Tuesday, August 01, 2006


The war on terror is great for business, particularly the K Street kind. Take the example of Civitas Group, an investment strategy and lobbying firm for bringing together the private sector security industry and the Department of Homeland Security.

Why the Department of Homeland Security?

Because it is the primary portal through which taxpayer dollars flow to the private sector in the name of making us safe in the endless war. Since the limits of the war are not bounded (in other words, it will never end), being an intermediary in it makes excellent sense. One can view Civitas Group, then, as either an entity that wants to make you safe through private sector innovation, or simply a war on terror profiteer.

Since the Department of Homeland Security is the font from which all good security dollars flow, the Civitas Group has hired Bush administration national security experts, usually from high position in the Department of Homeland Security. The reason for this is obvious. It pays to know people in high places and if you want those contracts, what better people to have on your side than people who used to work there?

Your product could be crap, a nostrum for an unverified threat, or something no one needs, but for it to get anywhere, it has to be in the hands of the right people. You want those who can work the phones, get appointments -- experts with the juice and the connections to cut through the bureaucracy. You want an established network to the inside and since no one in this country gets anywhere if they don't know someone, you gotta know people that were at the top of the heap in the Department of Homeland Security and the Bush administration.

To that end, Civitas Group hired Richard Falkenrath, one of the Bush administration's telegenic anti-terror men who know everything there needs to be known about the war on terror.

While Falkenrath no longer appears on the Civitas Group's team page (he's gone to work for the NYPD as a counter-terror man but assume he served the lobbying group well), Penrose "Parney" Albright, another big man from the Department of Homeland Security has taken some of the reins at the organization.

From Dick Destiny blog, a couple days ago, on Albright:

While . . . at the Department of Homeland Security [Albright] basically served as a person who saw to it that taxpayer dollars were doled out adequately to big business for the purposes of national security.

Penrose Albright is another of the Bush administration's supply of national security adminstrators who are experts on everything, "everything," in his case, being stuff that's not very good, from purported anti-missile systems for commercial airplanes that can't be used but are really, really expensive, radiation sensors that don't work right but which are very expensive and -- well, you get the idea. Anything that the private sector national security industry can make that is costly but not cost effective, that's Albright's bag.

Penrose Albright has a reasonably large footprint in the national news media. If you bother to inspect it, you will find it free of substance but always connected to the linking of the underwriting of private sector gadgets, anti-terror installations and businesses to the taxpayer for the sake of national safety and preservation.

Eyeballing a press release from Sentry Technology late last year, one can get a feel for the glee of the process of joing with Civitas to get at the "homeland security market:"

Civitas Group llc, a leading global homeland and national security strategy and investment firm, today announced that it will team with Sentry Technology Corporation to develop and market solutions to the homeland security market.

SentryVision(R) SmartTrack is the only traveling camera system offering both one and two pan, tilt and zoom CCTV cameras that travel along a ceiling or wall mounted rail. SmartTrack both improves performance and reduces the cost of CCTV deployment by adding mobility to camera systems. Using SmartTrack, security operators can easily circumvent visual obstructions and more effectively analyze anomalous behavior of people. The product is ideally suited for application in the public transportation security market.

"Civitas will focus on assisting Sentry to raise awareness of its solution among security market thought leaders and help the company to establish a footing in the homeland security market," said Rick Gordon, Vice President of Civitas Group.

Civitas principals that will be working closely with Sentry include Dr. Parney Albright, former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology and David Howe, former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Homeland Security Council.

In the war on terror, opportunity now stands for building local biodefense labs, too.

"Mississippi economic development officials think community support has put the state at the top of the list to land the National Bio and Agrodefense Facility," went a news story in a Mississippi Clarion-Ledger on March 22 of this year. "State officials made public Monday plans to pursue the federal laboratory that would be run by the Department of Homeland Security."

Then things get fuzzy.

"[Penrose Albright], managing director of Washington-based Civitas Group, a consulting firm, said a research consortium created to provide support to for the project helps the state's chances as well," wrote the newspaper. " . . . Albright, assistant secretary for science and technology for Homeland Security, is working as a consultant with [University of Mississippi Medical Center].

Within the space of a paragraph Albright is mentioned as a consultant to the medical center, a managing director of Civitas and and a secretary for Homeland Security.

According to a Dept. of Homeland Security press release, Penrose Albright tendered his resignation to George W. Bush in on May 9, 2005, less than a year before his appearance in the Mississippi newspaper as a lobbyist/consultant for the UMC biodefense facility. Although the DHS press release mentioned a resignation letter had been tendered, it also read: "A resignation date has not been determined . . ." Albright joined Civitas Group in October of 2005.

"Before the [the Department of Homeland Security] was even officially stood up, we knew we needed a facility like this," said Albright to the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger newspaper on April 2 of this year. "Even though I left the government, I felt this was an important project to see it through to completion."

On June 18 of this year, writing in the New York Times for a story entitled "Homeland Security Inc., Profiting from Terror," Eric Lipton wrote: "Federal law prohibits senior executive branch officials from lobbying former government colleagues or subordinates for at least a year after leaving public service. But by exploiting loopholes in the law — including one provision drawn up by [Department of Homeland Security] executives to facilitate their entry into the business world — it is often easy for former officials to do just that."

" . . . veteran Washington lobbyists and watchdog groups say the exodus of such a sizable share of an agency's senior management before the end of an administration has few modern parallels . . . 'It is almost like an initial public offering in the stockmarket,' Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, based in Washington, said of the booming domestic security market. 'Everyone wants a piece of it.'"

But lets move on and not get bogged down in the nasty mire of conflict of interest stories. It's just business and everyone has a right to make a buck, right?

The Citivas Group also issues occasional reports assessing the business market for national security.

With GlobalSecurity.Org senior fellow hat thoroughly screwed on, we took a look at one of them just for so.

The name of the report was Sensors and Homeland Security: A Market Assessment, so Google it if you wish to see it in its fullness.

Why sensors? Because they're big business. In the war on terror we need sensors for everything from ricin (hint, they don't work too good) to dirty bombs to any material that could possibly be used as a weapon. If they can't be sold domestically, they can always be sold to the military, too, which also invests heavily in the business.

For the Civitas Group report, the sensors of highest interest are those which will detect chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and explosive threats.

The report characterizes the threats with statements like this one, describing a chemical weapon: "Blood agents such as hydrogen cyanide and chlorine, prevent the normal use of oxygen by the body tissues so that vital organs cease to function within minutes."

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! Wrong! Don your dunce caps Civitas national security experts. Chlorine is not a blood agent. You got hydrogen cyanide right, though. One out of two is still only fifty percent.

Anyway, chlorine administers what are called halogen burns. Look it up, I'm doing you a favor and furnishing professional advice here.

More interesting to readers is what we'll call the War On Terror Fun Bar Graph, pictured below.
War On Terror Fun Bar Graph
Now, read carefully to absorb the hilarity of this one.

"As we can see above, for all explosives the window of criticality is before the attack. At the moment the attack takes place, the damage is done," says the report.

Fair enough. Can you spot one of the funny parts? Yes, it's with the atom bomb, the bar labelled "nuclear." Yes, we'll surely need those sensors 36 hours after the bomb goes off.

What they mean is maybe you'll want to invest in a Geiger counter if you survive. But with the detonation of a Hiroshima-size bomb, "sensors" might be handy, but you'll be able to tell from the wreckage where the really bad no-go places might be.

VHFs, in case you were wondering, are viral hemorrhagic fevers -- Ebola virus, for instance.

We could spend time arguing technical details over the War on Terror Fun Bar Graph but the underlying message is this: They're making guesses in order to present as metrics what really can't be accurately described so simply.

To take an example from their own report, consider chlorine, which they erroneously classify with cyanide. The human nose, eyes and mucous membranes are excellent chlorine sensors. You can't be around chlorine, even fairly small amounts, and not know it. If you can get away from it, you move away from it -- fast. Which renders sensors to detect an attack as it occurs unnecessary. And -- after all -- that's what this diagram is about.

We'd spend more time on the report but it's no more eye-opening than an article in Popular Science or Popular Mechanics on technology for the war on terror. There's talk of first, second and third generation sensors -- the latter employing revolutionary science, out in the future. Nanosensors, smart dust, the usual jargon for things that either don't exist or which sort of exist but which are neither practical or effective. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Immune Building program is cited as business opportunity for bio and chemical weapon sensor developers.

Since it's a worthless and unsellable DARPA project, but one that has been around for a long time, it might indeed be something good to try and siphon some money out of.

But sensors are one of the easier technology sells in the war on terror. It's what everyone thinks of first and it means continuing economic development in Fortress America.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Say, thanks for the info... I've been looking for an
angle to acquire some startup capital.

12:55 PM  

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