Subscribe to On the Editor's Desk RSS Feed

On the Editor's Desk

by: Martha Entwistle - Tuesday, February 12, 2008
More relevant news on the cover of the paper this morning: Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak declared an intention of wiping out Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which, as you might imagine, involves invading the Gaza Strip with significant forces, going house to house, and arresting or killing all of the Hamas officials and fighters. So, where did we go today? To Gaza. Well, not really, but, as you saw in the video, we were within five kilometers of the border and we could see the fence that surrounds the West Bank as we got a presentation from Aeronautics Defense Systems’ VP of business development Shai Palti, who develops unmanned aerial vehicles for the purposes of surveillance. Talk about RMR, what Aeronautics does is create the technology, build the UAVs, then sell surveillance to the military as a service—they call it, jokingly, “pay per view.” Right now, most sales are going to various governments all over the world, including the Israeli military, of course, with whom ADS does 30 percent of its business, but it also sold equipment to St. Petersburg for the 2006 G8 summit, and does work with the U.S. military, Chad, and a number of other countries. It’s also looking for a private security play, however. How about for major sporting events, leasing the surveillance to the local police department who might be concerned about a post-championship riot? Or lease the surveillance to companies with off-shore oil rigs that are unmanned. They get an alert, you fly out there post-haste to see what’s wrong. Or for a remote power station. Why fix cameras there—just lease the surveillance, which would never need servicing or break or have power cut to them. After Palti’s presentation, we went out into the field and got a demonstration. Simply put, these things are cool as hell. First, there is the Orbiter, which can be carried around in two backpacks, put together (without any tools) in less than five minutes, and then launched via a 10-pound high-tech sling shot that uses technology no more advanced than rubber bands. You don’t even really need to fly it. It flies itself. You click on a position on the Microsoft-Windows screen, select circle, and the little plane holds position. Or you click return, and the plane judges the winds, selects a flight plan, and comes back to you, parachuting safely down to earth. All you control is the “payload,” which is a gimble-mounted day-night camera that zooms to 8 cm detail from 1,500 feet up in the air, and can fly as high as 12,000 feet. You can PTZ the camera all over the place, fix the cameras on a certain position, and keep the whole thing in the air for about three hours, the life of the battery. Second is the balloon, which you raise 300 feet up into the air for a temporary eye in the sky that can be put up or taken down in a matter of minutes and uses the exact same payload as the Orbiter. In fact, you can just buy a package of one Orbiter, one balloon, and one payload, and use the two surveillance vehicles as appropriate. And, yes, you can shoot at the balloon and the plane, but the plane is a thousand feet up, almost soundless, and tiny, and the balloon isn’t inflated to a very tight pressure, so if you put a hole in it, it’s just going to leak out slowly, and Palti said you can just bring it down, patch it up with duck tape, and put it back up on the sky. So, obviously, the Israeli military likes using these things to recon what’s going on in Gaza, where, unlike the West Bank, the Israelis do not keep a presence. Amotz noted on the bus ride down, however, that the Israelis still supply all the power and water to Gaza free of charge. For this, Hamas rewards them with a steady stream of Qassad missiles, rudimentary weapons full of anything from nails to aluminum shards, which rain down particularly on Sderot, the southernmost city of consequence in Israel. Roughly 400 rockets were launched in 2007. This week, the Sderotans have been demonstrating in Jerusalem, saying the government is not protecting them. Hence, Barak’s declaration. It is entirely possible that the Isaeli army will enter Gaza while we’re here this week. The fighter jets that flew frequently overhead were not comforting. All of this made Dr. Alan Marcus very nervous. A former Bostonite who moved here 32 years ago (and still retains both an accent and a love of the Red Sox), he’s the head of the planning department for Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 which is at the edge of the range for Hamas’ rockets. He’s so far suffered only eight missile strikes, none of which has injured anyone or caused any significant damage. However, when the Israelis invade Gaza, what happened last year in Lebanon will likely happen here: they’ll unload everything they’ve got, and it’s unclear exactly what they’ve got. Marcus is planning for this week, or maybe next week, to have to send people to shelters to live for as much as a month, until the fighting is contained or the missiles have been exhausted. For communication, they mostly rely on cell phones, and if the cell phones go down he has seven satellite phones to distribute (funded by the city of Baltimore, actually, which is a sister city to Askelon). There’s no fancy municipal wireless system, and the mass notification system consists largely of airhorns and broadcast over city and state radio stations. One cop on our tour asked if they had all of the shelters equipped with hand-crank radios. No. They tell people to use transistor radios and make sure they have lots of batteries. Many of these people will be in private shelters. Since the 1950s, all apartment buildings have had to leave their basements as shelters, and in the 1980s they put in a building code that makes at least one room in the house be of solid concrete, capable of withstanding just about any small rocket fire. Marcus does have some high-tech tools at his disposal, however. Using a GIS system, he’s mapped out the entire city and identified all of the buildings and how many people are likely to be in any of them at any time of day. He can show you a map of the concentrations of elderly, or very young, people who would need more attention in the time of an attack. He can dial down to the site of an attack and tell you how many elderly people, or disabled people, etc., would likely be in every nearby building. This helps him distribute emergency personnel. Again, however, the makeup of Israel’s population makes it very different during a crisis than the United States. Virtually everyone with a military background, and that’s most people who are not immigrants, can be issued orders directly and they can immediately help in the response, organizing and herding those who cannot help themselves. The idea of a civilian defense corps has been virtually abandoned in the United States. Do our community leaders know how to help in the time of a natural disaster or attack? Maybe they do. Maybe the Department of Homeland Security has reached out to someone in West Gray (my little piece of my hometown of Gray) and I just don’t know it. But it doesn’t seem likely. I’m sure the chief of our Fire Department knows what to do (we don’t have a police department), right?
by: Martha Entwistle - Monday, February 11, 2008
After going out for dinner on my own last night for the first time, I wanted to post quickly about the role of security guards here. See the people in the bright yellow/green vests here, standing outside the bus station? They're security guards, and they're everywhere here, posted at the door to almost every restaurant, outside every major gathering place, etc. They're working for private security firms, mostly, and they're almost universally about 22-24 years old. Why? Because most of them are students, recently discharged from the military. The theory here is that students are wasted as baristas and waitstaff, since they have the cognitive ability to profile people and question them correctly, and they have a dedication and regimen stemming from their military service. They're also often immigrants, looking to show their patriotism and dedication to the country. This is possible because security guards are valued members of society here, not "rent-a-cops." Though I guess they're not necessarily paid well, but that's less of an issue because the cost of higher education is less and they have universal health care. Can you imagine military men in the United States returning from Iraq and working as mall security? I can't, but they'd be perfect for it, right? The other major difference between security guards here and at home is that security guards here receive an enormous amount of training, and are constantly "red-teaming," which is what they call testing vulnerabilities. On as often as a daily basis, higher ups will try to smuggle something in, or lie to a guard, or surveil an area, checking to see whether security will catch them. This is something almost never done in the United States, and it's partly because of the fear of failure, I think. Oh no, if my boss gets something by me, I'll be fired! That's not the intent here. It's simply to check vulnerabilities. If someone fails, they're given more training. If the system fails, they fix the system. It's all to a common purpose. One other thing. Notice that security here is always outside the building they want to protect. They don't let people in, then check to see if they have a bomb. Think about that.

by: Martha Entwistle - Monday, February 11, 2008
When the Israelis won control over all of Jerusalem, during the Six Days War in 1967, they also won control of the Old City of Jerusalem, home to three of the most holy sites for the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built in roughly 1100 on the spot where Jesus Chris was killed and entombed; The Western Wall, where Jews were forced to pray for 1900 years because it was the closest they could get to the place where they believe God lives on Earth; and the Temple Mount, which is to this day controlled by Muslims, though it is on the site where the Jews believe God lives (this is a major point of tension resulting from a decision made by Menachem Begin on the day of Israel's greatest victory). What this also gave the Israelis was the major headache of securing these places against any number of potential dangers. Further, these sites don't actually belong to the Jews or anyone. Inside and along these places, any number of religious sects have agreed to ownership and this makes protecting them very dicey, as you'll see in my video below. Who are they protecting these places from? Any number of people, as we learned in presentations given by an ex Major General in the Israeli Army and the chief of the Old City Police, whose job it is to protect these places. Israel is constantly under siege by Muslim forces who are gathered in the north and south, in Lebanon and Egypt (Hezbollah), and from the West Bank (Hamas). It is the West Bank that surrounds Jerusalem, and from which suicide bombers started streaming into the country, particularly in 2002 and 2003, when tactics changed significantly. Shalom, the Major General, said that he implored his superiors early in his career to consider that suicide bombers could become a major tactical threat. "In the first years of suicide bombers, 1983-2003," he said, "whenever I came to my bosses, I told them, 'Suicide bombers are a strategic threat to Israel.' They always laughed at me. Not some of them, all of them. Becauses it was only every three or four months that we were attacked. I said, 'If it’s three times a day, which we had at times in 2003, that could brings us to our knees.' But they could not imagine such a thing. Intelligence people need to have the vision to see how things combine and develop when you have a security threat. That breeds a lot of imagination. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, but i remember that I was very adamant about the suicide bombers. It was a strategic and existential threat. It can bring us to a full paralysis if we do not deal with it." As we were told, Israel society nearly ground to a halt, and this is why they have the heightened and constant state of security they have now (though it was previously very vigilant) and why they have a large wall that encircles virtually all of northern parts of the West Bank, and surrounds Jerusalem. This wall, combined with intelligence efforts that went into the West Bank and searched houses door-to-door, has reduced suicide bombings in Israel from more than 225 in 2003 to only 4 in 2007. Israel has basically won that front of the War on Terrorism. It has come at quite a cost, however. The wall, as you saw in the video, is imposing, and it has hurt the economy both in the cost of its construction, and in that Palestinians are now rarely able to work in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, depriving Israel of a labor force and the Palestinians of a livelihood. This has caused great resentment on the part of the Palestinians, as you might imagine. This has only furthered tensions in the old city. On Fridays, we were told by the police chief, he must deploy hundreds of officers to the gate to the city nearest the Western Wall, as Muslims will frequently start riots by hurling rocks, chairs, bottles, etc., over the Western Wall and onto the heads of Jews praying there. We saw on their video archive, gathered by more than 300 cameras deployed in one square kilometer (17 of them have analytics deployed, including some impressive object-left-behind rules) that things can get very hairy, indeed. We were shown one video, akin to a Hollywood movie, where a terrorist stalks two police officers (they dress very casually, but carry weapons and a full police belt), sneaks up on them, grabs one of their weapons, shoots one officer, and then runs away. The cameras are daisy-chained so that they follow the terrorist through the streets, and we see the police officer chase him down and shoot him dead. It was surreal. The police chief was sort of chuckling as we watched, and admonishing his officers for not checking their surroundings more often. As I said yesterday, security is a way of life. Yesterday, I got that impression because of the singular way in which the Israelis go about protecting themselves. Today, I got that impression because of the casualness with which they take security measures, meaning things that I found remarkable, even scary, they found commonplace. For another example, as we were viewing the wall separating the West Bank from afar, I turned around and saw Achi, one of our tour leaders, standing there with an M-16. For some reason, I was taken aback by this. Did I really need to be protected in this area, a tourist spot with a sign explaining it was the hill on which Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac? (By the way, another thing the Isrealis take for granted is the historical nature of their surroundings; I remarked how cool it was to be on this hill where Abraham had faced his decision and Amotz said, "yeah, everything's like that around here. We just passed through the Valley of the Shadows of Death and you didn't even know it.") Later, in similar fashion, it was clear that Achi really didn't like a Muslim man who was watching us as we heard from a traditional tour guide deep within the walls of the Old City. He eyed him, and the bag he was carrying, very closely. It was the first time I felt actually unsafe here. And you don't have to pay much attention to realize that the threat here is real, and it is daily. We woke up to a photograph on the cover of the paper delivered to our rooms of a little girl who'd drawn, for her class the day before, a picture of a rocket injuring one of her school mates. Why? Well, because the day before a Qassam rocket had been launched into her southern town, taking the legs off two brothers and sending their sister to intensive care. All of this simply made me feel the irony all the more distinctly when our tour guide pointed out this simple fact: Jerusalem translates literally to, "City of Peace." Of course it does.
by: Martha Entwistle - Monday, February 11, 2008
Very quickly, as we get ready to head up to Tel Aviv (dinner at the Ambassador's house tonight might make blogging tough before the day is through), I wanted to mention a cool experience we had at dinner last night. Walking out of the hotel, Andrew Wray (read his blog here) and I passed by a few others from our tour group. We asked them if they'd gotten anything to eat. They said they went to Sbarro, up the street. "But don't expect to find anything with meat on it, man, all they had was vegetables." I told them that was because meat isn't allowed to touch cheese here, something to do with not boiling meat in its mother's milk, an Old Testament thing. And I'm not trying to call anyone out, but how can you go to Israel and eat at Sbarro? Maybe they were homesick and wanted some comfort pizza. I guess I can understand that. Anyway, we found a cool Israeli/Spanish tapas bar called Sol that not only had a number of Israeli cheeses and wines for the sampling, but also featured an Israeli duo playing pop songs on two guitars and singing (I knew they were pop songs because there were in Hebrew and everyone was singing along - no way a local band has that kind of song recognition for originals). The woman had a particularly fine voice and seeing the huge, shaved-head guy crooning was pretty entertaining. Still, I must be a little homesick, too, because I won't deny the kick I got when they broke into a perfect-English version of John Denver's "Country Roads." That was pretty cool.
by: Martha Entwistle - Sunday, February 10, 2008
Well, while all of you were taking Sunday off, we had a very busy day today, visiting the Knesset, which is Israel's Parliament, and Jerusalem's central bus station. Here's the quick recap, via video. It's short, and I'm kind of testing out the medium, so give me feedback if you want it longer, more detailed, etc. I think it's nice as a snapshot, and I'm going to give a lot more detail down below. So, I've got pages and pages of notes, but I think you see from that video that the thing I really came away with on my first full day here is how fundamentally differently the Israelis view security. In the United States, for example, we talk about risk assessment and we think we're so scientific in identifying where to put our resources and where threats are going to come from, but when a member of our party asked Yatchko, the Sergeant at Arms for the Knesset, ultimately responsible for the safety of the entire Parliament, how he balanced an event's likelihood and the potential damage it could cause, he almost didn't understand the question. He said, "what's of interest is what can cause the most damage." To him, the probability didn't matter in the slightest. "In life and security," he said, "there are only two possibilities: you either succeed or you explain. I don't want to have to explain." He said you can't afford to be surprised by a low probability event happening, so you must plan for everything and have a deterrent for everything. "Everything is taken into consideration." What baffled him the most was why we in the United States waste so much time on scanning and screening people who are obviously not threats. We got the fundamental underpinning for this later in the day, from Amotz Brandes, the leader of this tour at Chameleon Associates and a former Israeli military man (all boys serve three years in the army; girls serve two years, starting at age 18) and profiler for El Al Airlines. For the Israelis, he said, everything is about profiling, and not the silly racial profiling that Americans are so afraid of. Profiling for the Israelis is a constant process of identifying suspicions and refuting them. If something is suspicious, you start to inquire about it until you discover whether the suspicion can be refuted (the package was actually just left accidentally and is not a bomb) or not (we don't know what's in the package, who it belongs to, or what it might be). If you can't refute a suspicion, it becomes a threat, and threats must be dealt with (call the bomb squad). "Many times in security systems [outside of Israel - meaning in the United States, basically]," Brandes said, "they react to suspicion as if it’s threat, and a threat as if it’s only suspicion. For example, a machine picks up something on the X-ray, which is a suspicion, but that’s not a threat yet. Unfortuantely, they send five cop cars and make it an emergency. They have to first try to refute it. Every officer here is trained to have threat orientation. A guard knows all the methods of operation that apply to them at that time." Meaning, security guards aren't just worried about suspicious people, they're worried about the actual things those people might do. Are they a suicide bomber? Are they a "mule," carrying a bomb without knowing it? Is that person going to rush security with a machine gun or a knife? "I know all of [the methods of operation]," he said, "and all of the correlating suspicion indicators [as a security guard, or security director]. It’s my job to find the indicators and act on them." For the Israelis, it's not about law enforcement and putting people in jail. It's about stopping people from harming other people. And they're practical. While we were at the Jerusalem bus station, where Benny, the security director, took us through his procedures and showed us his central station (which didn't use analytics, but did have megapixel video), he casually mentioned that a military person had just reported a machine gun lost. In the United States, this would have caused panic. Here, it was just something to be concerned about. They knew the most likely scenario is that it had already been ferreted out of the building and would likely be sold to criminals or terrorists. They knew they would have to deal with it later. I'll blog more later about these topics as I visit other installations, but, for now, check out this video. It's a public service announcement that's shown here. It's in Hebrew, so you might not understand all of it, but you'll get the central point. It's teaching little kids to identify suspicious packages and then run away and tell someone about it. Here, everyone helps with security, and they are empowered to know what to do in dangerous situations. Even a little kid can understand that a package can be profiled, recognized as suspicious, and then dealt with. Why can't adult Americans?
by: Martha Entwistle - Saturday, February 9, 2008
Those of you diligent readers of my monthly editorial know that I am now in Israel, having spent the better part of the last 24 hours getting here. I am traveling here as part of a tour package put together by Chameleon Associations and sponsored by Infrastruct Security (check out Andrew Wray's blog off that homepage, too) that will eventually bring us to many of the major security installations in Israel, as well as put us in front of a number of experts in counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, emergency management, and general physical security. Over the course of the next seven days, I'll be providing reports on what I'm learning, what I'm seeing, and what the general atmosphere is here in Israel, arguably the most security-conscious nation in the world. Today, I saw many indications of how seriously Israel does (and doesn't really) take its security. First of all, upon arriving in the Newark airport from the Portland International Jetport (we can fly to Toronto, thus it's international), I found I couldn't go directly to my gate for the second leg to Tel Aviv. Why? Well, there's a second security checkpoint, independent of the one you go through to get to the gates area, just to get into the gate area from which the plane to Tel Aviv departs. This is Israel taking security seriously. You do not get on a plane to Israel unless you've been wanded and someone has looked through your bag. It's that simple. Then they check you in a second time, matching your face, your passport, and your ticket. This is Israel not really taking security seriously. The guy who wanded me got a beep for metal at both of my pockets (cell phone, keys), at my belt (belt buckle) and at my wrist (watch), but was completely uninterested in what was setting off the beep. I guess he was just trusting that it was unlikely that I had gotten a knife through the first security checkpoint, and therefore didn't need me to empty my pockets, but what then was the point of wanding me? Likely, just to make people feel safer. Similarly, the guy who pawed through my bag wasn't even really looking at it. He was just sticking his hand in there because it was his job. Still, as a deterrence measure, this treatment tells potential bad guys not to bother, I figure. Similarly, once we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, there was a security guy who "black-beaned" me (picked me out randomly, like the black bean in a jar of white beans -- what do you want from me, I just picked the term up. I didn't invent it) and asked me a few questions and looked at my passport before I even got to the passport checkpoint. Still, it was more of a formality than anything else. He either picked me because I looked like a dumb American unclear as to where to go, or because I was number 20. It's doubtful I met some kind of profile of a potential danger (although it's possible handsome guys with beards and stylish Brooks Brothers blazers have been identified as likely threats...). By the way, here's what Tel Aviv looks like from the air: Tomorrow, I'll get into the meat of the conference and have more to report, along with some video of the cool stuff we've seen at the Jerusalem bus station. Stay tuned (those of you surfing the SSN web site on a Sunday, after a couple of weeks of our site being down -- there must be dozens of you!).

by: Martha Entwistle - Thursday, February 7, 2008
Okay, I know a lot of you have been jonesin' for your daily security-blog dope and we've been disappointing you for the past week. Sorry about that. It's a long story, involving Russians, IT guys working late nights, and lots of desk-pounding and cursing (also a fair amount of irony, but I won't get into that). Suffice it to say, we're back, and plenty of stuff has been happening in the meantime. You'll see fleshed out versions of many of these stories on the newswire later today, but here's a quick recap: Aronson Security Group bought Selectron, establishing a real northwest powerhouse of an integrator. At the same time, they established a convergence division that a lot of your are going to want to take a look at for the purpose of stealing ideas. These guys seem to get that companies want one security guy who handles everything (you know, like making sure the Russians don't get you). Assa Abloy bought Simons Voss. When I first heard this, I thought it was a little bigger deal than it actually is. Simons Voss makes some really cool wireless locking systems, don't get me wrong. I just thought they were a bigger company due to the enormous booth they had at the Essen show in 2006. Turns out they only do about $60 million a year. Still big, I guess, but not huge (especially in the scope of Assa Abloy). Also, Assa's going to let Simons do their own thing, so don't expect much to change, which is a good thing. March Networks bought Cieffe, a company from Italy you may not have heard of, but which makes some great IP video technology. They've only recently come to North America - Kolossal Technologies might be their only North American dealer. It's hard to say. But the combination of March's IP stuff for retail and banking and Cieffe's stuff for commercial/industrial applications makes for a very interesting manufacturing partner for progressive integrators. Plus, they've really got a nice global reach at this point. GE Security bought most of CoVi's assets, signaling a commitment to IP video solutions. Apparently it was quicker to just buy assets instead of CoVi proper, which means GE Security doesn't get the brand (but, as one GE official said as an aside, "I think we've got plenty of brand already"), and the executive staff doesn't come with the deal. They'll be busy honoring warranties and answering questions, most likely. What does come with the deal are all of the engineering and product support types-the brain power behind the technology. If there's one thing I've learned about GE, it's that they love to collect PhDs. More later, but that's probably enough for now.
by: Martha Entwistle - Tuesday, January 29, 2008
In a relatively conservative security industry, the latest news out of Stockholm has to be considered fairly bold: Securitas Systems, the integrator that spun out of Securitas, has announced it will officially change its name to Niscayah.
I know: Niscayah? According to the release, it means "secure and reliable" in Sanskrit. But you knew that. I knew a name change was coming. Apparently, after the spin-out, Securitas Systems only had claim to the Securitas name for two years, anyway, and they probably didn't want to wait until the deadline was upon them. Intellectually, I think this is a great move. It's different. It emphasizes the company's reputation for creativity. It says that the company is about more than just traditional security. But can you reliably google it? It took me a few practice runs to remember how to spell it (k or c? h at the end or no?), but I did get it eventually. And does it say "security" at all to your average end user? I'm not sure. What do you guys think?

by: Martha Entwistle - Monday, January 28, 2008
I'm going to nominate Cris Carter for that honor. I'm frankly shocked that this New York Times article references his ownership of Carter Bros., however. It's rare that the sports section acknowledges a player's post-playing career. Of course, this - He owns a security company, Carter Brothers, based in Atlanta, and received an award for entrepreneurship from the National Urban League. - makes it seem like he's running a little old alarm company, or something. But, as you'll see in this story about Carter Bros. buying GE's Edwards installation arm, where I interviewed the other Carter brother, John, it's pretty dang substantial. I'm thinking for mainstream fame combined with security industry stature, Carter can't be beat. A close runner up might be Thomas McMillen, the former NBA star and congressman who heads Homeland Security Capital Corp., but a: his company is still smaller than Carter's, and b: Carter is on HBO.
by: Martha Entwistle - Friday, January 25, 2008
Okay, so this happened in China, where maybe privacy isn't as closely held by government employees, but having surveillance footage of people kissing on a subway platform show up on YouTube has got to be the worst possible PR for those pushing cameras as a way of reducing crime. Here's the video. Sorry, couldn't resist. If this happened in the U.S., I'm pretty sure Nancy Grape's head would explode. It would be wise, in general, for security professionals of all stripes to acquaint themselves with privacy laws and best practices. If you can advise your customers in this area, you might find yourself with another piece of RMR, acting as an outsourced chief privacy officer. If you're looking to start down the path of privacy, you can't do better than the IAPP. And, hey, they're in Maine, so they must be smart.