Monday, July 10, 2006

RICHARD FALKENRATH: A telegenic anti-terror man

"Richard A. Falkenrath lectured on terrorism at Harvard. He was co-author of a book about the potential horrors of a covert attack . . . [he] helped create the Department of Homeland Security . . . found and eliminated a weak spot in the nation's visa system that Al Qaeda could have exploited . . . And he did it all before his 35th birthday."

So spake an article on the man of considerable note, Richard Falkenrath, the New York City police department's new deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, in the B section of the New York Times on July 5th.

Next -- for the media, cue the heartwarming salt-of-the-downtrodden background. Richard Falkenrath's family "cooked over a wood stove" and he lived in a "converted bread truck" as a boy. To repeat the meme, one Falkenrath apparently likes to convey to newsmen, "he grew up on food stamps and slept in a rusting, abandoned bread truck buried in the woods until his mother graduated law school." (New York Daily News, June 28th.)

But with the fluff and puff out of the way, The New York Times, in a front page Sunday story in June, on potential and actual conflicts-of- interest between former government national security officials and their consultancies and connections with the private security industry: "Richard A. Falkenrath, the former White House deputy homeland security adviser . . . has a second job as a managing director at Civitas Group, which advises corporations and investors on the domestic security market. "

It was not an article anyone would want to appear in. So naturally, everyone named by the Times denied they were in any conflicts of interest for it.

But that is not Falkenrath's only corporate linkage. For a public offical, Richard Falkenrath is also an advisory board member of PacketHop, a company that is pushing its wireless communications software solutions to the government, states and cities as a tool in response to terrorist attack.

Falkenrath, while shilling in a PacketHop press release from December 2005, said:

"Situations requiring incident communications -- terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other emergencies -- can occur anywhere, regardless of the presence of communications infrastructure . . . PacketHop's highly secure, rapidly deployable and interoperable solutions provide public safety agencies with true mobility and on-demand multimedia communications to effectively and immediately respond wherever incidents arise."
Falkenrath was joined on the PacketHop board by Stewart Verdery in May. Verdery, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security, was named in the New York Times' investigation into conflict of interest between the private security industry and U.S. natsec government officials, just like Richard Falkenrath.

But Richard Falkenrath's most visible recent contributions to national security has been in his role as a blurbmeister on anything having to do with terrorism. No matter how ridiculous, Richard Falkenrath has been CNN's man. Dubbed telegenic by the media, last month he was contributing sage commentary to the breaking news story of torrential rainfall in the east.

CNN Correspondent Richard Todd questioned Richard Falkenrath on that ephemeral connection, one that perhaps escaped you, between flooding caused by weather -- and terrorism: "Nearly a foot of rain in some places -- flash floods, motorists stranded, traffic lights out. At least five U.S. government facilities closed. What if this weather barrage had been a terrorist attack?"

Responding to the idiotic weather-barrage-as-terrorist-attack idea, Richard Falkenrath declined to remain silent. He said: "If this had been a life-threatening incident for lots of people, I think we would have pandemonium on the streets."

"Officials at the D.C. Emergency Management Agency say they can't help it if roads flood and lights malfunction in bad weather," added Todd, obviously. But CNN continued to worry the story, like a dog with its favorite chewtoy, steering it back into terrorism through the wisdom of Richard Falkenrath:

"If the people stuck in those traffic jams felt that they were at risk themselves or their families were at risk somewhere else, I think you'd have a lot of very problematic behavior by individual commuters."

But if Richard Falkenrath is an expert on flooding, rain and terrorism, you would pretty much expect him to be an expert on everything, wouldn't you?

Richard Falkenrath's wisdom, his scintillating observations as CNN Security Analyst, was on display again when the network needed a talking head to furnish color when the network discussed "Homegrown Terrorism On the Rise?" on June 6. The subject: alleged terrorists in Toronto, arrested before they'd done anything.

"Is there a new generation of terrorists growing up very close to us?" asked the CNN announcer.

"Yes, there is," revealed Falkenrath.

"Does Canada have a serious problem here?"

"Yes, there is," Falkenrath said again.

The Richard Falkenrath machine added bits of color piffle throughout the piece -- contributions anyone who diligently reads a daily newspaper could provide. Be it known, according to the Falkenrath: We look north to Canada for its export of terrorism; we look south to Mexico for its export of illegals.

For the broadcast, "nightmares" was Richard Falkenrath's word of the day. He used it twice. First, in describing theoretical homegrown terror: "This is one of our biggest nightmares."

And again, further in, " . . . building a large truck bomb, absolutely. That's one of our biggest nightmares."

When asked if those arrested in Canada -- who expressed the desire to attack within Canada -- "posed any threat in the United States," Richard Falkenrath again flashed his talent: "That's right. It is a very porous border."

But perhaps no one expects much from 24/7 news shows, where the objective of the talking expert is to be the candy-coated jimmy on top of the cupcake of terrorism infotainment reporting. As a candy-coated jimmy, Richard Falkenrath was fine at CNN.

For example, Richard Falkenrath, interpreting the meaning of the horrible al Zarqawi and his jammed gun video on May 4: "I mean, Arabs traditionally like strong men, men who really are strong leaders, fighters. That's how he's tried to portray himself in the past. This video shows him as a bit of a bumbler."

Most people -- not just "Arabs traditionally" -- like images of strong men. So as we used to say in high school: No shit, Sherlock.

But Richard Falkenrath was the designated explainer. He had a good track record in this, his presence peppered through the newsmedia, always addressing the most dangerous of terrorist threats.

"A flu pandemic is the most dangerous threat the United States faces today," said Falkenrath to Newsweek International's Farid Zakaria in October of 2005. "It's a bigger threat than terrorism."

But is Falkenrath trained in virology or infectious disease -- or does he even have a Ph.D. in a related discipline? Of course not.

But not only is Richard Falkenrath an expert on flu, he is also one on terror attack by germ. In August of 2005, for USA Today, in "Nation unready for germ attacks," again with a Falkenrath bon mot: "Not a single city in America is prepared."

Insurance is also key in the world of Falkenrath.

"In general, insurance has a 'very important role to play in homeland security,' said Richard Falkenrath, special assistant to President Bush and senior director for policy in the White House Office of Homeland Security." (Business Insurance, 2003, covering Falkenrath and the American Insurance Association's discussion of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002.) While the federal government will do all it can to reduce the possibility of terrorist attacks, property owners should also do everything within their powers to reduce their vulnerability to attacks," wrote the publication. And Falkenrath said to the insurance association, "You can help us get this right" because terrorists have taken advantage of the progress made in various scientific fields to enhance their capabilities.
As for the state of Ohio, in case you were wondering, it's doing a good security job, said Falkenrath in 2002.

"Richard Falkenrath, a senior director for the federal Office of Homeland Security, said he was impressed with the way Ohio has responded since Sept. 11," reported the Zanesville (Ohio) Time Recorder. "He specifically noted state efforts to list potentially vulnerable targets and secure driver's licenses."

At one point, Richard Falkenrath even appeared in the insignificant press, an Omaha newspaper, where no one was likely to read his comment.

And what was his message?

It was that labor unions fighting to improve collective bargaining within the federal government were a special interest. "A time of war is the wrong time to roll back presidential powers," he said.

Practically speaking, such articles are inane. And it is difficult to tell who is the contributor of the greatest amount of inanity -- the news agency generating them or Richard Falkenrath, who furnished quotes or information to fit any demand.

But if we look at something Richard Falkenrath has written that was intended to be substantial, he still comes up short. In this regard, we can reference the statement he furnished to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on April 27 of last year.

The hearing, entitled "Chemical Attack on America: How Vulnerable Are We?" was chaired by Senators Susan M. Collins and Joseph Lieberman. Of the six witnesses called, of which Richard Falkenrath was one, only two had Ph.Ds, and none had any training in hard chemistry.

Think of that for a moment. Savor the stupidity and ballsy brass of it. A hearing on chemical attack on America, made through terrorist assault on chemical shipping and manufacturing, and not one of the witnesses is a chemist.

Joining Richard Falkenrath in the hearing was Stephen Flynn, a retired Coast Guard man -- with no training in science, who -- coincidentally was also named in the New York Times' Sunday front page story on conflicts of interest between government natsec officials and private industry. Like Richard Falkenrath.

But back to Richard Falkenrath's testimony. For the committee, his statement runs through his affiliations: Brookings Institution fellow, senior director of Civitas group (as noted by the New York Times), security analyst for CNN, and one connection not previously mentioned, member of the business advisory board of Arxan Technologies. Falkenrath did not describe Arxan but it is a security company making software to protect other software from tampering, a product which it likes or would like to sell to government or the military. It has nothing to do with chemistry.

For the committee, Richard Falkenrath wrote "Knowledgeable private citizens should discuss this information [on chemical vulnerabilities] in public only when the government manifestly fails to address a pressing danger -- and even then should do so with great care. I regret that I have come to the conclusion that, in my current capacity as a private citizen, a blunt public discussion of my analysis of this issue is a better course of action than silence."

We'll interpret: "Knowledgeable private citizen" means Richard Falkenrath, someone without a Ph.D. in one of the hard sciences, like chemistry, but someone with a doctorate in "war studies."

"My only interest [in this subject] is the security of the US homeland," wrote Falkenrath. "I have no present or prior association with the environmental movement that has for years sought tighter regulation of the chemical industry, or with the industry that would be affected by such tighter regulation."

Now, if you're expecting something eye-opening, something packed with wisdom and observations only an expert could provide, you'll be dismayed by the dull reality. So you can either read the rest of this hostile blog entry for the nut of the matter, or skip right to Falkenrath's official wind.

You've already read how Richard Falkenrath has many nightmares. No city is prepared for a terrorist's germ attacks. A flu pandemic is the most dangerous threat. Yadda-yadda.

But for the Senate hearing, "Of all the various remaining civilian vulnerabilities in America today, one stands alone as uniquely deadly, pervasive and susceptible to terrorist attack: toxic-inhalation-hazard (TIH) industrial chemicals . . . The IDLs (immediately dangerous to life standard) for the two most common industrial chemicals, ammonia and chlorine, is 500 and 10 parts per million, effectively."

Then Richard Falkenrath makes the first of a couple grand claims: "A cleverly designed terrorist attack against a [jargon deleted] chemical target would be no more difficult to pepetrate than the simultaneous suicide hijacking aircraft by 19 terrorists . . ."

"Without going into details . . . " continues Falkenrath, at which point the bogus meter is pegged.

Readers of this blog and National Security Notes from GlobalSecurity.Org, or most any reasonable security assessment on theoretical biological or chemical attack, know implicitly that when the details are hidden, because something is said to be too dangerous to know (or with the suggestion that one must just take an expert's word for an assertion), then a sham is in the offing.

Stated Richard Falkenrath: " . . . the loss of life could easily equal that which occured on September 11, 2001 -- and might even exceed it by an order of magnitude or more . . . even the most conservative estimates of the Department of Homeland Security concede that there is at least one [jargon deleted] chemical facility which, if successfully attacked, could result in more than one million deaths."

And what is this chemical facility or the chemical involved? Of course, Richard Falkenrath does not say. Presumably, the man who professes a desire to bring his discussion on chemical vulnerability to the Senate because there is no other way to get the word out -- the man with no training in chemistry or the chemical industry -- won't say. Too dangerous to do so.

"In short," writes Falkenrath, "the casualty potential of a terrorist attack against a large [jargon deleted] container [holding a toxic chemical which dissipates as gas or a liquid/gas mixture] near a population center is comparable to that of a fully successful terrorist employment of an improvised nuclear device . . . "

We have no idea how Richard Falkenrath knows this. But while Dick Destiny blog is trained in chemistry, and probably can speak about hazards and vulnerabilities in chemical storage, it would hesitate before making the unbacked-up claims Richard Falkenrath delivered. So we're 99 percent sure he didn't and doesn't know. In other words -- he made it up, he winged it.

This should come as no surprise.

One looks for discussions of actual casualties resulting in chemical releases and there is not one -- let's repeat, not one -- in Richard Falkenrath's written statement to the Senate in April 2005.
It would be logical to discuss, perhaps, the apocalyptic incident at Bhopal. It would be logical to discuss how determined employment of poison gasses as weapons in World War I did result in significant casualties, but never the Biblical figure suggested by Richard Falkenrath -- one million. Rchard Falkenrath's written statement contains none of this. He does mention World War I poison gases, but only in a trivial way.

One might look for a discussion of what casualties have resulted from the accidental release of industrial-size masses of chlorine and ammonia, Richard Falkenrath's terrorist poisons of choice, in the United States in recent history.

Nine dead, 500+ injured, over 5,000 evacuated, after 60 tons of chlorine were released from a punctured 90-ton railroad car in Graniteville, SC, on January 6, 2005 [Richard Falkenrath's testimony was on April 27 of the same year.] Three dead in a chlorine release after a rail collision in Macdona, Texas, in 2004. And another accident-caused railcar mass release -- about 150,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, forming a plume five miles long, resulting in one death, eleven serious injuries and over three hundred less serious injuries.

No such discussion is found in Richard Falkenrath's testimony.

Only claims and a stated desire to obfuscate discussion that's too sensitive for reasons of national security. One might simply look here, for example, for a much more enlightening discussion, by someone who came prepared with hard information, on chemical releases from tank cars towed by trains.

As for Falkenrath's security recommendations, some are dillies: fingerprint-based access control for all chemical-shipping, empty decoy containers, rigorous background checks on all employees, and, our favorite, "inapparent placarding." The latter, of course, is the exact opposite of the good practice for public safety which thinks it's an excellent idea to auspiciously code hazardous material containers with symbol-emblazoned signage so that people near to them have a vague idea of what's in them in case of deterioration in physical integrity, a spill or a leak. The Falkenrath way makes sense only if you believe a terrorist attack is more likely than an accident caused by fate or human error.

Good luck with Richard Falkenrath, New York City.

Pass it forward: If you hated this article, you surely won't like Ultimatum: in which New York's destruction by improvised nuclear device is gamed on this blog.

More appropriately supercilious treatment of Richard Falkenrath: Earlier this year, the Falkenrath government machine contributed an opinion piece to the Washington Post on the goodness of the NSA phone surveillance and the new director of central intelligence. Of it, one blogger -- Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying -- wrote:

Mr. Falkenrath’s deeply flawed opinion piece should cause all citizens alarm. This opinion piece is a window into the thinking of some our top officials in Government entrusted with protecting us. The level of ignorance and incompetence demonstrated by Mr. Falkenrath may unfortunately be commonplace amongst the political appointees within this Administration. For exposing this level of incompetence, we all owe Mr. Falkenrath an enormous debt of gratitude.
We recommend you read the entirety of it here.


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3:41 PM  

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