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Radically Inept
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
  Well, I'm back from what turned out to be a great conference, well actually, two separate forums - Sam Nunn & Founder Day Forums. I will give a brief summary of some of what I thought were the highlights here, and am trying to contact several of the presenters for copies of their remarks, and clarifications of some of their statements. Actually, in reference to Founder's Day, I was only able to attend "The Impact of Terrorism on Society: Global Perspectives" panel. All four panelists made great presentations:


I have written Dr Ursana of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, to ask him for a copy of his slides. If I get them, I will try to figure out how I can post them and link to them. They contained a great deal of information, and while not as good as hearing his insights in person, they would be worth reading.

Mr. Gilles Andreani, head of the policy planning staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in France and Advisor to the Foreign Minister, delivered a fine presentation, and did touch on US-French relations following 9/11 and the Iraqi War. He stated that Europe as a whole supported the Afghan invasion, and in fact the French still have a significant presence in Afghanistan, but thought the Iraqi invasion was not related to the 'war on terrorism', and was ill advised. I will attempt to contact him through the local French consulate (who is a very nice gentleman in his own right) to get a copy of Mr. Andreani's remarks (as he was the key note speaker at lunch the following day for the Sam Nunn Forum, I will try to get a copy of that as well). I see no reason to attempt to paraphrase him on many of his points, unless I am unable to get copies.

I have also written Commodore Uday Bhaskar, Deputy Director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, India, for some clarification of his remarks, and hopefully a copy of his notes. He brought a very different view to the discussion. He ran a little long, but some of what he said startled me a little. Here's a teaser: I thought I heard him state that the US and China both had a hand in Pakistan's development of a nuclear capability. I certainly hope he replies and provides clarification, but the statement was certainly provacative. He also had some interesting thoughts on the evolution of terrorist activities and their goals within the region, which I will go into more detail later, if I do not receive the info in his own words.

The following day, I was able to attend the entire event: The Sam Nunn Bank of American Policy Forum "Bioterrorism Preparedness: The Imperative for Public Private Partnerships". This was my second, Sam Nunn Forum, and if any of you are in Atlanta next spring, you should try to attend. Both of the events I have attended were first class in every way. There were four sperate panels of four speakers each, so again, I will not attempt to cover all of them at this time. I will say that therre was a great deal of valuable information put out, and I will try to go more into depth on some of the subjects in the coming days. For now, let me address two specific incidents where I found answers wanting.

The first one seems to be a confirmation of what David Neiwert over at Orcinus has been saying for quite awhile now. After Sam Nunn made his opening remarks (brilliant as usual), he was followed by Gen John A Gordon. Gen Gordon spoke on what the president is doing in general on preventing and responding to terrorism, and then focused specifically on bioterrorism. During his entire presentation, he seemed focused only on Middle-Eastern/Islamic terrorists, so during the question and answer segment, I asked him about it; I mean, how often am I going to get a chance to ask a question of an advisor to the President of the US?
Anyway, my question was something like, "Sir, in view of the activities of ELF, ALF, the recent Krar Incident and the fact that the anthrax attacks appeared to have origniated domestically, what is the president doing in reference to domestic terrorism?" HIs reply was something along the lines of 'the FBI handles domestic terrorism, and the Director of the FBI briefs the president daily on any incidents'.

My thoughts were, wow, really, even after all the talk we've had about integrating the intelligence community and the FBI, and that the second largest terrorist incident in our history involved the domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, the best that the advisor on homeland security to the president can tell me, is that the president get's briefed by the FBI on incidents. No, 'I meet with the director of the FBI, and we coordinate information on ongoing investigations to brief the president', or 'good question, as the president's advisor on homeland security, it is my job to coordinate the information between various agencies on potential domestic threats as well as foreign terrorist threats'. Obviously there is still a huge disconnect in the administration on just what terrorism and homeland security mean. I was very disappointed.

I will pause for now to watch the repeat of the Daily Show, since I missed it last night. I will add to this post later...

On to the second incident upon which I wish to comment on tonight. This one concerns the presenation by James J. Augustine, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, Emory University and Medical Director, Atlanta Fire Department. He made a fairly stellar presentation. My issue revolves around the fact that he sited the value of Sara Title 3, part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, in reducing the hazards to first responders and the community. However, during the question and answer period, I pointed out that under current law (I believe it was included in the Homeland Security Act, I'll have to confirm) chemical companies which pass thier information on to the Department of Homeland Security, basically avoid the
Community Right-to-Know intent of this and other recent environmental laws. His response was that trade offs are necessary, and that the first responders would still have that information. I found this response failing on a couple of levels.

The first part of what I think is a failing, is in the area of risk communication. If you were to let me know the real risks in the event of an incident at a local chemical plants to me and my family, I might justifiably not buy a residence in the neighborhood of the plant. My level of risk averseness is such that I'm not buying in a neighborhood with any sort of real risk of a poisoness gas cloud or something similar, has even a low probability of occurance.

In a sort of strange relationship in this case, is that it flies in the face of free market theory. I could well be paying more for property in the area of such a plant, than I would if I knew the risks. And, if the information comes out after my purchase, my asset value in the home purchased could potentially plummet. Consider what the value of a home in the area of the old Monsanto plant in Anniston is now that the level of PCB contamination is known. So, this provision creates an information asymmetry in the real estate market.

In a different vein, in view of how much information was presented on the stress, including financial, to the public health community in the event of an incident (interestinglye nough, there is no hospital in the US today, that can handle the sudden influx of 500 patients in an emergency situation), allowing this risk makes no sense in relation to public finance. In fact, it might well be cheaper to pay the company to relocate the plant outside of populated areas than incur the costs of an accident or act of terrorism. One might argue that by placing plants like this they become obvious terrorist targets, but it is my contention that once these plants are removed from populated areas, their value as a terrorist target, with some possible exceptions, begins to approach zero.

Edited 8:27 pm, 03/24

As usual, reserve the right to re-edit at a future time...
 
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