Doctors warn over homeopathic ‘vaccines’

Samantha Poling BBC

Homeopaths are offering “alternative vaccinations” which doctors say could leave patients vulnerable to potentially fatal diseases, a BBC investigation has found.

Three practitioners admitted giving patients a homeopathic medicine designed to replace the MMR vaccine.

Inverness-based Katie Jarvis said she only offered “Homeopathic Prophylaxis” to patients who expressed an interest.

But the discovery has prompted a shocked reaction from doctors.

(…) However, the BMA’s director of science and ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: “Replacing proven vaccines, tested vaccines, vaccines that are used globally and we know are effective with homeopathic alternatives where there is no evidence of efficacy, no evidence of effectiveness, is extremely worrying because it could persuade families that their children are safe and protected when they’re not.

“And some of those children will go on to get the illness, and some of those children may go on to get permanent life-threatening sequelae, or even to die, and that’s a tragedy when the family think they’ve protected their children.”

(…) NHS Highland – the health board covering Inverness – said it was considering withdrawing funding for homeopathic preparations.

FEMA: coping with catastrophic disaster

An interesting and useful true history of FEMA, and what is required to enable the agency to be more effective when state/local resources are overwhelmed.

The recent outbreak of the H1N1, or the so-called “swine flu” virus, appears mostly under control. Federal, state, and local disaster response groups have long prepared for an avian flu outbreak, a disaster comparable to a potential swine flu pandemic. And while a potential swine flu outbreak will likely be manageable due to the avian flu drills, now is an opportune time to assess the fragile state of the nation’s overall disaster response system in the vast majority of other types of catastrophic disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sends funds to assist in disaster response, but the agency is still poorly positioned to respond to major emergencies. Despite the natural, humanitarian, and political disaster of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA cannot adequately handle large-scale emergencies because it lacks sufficient standing within the federal bureaucracy to garner full interagency cooperation. Fixing this will go a long way toward making FEMA an effective and responsive agency.

FEMA was originally created by President Carter in 1979 to oversee and coordinate federal government disaster preparedness and response functions, while simultaneously allowing state and local governments to retain ultimate authority over disaster response. Federal law requires state and local authorities to first assess the damage and then submit official requests for federal aid. Only after the president has received and certified these requests can FEMA become directly involved in the disaster response efforts.

The federal government rarely assumes ultimate control of disaster response and prefers to supplement state and local resources. In the vast majority of disasters, FEMA’s role has been limited to providing monetary reimbursement and logistical support to state and local agencies. While this approach has been successful in smaller-scale disasters, FEMA has failed to develop an effective national disaster plan to coordinate efforts when state resources are completely overwhelmed, in so-called “catastrophic disasters.”

By placing the vice president in charge of FEMA during national disasters, FEMA would be granted sufficient standing when necessary.

The problems were highlighted when category-4 storm Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in August 1992. At the time the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, the storm killed 26 people directly and caused 39 additional deaths indirectly. State and local governments were essentially paralyzed as roughly 1.5 million people lost power and nearly 150,000 people had their phone service disrupted. The storm caused between $35 and $40 billion worth of damage, destroyed 28,000 homes, and damaged thousands of others. In the midst of the chaos, FEMA failed to coordinate the 26 federal departments and 13 “functional,” or working, groups it oversees.

The FEMA director lacked sufficient standing within the federal bureaucracy to rapidly redirect the efforts and resources of so many agencies reporting to various cabinet secretaries. Amid widespread criticism of the slow and largely ineffective federal response, President George H.W. Bush sent Secretary of Transportation Andrew Card to take control of the situation. Card was able to navigate the massive bureaucratic obstacles necessary to coordinate a national response that included so many federal, state, local, and private-sector agencies. However, because most of the 26 federal departments and 13 functional groups FEMA oversees are not located within the secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction, it is unlikely that his success stemmed from his authority as a cabinet secretary. Rather, political pressure following the initial failed response coupled with the president’s clear desire to avoid additional bureaucratic failures compelled interagency cooperation.

Some of the problems highlighted during Hurricane Andrew were solved through the 2002 creation of the Department of Homeland Security, under which FEMA is now housed. In February 2003, President George W. Bush issued a directive designed to create a “single, comprehensive national incident management system.” The new system promised to help achieve “full and prompt cooperation, and support” from “the heads of all federal departments and agencies” and yield greater coordination between federal, state, and local governments.

Continue reading…

Security Before Politics

Porter J. Goss in the Washington Post, April 25, 2009. Goss was director of the CIA from September 2004 to May 2006 and was chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 1997 to 2004.

Since leaving my post as CIA director almost three years ago, I have remained largely silent on the public stage. I am speaking out now because I feel our government has crossed the red line between properly protecting our national security and trying to gain partisan political advantage. We can’t have a secret intelligence service if we keep giving away all the secrets. Americans have to decide now.

A disturbing epidemic of amnesia seems to be plaguing my former colleagues on Capitol Hill. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, members of the committees charged with overseeing our nation’s intelligence services had no higher priority than stopping al-Qaeda. In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA’s “High Value Terrorist Program,” including the development of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and what those techniques were. This was not a one-time briefing but an ongoing subject with lots of back and forth between those members and the briefers.

Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as “waterboarding” were never mentioned. It must be hard for most Americans of common sense to imagine how a member of Congress can forget being told about the interrogations of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. In that case, though, perhaps it is not amnesia but political expedience.

Let me be clear. It is my recollection that:

— The chairs and the ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, known as the Gang of Four, were briefed that the CIA was holding and interrogating high-value terrorists.

— We understood what the CIA was doing.

— We gave the CIA our bipartisan support.

— We gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.

— On a bipartisan basis, we asked if the CIA needed more support from Congress to carry out its mission against al-Qaeda.

I do not recall a single objection from my colleagues. They did not vote to stop authorizing CIA funding. And for those who now reveal filed “memorandums for the record” suggesting concern, real concern should have been expressed immediately — to the committee chairs, the briefers, the House speaker or minority leader, the CIA director or the president’s national security adviser — and not quietly filed away in case the day came when the political winds shifted. And shifted they have.

Circuses are not new in Washington, and I can see preparations being made for tents from the Capitol straight down Pennsylvania Avenue. The CIA has been pulled into the center ring before. The result this time will be the same: a hollowed-out service of diminished capabilities. After Sept. 11, the general outcry was, “Why don’t we have better overseas capabilities?” I fear that in the years to come this refrain will be heard again: once a threat — or God forbid, another successful attack — captures our attention and sends the pendulum swinging back. There is only one person who can shut down this dangerous show: President Obama.

Unfortunately, much of the damage to our capabilities has already been done. It is certainly not trust that is fostered when intelligence officers are told one day “I have your back” only to learn a day later that a knife is being held to it. After the events of this week, morale at the CIA has been shaken to its foundation.

We must not forget: Our intelligence allies overseas view our inability to maintain secrecy as a reason to question our worthiness as a partner. These allies have been vital in almost every capture of a terrorist.

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It's easy to get a US passport with fake documents

Despite efforts to boost passport security since the 2001 terror attacks, the investigator fooled passport and postal service employees four out of four times, according to a new report made public Friday.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, details the ruses:

-One investigator used the Social Security number of a man who died in 1965, a fake New York birth certificate and a fake Florida driver’s license. He received a passport four days later.

-A second attempt had the investigator using a 5-year-old boy’s information but identifying himself as 53 years old on the passport application. He received that passport seven days later.

-In another test, an investigator used fake documents to get a genuine Washington, D.C., identification card, which he then used to apply for a passport. He received it the same day.

-A fourth investigator used a fake New York birth certificate and a fake West Virginia driver’s license and got the passport eight days later.

Read the whole thing…

Google Knol: new debate on "Stop National Security Proliferation Now"

This is interesting:

Over at Google’s new Knol site, Heritage Senior Research Fellow Dr. James Carafano and Center for American Progress Senior Vice President Nina Hachigian are having a spirited debate over “What are the main security threats facing our nation?” Hachigian identifies nuclear terrorism, epidemics, and climate change Can as her biggest worries, to which Carafano replies:

The greatest proliferation threat to human existence is not weapons of mass destruction, but policymakers with mass disruption on their mind – officials who would label every matter, from avoiding bird flu to procuring fresh water, a “national security” issue.

To make matters more confusing, international organizations such as the United Nations have created terms such as “human security,” arguing for a collective responsibility to keep people free from want and fear. The problem with that approach is the tendency, in dealing with security interests, to centralize power and decision-making and restrain individual freedoms and free markets. It also justifies military solutions for everything from dealing with AIDS to oil.

Making every global challenge a security issue trumps free markets and limits personal freedoms. The concept of national security needs to be put back in the box, reserved for moments of peril in dealing with people (either states or non-states) who threaten through the use of violence to take away the political freedoms that governments are supposed to protect. We need to put an end to national-security proliferation.

Minnesota bridge collapse?

Glenn Reynolds: THOUGH AT THE TIME IT WAS BLAMED ON TAX-CUTTING REAGANITES, the Minnesota bridge collapse turns out to have been the result of a design error. More on that, and on the plans to replace it, at the link.

Sixteen fractured gusset plates in the center span on Interstate 35W were a main cause of the deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis last August, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Tuesday. The plates, which connected steel beams in the truss bridge, were roughly half the thickness they should have been because of a design error. How that flaw made it into the bridge is unclear; according to NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker, investigators couldn’t find the original design calculations. Extra weight from construction was also a factor in the tragedy, which killed 13 people and injured 100. The findings confirmed forecasts by investigators from three months after the collapse—plus engineering experts in the immediate aftermath—and underscored the dire state of America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Why U.S. infrastructure doesn't get repaired?

Because politicians divert the money to light rail and bike paths.

…Even transportation dollars aren’t scarce. Minnesota spends $1.6 billion a year on transportation–enough to build a new bridge over the Mississippi River every four months. But nearly $1 billion of that has been diverted from road and bridge repair to the state’s light rail network that has a negligible impact on traffic congestion. Last year part of a sales tax revenue stream that is supposed to be dedicated for road and bridge construction was re-routed to mass transit. The Minnesota Department of Economic Development reports that only 2.8% of the state’s commuters ride buses or rail to get to work, but these projects get up to 25% of the funding.

Americans aren’t selfish or stingy, and they can see for themselves that many of our roads need repair. Minnesota in particular is a state that has long prided itself on its “progressive” politics and a willingness to pay higher taxes for good government. Minnesotans already pay twice as much in taxes per capita than residents in New Hampshire and Texas–states that haven’t had a major bridge collapse.

We suspect most voters would indeed be willing to pay more for better roads and bridges, if they had any reason to believe that is where the money would be spent. But they have long experience with politicians promising them that new taxes will go to such projects only to see it diverted for parochial ends….

Airline security: the Schneier interview with TSA head Kip Hawley

I want to ask you about general philosophy. Basically, there are three broad ways of defending airplanes: preventing bad people from getting on them (ID checks), preventing bad objects from getting on them (passenger screening, baggage screening), and preventing bad things from happening on them (reinforcing the cockpit door, sky marshals)…

Image at left courtesy of Ryan Air, “Have fun while flying”.

Computer security consultant Bruce Schneier interviews Kip Hawley, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While Bruce’s commentary is frequently quoted to demonstrate TSA incompetence, I think reading Kip Hawley’s responses will give you some perspective. First, Kip Hawley is a good bit sharper than the TSA’s public image:

Bruce Schneier: …Can you please convince me there’s not an Office for Annoying Air Travelers making this sort of stuff up?

Kip Hawley: Screening ideas are indeed thought up by the Office for Annoying Air Travelers and vetted through the Directorate for Confusion and Complexity, and then we review them to insure that there are sufficient unintended irritating consequences so that the blogosphere is constantly fueled. Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright, and motivated to protect the public with the least intrusion into their lives, not to mention travel themselves. How might you engineer backwards from that premise to get to three ounces and a baggie?

We faced a different kind of liquid explosive, one that was engineered to evade then-existing technology and process. Not the old Bojinka formula or other well-understood ones—TSA already trains and tests on those. After August 10, we began testing different variants with the national labs, among others, and engaged with other countries that have sophisticated explosives capabilities to find out what is necessary to reliably bring down a plane.

We started with the premise that we should prohibit only what’s needed from a security perspective. Otherwise, we would have stuck with a total liquid ban. But we learned through testing that that no matter what someone brought on, if it was in a small enough container, it wasn’t a serious threat. So what would the justification be for prohibiting lip gloss, nasal spray, etc? There was none, other than for our own convenience and the sake of a simple explanation.

Based on the scientific findings and a don’t-intrude-unless-needed-for-security philosophy, we came up with a container size that eliminates an assembled bomb (without having to determine what exactly is inside the bottle labeled “shampoo”), limits the total liquid any one person can bring (without requiring Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to count individual bottles), and allows for additional security measures relating to multiple people mixing a bomb post-checkpoint. Three ounces and a baggie in the bin gives us a way for people to safely bring on limited quantities of liquids, aerosols and gels.

There are many topics covered: from new technology to no-fly lists to TSA’s Behavior Detection teams. The latter implies that TSA is moving towards far more effective methods than screening for explosive sneakers. I’ve posted earlier on the value of this security layer — exemplified by Israeli methods.

BS: Let’s talk about behavioral profiling. I’ve long thought that most of airline security could be ditched in favor of well-trained guards, both in and out of uniform, wandering the crowds looking for suspicious behavior. Can you talk about some of the things you’re doing along those lines, and especially ways to prevent this from turning into just another form of racial profiling?

KH: Moving security out from behind the checkpoint is a big priority for us. First, it gives us the opportunity to pick up a threat a lot earlier. Taking away weapons or explosives at the checkpoint is stopping the plot at nearly the last possible moment. Obviously, a good security system aims at stopping attacks well before that. That’s why we have many layers of security (intel, law enforcement, behavior detection, etc.) to get to that person well before the security checkpoint. When a threat gets to the checkpoint, we’re operating on his/her terms—they pick when, where, and how they present themselves to us. We want to pick up the cues on our terms, before they’re ready, even if they’re just at the surveillance stage.

We use a system of behavior observation that is based on the science that demonstrates that there are certain involuntary, subconscious actions that can betray a person’s hostile intent. For instance, there are tiny—but noticeable to the trained person—movements in a person’s facial muscles when they have certain emotions. It is very different from the stress we all show when we’re anxious about missing the flight due to, say, a long security line. This is true across race, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. It is our way of not falling into the trap where we predict what a terrorist is going to look like. We know they use people who “look like” terrorists, but they also use people who do not, perhaps thinking that we cue only off of what the 9/11 hijackers looked like.

Our Behavior Detection teams routinely—and quietly—identify problem people just through observable behavior cues. More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested. This layer is invisible to the public, but don’t discount it, because it may be the most effective. We publicize non-terrorist-related successes like a murder suspect caught in Minneapolis and a bank robber caught in Philadelphia.

Most common are people showing phony documents, but we have even picked out undercover operatives—including our own. One individual, identified by a TSO in late May and not allowed to fly, was killed in a police shoot-out five days later. Additionally, several individuals have been of interest from the counter-terrorism perspective. With just this limited deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), we have identified more people of counterterrorism interest than all the people combined caught with prohibited items. Look for us to continue to look at ways that highlight problem people rather than just problem objects.

BS: That’s really good news, and I think it’s the most promising new security measure you’ve got…

Then Bruce raises another of my major concerns — security of the aircraft on the ramp and of the airport workers.

BS: What about airport workers? Nearly one million workers move in and out of airports every day without ever being screened. The JFK plot, as laughably unrealistic as it was, highlighted the security risks of airport workers. As with any security problem, we need to secure the weak links, rather than make already strong links stronger. What about airport employees, delivery vehicles, and so on?

KH: I totally agree with your point about a strong base level of security everywhere and not creating large gaps by over-focusing on one area. This is especially true with airport employees. We do background checks on all airport employees who have access to the sterile area. These employees are in the same places doing the same jobs day after day, so when someone does something out of the ordinary, it immediately stands out. They serve as an additional set of eyes and ears throughout the airport.

Even so, we should do more on airport employees and my House testimony of April 19 gives details of where we’re heading. The main point is that everything you need for an attack is already inside the perimeter of an airport. For example, why take lighters from people who work with blowtorches in facilities with millions of gallons of jet fuel?

You could perhaps feel better by setting up employee checkpoints at entry points, but you’d hassle a lot of people at great cost with minimal additional benefit, and a smart, patient terrorist could find a way to beat you. Today’s random, unpredictable screenings that can and do occur everywhere, all the time (including delivery vehicles, etc.) are harder to defeat. With the latter, you make it impossible to engineer an attack; with the former, you give the blueprint for exactly that.

And, lastly I’ll highlight the comments on in-the-air measures:

BS: …I want to ask you about general philosophy. Basically, there are three broad ways of defending airplanes: preventing bad people from getting on them (ID checks), preventing bad objects from getting on them (passenger screening, baggage screening), and preventing bad things from happening on them (reinforcing the cockpit door, sky marshals). The first one seems to be a complete failure, the second one is spotty at best. I’ve always been a fan of the third. Any future developments in that area?

KH: You are too eager to discount the first—stopping bad people from getting on planes. That is the most effective! Don’t forget about all the intel work done partnering with other countries to stop plots before they get here (UK liquids, NY subway), all the work done to keep them out either through no-flys (at least several times a month) or by Customs & Border Protection on their way in, and law enforcement once they are here (Ft. Dix). Then, you add the behavior observation (both uniformed and not) and identity validation (as we take that on) and that’s all before they get to the checkpoint.

The screening-for-things part, we’ve discussed, so I’ll jump to in-air measures. Reinforced, locked cockpit doors and air marshals are indeed huge upgrades since 9/11. Along the same lines, you have to consider the role of the engaged flight crew and passengers—they are quick to give a heads-up about suspicious behavior and they can, and do, take decisive action when threatened. Also, there are thousands of flights covered by pilots who are qualified as law enforcement and are armed, as well as the agents from other government entities like the Secret Service and FBI who provide coverage as well. There is also a fair amount of communications with the flight deck during flights if anything comes up en route—either in the aircraft or if we get information that would be of interest to them. That allows “quiet” diversions or other preventive measures. Training is, of course, important too. Pilots need to know what to do in the event of a missile sighting or other event, and need to know what we are going to do in different situations. Other things coming: better air-to-ground communications for air marshals and flight information, including, possibly, video.

So, when you boil it down, keeping the bomb off the plane is the number one priority. A terrorist has to know that once that door closes, he or she is locked into a confined space with dozens, if not hundreds, of zero-tolerance people, some of whom may be armed with firearms, not to mention the memory of United Flight 93.

I think Hawley used “bomb” as a token for any “weapon” that a terrorist could use to commandeer or destroy the aircraft. Bottom line — the TSA seems to be building more defense-in-depth than the public impression. It’s important to keep in mind that TSA priorities and methods will be different than what a private company would do if it controlled the entire airline infrastructure — because the TSA can only do what Congress tells it and funds to do. So there is a lot of political pressure to focus on high visibility activity [passenger screening] at the expense of securing the working airport and the aircraft.

But Hawley get’s the key points I think — as a windup, here’s a fragment from his April testimony, where he tries to convince Congress not to screw it up worse than they already have:

While we often look at aviation security one slice at a time,

• what do we do for employee screening, for air cargo,

• for passenger checkpoint, for checked bags, for watchlists,

• for perimeter, etc.

It is critical that we keep in mind that to terrorists, we are one target, and they don’t care which particular place they attack.

We need balance and flexibility in our all of our security measures.

If we jump from concern to concern mandating measures for each one, we may tie up critical resources and do nothing more than make it easy for a terrorist to attack somewhere else.

If an attack is successful, it does us no good to say that we were impenetrable at a different spot.

Magnetometers cannot detect suspicious behavior.

In fact, installing fixed checkpoints makes the job easier for terrorists.

Although it may be comforting for us to see employees in line for screening, a checkpoint provides an unchanging, predictable barrier that is always there, every day. And the terrorist can spend all the time he needs to find ways around, over, or through it.

For this reason, we must use many layers of security—each nimble, unpredictable, and dynamic.

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Pop!Tech: Tom Barnett lecture on video

At Pop!Tech 2006 Thomas Barnett presented his famous Powerpoint show on the Core vs. the Gap, “The Pentagon’s New Map” and more. If you’ve only read Barnett but not seen the show, enjoy the Pop!Cast video.

Pop!Tech is not at the very high level of the TED conferences, but it’s a good source of lectures — e.g., Richard Dawkins, Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Fab Lab, and some thinker-speakers that may be new to you.

BTW, if you haven’t visited the new TED site, get on over there.