takes on a new meaning when directly faced with the reality of poverty from the eyes of law enforcement.   For most, slums are not areas visited by tourists, and in most instances great efforts are made to keep tourists from “unsafe” areas and likewise to keep inhabitants of these from secure tourism areas.  This is done for good reason, but in another way it does a great disservice because it hides from the eyes of the well to do the reality of the rising criminal exploitation of global poverty.  Simply put, whether it is drugs, prostitution or pornography, these seemingly victimless vices are hardly that.  They are fed by the exploitation of the poor at ground zero.
After my visit, I conducted a few simple Google Searches.  The first search was the name of the subject country plus the search term “woman”.  This search returned numerous “dating” and “marriage” sites aimed at foreigners.   It seemed rather obvious that these sites, for the most part, were thin veneers for sex tourism.    Any business man or tourist on a visit could seemingly be easily arranged with a young woman for a “date”.   I next conducted a search with the country name in question coupled with the not overly explicit term for a woman’s chest – a rather basic search that would be performed by any overly inquisitive male youth in Anytown, USA.   Google images returned literally thousands of explicit images most of which were considerably more graphic than the search term implied.    A quick review of the search displayed several disturbing things.  A subjective assessment of the first two pages of Google’s image returns suggested that as many as 20% of the images could contain young woman of questionable age – meaning a reasonable person might question whether the subject’s age is over majority or the images were intended to convey youthfulness.  [Notably, Google has listed several image removals in the return footer, but by clicking on the notice, all were for DCMA copyright violations…from other image owners]. 
Following one Google return image with a young woman and a man in an explicit act, Google forwarded me to a web site which purported to be a blog.  The site titles were explicit and referred to “teens” from the geographic area in question.   I chose not to investigate any further.   Rather, I chose to pursue the underlying blog platform provider.  But as I encountered this, it became clear that young woman throughout the world offer an endless supply of victims for this insidious industry and the poor are incredibly vulnerable.  [Editor Note:  After a lot of researching to find a way to report objectionable material to Google, I found that the Google linked to the National Center for Missing Children (NCMC) -  I did report my concerns about the site in question.  But, this editor wonders why it is so difficult to report offensive images.  I discuss this further below.]
Beyond the presence of the material on the blog, the blog itself struck me for what is was in relation to the problem at hand.  It is a rapid web page creating, editing and posting technology that provides a means to pump out illicit materials quickly and make them globally available in an instant.   Once out on the internet, images are copied, reposted and linked to in many ways, and automated search engine crawlers quickly find, index and make them available in search returns.  A review of the underlying sex blog platform revealed it was created several years ago, and its express aim is to allow for the rapid creation of sex oriented blog sites which cannot be created or maintained on popular blog sites (A simple footer at the bottom of the blog site contains a button to report complaints, at best a token effort to avoid complicity with those spawning pornography).  This blog platform is likely one of a great number available.  While blogging technology is no longer deemed cutting edge, a glimpse into the power of technology is offered in its ability to enable large scale illicit activities with relative ease.  With new social technologies like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which allow photos and videos to be posted immediately to the internet and subscribers to view them, the power to proliferate pornography is virtually unlimited and uncontrollable.  In a recent conversation with a board member of a private Christian school and I was shocked to learn that there was a problem with 6th graders and “selfies”.    Apparently, there were a large number of young girls sending out unsuitable photos of themselves to friends using Instagram.    One would expect a Christian private school to be an environment that encourages self-control, moral behavior and boundaries, but the presence of internet connected camera phones makes it so easy to produce explicit photos and share them, there are no longer any barriers and in their absence even those inculcated with morals and ethics feel free and empowered to abandon them.  
It would seem axiomatic that for every woman exploited on the internet, there are equal or greater numbers still that are being abused through local prostitution, sex tourism, and human trafficking.  The presence of drugs serves to addict, undermine and enslave the poor, not only taking what little money they have but serving as vehicle to a criminal lifestyles controlled by their masters in exchange for the next fix.   For other innocents, the entry into this world is not their own doing.  They are forcibly taken or fraudulently induced into captivity through friends and associates working on behalf of local criminals often connect to larger criminal enterprises.   Often, the prospects of apparently legitimate employment opportunities in the hospitality and retail industry are used to attract low skilled workers only to find out later there is no real job and they are to be held against their will and placed into prostitution.   Using the stigma of sex slavery and also illegal immigrant status, these young victims feel trapped in hopelessness, being ashamed to contact family and friends and afraid to contact law enforcement. 
So, what can we make of this?  The notion that pornography and illegal drugs are victimless crimes seems to be fundamentally wrong.  There is a clear nexus between criminal drug activity, sex crimes and pornography.  Where one is, the other is likely to be found.  The sources of these victims are found in places of poverty around the globe.  The victimization is global in nature not only because the internet allows for global distribution, but because internet connectivity and global commerce enables affiliations of criminal and terror groups that can work in concert over large distances.  The means, methods and opportunities are all present with little to no barriers, and detection is difficult.
With respect to the United States, the demand and use of illegal drugs and the unlimited access to pornography and ability to shop for prostitutes via the internet serves to fuel these destructive organizations.    The internet has placed the poor in far-away places in the cross hairs of web sites and search engines and there are plenty of bad actors willing to exploit this at the expense of the ultimate victims - the poor, young and helpless trapped in grinding poverty.   
While efforts have been focused on making voluntary search filters available to users, it seems that the problem is bigger than selective search filters.  For example, Google’s “safe search” can be applied and it will filter out explicit and obscene material with generally good results.  However, it is as simple as changing a setting with one click to remove the protection.   More problematic still is that while we wish to avoid censorship and promote free expression, the ability to embed potentially unlawful images in web sites and return them in searches is a major concern, especially with respect to the exploitation of underage children.  There is simply no means available to validate whether an image is the product of exploitation, whether it involves minors, unlawful imprisonment, coercion or other unlawful conduct.  Thus, as a general question, we must ask ourselves whether the content has any real value or legitimate public interest when weighed against the risks and harms present to victims. 
One possible means of beginning to control this problem is by blocking key words associated with images that are intended to convey or suggest illegal content.  This would require search engines and ISPs to challenge the propriety of content with a presumption that it should not be published if there is a suggestion of illegal content.  Another means of controlling proliferation of illicit content would be for search engines to establish a database of illicit images and video content, and to provide the public with a prominent way to report illicit or suspect content.    
Overall, general awareness is an important aspect of reigning in this global exploitation problem.  While pornography has become increasingly accepted and common place in our society, it has gained acceptance in the absence of awareness of the human toll upon its victims in far-away places.  Perhaps for those search engines that really desire to make a difference, their advertising platforms could be harnessed to provide counter-messages regarding exploitation, missing woman and other compelling social messages that would make viewers think twice.   It would seem that technology has created a supply side problem and it is fueling demand and consumption.   The ability to empower users to turn away by volition (through both blocking and informative technology) will begin to put a dent in the global syndicates that derive financial reward from these activities. Doing so is on our best interest because these global criminal organizations and their increasing association with terror groups are ultimately a threat to our own security.