Related reading: Predicting Future Military Threats: Implications of the Black Swan
Donald Trump’s transition team is getting a helping hand from the Obama administration on national security matters.
The administration is giving the president-elect and a select few of his top advisers sensitive intelligence briefings.
And, in addition, Trump and his team will take part in two so-called ‘black swan’ exercises that simulate a domestic or national security emergency.
The exercises are intended to help an incoming administration learn how to manage a crisis in real time in case there is some kind of global or domestic emergency in the first days of a Trump presidency.
A black swan exercise would, for example, ensure that a fledgling Trump administration knows how to activate the proper federal agencies to maintain stability.
According to a briefing book from the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, in 2008 the Bush administration hosted two black swan exercises for then president-elect Obama’s national security team. More here from ABC.
**** What is on the horizon regarding terror?
Islamic State is urging its followers to carry out acts of terrorism in New York City during the upcoming, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Jamie Schram writes in this morning’s (Nov. 14, 2016) New York Post, that “ISIS is offering a detailed how-to on using trucks as weapons of mass destruction — noting that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade would be an ‘excellent target.”
MEMRI: On November 11, 2016, Al-Hayat, one of the media centers of the Islamic State (ISIS), released the third issue of its monthly magazine Rumiyah featuring an article calling on lone wolves in the U.S. and Europe to use trucks to target large outdoor conventions, crowded streets, outdoor markets, festivals, parades, and political rallies. The article also emphasized the importance of using trucks in terrorist attacks, and provided suggestions on “ideal vehicles” to use and tactical tips for the preparation and planning of attacks.
The article, titled “Just Terror Tactics,” features images of rental trucks from companies such as Hertz and U-Haul, as well as a picture showing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. It begins by highlighting the “destructive capability” of motor vehicles and referring to the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France on July 14, 2016. While praising the Nice attacker, the article states: “This was superbly demonstrated in the attack launched by the brother Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel who, while traveling at the speed of approximately 90 kilometers per hour, plowed his 19-ton load-bearing truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, harvesting through his attack the slaughter of 86 Crusader citizens and injuring 434 more.”
The article stresses the importance of using a vehicle that can inflict maximum damage, and describes the “ideal” vehicles for lone wolf attacks as “load-bearing trucks, large in size, reasonably fast in speed or rate of acceleration, heavy in weight, double-wheeled, possessing a slightly raised chassis.” The article continued: “If accessible, [vehicles] with a metal outer frame which are usually found in older cars [should be used], as the stronger outer frame allows for more damage to be caused when the vehicle is slammed into crowds, contrary to newer cars that are usually made of plastics and other weaker materials.”
Providing suggestions on how to acquire the vehicle, the article noted that buying it is the “easiest” option; however, it also mentioned renting, borrowing from relatives and acquaintances, hotwiring, and carjacking as additional options. Under “applicable targets” the article listed: “Large outdoor conventions and celebrations, pedestrian-congested streets, outdoor markets, festivals, parades and political rallies.”
The article further emphasized that in order to inflict maximum damage, attackers should consider targeting “any outdoor attraction that draws large crowds,” stating that “it is not conditional to target gatherings restricted to government or military personnel only. All so-called ‘civilian’ (and low-security) parades and gatherings are fair game and more devastating to Crusader nations.”
As for “preparation and planning,” the article recommended “assessing vehicle for roadworthiness, filling vehicle with a sufficient amount of fuel, mapping out the route of the attack, surveying the route for obstacles, such as posts, signs, barriers, humps, bus stops, dumpsters, and if accessible, a secondary weapon should be attained.”
The article also provided ideas for attackers to use in order to declare their affiliation to ISIS to “have their motives acknowledged” such as writing “ISIS will remain” or “I am a soldier of the Islamic State” on pieces of papers and throwing them out of the vehicle’s window during the attack.
The article concludes by instructing attackers to stay inside their vehicles until they are no longer movable and then to start shooting pedestrians, first responders and security forces until they are killed.
Black Swan exercises are those that prepare for the unexpected and several events worldwide have been part of these operations.
1. Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or Solar Burst
As The Heritage Foundation highlighted in the documentary 33 Minutes, an EMP attack could throw America back to the pre-Industrial Revolution era. A powerful solar burst would have the same impact. Should either event occur, people would have little time to react, and the damage would be incalculable.
If the U.S. were to lose power for any prolonged period of time, given the sheer number of people located in the interior of the country, mass starvation and death would become a reality. Most experts consider these events as highly unlikely ones, so little investment or planning is done related to them.
2. Pandemic Virus
Although the U.S. has prepared for a pandemic influenza outbreak, little preparation has gone into other potential viruses. More importantly, it is the unknown virus or “super virus” that represents a Black Swan for America. Recall that it was less than 30 years ago that AIDS first began embedding itself in North America. If a far more deadly and communicable virus hits America, the U.S. would quickly expend its existing resources.
3. Nuclear or Radiological Event
The U.S. has extensive knowledge of what would happen if a nuclear or radiological explosion occurred in a major American city. Theory, however, is a poor replacement for the reality of large numbers of deaths, burn victims, and physical debris. As former Vice President Dick Cheney wisely concluded, because of the sheer consequences, even a 1 percent chance of such an event occurring requires the nation to expend the necessary resources to prevent it.
4. Super-Volcanic Eruption
Seismic activity around the Yellowstone caldera is monitored, but tectonic shifts miles below the surface could result in the buildup of pressure and a super-volcanic eruption. The volcano beneath Yellowstone previously erupted, causing destruction as far away as California, Iowa, and Louisiana. An eruption, though unlikely given current readings, could have truly catastrophic consequences.
Hurricanes strike America with a fair degree of frequency. A Black Swan event would be a Nor’easter combined with a powerful hurricane that strikes New York City in the same manner as Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Between the massive flooding and wind damage, New York City could sustain casualties and physical destruction well in excess of Katrina.
How Prepared Is the U.S.?
The honest and unfortunate answer to that question is unknown and, despite attempts to ascertain that answer, will not be known if existing policy remains in place. A Black Swan by definition becomes a Black Swan because it results in catastrophic outcomes. This “delicate” balance between preparing for events and not being able to prepare adequately for all events represents the ultimate risk-based decision making.
From 2003 to 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) distributed roughly $40 billion in funding to states and localities across America. Despite years of reporting requirements, DHS is fundamentally unable to state with any degree of certainty which capabilities exist, where those capabilities exist, the level of those capabilities, and the remaining capability needs. DHS knows it has funded the acquisition of many things, but specifics beyond that are unquantifiable.
Specifically, to gain a full accounting, Congress should:
- Be fiscally responsible. Rather than continue to spread federal funds using an “inch thick and a mile wide” mentality, Congress should target federal funds at the highest-risk states, cities, and counties where the funds could meaningfully increase the security of Americans, including reducing the number of high-risk cities that are eligible for special funding.
- Examine cooperative agreements. The need for equality downplays the need for the grant structure and invites another approach—such as the use of cooperative agreements, where the federal government and the states can sit down as true and equal partners and negotiate outcomes at the beginning and then direct funds to achieve those desired outcomes without the need for yearly applications.
- Appoint a Black Swan commission. Rather than wait until after a catastrophic event has occurred, Congress should appoint an independent commission for the express purpose of analyzing the threats of a potential Black Swan, identifying existing capabilities, and making recommendations on how best to correct errors made thus far and accelerate closing the gap between where the nation stands today and where it needs to be tomorrow. The commission must have the independence and resources to quickly do its job after a full review of the status quo.
Expect the Unexpected
If the catastrophe in Japan has taught any lessons, it is that America must prepare for the unexpected with as much vigor as it prepares for the expected. Because a Black Swan can be so catastrophic, in many ways the ideal role for the federal government is to lead an effort surrounding those events. With the nation’s current fiscal challenges, conserving resources for catastrophic events is more vital than ever. More here from Heritage.