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VSD: Prognosis is good

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008
According to this report from IMS Research, there are only good times ahead for Video Smoke Detection companies like axonX, of Sparks, Md. and D-Tec, a U.K.-based business that just opened an office in Atlanta in December. I’ll have more on this later, but Mac Mottley, CEO of AxonX , told me that IMS’s projection that the VSD market will reach $36 million by 2011 “are in line with our projections.” In fact, Mottley said the projections may even be low if, as Mottley expects, “we get larger players adopting the technology at a faster rate.”

Back in the USA

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I've got to say, it's good to be back on American soil. Nothing against Israel, but it's not the most relaxing place to be, I'll say that. And things aren't getting any less tense. Looks like Israel is moving ahead with plans to clean out Gaza and end Hamas. I'm kind of glad that didn't happen last week while I was there. But I'm going to try to put Israeli happenings out of this blog's consciousness for a bit (I'll compile all of the Israel trip posts together and make them available in the sidebar at some point) and get back to the business of North American security integrators. For instance, did you see that Unisys has partnered with Aladdin to add IT-based identity management to its offerings? I think you'll start seeing a wave of integrators adding IT security offerings to their tool boxes. Last month, Aronson Security Group announced its convergence unit as part of its acquisition of Selectron, so it's not even just about the global integrators doing it. And here's an indication that we have a lot of work to do in the United States before people will really understand what security is all about. This story details a small college's struggle with concert security. I'm sure many colleges have such problems, but this quote from a professor I find very disturbing: Evergreen professor Peter Bohmer said he was concerned about the increasing reliance on police to control crowds. "I urge people not to cooperate with police," Bohmer said, to both applause and jeers. "I think we need to handle this among ourselves, instead of having a community of other people handle it." Wow. "A community of other people." So the police are not "us"? As long as common citizens see the police as "other" than them, we're going to have a security problem in the United States. One good sign? Amtrak seems to have finally gotten the message that they need to upgrade their security measures. Some of the increases included random baggage screening. This is only a good idea if it includes some kind of profiling effort. If their idea of random includes my daughter's Hello Kitty suitcase on wheels, it's a bad idea. If their idea of random includes searching bags of those people who are exhibiting suspicion indicators, maybe it can be effective.

Campus violence; red flags

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Saturday, February 16, 2008
This story in today’s New York Times discusses how universities seek to protect students without turning campuses into fortresses. It talks about some universities’ installation of phone/email/text alert systems. Many of these are likely tied into mass notification systems as well, something we’ve done a lot of reporting on. The story also talks about how some university presidents review on a daily basis all campus incidents looking for clues that might signal that a student is troubled. University officials are clearly working diligently to address violence on campus and the fire and security industry has stepped up to help. On the front page of the Times today, another story detailed the profoundly sad deaths this week of five students and a student gunman at Northern Illinois University. The story reported that the student gunman was well liked, a good student, and that there were no obvious “red flags.” The story also contained this paragraph: “The gunman bought his weapons legally from a Champaign gun dealer, officials said. He also bought some accessories from the popular Internet dealer who sold a gun to the gunman in the Virginia Tech massacre last year.” Isn't there a way to make the purchase of a handgun a red flag?

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Countdown to analog's expiration

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Friday, February 15, 2008
Only three days left until the Feb. 18 sunset date and the expiration of analog cellular service in the U.S. (and that's counting a weekend, so really after today, it's over). Most people in the industry predict it will be a largely uneventful day, but I'm not so sure. After all, Monday is a holiday and Tuesday is a full moon. With that combo, who knows what could happen? I spoke with Bud Wulforst, the president of the Central Station Alarm Association, and he said he thinks most of the larger security companies are ready for the transition, but he is concerned that the smaller companies either aren't aware of the situation or aren't taking the appropriate actions to change their customers' systems over (here's an article with our conversation). I can understand that there's a cost and time issue with changing out systems, but I can't believe that anyone, especially anyone in the security business, is unaware that analog is on its way out. Frankly, they must not be very good businesspeople because I just did a quick Google News search for "analog cellular" and more than 10 pages worth of articles came up. For example, here's an article about the ending of analog and its effect on security systems from a paper out of Colorado. However, there's not much anyone can do at this point. Like Wulforst said in reference to companies that aren't ready for Monday's deadline: "If they’re scrambling now, it’s too late. They should’ve been scrambling months ago." So, all we can do is wait and see what happens. Get lots of rest over this long weekend - next week could be interesting.

Untitled

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Friday, February 15, 2008

From Nazarenes to Bedouins

Unsurprisingly, the morning papers greeted us here with news that Hizbullah has officially declared war on Israel, though nothing seems to have actually changed in terms of attacks—or preparations on the part of the Israelis. They were already under the impression that they were at war. Maybe you didn’t see the footage, but more than a million people turned out to mourn Imad Mughniyeh in the streets of Lebanon, all of them screaming, “Death to Israel.” Regardless of your political persuasions, you have to admit that a demonstration of that kind might make you a bit uneasy if you were an Israeli citizen. [Edit: Note that Israel fights on a number of fronts at once. Here is just one story of the escalating fighting/airstrikes/missile launches in Gaza. There are no winners here. The Israelis suffered a rocket attack that hit a nursery school. They fired back, hitting a school and killing a teacher, since the rockets were launched from the school grounds. I was within five miles of those rocket attacks only two days ago.] Of course, on this last day of our trip here, we traveled up to the Golan Heights, that very strategic high ground in the north that was secured by the Israelis from Syria in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Evidence of the war was all around us, with continuing mine fields and the decrepit hulls of the Syrian's Russian-made tanks left in place as reminders of the victory. There was evidence of progress, too, however, in the form of nearly endless fields of vineyards, where the best wine in all of Israel is made. Our tour guide, a local recruited for some sight-seeing information who actually fought in that war, noted that the Israelis have offered to show the Syrians how to use their old battlefields to make wine, but have thus far been rebuffed. I suppose it is easy for the victors to be so gracious. The Syrians would very much like to have their/Israel’s land back. Since much of the day was concerned with sight-seeing (the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus purportedly walked on water; St. Peter’s old residence, etc.), it’s probably best to just show you the video and then compile here some of my observations for the past week, as I leave on a plane back to the United States tomorrow. Fundamentally, there are some operations tactics and guiding philosophies that the Israelis use that can and should be implemented in private security throughout the United States. Maybe they wouldn’t have prevented the Northern Illinois shooting in the United States, as it’s unclear that a country as large and diverse as the U.S. could ever implement the kind of security they have here, but I think it’s likely that there would be fewer incidents of large-scale violence. Note in the story I'm linking to that they say there were "no red flags." Well, I can assure you there were red flags as he approached the building. Had there been posted guards, no way it happens. The question is whether we could ever have posted guards everywhere on a university grounds. It's highly unlikely. But how did no other student notice him coming in with three handguns and a shotgun? • Circles of security: The Israelis organize their security in concentric circles, as anyone who has been following this blog by now well knows. The reason they don’t have through-put problems at their malls, airports, bus stations, train stations, etc., where they have tighter security than anywhere but some American airports, is that they start screening people far earlier in the process. They screen cars 100 meters or more from the building. They have guards 20 meters away watching people walk in. They have metal detectors outside the doors. By the time you enter the building, you’ve been screened or profiled a number of times and you can basically get to where you want to go quite quickly. • Profiling: We in America need to stop wasting time on people who are clearly not threats. I know it’s considered prudent to expect that anyone could be a terrorist, but if guards are well-trained in looking for suspicion indicators, I think it’s safe to start letting my four-year-old daughter go through the metal detector without taking her shoes off. Let’s be bold enough to say that NOT anyone could be a terrorist. Let’s know in our hearts that my grandmother is not going to blow up a plane. And let me reiterate that profiling has nothing to do with race. Here, the Israelis and the Palestinians are the same race, so race is clearly not necessary as a suspicion indicator. Profiling is about the method of operation and looking for the likely behaviors that would be evidenced by someone looking to do others harm. • Empowering even the lowest member of the organization to make decisions and be decisive: Here, they quite simply expect more of their average security guard than we do. Let’s expect more of ourselves. Let’s train our guards with meaningful seminars on how to spot bad guys and how to manage dangerous situations. Let’s do away with the joke that the TSA is just “welfare in a uniform.” Let’s both respect our security guards and teach them to respect themselves, so that when people come through a security line at the airport they don’t sense that everyone’s just going through the motions. In the military, I’ve been told that the new saying is, “every solider is a sensor.” Let’s make every security guard a sensor. • Using technology for its proper purpose: The Israelis use plenty of very high-end technology, some of which I’m not allowed to outline on a public blog. However, they understand that’s it’s never meant to replace people. For you, the security installers and integrators who are my readers, you’ve got to make sure that your sales people aren’t out there preaching a message of replacement, but one of augmentation. Stay with the mantra that technology can be a force multiplier. That’s true, and if your sales people don’t overpromise, you won’t underperform. • Making security everyone’s obligation: Here in Israel, we’ve seen countless stories of ordinary citizens playing vital roles in stopping suicide bombers. We watched a video at the Jerusalem police station where an ordinary citizen noticed a suspicious guy with a back-pack, jumped out of his car at an intersection, ran up to a police car, pointed at the guy and yelled, “that’s a suicide bomber.” The cop chased him down and prevented him from getting near a crowded shopping mall. Would that happen in the United States? Maybe yes, maybe no. We need to ask more, and expect more, of everyone in our organizations when it comes to security. This is a message security companies need to be preaching to the end users, and end users need to be preaching to their companies as a whole. What more evidence do we need that security is a real concern no matter where you are? Did the shoppers in the Omaha mall expect they’d be gunned down? No, I’m sure they all thought that nothing could happen there. Did the Northern Illinois students walk to class worrying about being killed by gunfire? Of course not. We need to start asking ourselves how these guys are getting so far along without anyone raising questions about them. The Virginia Tech shooter should have been identified long before he acted, by anyone in his college community who cared about the people living around them. Let’s make it okay again to be a little nosey. Along the way, we might even develop a meaningful sense of community that can be translated into recycling, energy-use, and business-efficiency purposes. Let’s rat some people out. • Red teaming, or testing: At the Rambam hospital, security is tested in various ways seven times a day. At the bus station, at least one test happens every shift. At Ben Gurion, they not only test a number of times a day, but they have a running preparedness score that they track via software. And these aren’t pre-packaged drills. They’re honest undercover efforts to breach security. If they succeed, they try to figure out why. If they fail, they are happy. They mostly fail to get contraband in. But when they succeed, it’s not a scandal, it’s a learning opportunity. We need to test our security systems much more often. This is certainly a service that systems integrators could offer on a continuing basis, and it would be a valued one, in my opinion. Not only could you consult with a company beforehand, design a system with their needs in mind, and install something that could multiply their security forces, but you could also service the system after the fact and act as a tester post-installation. That’s RMR and it’s a service that’s not currently be provided by anyone I know of. • Trusting the young: Here, security is largely handled by students, who’ve just graduated from their military service. It’s a part-time job, but they do it well and with honor. Why do all of our students work at Starbucks and Domino’s and not as security guards? Let’s get bright minds and able bodies serving the public good. Let’s get ROTC members working as security guards at the mall and the airport and the hospital. We trust our young people to serve as our soldiers overseas, but we don’t ask enough of them on the home front. Some of these things cost money, it’s true. But many of them are simply a shifting of attention, a change of attitude, and an elimination of cynicism. We can do better, and we have both a model for it and an obligation to it. As members of the security industry, it’s up to you to make it happen. Finally, thanks for reading this week’s posts from Israel. I’ll return to my normal snarky self next week, I’m sure, but please let’s continue some of these conversations when we see each other at the shows and when we talk on the phone. Our next opportunity? TechSec. I’ll see you there.

Self-install is a cinch ... for professionals

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Thursday, February 14, 2008
I came across this feature in a couple different papers over the last week or so (this one's from the Washington Post) about how darn easy it is to install your own home security system. You only need to remember stuff like “try to mount the cameras under an overhang that will keep them dry from all but the most violent wind-driven rain.” (Shouldn't you try to mount it where it will capture the best video?) And this tip, "Installing the cables so they are hidden can be challenging, so consider using wireless security cameras if you intend to install the camera in a place where it will be hard to run thin video cables. Keep in mind that these cameras still need a power supply, which can be batteries or a low-voltage cable from a nearby transformer.” Heck I'm always stringing cable from nearby transformers. This will be a piece of cake! Then I saw that the author of this helpful info is a “home builder, remodeling contractor, licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker.” Now I understand why it's so easy.

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I'm a writer, not a fighter

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Thursday, February 14, 2008
Well, I have to admit that I was mildly troubled by the morning paper today. As you might imagine, Hizbullah (it looks like they spell it with an "i" and a "u" here; not sure if that's universal, but I'm guessing the Israelis are the most acquainted with them) is not overly thrilled about their second in command getting blown up yesterday. Hizbullah legislator Ismail Sukeyir said, "Hizbullah has the right to retaliate anywhere in the world and in any way it sees fit." And where did we go today? That's right, north to Haifa, which lies just 50km south of Lebanon and was attacked by rockets daily during the Lebanese war in 2006, in which Hizbullah played a large role. In the end, today was indeed action-packed, but only because of our dialed-in tour leaders, and not because of any kind of immediate retaliation. The video should be attractive for those of you with military and law-enforcement backgrounds today: You saw there Yaron Klein, manager of security for Haifa Port, which is actually four private ports collected into one government-company-run port for the purposes of security. As with every security manager we've spoken with here, Klein uses the concepts of security rings and profiling to secure his facility, but he has the added burden, like many ports back home in the United States, of trying to figure out what's in the 2,200 containers that flow in and out of his facility every day. It's a nearly impossible job. Because of an attack that almost succeeded just recently, Klein's 350 guards open every empty container and use a laser sighting tool to make sure that each container interior measures either 20 or 40 feet. Why? Because two terrorists hid in an empty container with a false back wall. When they got inside the port of Ashud, down the coast, they cut their way out and then killed themselves with a suicide bomb, trying to blow up chemical materials but failing. For all other containers, Klein must rely on imaging technology and the trustworthiness of the seals on the containers, which are verified by all shippers via email before they are allowed to pass through the gates. Klein is constantly profiling the containers: do they have holes, did they come from a new shipping company or a sketchy foreign port, did the captain sound funny on the radio? And, of course, Haifa Port must screen the thousands of passengers that come through in a similar manner to the way that Ben Gurion screens its passengers. It's still not enough, however. Haifa Port is embarking on a $222 million shekel (roughly $70 million) security upgrade that will be completed in 2013. The port is growing and accommodations need to be made in order to keep up with the traffic. A quick uptick in traffic was at the heart of Dr. Moshe Michaelson's presentation at Rambam Health Care Campus, which has the largest trauma unit in the north of Israel and was literally under fire during the 2006 war with Lebanon. Not only did the center treat many of the soldier casualties, but Kotusha rockets were raining down into Haifa all around the hospital, thus bringing in many civilian casualties and forcing the hospital to set up an underground trauma center in the basement, lest the doctors and nurses treating the casualties become casualties themselves. I won't go into too many details of their mass casualty planning, as it doesn't apply to many of you, my readers, but they did offer one lesson that I think any flexible organization must apply: Strict rules need to be replaced with a mechanism for quick decision making. People must be empowered to be predictive, constantly imagining the worst case as a situation develops, and they must be allowed to create new procedures on the fly. Planning is important, but so it realizing when you had a bad or inadequate plan. They also emphasized the importance of training and "red-teaming" (testing), much like their security counterparts. The hospital runs some kind of trauma-related or security-related test 7 times a day (yes, a day). Dr. Michaelson has participated in such testing in the United States and said we are lacking a sense of reality in those tests: "You Americans put red shirts on critical patients and green shirts on non-critical patients and then tell people to practice triage. This is only practice if you are color-blind." Well, I'm not color-blind, but my ears are definitely ringing after the second half of the day's activities: A visit to the center where Israeli security guards and military special forces are trained. Again, I'm not going to go into much detail, as most of you don't often take on hostage situations, but suffice it to say that the Israelis practice their hostage situations as well as their mass-casualty situations. One thing you didn't see in the video? I played the role of a hostage-taker in a Munich-style apartment, then watched two soldiers repel into the window and shoot me in the face with guns firing very loud blanks. I jumped about five feet in the air. The trade show that followed was mostly full of products that are more military and guard oriented, like weapons and VIP protection training and tools, but these companies seemed like they might make good dealer partners: Elkat, which sells a number of solutions, but looked most interesting for its voice analyzer, allowing you to sell lie-detection as a service. That might come in handy. Green Vision Systems, which uses cameras to detect minute particles in the air and act like a sniffer. If you're working with any large building with a ventilation system, these guys could give you a nice way to prevent airborne agents from causing havoc. So, what do we do for more action tomorrow? We'll be heading to the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. The good news is that you'll get to see video of tanks!

Israel, Day 5

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Before I get into what was a very busy day visiting Ben Gurion Airport, the Azrieli Center (three skyscrapers attached to a large mall), and Israel Railways operations, I wonder if you took note of this story: Hezbollah intelligence chief Imad Mughniyeh was killed with a car bomb in Damascus, Syria (not far from here in Tel Aviv). The Israelis haven't gone so far as to take credit, but I can tell you that no one here is playing violins for him either. It may sound callous, but one of our hosts described the bombing this way: "He took a long flight, without a boarding pass." Of course, Avi was a member of the Israeli Army and fought Hezbollah directly, so you can imagine that he has no love for one of its leaders. The Israelis are not below counter-acts of terrorism, certainly. I asked Amotz, another of our tour leaders, today if it was offensive for me to say that Menachim Begin was a terrorist (you may not know that the former prime minister here began his career as a leader of the Israeli resistance against Great Britain, which would not allow immigrants to come to Israel following the end of WW 2; he quite famously blew up part of the King David Hotel, which was serving at the time as the British army HQ, and where we stayed earlier this week). Amotz said no, he agreed, Begin was a terrorist. He said there are still Israeli terrorists. There are American terrorists. He said the difference is that Israel and the United States make an active effort to keep terrorists within their borders from acting in that fashion, while the leaders of the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Hamas, encourage such acts. What about Mughniyeh's killing? Was that terrorism, counter-terrorism, an act of war? It's unclear, really. We live in a time, I would argue, when old terminology doesn't apply well. I can tell you, however, that terminology isn't particularly important to the heads of security at Ben Gurion, Azrieli, and the rail system. They simply know that people are repeatedly trying to kill their customers and are doing everything possible to both protect those customers and make sure they continue to have customers. As Nahum Liss, technically the head of planning, control and projects at Ben Gurion, put it: "You can have 100 percent security, but then you have zero percent aviation activity." Sadim, the chief security officer at Azrieli, noted, however, that while private security is "a big headache for the client," the customers coming to the mall expect and appreciate the security measures. One customer, he said, asked to speak to him personally, recently, only to say that he had surveyed his security measures and approved of them. "This is the only mall I'll shop in," he reportedly told Sadim. While the three operations all use varying levels of technology, it's clear from their presentations (and from this week's presentations in general) that all three value people and policies much more highly. "We're always upgrading our technology," Sadim said, "we're always looking for ways to do our job better, but technology is just a tool. It can't replace people." This echoed our training from earlier in the week, given by Amotz, if you'll remember, and the sentiment of the Sergeant at Arms of the Knesset. Security, they said is about profiling methods of operation, and has three steps: Detect, Determine, Deploy. The technology can only help with the detecting part. It can't think, or ask questions, and it can't make the decision to deploy (or shouldn't). That said, the all three locations had some pretty cool technology, especially Ben Gurion. But, here, watch the video first (sorry that I seem to be confused as to whether this is my fourth or fifth day here - the time change is messing with me): It has 2,300 security employees to serve its 10.1 million annual passengers, and they use all manner of profiling techniques along with the universal concept here of "security circles." The first circle is the Israeli intelligence operation, the second is the fence line: Ben Gurion is the only airport in the world that has a fence around all public areas. There are only two gates through which to enter, and everyone entering is spoken with and profiled. Those who show suspicion indicators are questioned further, and those who have suspicions that can't be refuted are searched. This can take up to an hour. Do not make jokes at the gates to Ben Gurion. And keep the heater down. You don't want to be sweating. Then the circles move in as you might imagine, with such measures as $3,000 blast-proof trash cans and very-armed guards patrolling everywhere. We were told to try to spot the snipers, but I'm not sure if they were kidding or not. I didn't see any, but I'm guessing I wouldn't. Then they have all manner of CT-scan, X-ray, video analytic, license plate recognition, bollards, and more than 700 cameras throughout the airport and airfield. Their access control system for employees involves a prox card tied to a biometric, very similar to HSPD-12/FIPS 201. And, you guessed it, they're about to implement shoe-screening technology, so you won't have to take your shoes off. Hopefully, they export that to the United States quickly. As everywhere in Israel, and I've mentioned before, virtually all of the security guards here and at the other two sites, are young, no more than 25. They are students, working part-time as they study (they've already been in the military), and they are good at what they do. While you'll see them joking around from time to time, and their silly photos lining break-room walls, they are also decisive, attentive, and they catch things all the time. When they are "red-teamed," meaning tested, they mostly pass, we're told. One of the coolest things Liss had in place at Ben Gurion was software that gave him a quick representation of his preparedness for an attack. All employees, and the technology, are graded constantly for effectiveness. If a guard doesn't pass a test, he or she doesn't work the next day. It's that simple. They are given more training to get their numbers up. Today the facility's number was an 89. Because it was clear that Liss had no tolerance for failure, this seemed like a high, and encouraging, number. There is no doubt, as Liss said, that Ben Gurion is the safest airport in the world. I asked him if he felt unsafe when he traveled through the other airports of the world. "You're an American?" he asked immediately. He laughed. He had been asked last year to evaluate the efforts at LAX and Denver. He thought their front doors were well secured he said, but "the back doors of most American airports are wide open." He felt the perimeters were less than secure and that we needed to secure them, "but that's not an easy thing to do." He also felt we needed to develop our own profiling system and that we needed to get higher quality guards. "Employees are paid much better here," he said, "and the quality is much better." He also spends $60 million a year on security. Sadim spends about $2 million to protect his 45,000 daily visitors each year. He's got 250 cameras, uses prox cards for employees, and also has a conversation with every car that comes to park in his parking garage. His system, like all private security measures, must meet a minimum standard established by the police. He had to apply for a permit before the business could open to the public, and that permit must be renewed each year. Can you imagine that in the United States? I wouldn't hesitate to guess that the Maine Mall would resist such permitting strenuously. Many of us noted, however, that it likely thinks nothing of making sure its fire system is up to code. How many people have died in mall fires? I'm guessing none in the past 25 years. How many people have died in attacks on malls? Unfortunately, we know that number has increased recently. That gunman wouldn't have sniffed the front door here. Speaking of sniffing, we got a demonstration of the effectiveness of the Railways' K-9 unit as part of the day's last presentation. Cute dog. He could probably use some My Good Dog toys (sorry, couldn't help a plug for my old man's business - the rules are looser here on the blog, right?). Yosi, head of security for the Railways, maybe gave the biggest endorsement to his technology efforts; he's about to embark on a campaign to use a camera to cover every meter of the 900 km of rail line he's responsible for (and another 500 km of line is going to be added over the next four years or so). Do the math there. He showed us a demonstration of what the system can do, as it identified a fake terrorist as he walked into a tunnel and placed a bag on the tracks using video analytics, and then the command center contacted patrol guards in the field, who were able to quickly arrive on the scene, and the train operators, who were able to keep their cars from entering the tunnel. He also showed us video of the most recent bombing attempt thwarted: Just last month, five men were apprehended with the detonator for a bomb that had already been placed on the side of some tracks. They intended to move the bomb to the tracks and detonate it when a trail came across it. The Israeli intelligence services won this time. In five other cases, they won as well. Another time, a guard was killed in stopping a suicide bomber before he reached a station. We saw a video that showed how far the head of the bomber was shot up into the sky when he detonated. Gruesome. Another video showed us a 14-year-old boy who was apprehended with a bomb strapped to his chest, sent in by Hezbollah. You can see, maybe, why today's car bomb in Damascus wasn't something these people were overly concerned about.

Dinner at the embassy

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008
So I lied a bit in my last post. I was under the impression we were attending dinner last night at the ambassador's house. Apparently, he was busy. Instead, we attended a reception at the Deputy Chief's house (he's the second in command). It was a very nice affair, with lots of diplomats who are very good at making small talk. The Deputy's name is Luis Moreno and you can see here that we've become fast friends. Deputy Moreno gave a nice short talk on the embassy's support of a two-state solution, and emphasized his security background, noting that his embassy is one of only four in the world that employ a full-time security staff and don't just hire a local private firm to do security. Speaking with some of the local consulate members (people who give the thumbs up or down to visa applications, for example), I found that they very much enjoy it here, but are asked to obey some simple security rules. They can't ride the bus or train, and there are a few cities they're asked not visit. They can't go into the Old City after dark. In terms of industry types, perhaps the most relevant person I met was Guy Zuri, the business development manager for security, safety and Homeland Security at the Israeli Export & International Cooperation Institute. He works with the likes of NICE, Verint, Mate, and other Israeli firms, looking to export Israeli technology to the rest of the world. He'll be hosting a technology demonstration/mini trade show for us on Thursday. He's a good salesman, too. By the end of the reception, he had convinced the Deputy to attend.

The Trouble with Gaza

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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?

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