Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Local Law Enforcement Agencies: Septic Tanks or Urban Wastewater Systems?

Just asking if some local city and county law enforcement agencies more resemble septic tanks or urban wastewater management systems is likely to upset a few people. Comparing public safety agency employees with components of sewage systems may sound offensive. As President George W. Bush might say, "That's misunderstandable."

It is not a bad analogy nor is it unflattering to all the employees.

Look at how a septic tank system works. In my analogy the tank's intake represents all a law enforcement agency's employees. The solid waste sludge layer at the bottom of the tank represents a relatively small percentage of employees who are corrupt, abusive, or otherwise unsuitable for public employment. The scum layer at the top represents a lazy, out-of-touch, or incompetent chief or sheriff and the worst of his/her command staff. The much larger water layer in between represents the majority of employees who are competent and honest and worthy of our trust and confidence. It is the employees forming the water layer who we hope would flow out of the tank to nourish the community and help it thrive and grow. The septic tank works well when it maximizes the volume of fairly clear non-toxic water, reduces or eliminates the toxicity of the scum layer, and breaks down the sludge layer while preventing it from ever contaminating the community.

As communities grow, septic tanks necessarily give way to urban wastewater management systems. These are larger, more complex, and technologically improved versions of the obsolete septic tank. Failing to maintain the septic tank or replace it with a better sewer system as the community's needs and conditions change results in unacceptably inadequate performance and eventually in avoidable illness or death. So it is with law enforcement agencies.

Neither system is perfect, so sometimes toxic components in the scum and sludge layers escape treatment. Their toxicity contaminates the water layer which flows into the community and causes severe harm. The community suffers debilitating consequences. In spite of frequent and glowing assurances from elected officials that their now-obsolete septic tanks are working just fine, the people in the community begin to realize that they need to change if they are to restore the community's health.

The people served by the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff's Office have recognized it is time to upgrade their law enforcement agencies. Thanks to diligent newspaper reporting by The Spokesman-Review, citizens have become aware of growing problems with Spokane's aged and failing septic tank law enforcement system. They have insisted their elected officials transition from it to urban wastewater mangement law enforcement. Citizens are demanding that elected officials fix the problem rather than just continue to cover up the bad smell and deny a problem even exists. Already there is improvement in the community's health.

Many residents of unincorporated Kootenai County and Coeur d'Alene are reluctant to upgrade our septic tank law enforcement system. It may be we have a higher tolerance for bad smells. Maybe we don't want to change because we personally know some components in the scum or sludge layer. Our local newspaper, the Coeur d'Alene Press, seems to have no inclination to pursue and report the source of the odors increasingly emanating from our back yards. It fails to question and report that some of the community's illnesses and deaths have resulted from an outdated or poorly managed system.

Law enforcement agencies, like wastewater management systems, are essential for public health and safety. Both must be properly designed, efficiently run, and upgraded as the community's needs change. The public needs reliable information from its local news media so we can contribute to the solution and not just complain about the bad odors.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Natural for the Animal Channel on Cable TV

Staff writer Parker Howell's The Spokesman-Review article headlined Forensic vet to examine most recent mutilated cat will probably cause someone to say, "What will they think of next? Now we have forensic veterinarians!" Can a cable TV show about forensic vets be far behind?

Forensic examination of animal remains is not new.

In June 1989 the US Fish & Wildlife Service dedicated its National Fish & Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.

The USF&WS Forensics Laboratory website is worth visiting to better understand why the forensics involved in wildlife law enforcement is every bit as challenging and important as in human law enforcement.

Addendum: According to The Spokesman-Review's story on Friday, August 25, 2006, the forensic veterinarian has concluded the cats were most likely killed by coyotes rather than humans. To its credit, the newspaper succinctly reports in non-gory terms how the veterinarian arrived at her conclusion.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Back Doors to Critical Infrastructure

Yesterday while my wife was gardening near our home's natural gas meter, she smelled the odorant which suggested there might be gas escaping near the meter. It wasn't an emergency, but she called Avista. A technician responded promptly, found the very minor leak, and fixed it.

Being a technologically curious person, I asked the service technician how Avista's wireless meter reading was working out. He seemed a bit surprised that I even knew about it. He seemed even more surprised that I was aware of security risks created when utility companies began to use wireless technologies (known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquistion or SCADA systems) to read and control systems.

In its August 2006 edition of its member magazine Signal, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association discusses SCADA vulnerabilities in an article entitled Back Doors Beckon Openly. The article refers to a Government Accountability Office report published nearly three years ago that went into considerable detail about the SCADA threat.

Public utilities (gas, water, electric, telecommunications) are part of our critical infrastructure. We as consumers should be aware of how prevalent SCADA systems are in our communities so we can report suspicious activities that may represent an effort to exploit a system vulnerability.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Hazardous Devices School

The August 2006 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin highlights the Hazardous Devices School or HDS. The HDS is a joint effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Army. Significantly, it is the only civilian school to train and certify civilian public safety bomb squads and technicians.

The HDS was created out of need. It's history is briefly described in the article. There is one very disappointing omission from the article: It fails to acknowledge the huge contribution of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI) in forming both the HDS and the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board. Since there has been an HDS, there has been IABTI.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Timely Reporting or Something Else?

On August 12, 2006, the Coeur d'Alene Press ran an article headlined "Souza accused of violating conflict of interest laws." The article was attributed to staff writer Marc Stewart. The article was not posted on the Press website. The article was untimely, factually deficient, and poorly edited.

The article reported that Coeur d'Alene Planning Commissioner Mary Souza had been accused of having a conflict of interest when she did not recuse herself from a special use permit hearing requested by applicant Jay Weedon. Weedon was proposing to start a children's birthday party business in a vacant warehouse zoned light industrial. His business would have been across the street from Souza's business that rents out party supplies. Souza made several comments in the hearing about the suitability of the location. The comments are reflected in the hearing minutes.

I had to re-read the Press article and the hearing minutes several times, because something was wrong. I finally concluded that what was bothering me was the article's timing and the absence of complete information in it. The article was very badly written or badly edited or both. If it was news at all, it was yesterday's news.

The Press article about the hearing and the allegation ran on August 12, 2006. The hearing was on May 9, 2006, more than 90 days earlier. The Press completely omitted the hearing date from its article. That significant omission had to be a conscious decision by someone. Why was the hearing date omitted? The story might have been newsworthy back in May, but what changed between May and August to make it newsworthy now? Nothing of consequence. If anything, its newsworthiness diminished with the passage of time.

The Press article failed to state the facts that led to Mr. Weedon's accusation that Commissioner Souza had violated conflict of interest laws. What were the relevant facts on which Mr. Weedon based his accusation? The Press article's failure to acquire and report those facts and apply them to the elements needed to show "conflict of interest" was remarkably bad reporting and grossly unfair to Commissioner Souza.

The Press headline, "Souza accused of violating conflict of interest laws," was inflammatory. The issue of "conflict of interest," if the issue ever existed, was resolved long before the Press's August 12 article. I question the Press's editorial judgment in using an inflammatory headline that misleadingly suggests the accusation is as yet unresolved.

After reviewing the minutes of the hearing, I concluded Commissioner Souza exercised bad judgment in some of her comments. I believe she inappropriately relied on her own personal knowledge and observations about the applicant's proposed business site rather than on the testimony in the hearing. A Planning Commissioner is like a judge or juror in a trial. A judge's or juror's decision must be based on the evidence admitted and presented in the trial. A Planning Commissioner's decision must also be based only on the evidence offered in the hearing. It would have been proper for Commissioner Souza to use her personal knowledge and experience to formulate questions for hearing witnesses, but it was improper for her to offer comments as a witness from a Commissioner's chair. She could not properly be both a witness and a Commissioner. It would have been better for her to recuse herself and then testify as a witness in opposition before the remaining Commissioners. Deputy City Attorney Warren Wilson's comments in the hearing minutes and in the Press article strongly suggest he believed her comments were inappropriate.

Commissioner Souza's error in judgment does not constitute or prove "conflict of interest." The Press article failed to differentiate between a conflict of interest and reliance on information from outside the hearing. So did Mr. Weedon.

If Commissioner Souza erred in her judgment, there was a remedy available to Mr. Weedon. City Code provides ten days to file an appeal of an adverse Commission decision with the Coeur d'Alene City Council. I strongly suspect that if he had done that, he would have prevailed. There are at least two members of the Council who see Commissioner Souza as a serious challenger for a council seat. But the fact is, I believe Mr. Weedon could have won his appeal based on the facts alone. Commissioner Souza's error in judgment would have made it even more palatable for the Council to overrule the Planning Commission decision, something it does without hesitation when it believes it's necessary or politically expedient.

According to the next to last paragraph in the Press article, Mr. Weedon said he didn't have the money to appeal the Commission's decision to the Council. That's interesting. Appeal bonds or fees are relatively modest and may even be waived. If he was sincerely interested in starting his business, he would have known (and his attorney should have advised him) that the appeal to the Council was his best hope of getting the essential special use permit. If his startup business were properly and adequately capitalized, the appeal fee would have been small in comparison to other costs of starting his business.

Mr. Weedon chose not to appeal. The Kootenai County Prosecutor found Commissioner Souza had not knowingly violated any laws, and he declined prosecution. That should have been the end of a relatively inconsequential story.

So why, three months after the May 9 Planning Commission hearing, did the Press suddenly see this as a timely news story? The timing of the story, resurrected from obscurity, suggests it was planted by someone wanting to discredit Commissioner Souza. The content of the story, or maybe the absence of content would better characterize it, is inconsistent with good reporting and good editing. It lacked substantive and complete information. The story's timing, its inflammatory headline, and its suggestive but flimsy and filmy information make it reasonable for readers to question the Coeur d'Alene Press's motives in publishing it.

I do.

Monday, August 14, 2006

MANPADS Components

No, it's not what you think.

MANPADS is the US Government's acronym for "Man-Portable Air Defense System". A more civilian-friendly term would be shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. It's the type of missile terrorists are most likely to use to bring down US aircraft including passenger aircraft.

Unfortunately, few public safety officers are trained to recognize MANPADS components. With its publication entitled MANPADS Components, the Defense Intelligence Agency's Missile and Space Intelligence Center has provided photos of these components. MANPADS are illegal for civilians to posses in the US without a federal license, and there are no current federal licensees.

MANPADS and components can be booby-trapped. Public safety officers, including Redstone-trained civilian bomb technicians, who encounter assembled MANPADS or components should not touch them. They should secure the area and then contact the nearest US military explosive ordnance disposal detachment for further instructions.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Critical Self-Analysis

If we listen to the Washington, DC, pundits who get their "facts" for analysis from their favorite news media, we might believe that the US military is either the best in the world or the most FUBAR in the world.

Fortunately, our military forces do not rely heavily on the news or the pundits who interpret it. The military services are forever self-analyzing, sometimes ad nauseum. The military recognizes and studies its failures as diligently as it studies its successes. Analyses of both failures and successes contribute mightily to lessons learned.

An example of a military failure analysis is in a May 25, 2006, paper entitled Information Operations in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom - What Went Wrong? by US Army MAJ Joseph L. Cox prepared for the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Israel - Hamas - Hezbollah: The Current Conflict

What information does the US Congress have about the current conflict involving Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah?

Read all about it in the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service's Report to Congress entitled Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah: The Current Conflict. The 45-page report was released on July 21, 2006.