Archive for July, 2011

Situational Awareness And Foiling Terror Attacks

One more great STRATFOR piece for you today. While surfing the “Shadow CIA” website last night, I stumbled on a Security Weekly report from Scott Stewart back on June 10, 2010, which focused on situational awareness. What is situational awareness? According to the Austin, Texas-based global intelligence company, it’s the process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it. As they believe it’s more of an attitude or mindset than a hard skill, situational awareness can be adopted and employed by anyone. It can even be used to thwart acts of terrorism. Reprinted with STRATFOR’s permission…

A Primer on Situational Awareness

By Scott Stewart

The world is a wonderful place, but it can also be a dangerous one. In almost every corner of the globe militants of some political persuasion are plotting terror attacks — and these attacks can happen in London or New York, not just in Peshawar or Baghdad. Meanwhile, criminals operate wherever there are people, seeking to steal, rape, kidnap or kill.

Regardless of the threat, it is very important to recognize that criminal and terrorist attacks do not materialize out of thin air. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Criminals and terrorists follow a process when planning their actions, and this process has several distinct steps. This process has traditionally been referred to as the “terrorist attack cycle,” but if one looks at the issue thoughtfully, it becomes apparent that the same steps apply to nearly all crimes. Of course, there will be more time between steps in a complex crime like a kidnapping or car bombing than there will be between steps in a simple crime such as purse-snatching or shoplifting, where the steps can be completed quite rapidly. Nevertheless, the same steps are usually followed.

People who practice situational awareness can often spot this planning process as it unfolds and then take appropriate steps to avoid the dangerous situation or prevent it from happening altogether. Because of this, situational awareness is one of the key building blocks of effective personal security — and when exercised by large numbers of people, it can also be an important facet of national security. Since situational awareness is so important, and because we discuss situational awareness so frequently in our analyses, we thought it would be helpful to discuss the subject in detail and provide a primer that can be used by people in all sorts of situations.

Foundations

First and foremost, it needs to be noted that being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is more of a mindset than a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not something that can be practiced only by highly trained government agents or specialized corporate security countersurveillance teams. Indeed, it can be exercised by anyone with the will and the discipline to do so.

An important element of the proper mindset is to first recognize that threats exist. Ignorance or denial of a threat — or completely tuning out one’s surroundings while in a public place — makes a person’s chances of quickly recognizing the threat and avoiding it slim to none. This is why apathy, denial and complacency can be (and often are) deadly. A second important element is understanding the need to take responsibility for one’s own security. The resources of any government are finite and the authorities simply cannot be everywhere and cannot stop every criminal action. The same principle applies to private security at businesses or other institutions, like places of worship. Therefore, people need to look out for themselves and their neighbors.

Another important facet of this mindset is learning to trust your “gut” or intuition. Many times a person’s subconscious can notice subtle signs of danger that the conscious mind has difficulty quantifying or articulating. Many people who are victimized frequently experience such feelings of danger prior to an incident, but choose to ignore them. Even a potentially threatening person not making an immediate move — or even if the person wanders off quickly after a moment of eye contact — does not mean there was no threat.

Levels of Awareness

People typically operate on five distinct levels of awareness. There are many ways to describe these levels (“Cooper’s colors,” for example, which is a system frequently used in law enforcement and military training), but perhaps the most effective way to illustrate the differences between the levels is to compare them to the different degrees of attention we practice while driving. For our purposes here we will refer to the five levels as “tuned out;” “relaxed awareness;” “focused awareness;” “high alert” and “comatose.”

The first level, tuned out, is like when you are driving in a very familiar environment or are engrossed in thought, a daydream, a song on the radio or even by the kids fighting in the backseat. Increasingly, cell phone calls and texting are also causing people to tune out while they drive. Have you ever gotten into the car and arrived somewhere without even really thinking about your drive there? If so, then you’ve experienced being tuned out.

The second level of awareness, relaxed awareness, is like defensive driving. This is a state in which you are relaxed but you are also watching the other cars on the road and are looking well ahead for potential road hazards. If another driver looks like he may not stop at the intersection ahead, you tap your brakes to slow your car in case he does not. Defensive driving does not make you weary, and you can drive this way for a long time if you have the discipline to keep yourself at this level, but it is very easy to slip into tuned-out mode. If you are practicing defensive driving you can still enjoy the trip, look at the scenery and listen to the radio, but you cannot allow yourself to get so engrossed in those distractions that they exclude everything else. You are relaxed and enjoying your drive, but you are still watching for road hazards, maintaining a safe following distance and keeping an eye on the behavior of the drivers around you.

The next level of awareness, focused awareness, is like driving in hazardous road conditions. You need to practice this level of awareness when you are driving on icy or slushy roads — or the roads infested with potholes and erratic drivers that exist in many third-world countries. When you are driving in such an environment, you need to keep two hands on the wheel at all times and have your attention totally focused on the road and the other drivers. You don’t dare take your eyes off the road or let your attention wander. There is no time for cell phone calls or other distractions. The level of concentration required for this type of driving makes it extremely tiring and stressful. A drive that you normally would not think twice about will totally exhaust you under these conditions because it demands your prolonged and total concentration.

The fourth level of awareness is high alert. This is the level that induces an adrenaline rush, a prayer and a gasp for air all at the same time — “Watch out! There’s a deer in the road! Hit the brakes!” This also happens when that car you are watching doesn’t stop at the stop sign and pulls out right in front of you. High alert can be scary, but at this level you are still able to function. You can hit your brakes and keep your car under control. In fact, the adrenalin rush you get at this stage can sometimes even aid your reflexes. But, the human body can tolerate only short periods of high alert before becoming physically and mentally exhausted.

The last level of awareness, comatose, is what happens when you literally freeze at the wheel and cannot respond to stimuli, either because you have fallen asleep, or, at the other end of the spectrum, because you are petrified from panic. It is this panic-induced paralysis that concerns us most in relation to situational awareness. The comatose level of awareness (or perhaps more accurately, lack of awareness) is where you go into shock, your brain ceases to process information and you simply cannot react to the reality of the situation. Many times when this happens, a person can go into denial, believing that “this can’t be happening to me,” or the person can feel as though he or she is observing, rather than actually participating in, the event. Often, the passage of time will seem to grind to a halt. Crime victims frequently report experiencing this sensation and being unable to act during an unfolding crime.

Finding the Right Level

Now that we’ve discussed the different levels of awareness, let’s focus on identifying what level is ideal at a given time. The body and mind both require rest, so we have to spend several hours each day at the comatose level while asleep. When we are sitting at our homes watching a movie or reading a book, it is perfectly fine to operate in the tuned-out mode. However, some people will attempt to maintain the tuned-out mode in decidedly inappropriate environments (e.g., when they are out on the street at night in a third-world barrio), or they will maintain a mindset wherein they deny that they can be victimized by criminals. “That couldn’t happen to me, so there’s no need to watch for it.” They are tuned out.

Some people are so tuned out as they go through life that they miss even blatant signs of pending criminal activity directed specifically at them. In 1992, an American executive living in the Philippines was kidnapped by a Marxist kidnapping gang in Manila known as the “Red Scorpion Group.” When the man was debriefed following his rescue, he described in detail how the kidnappers had blocked off his car in traffic and abducted him. Then, to the surprise of the debriefing team, he said that on the day before he was abducted, the same group of guys had attempted to kidnap him at the exact same location, at the very same time of day and driving the same vehicle. The attackers had failed to adequately box his car in, however, and his driver was able to pull around the blocking vehicle and proceed to the office.

Since the executive did not consider himself to be a kidnapping target, he had just assumed that the incident the day before his abduction was “just another close call in crazy Manila traffic.” The executive and his driver had both been tuned out. Unfortunately, the executive paid for this lack of situational awareness by having to withstand an extremely traumatic kidnapping, which included almost being killed in the dramatic Philippine National Police operation that rescued him.

If you are tuned out while you are driving and something happens — say, a child runs out into the road or a car stops quickly in front of you — you will not see the problem coming. This usually means that you either do not see the hazard in time to avoid it and you hit it, or you totally panic and cannot react to it — neither is good. These reactions (or lack of reaction) occur because it is very difficult to change mental states quickly, especially when the adjustment requires moving several steps, say, from tuned out to high alert. It is like trying to shift your car directly from first gear into fifth and it shudders and stalls. Many times, when people are forced to make this mental jump and they panic (and stall), they go into shock and will actually freeze and be unable to take any action — they go comatose. This happens not only when driving but also when a criminal catches someone totally unaware and unprepared. While training does help people move up and down the alertness continuum, it is difficult for even highly trained individuals to transition from tuned out to high alert. This is why police officers, federal agents and military personnel receive so much training on situational awareness.

It is critical to stress here that situational awareness does not mean being paranoid or obsessively concerned about your security. It does not mean living with the irrational expectation that there is a dangerous criminal lurking behind every bush. In fact, people simply cannot operate in a state of focused awareness for extended periods, and high alert can be maintained only for very brief periods before exhaustion sets in. The “flight or fight” response can be very helpful if it can be controlled. When it gets out of control, however, a constant stream of adrenaline and stress is simply not healthy for the body or the mind. When people are constantly paranoid, they become mentally and physically burned out. Not only is this dangerous to physical and mental health, but security also suffers because it is very hard to be aware of your surroundings when you are a complete basket case. Therefore, operating constantly in a state of high alert is not the answer, nor is operating for prolonged periods in a state of focused alert, which can also be overly demanding and completely enervating. This is the process that results in alert fatigue. The human body was simply not designed to operate under constant stress. People (even highly skilled operators) require time to rest and recover.

Because of this, the basic level of situational awareness that should be practiced most of the time is relaxed awareness, a state of mind that can be maintained indefinitely without all the stress and fatigue associated with focused awareness or high alert. Relaxed awareness is not tiring, and it allows you to enjoy life while rewarding you with an effective level of personal security. When you are in an area where there is potential danger (which, by definition, is almost anywhere), you should go through most of your day in a state of relaxed awareness. Then if you spot something out of the ordinary that could be a potential threat, you can “dial yourself up” to a state of focused awareness and take a careful look at that potential threat (and also look for others in the area).

If the potential threat proves innocuous, or is simply a false alarm, you can dial yourself back down into relaxed awareness and continue on your merry way. If, on the other hand, you look and determine that the potential threat is a probable threat, seeing it in advance allows you to take actions to avoid it. You may never need to elevate to high alert, since you have avoided the problem at an early stage. However, once you are in a state of focused awareness you are far better prepared to handle the jump to high alert if the threat does change from potential to actual — if the three guys lurking on the corner do start coming toward you and look as if they are reaching for weapons. The chances of you going comatose are far less if you jump from focused awareness to high alert than if you are caught by surprise and “forced” to go into high alert from tuned out. An illustration of this would be the difference between a car making a sudden stop in front of a person when the driver is practicing defensive driving, compared to a car that makes a sudden stop in front of a person when the driver is sending a text message.

Of course, if you know that you must go into an area that is very dangerous, you should dial yourself up to focused awareness when you are in that area. For example, if there is a specific section of highway where a lot of improvised explosive devices detonate and ambushes occur, or if there is a part of a city that is controlled (and patrolled) by criminal gangs — and you cannot avoid these danger areas for whatever reason — it would be prudent to heighten your level of awareness when you are in those areas. An increased level of awareness is also prudent when engaging in common or everyday tasks, such as visiting an ATM or walking to the car in a dark parking lot. The seemingly trivial nature of these common tasks can make it all too easy to go on “autopilot” and thus expose yourself to threats. When the time of potential danger has passed, you can then go back to a state of relaxed awareness.

This process also demonstrates the importance of being familiar with your environment and the dangers that are present there. Such awareness allows you to avoid many threats and to be on the alert when you must venture into a dangerous area.

Clearly, few of us are living in the type of intense threat environment currently found in places like Mogadishu, Juarez or Kandahar. Nonetheless, average citizens all over the world face many different kinds of threats on a daily basis — from common thieves and assailants to criminals and mentally disturbed individuals aiming to conduct violent acts to militants wanting to carry out large-scale attacks against subways and aircraft.

Many of the steps required to conduct these attacks must be accomplished in a manner that makes the actions visible to the potential victim and outside observers. It is at these junctures that people practicing situational awareness can detect these attack steps, avoid the danger and alert the authorities. When people practice situational awareness they not only can keep themselves safer but they can also help keep others safe. And when groups of people practice situational awareness together they can help keep their schools, houses of worship, workplaces and cities safe from danger.

And as we’ve discussed many times before, as the terrorist threat continues to devolve into one almost as diffuse as the criminal threat, ordinary citizens are also becoming an increasingly important national security resource.

A Primer on Situational Awareness is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

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Analyzing The Recent Norway Terror Attack

There’s a lot of material being released about the July 22 bombing/shootings in Norway. Not having the time these days to sort through it all, I was lucky enough to unearth the following analysis of the incident by Scott Stewart from the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc., or STRATFOR. Stewart does a terrific job summarizing the attack, providing relevant details, and exploring the bigger picture. Reprinted with their permission…

Norway: Lessons from a Successful Lone Wolf Attacker

By Scott Stewart

On the afternoon of July 22, a powerful explosion ripped through the streets of Oslo, Norway, as a large improvised explosive device (IED) in a rented van detonated between the government building housing the prime minister’s office and Norway’s Oil and Energy Department building. According to the diary of Anders Breivik, the man arrested in the case who has confessed to fabricating and placing the device, the van had been filled with 950 kilograms (about 2,100 pounds) of homemade ammonium nitrate-based explosives.

After lighting the fuse on his IED, Breivik left the scene in a rented car and traveled to the island of Utoya, located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Oslo. The island was the site of a youth campout organized by Norway’s ruling Labor Party. Before taking a boat to the island, Breivik donned body armor and tactical gear bearing police insignia (intended to afford him the element of tactical surprise). Once on the island he opened fire on the attendees at the youth camp with his firearms, a semiautomatic 5.56-caliber Ruger Mini-14 rifle and a 9 mm Glock pistol. Due to the location of the camp on a remote island, Breivik had time to kill 68 people and wound another 60 before police responded to the scene.

Shortly before the attack, Breivik posted a manifesto on the Internet that includes his lengthy operational diary. He wrote the diary in English under the Anglicized pen name Andrew Berwick, though a careful reading shows he also posted his true identity in the document. The document also shows that he was a lone wolf attacker who conducted his assault specifically against the Labor Party’s current and future leadership. Breivik targeted the Labor Party because of his belief that the party is Marxist-oriented and is responsible for encouraging multiculturalism, Muslim immigration into Norway and, acting with other similar European governments, the coming destruction of European culture. Although the Labor Party members are members of his own race, he considers them traitors and holds them in more contempt than he does Muslims. In fact, in the manifesto, Breivik urged others not to target Muslims because it would elicit sympathy for them.

Breivik put most of his time and effort into the creation of the vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) that he used to attack his primary target, the current government, which is housed in the government building. It appears that he believed the device would be sufficient to destroy that building. It was indeed a powerful device, but the explosion killed only eight people. This was because the device did not bring down the building as Breivik had planned and many of the government employees who normally work in the area were on summer break. In the end, the government building was damaged but not destroyed in the attack, and no senior government officials were killed. Most of the deaths occurred at the youth camp, which Breivik described as his secondary target.

While Breivik’s manifesto indicated he planned and executed the attack as a lone wolf, it also suggests that he is part of a larger organization that he calls the “Pauperes Commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici (PCCTS, also known as the Knights Templar), which seeks to encourage other lone wolves (whom Brevik refers to as “Justiciar Knights”) and small cells in other parts of Europe to carry out a plan to “save” Europe and European culture from destruction.

Because of the possibility that there are other self-appointed Justiciar Knights in Norway or in other parts of Europe and that Breivik’s actions, ideology and manifesto could spawn copycats, we thought it useful to examine the Justiciar Knights concept as Breivik explains it to see how it fits into lone wolf theory and how similar actors might be detected in the future.

An Opening Salvo?

From reading his manifesto, it is clear that Breivik, much like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, believes that his attack is the opening salvo in a wider campaign, in this case to liberate Europeans from what Breivik views as malevolent, Marxist-oriented governments. These beliefs are what drove Breivik to attack the Norwegian Labor Party. As noted above, it is also clear that Breivik planned and executed his attack alone.

However, he also discusses how he was radicalized and influenced by a Serbian living in Liberia whom he visited there. And Breivik claims to have attended a meeting in London in 2002 to “re-found the Knights Templar.” This organization, PCCTS, which was founded in 2002, is not related to the much older official and public chivalric order also known as the Knights Templar. According to Breivik, the PCCTS was formed with the stated purpose of fighting back against “European Jihad” and to defend the “free indigenous peoples of Europe.” To achieve this goal, the PCCTS would implement a three-phase plan designed to seize political and military power in Europe. In his manifesto Breivik outlines the plan as follows:

• Phase 1 (1999-2030): Cell-based shock attacks, sabotage attacks, etc.
• Phase 2 (2030-2070): Same as above but bigger cells/networks, armed militias.
• Phase 3 (2070-2100): Pan-European coup d’etats, deportation of Muslims and execution of traitors.

As outlined in Breivik’s manifesto, the 2002 meeting was attended by seven other individuals, two from England and one each from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Russia. He also asserts that the organization has members from Serbia (his contact living in Liberia), Sweden, Belgium and the United States who were unable to attend the meeting. Brevik states that all the members of the PCCTS were given code names for security, that his code name was “Sigurd,” and that he was mentored by a member with the code name “Richard the Lionhearted” (presumably a Briton). Breivik claims that after meeting these individuals via the Internet he was carefully vetted before being allowed to join the group.

The diary section of Breivik’s manifesto reveals that during the planning process for the attack Breivik traveled to Prague to obtain firearms and grenades from Balkan organized-crime groups there (he had hoped to obtain a fully automatic AK-47). Breivik was not able to procure weapons in Prague and instead was forced to use weapons he was able to obtain in Norway by legal means. It is interesting that he did not contact the Serbian member of the PCCTS for assistance in making contact with Balkan arms dealers. Breivik’s lawyer told the media July 26 that although Breivik acted alone in conducting his attack, he had been in contact with two terror cells in Norway and other cells abroad. Certainly, Norway and its partners in EUROPOL and the United States will try to identify these other individuals, if they do in fact exist.

In phase one of the PCCTS plan, shock attacks were to be carried out by individuals operating as lone wolves or small cells of Breivik’s so-called Justiciar Knights, who are self-appointed guardians who decide to follow the PCCTS code outlined in Breivik’s manifesto and who are granted the authority to act as “a judge, jury and executioner until the free, indigenous peoples of Europe are no longer threatened by cultural genocide, subject to cultural Marxist/Islamic tyranny or territorial or existential threats through Islamic demographic warfare.”

Breivik’s manifesto notes that he does not know how many Justiciar Knights there are in Western Europe but estimates their number to be from 15 to 80. It is unclear if this is a delusion on his part and there are no other Justiciar Knights or if Breivik has some factual basis for his belief that there are more individuals like him planning attacks.

While some observers have noted that the idea of Justiciar Knights operating as lone wolves and in small cells is similar to the calls in recent years for grassroots jihadists to adopt lone wolf tactics, it is important to understand that leaderless resistance has been a central theme of white supremacist groups in the United States since the early 1990s. While Breivik did not express any anti-Semitism in his manifesto (something he has been heavily criticized for on U.S. anti-Semitic websites), clearly the anti-immigration and anti-Marxist ideology of the PCCTS has been influenced more by white hate groups than by al Qaeda.

Moreover, the concept of a self-identified Justiciar Knight is quite similar to the idea of a “Phineas Priest” in the leaderless resistance model propagated by some white supremacists in the United States who adhere to “Christian Identity” ideology. In this model, Phineas Priests see themselves as lone wolf militants chosen by God and set apart to be his “agents of vengeance” upon the earth. Phineas Priests also believe that their attacks will serve to ignite a wider “racial holy war” that will ultimately lead to the salvation of the white race.

Leaderless resistance has also been advocated by militant anarchists as well as animal rights and environmentalist activists who belong to such groups as the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. So it is not correct to think of leaderless resistance merely as a jihadist construct — it has long been used by a variety of militant actors.

Lone Wolf Challenges

One of the great strengths of our enemies, the Western European cultural Marxist/multiculturalist regimes is their vast resources and their advanced investigation/forensic capabilities. There are thousands of video cameras all over European major cities and you will always risk leaving behind dna, finger prints, witnesses or other evidence that will eventually lead to your arrest. They are overwhelmingly superior in almost every aspect. But every 7 headed monster has an Achilles heel. This Achilles heel is their vulnerability against single/duo martyr cells. — Anders Breivik

As STRATFOR has long discussed, the lone wolf operational model presents a number of challenges for law enforcement, intelligence and security officers. The primary challenge is that, by definition, lone wolves are solitary actors, and it can be very difficult to determine their intentions before they act because they do not work with anyone else. When militants are operating in a cell consisting of more than one person, there is a larger chance that one of them will get cold feet and reveal the plot to authorities, that law enforcement and intelligence personnel will intercept a communication between conspirators, or that the authorities will be able to insert an informant into the group.

This ability to fly solo and under the radar of law enforcement has meant that some lone wolf militants such as Joseph Paul Franklin, Theodore Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph were able to operate for years before being identified and captured. Indeed, from Breivik’s diary, we know he took several years to plan and execute his attack without detection.

As the Breivik case illustrates, lone wolves also pose problems because they can come from a variety of backgrounds with a wide range of motivations. While some lone wolves are politically motivated, others are religiously motivated and some are mentally unstable.

In addition to the wide spectrum of ideologies and motivations among lone wolves, there is also the issue of geographic dispersal. As we’ve seen from past cases, their plots and attacks have occurred in many different locations and are not confined just to Manhattan, London or Washington. Lone wolf attacks can occur anywhere.

Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between those extremists who intend to commit attacks and those who simply preach hate or hold radical beliefs (things that are not in themselves illegal in many countries). Therefore, to single out likely lone wolves before they strike, authorities must spend a great deal of time and resources looking at individuals who might be moving from radical beliefs to radical actions. This is a daunting task given the large universe of potential suspects.

Vulnerabilities

In spite of the challenges presented by lone wolf operatives, they are vulnerable to detection at several different stages of their attack cycle. One of these vulnerabilities comes during the planning stage when weapons are acquired. From reading Breivik’s diary, it is clear that he felt exposed as he tried to purchase the chemicals he needed to build his IED. Because of this vulnerability, Breivik created an extensive cover story that included renting a farm in order to explain his purchase of a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The farm also provided a private, spacious place for him to construct his IED.

Breivik also exposed himself to potential detection when he traveled to Prague to attempt to purchase weapons. One of the criminals he contacted could have turned him in to authorities. (In June 2011 we saw a jihadist cell in Seattle detected and arrested while attempting to buy guns from a criminal acquaintance. Another small cell was arrested in New York in May 2011, also while attempting to obtain weapons.) Even if Breivik had succeeded in purchasing weapons in Prague, he would still have been vulnerable as he smuggled the weapons back into Norway in his car (though it is important to remember that EU countries have open borders so security checks would not have been too stringent).

Breivik also exposed himself to detection as he conducted surveillance on his targets. Interestingly, in his diary, Breivik goes into excruciating detail discussing how he manufactured his device based on information he was able to obtain from the Internet, but he mentions very little about how he selected specific targets or how he conducted surveillance on them. He mentions only that he visited the sites and programmed the locations into his GPS. He also discusses using a video camera to record his attack but does not mention if he used still or video cameras in his target surveillance. How Breivik specifically chose his targets and how he conducted surveillance on them will be important for the Norwegian authorities to examine.

Finally, Breivik mentions several times in his diary that the steps he was taking would be far more difficult if he were a foreign-born Muslim instead of a Caucasian Norwegian. This underscores a problem we have discussed with profiling suspects based on their ethnicity or nationality. In an environment where potential threats are hard to identify, it is doubly important to profile individuals based on their behavior rather than their ethnicity or nationality — what we refer to as focusing on the “how” rather than the “who.”

Not All Lone Wolves are Equal

Finally, in the Breivik case we need to recognize that Norwegian authorities were dealing with a very capable lone wolf operator. While lone wolf theory has been propagated for many years now, there have been relatively few successful lone wolf attacks. This is because it takes a special individual to be a successful lone wolf assailant. Unlike many lone wolves, Breivik demonstrated that he possessed the intelligence and discipline to plan and carry out an attack that spanned several years of preparation. For example, he joined a pistol club in 2005 just in case he ever needed to buy a gun through legal means in Norway, and was able to rely on that alternate plan when his efforts to purchase firearms in Prague failed. Breivik was also driven, detail-oriented and meticulous in his planning. His diary documents that he was also extremely patient and careful during the dangerous trial-and-error process of manufacturing explosives.

It is rare to find a lone wolf militant who possesses all those traits, and Breivik stands in stark contrast to other European grassroots operatives like Nick Reilly or Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed, who made amateurish attempts at attacks. Breivik appears to have been a hard worker who claims to have amassed some 500,000 euros by working a variety of jobs and selling a communications company. After some unsuccessful speculation on the stock market he still had enough money and credit to rent the farm and the vehicles he used in the attack and to buy the required bomb components, weapons and body armor. In his diary he says that he began his two tasks — writing the manifesto and conducting the attack — with a war chest of 250,000 euros and several credit cards.

Breivik also is somewhat unique in that he did not attempt to escape after his attacks or become a martyr by his own hand or that of the authorities. Instead, as outlined in his manifesto, he sought to be tried so that he could turn his trial into a grandstand for promoting his ideology beyond what he did with his manifesto and video. He was willing to risk a long prison sentence in order to communicate his principles to the public. This means that the authorities have to be concerned not only about other existing Justiciar Knights but also anyone who may be influenced by Breivik’s message and follow his example.

There is also the possibility that individuals who do not adhere to Breivik’s ideology will seek to exploit the loopholes and security lapses highlighted by this incident to conduct their own attacks. Breivik’s diary provides a detailed step-by-step guide to manufacturing a successful VBIED, and the authorities will be scrutinizing it carefully to address the vulnerabilities Breivik exposed before those instructions can be used again.

Norway: Lessons from a Successful Lone Wolf Attacker is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

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Friday, July 29th, 2011 Europe, Terrorism No Comments

Interest In Urban Farming Grows

Yesterday, I mentioned the prospect of Americans experiencing higher energy and transportation costs down the road. In such an environment, I’m not so sure if the current situation with fruits and vegetables shipped to our local supermarkets from thousands of miles away- while still being affordable- is economically feasible in the future.

One possibility being increasingly investigated should such a scenario develop is the urban farm. And Chicago is one U.S. city that looks to be embracing urban agriculture. From the Chicago Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman on July 26:

On Tuesday, the mayor returned to the Iron Street Farm, an urban farm in Bridgeport that he visited during the Ground Hog Day blizzard, to unveil his plan to promote urban agriculture.

The ordinance the mayor plans to introduce at Thursday’s City Council meeting would expand the maximum size of community gardens to 25,000 square feet and ease fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms to reduce operating costs.

Urban farms would also be free to sell their wares at farmer’s markets…

Emanuel said the city has “thousands of acres ready to be flipped” to urban farms and community gardens, potentially creating thousands of jobs.

“These are permanent jobs in our neighborhoods taking what was decades-old abandoned truck facilities and turning [them] into an economic engine,” the mayor said.

No word yet about that proposed ordinance this morning.

The Wall Street Journal’s Monika Vosough recently reported on urban farms and rooftop gardens as a potentially viable alternative to more traditional farms. From the MarketWatch website on July 13:


“Can Farming Make It in the Big City?”
MarketWatch Video

Source:

Spielman, Fran. “Mayor Emanuel promotes urban farms as oases in food deserts.” Chicago Sun-Times. 26 July 2011. (http://www.suntimes.com/business/6717226-418/mayor-emanuel-promotes-urban-farms-as-oases-in-food-deserts.html). 27 July 2011.

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Resource Of The Week: Walk Score

With rising transportation costs these days, Americans planning on moving soon are taking a closer look at relocating to “walkable” neighborhoods. What’s makes a neighborhood walkable? According to the educational/real estate website Walkable Neighborhoods:

A Walkable Neighborhood is… a place where people live within walking distance to most places they want to visit, whether it is school, work, a grocery store, a park, church, a bank, retail shops, a drug store, and so on…

a place where walking, biking, or mass transit are the preferred means of transportation, and motorized vehicles are used on rare occasions…

an environment that is pleasant and safe to walk or bike in at all hours of the day…

a place that is accessible to ALL persons, including those with disabilities, and (in America) is compliant with the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)…

a place where children can walk or bike safely to school in a friendly environment, and costly school buses are not necessary…

a place that has a distinctive identity or character that people want to visit, often referred to as a sense of place

a building block of the walkable community, where neighborhoods are interconnected, but maintain their own distinctive qualities and characteristics.

Sounds real nice, right? But how does one go about finding these walkable neighborhoods? That’s where Walk Score comes in. I was recently introduced to the free Internet-based tool while reading a recent MarketWatch piece. Amy Hoak wrote on July 20:

New York is the most walkable city in the U.S., with many of its residents able to forgo owning a car or able to leave their cars behind when accessing neighborhood amenities from grocery stores to coffee shops, according to a report released Wednesday.

Of the 50 largest U.S. cities, the Big Apple ranked No. 1, according to Walk Score, a website that assesses a location’s proximity to amenities including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and parks, grading the address’ walkability on a scale of one to 100. To calculate the most walkable cities in the country, researchers graded the cities block by block; scores were weighted by population density…

On the WalkScore.com site, visitors can plug in addresses to find nearby amenities and determine the length of their commutes, by car, bike or foot. The feature has become a marketing tool for real-estate agents looking for a way to quantify walkability to prospective home buyers, as they weigh the desirability of neighborhoods at a time when volatile gas prices can potentially put more strain on transportation costs.

Walk Score

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Filling out the query tool with my address here on Chicago’s northwest side, the results showed my Walk Score was 69, or “Somewhat Walkable.” According to the site, 75% of Chicago residents have a higher Walk Score. That might be true, but my neighborhood is also one of the few relatively safe ones still left in the Windy City- something Walk Score doesn’t account for. According to the site:

There are a number of factors that contribute to walkability that are not part of our algorithm:

Street design: Sidewalks and safe crossings are essential to walkability. Appropriate automobile speeds, trees, and other features also help.
Safety from crime and crashes: How much crime is in the neighborhood? How many traffic accidents are there? Are streets well-lit?
Pedestrian-friendly community design: Are there narrow streets with buildings close to the sidewalk and parking relegated to the back? Are destinations clustered together?
Topography: Hills can make walking difficult, especially if you’re carrying groceries.
Weather: In some places it’s just too hot or cold to walk regularly.

Regardless, Walk Score is still a neat tool. Besides having lots of useful information- it’s super-easy to use. And keep this in mind. Hoak added:

“An American family living in a house that is accessible only by car is spending on average 25% of their income on cars,” said Christopher B. Leinberger, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, in the Walk Score news release. “Households in walkable communities spend less than half that amount, putting more money in their pockets.”

When it’s time for me to move from this “suburb in the city,” I’m pretty sure I’ll be using Walk Score as part of my search process, especially as I suspect energy prices- and therefore transportation costs- will be heading higher in the coming years.

You can access Walk Score here.

(Editor’s note: Link added to “Resources” page)

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‘Dr. Dooms’ Marc Faber, Nouriel Roubini Say No U.S. Default Right Now

Before the housing bubble popped and the global financial crisis reared its ugly head, the mainstream media regularly referred to Swiss investment adviser Dr. Marc Faber and economist Dr. Nouriel Roubini as “Dr. Dooms” for their bearish outlook on the U.S. economy. Turns out both men were right on the money with their predictions. Lately, Faber and Roubini voiced their opinion on whether or not the United States would default on their sovereign debt obligations.

Back on July 14, Faber, who publishes the Gloom Boom & Doom Report and correctly called the 1987 U.S. stock market, phoned into CNBC’s Worldwide Exchange from Thailand. When asked a question by host Christine Tan about the possibility of America going into default right now, Faber replied:

Well, basically, I don’t think they will default in terms of not paying the interest on the government debt. But I think that they will default in terms of paying back the debt and the interest with depreciated, worthless dollars as a result of the Fed’s- or specifically, Mr. Bernanke’s- money printing.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Roubini, a former Treasury official under the Clinton administration who, like Faber, also correctly-predicted the global financial crisis, let his feelings be known about a potential U.S. debt default at a recent forum in Shanghai. MarketWatch’s Jean Yung wrote on Tuesday:

Economist Nouriel Roubini, known for his prescient warnings about the 2008 financial crisis, said Tuesday the U.S. won’t default on its debt but the country will suffer a fiscal drag…

“There are about eight days until the deadline. My baseline scenario is still an agreement will be reached. I don’t think the U.S. will default,” Roubini, a professor at New York University, told a forum in Shanghai.

But the U.S. economic slowdown is a chronic issue rather than merely a “soft patch,” he said.

Roubini said that growth in public consumption has been artificially boosted by the government deficit. So when the authorities eventually have to reduce spending, raise taxes, or cut transfer payments, not only will that be a fiscal drag, but will slow the growth of disposable income.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

So it appears no debt “D-Day” on August 2 for these two “doomsayers.”

On Monday, legendary investor Jim Rogers predicted:

They’re not going to default. If the U.S. defaults, it will be for a day or two. They’re going to put together some kind of false package, they’re going to say everything is all right, but then everything is going to get worse.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Source:

Yung, Jean. “Roubini: US won’t default but will see fiscal drag.” MarketWatch. 26 July 2011. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/roubini-us-wont-default-but-will-see-fiscal-drag-2011-07-26). 28 July 2011.

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Latest 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecasts

Seeing that Tropical Storm Don looks about to pay Texas a visit- and following up on my hurricane-related post from the other day- I thought I’d point out the latest forecasts for the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season as compiled by Reuters Africa on Tuesday night:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)- 5/19/2011
12 to 18 tropical storms
6 to 10 growing into hurricanes
3 to 6 hurricanes Category 3 or higher

Colorado State University- 6/1/11
16 tropical storms
9 growing into hurricanes
5 hurricanes Category 3 or higher

AccuWeather- 6/1/11
15 tropical storms
8 growing into hurricanes
4 hurricanes Category 3 or higher

Weather Services International- 7/26/11
15 tropical storms
8 growing into hurricanes
4 hurricanes Category 3 or higher

According to NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, a Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale Category 3 hurricane consists of the following:

Category Three Hurricane (Sustained winds 111-130 mph, 96-113 kt, or 178-209 km/hr).

Devastating damage will occur

There is a high risk of injury or death to people, livestock, and pets due to flying and falling debris. Nearly all older (pre-1994) mobile homes will be destroyed. Most newer mobile homes will sustain severe damage with potential for complete roof failure and wall collapse. Poorly constructed frame homes can be destroyed by the removal of the roof and exterior walls. Unprotected windows will be broken by flying debris. Well-built frame homes can experience major damage involving the removal of roof decking and gable ends. There will be a high percentage of roof covering and siding damage to apartment buildings and industrial buildings. Isolated structural damage to wood or steel framing can occur. Complete failure of older metal buildings is possible, and older unreinforced masonry buildings can collapse. Numerous windows will be blown out of high-rise buildings resulting in falling glass, which will pose a threat for days to weeks after the storm. Most commercial signage, fences, and canopies will be destroyed. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to a few weeks after the storm passes. Hurricane Ivan (2004) is an example of a hurricane that brought Category 3 winds and impacts to coastal portions of Gulf Shores, Alabama with Category 2 conditions experienced elsewhere in this city.

Source:

“FACTBOX-Forecasts for 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.” Reuters Africa. 26 July 2011. (http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFN1E76P0UD20110726?sp=true). 28 July 2011.

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Thursday, July 28th, 2011 Natural Disasters, Weather No Comments

Forget Cantarell, KMZ Latest Oil Concern For Mexico And U.S.

Speaking of Mexico, who remembers a few years back when it was feared that declining crude oil production- rather than the drug cartels- would more severely-impact the stability of our southern neighbor? At the time, most of the focus was on the giant Cantarell oil field- and its worrisome production decline. From the Eurasia Review website on July 11:

Mexico was the seventh-largest oil producer in the world, and the third-largest in the Western Hemisphere. State-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) is one of the largest oil companies in the world. However, oil production has decreased in recent years as production at the giant Cantarell field continues to decline…

The Cantarell oil field was once one of the largest oil fields in the world, but production there has declined dramatically in the past several years. In 2010, Cantarell produced 558,000 bbl/d, down 19 percent from the 2009 level and down 74 percent from the peak production level of 2.14 million bbl/d in 2004.

The piece goes on to note how important crude oil production is to Mexico- as well as the United States:

The oil sector is a crucial component of Mexico’s economy: while its relative importance to the general Mexican economy has declined in the long term, the oil sector still generated 14 percent of the country’s export earnings in 2010, according to Mexico’s central bank. More importantly, the government relies upon earnings from the oil industry (including taxes and direct payments from Pemex) for 32 percent of total government revenues. Therefore, any decline in oil production has a direct effect upon the country’s overall fiscal balance

Mexico’s oil production has declined in recent years, but the country continues to be the second largest source of U.S. oil imports.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Luckily for both, a different oil project has offset Cantarell’s decline in recent years. Eurasia Review staff pointed out:

The KMZ project has been the largest source of new production growth in the past few years. Located adjacent to Cantarell, the KMZ complex produced 839,200 bbl/d of crude oil in 2010, up from 808,000 bbl/d in 2009. In just the last four years, production at KMZ has doubled, as Pemex has employed a nitrogen re-injection program similar to that used at Cantarell. Production growth at KMZ has partially offset declines seen at Cantarell, and Pemex hopes to increase production further over the next few years.

However, all may not be well. Mexico suspects KMZ crude oil production will peak two short years from now. From Robert Campbell of Reuters UK back on January 24:

Mexico expects output from its Ku Maloob Zaap offshore heavy oil complex to continue to rise over the next three years as satellite deposits of crude are developed, according to a government report released on Monday.

Output from Ku Maloob Zaap (KMZ) should peak at 927,000 barrels per day in 2013, up from approximately 850,000 bpd at present, with the start-up of the Ayatsil and Pit satellite fields, Mexico’s energy ministry said in its annual forecast of crude oil production…

The latest forecast assumes output from the KMZ area will start to slowly decline in 2014.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

It’s possible this scenario may even be too rosy. Campbell added:

Analysts have dismissed Mexican official oil production forecasts as unrealistic in recent years because of their optimistic view of decline rates at existing oil fields and heavy reliance on new discoveries.

Sliding Mexican oil production and limited political will for dealing with the problem, which threatens the long-term sustainability of government revenues, prompted two ratings agencies to downgrade Mexican debt in 2009.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

2014 looks to be a pivotal year for Mexico. Should our neighbor to the south start experiencing year-over-year declines in oil output- and government revenue- what does that mean for that country’s stability considering the ongoing difficulties already associated with combating drug cartel violence? Furthermore, will the United States be forced to look elsewhere to satisfy its tremendous thirst for crude oil? As of April, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Columbia, Angola, Russia, and Brazil were the top ten countries for U.S. oil imports this year. Not exactly a list chock-full of America’s “besties,” if you know what I mean.

Sources:

“Mexico Energy Profile: Still Second Largest Source Of US Oil Imports.” Eurasia Review. 11 July 2011. (http://www.eurasiareview.com/mexico-energy-profile-still-second-largest-source-of-us-oil-imports-11072011/). 28 July 2011.

Campbell, Robert. “Mexico raises view of peak oil from Ku Maloob Zaap.” Reuters UK. 24 Jan. 2011. (http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/01/24/mexico-oil-idUKN2418388420110124). 28 July 2011.

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More Than Just Tequila Shots Going On In Mexico

A couple of weeks ago I read a post on the Borderland Beat blog (hat tip Surviving In Argentina) about a letter they received from an American couple who were the victims of atrocious criminal acts recently down in Mexico. From Beat reporter Gerardo on July 4:

The following are the contents of a letter we received at Borderland Beat from a couple that until recently resided in the tourist destination of Ixtapa in the state of Guerrero, Mexico.

We have independently corroborated certain facts in the letter and believe the contents to be true.

Names and addresses have been deleted for obvious reasons.

I feel that you should be made aware of an incident that occurred early in the morning of May 9 2011 and about the treatment we received after.

My husband and I were sleeping at our home on Calle ____________ in Res. _________, Ixtapa. At about 2.30 AM I saw 3 men approaching from the back area of the house. We jumped out of bed and managed to keep them from entering the house for at least 5 minutes. We turned on the alarm in our car and during this whole time we were yelling Ayudar Ayudar as loudly as we could. The robbers were also screaming and yelling because they were not at first able to get in. The leader of the bad guys picked up a brick and threw it at our glass door, shattering the glass. They were then able to get inside by smashing all the glass out of the door…

It just gets worse- way worse- from there.

After reading this, I have to wonder how many more stories like this one exist out there.

You can read the entire letter on the Borderland Beat blog here.

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Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 Crime, North America, Public Safety, Self-Defense No Comments

Moody’s Says Greece Default ‘Virtually 100%’

While Jim Rogers and I don’t anticipate an authentic U.S. default in the coming days, one European nation is heading in that direction. From Moody’s Investors Service yesterday:

Moody’s Investors Service has today downgraded Greece’s local- and foreign-currency bond ratings to Ca from Caa1 and has assigned a developing outlook to the ratings.

The combination of the announced EU support programme and debt exchange proposals by major financial institutions implies that private creditors will incur substantial economic losses on their holdings of government debt. The rating’s developing outlook reflects the current uncertainty about the exact market value of the securities creditors will receive in the exchange. After the debt exchanges have been completed, Moody’s will re-assess the credit risk profile of any outstanding or new securities issued by the Greek government.

The announced EU programme along with the Institute of International Finance’s (IIF’s) statement (representing major financial institutions) implies that the probability of a distressed exchange, and hence a default, on Greek government bonds is virtually 100%. The magnitude of investor losses will be determined by the difference between the face value of the debt exchanged and the market value of the debt received. The IIF has indicated that investor losses are likely to be in excess of 20%.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

According to Moody’s Global Credit Research unit, all is not lost in Greece. They noted:

Looking further ahead, the EU programme and proposed debt exchanges will increase the likelihood that Greece will be able to stabilize and eventually reduce its overall debt burden. The support package for Greece also benefits all euro area sovereigns by containing the severe near-term contagion risk that would likely have followed a disorderly payment default or large haircut on existing Greek debt. However, Greece will still face medium-term solvency challenges: its stock of debt will still be well in excess of 100% of GDP for many years and it will still face very significant implementation risks to fiscal and economic reform.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

I blogged about the potential consequences for the United States should Greece default back on June 2 and July 6.

You can read Moody’s entire explanation for their downgrade of Greek debt on their website here.

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Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 Bonds, Credit, Debt Crisis, Defaults, Europe, Government No Comments

Jim Rogers: U.S. Not Going To Default

They’re not going to default. If the U.S. defaults, it will be for a day or two. They’re going to put together some kind of false package, they’re going to say everything is all right, but then everything is going to get worse.

-Well-known investor, author, and financial commentator Jim Rogers, appearing on the Wall Street Journal Digital Network show The News Hub on July 25


“Jim Rogers: U.S. Already Has Lost AAA Rating”
MarketWatch Video

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Planes, Trains Appeal To Al-Qaeda

Recently, I’ve had a hunch that Al-Qaeda would very much like to carry out a major attack against the United States or its overseas interests on notable dates- July 4th weekend and the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in particular. From last month:

Taking the above setbacks- and the natural desire for retaliation- into consideration, and seeing that this year marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks (Al-Qaeda is allegedly fond of anniversaries), I suspect Al-Qaeda will attempt to carry out a major attack against the United States or its interests abroad by the time September 11th rolls around this year. Of course, a lot will depend on the effect the deaths of bin Laden, Kashmiri, and Mohammed has on Al-Qaeda, and their capacity to carry out such an operation in the coming months in light of the recent success enjoyed by America and her allies in the “War on Terror.”

-Survival And Prosperity, June 13

With all its symbolism and accompanying celebrations, the Fourth of July weekend could have significant appeal for Al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri to not only strike a blow against the United States, but dispel doubts over the operational capabilities of the terrorist organization and the leadership abilities of al-Zawahiri right from the get-go.

-Survival And Prosperity, June 28

Such suspicions of potential terror attacks on these dates weren’t unfounded, apparently. From the Wall Street Journal’s Siobahn Gorman on July 15:

Osama bin Laden was working to assemble a team of militants to attack the U.S. on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, according to communications Navy SEALs seized from his Pakistani hideout when they killed the al Qaeda leader this spring.

Bin Laden and his operations chief, Attiyah Abd al-Rahman, swapped views about the composition of the attack team, with bin Laden repeatedly rejecting names that Mr. Rahman suggested, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence taken from the bin Laden compound…

Plans for an anniversary attack were one of the few specific potential threats to emerge from the trove of documents and other materials taken from bin Laden’s residence in Abottabad, Pakistan, in the May 2 raid. An initial analysis of the evidence said al Qaeda hoped to attack trains in the U.S., possibly on the anniversary of Sept. 11

Much of the other threat information in the trove of materials was general in nature or well known, such as al Qaeda’s interest in attacking trains.

In the days following the bin Laden raid, officials said the materials seized from the compound showed enthusiasm for carrying out attacks on dates of symbolic significance, prompting U.S. officials to worry about July 4 and Sept. 11. But officials didn’t disclose at that time that there had been specific planning for another attack on Sept. 11 this year.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

In addition to trains, planes still hold massive appeal for the terrorist organization. From the Associated Press on July 21:

Ten years after al-Qaida used hijacked airliners as missiles to attack the United States, terrorists continue to target aviation more than any other potential U.S. vulnerability, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano said Thursday.

Discussing airline security since 9/11, Napolitano revealed in the AP interview:

Aviation continues to be the most-often referenced intel that we receive.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Al-Qaeda might have sustained some serious setbacks lately, but I wouldn’t dismiss them and the threat they pose just yet.

Sources:

Gorman, Siobhan. “Bin Laden Plotted New Attack.” Wall Street Journal. 15 July 2011. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304521304576446213098582284.html?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFT
TopStories). 26 July 2011.

“AP Interview: Planes still top of terror wish list.” Associated Press. 21 July 2011. (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/07/21/ap-interview-planes-still-top-terror-wish-list/?intcmp=obnetwork). 26 July 2011.

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Atlantic Hurricane Season Kicking Into High Gear?

Speaking of storms this morning, notice how quiet it is out in the Atlantic Ocean these days? I know forecasters had been predicting an active hurricane season this year, but only three tropical storms have formed to date, with none making landfall in the United States. It’s probably a good thing, as I’ve read a number of pieces indicating that many Americans living in the Gulf area and eastern seaboard aren’t exactly prepared for the annual event. Consider the following from the West Orlando News Online back on May 23:

Florida’s top emergency manager told reporters Monday he’s concerned that the absence of severe storms in recent years may be lulling Floridians into a false sense of security as the 2011 hurricane season approaches.

Bryan Koon, the director of the Division of Emergency Management, said he’s confident Florida’s emergency response network is up to the task, but worries that residents are not.

“The concern I would have is that since we’ve gone five seasons without a land-falling hurricane, we’ve got citizens who, perhaps, have forgotten some of what that experience in 2004/2005 was like,” Koon said. “We also have new Floridians who have not, perhaps, dealt with hurricanes before.”

Sure, the Atlantic might be calm right now, but that could change if this hurricane season stays true to historical form. From the Gainesville Sun’s Joe Callahan last Friday:

Almost two full months into hurricane season, only three tropical storms have formed — two in the last week — and none have hit the United States.

But if history is any indication, we’d better buckle our seat belts because the worst is yet to come.

Nearly 80 percent of all tropical cyclones — tropical storms and hurricanes — form in August, September and October, with the absolute apex of hurricane season historically occurring on Sept. 10.

A National Hurricane Season graphic — which details the 100-year average of tropical storms and hurricanes by month — shows the busiest period is from Aug. 21 through Sept. 21.

That means storms should start gradually building in the Atlantic from now until late August as the famed African conveyor — severe storms rolling off Africa’s west coast — kicks into high gear…

September is the busiest month for tropical storms and hurricanes, with 3.4 tropical storms and 2.4 hurricanes forming annually on average, according to statistics dating back to 1851.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Be sure to check out that National Hurricane Season graphic here (left side of page). The Sun’s Rob Mack does a great job of communicating “a thousand words” with that bar chart.

If you live in a threatened area, and haven’t completed your hurricane preps already, it’s probably a good idea to take care of this right away. Stop by the National Hurricane Center’s National Hurricane Preparedness Week site for information on where to begin.

(Editor’s note: Link added to “Resources” page)

Sources:

“Floridians Not Prepared for Hurricane Season.” West Orlando News Online. 23 May 2011. (http://westorlandonews.com/2011/05/23/floridians-not-prepared-for-hurricane-season/). 26 July 2011.

Callahan, Joe. “Storms on the horizon.” Gainesville Sun. 22 July 2011. (http://www.gainesville.com/article/20110722/ARTICLES/110729835/1002/sitemaps?p=1&tc=pg&tc=ar). 26 July 2011.

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Chicago Storm Photos

Severe storms have been hitting the Chicago area with such frequency this summer that I decided to bust out a digital camera and snap off a few photos during the most recent episode of inclement weather as it rolled in to my northwest side neighborhood late last week. This storm was particularly funky, as I witnessed the strong winds cause pea-sized hail to swirl around in the air.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

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Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 Weather No Comments

More Oil From Strategic Petroleum Reserve To Be Released?

Gasoline prices in the United States have been heading up, even with the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve being recently tapped. From the Associated Press last night:

The average U.S. price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped nearly nine cents in the past two weeks.

That’s according to the Lundberg Survey of fuel prices, released Sunday, which puts the price of a gallon of regular at $3.70.

Of the cities surveyed, Tucson, Ariz., had the nation’s lowest average price for gas at $3.28. Chicago had the highest at $4.07.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Well done, Chicago. Although I never would have guessed we had the highest average prices considering the number of gas-guzzlers around my neighborhood these days.

Last month, the Obama administration decided to release a portion of the SPR onto the oil market. ABC News’ Mary Bruce reported on June 23:

With the demand for gas expected to rise in the upcoming summer driving season, President Obama made the surprise announcement today that his is releasing 30 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve into the global oil markets over the next month.

The decision is “due to the major supply disruptions in Libya and other countries and the resulting tightness of the market and the effect that that is having on economic growth both here and abroad. The overriding purpose of our effort is to increase supply to counter any shortfall and meet this typical increase in oil demand over the summer. We are heading into a period in which demand for oil tends to be at its highest,” a senior administration official explained.

Since then, gas prices have gone up. The Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson pointed out this morning:

When the reserve was tapped, AAA reported that the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.61.

Today, AAA reported the same price was not down, but up to $3.69 per gallon.

Prior to the decision, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – an oil reservoir in salt dome near the Gulf Coast – had last been tapped in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The White House had no immediate comment on the increase in gasoline prices since tapping the Reserve.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Bruce noted back in June:

The White House, which will assess the situation at the end of the month, is leaving the door open to releasing more oil from the stockpile. “The U.S. stands ready to do more as and if necessary to address this issue,” the official said.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Considering the recent price action, I have to wonder if the Obama administration isn’t thinking about opening the spigot once again.

Sources:

“Chicago has highest gas as national prices rise 9 cents in 2 weeks.” Associated Press. 24 July 2011. (http://www.suntimes.com/business/6689296-420/chicago-has-highest-gas-as-national-prices-rise-9-cents-in-2-weeks.html). 25 July 2011.

Bruce, Mary. “Obama Taps Strategic Petroleum Reserve; Will Release More If Necessary.” Political Punch. 23 June 2011. (http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2011/06/obama-taps-strategic-petroleum-reserve-will-release-more-if-necessary.html). 25 July 2011.

Johnson, Glen. “A month after Reserve tapped, gas prices up.” Boston Globe. 25 July 2011. (http://www.boston.com/Boston/politicalintelligence/2011/07/month-after-reserve-tapped-gas-prices/F2Mykhd9hvFaiY9Qi6DKbL/index.html). 25 July 2011.

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New Calls To Regulate Fertilizer, Ban Guns After Norway Violence

My prayers go out to all those affected by those atrocious acts committed in Norway last Friday.

In the aftermath of the shootings/bombing, new calls are emerging for increased regulation of fertilizer and firearms around the world. From Australia’s Yass Tribune this morning:

Breivik allegedly made his bombs from the tonnes of readily available fertilizer and had easy access to the guns that he used in his killing spree. This begs the question of gun ownership and it is disturbing to hear that the Shooters and Fishers Party has already begun to influence our newly elected state government with the opening up of our state forests for the purpose of hunting and shooting. The party has also tried, so far unsuccessfully, to have shooting introduced into the state schools. Perhaps the sale of fertilizer, if it is not already regulated, should also be subject to closer scrutiny.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Also from the “land down under” today comes this from the Herald Sun:

THE shooting spree in Norway should force Australia to ban semi-automatic handguns, Greens leader Bob Brown says…

Senator Brown said reports the killer had used a semi-automatic handgun should force a re-think of Australia’s laws.

“These would not necessarily be prohibited in Australia,” he told reporters in Hobart.

“We Greens have repeatedly called for these to be made illegal. There are limited potential uses of them, but very, very few beyond that of the police forces.

“There is no good reason for semi-automatic pistols to be in circulation in Australia and it’s one of those things that we mustn’t wait for the worst to happen before we act.”

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Getting back to chemical fertilizer, Aled-Dilwyn Fisher wrote the following this morning on the “Views and News from Norway” website:

Calls for stronger regulation of the sale of ammonium nitrate fertilizers have been made following the suspected use of the materials in the bombing of Oslo on Friday July 22 – with experts suggesting that new EU regulations set to be introduced in Norway are not enough…

Meanwhile, the Danish government has already announced its intention to better regulate the distribution of fertilizer. Lars Barfoed, the Danish minister of justice, was reported by news agency NTB to have said that his government “will learn from this event, and for that reason we will obviously go through the rules in order to see if there is a need to tighten up.”

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

History reminds us that violence of the magnitude that took place in Norway is nothing new, and bad people will keep using any means at their disposal to carry out such carnage, whether the tools be military-grade or off-the-shelf. All the guns and ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the world could disappear this very instant- and it would still be only a matter of time before the next mass casualty terror attack takes place.

Sources:

Millett, Brian. “How safe are we from shooting and bombing?” Millett’s Musings. 25 July 2011. (http://www.yasstribune.com.au/blogs/milletts-musings/how-safe-are-we-from-shooting-and-bombing/2236735.aspx?storypage=1). 25 July 2011.

“Norway shooting should force gun law change, says Greens leader Bob Brown.” Herald Sun. 25 July 2011. (http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/norway-shooting-should-force-gun-law-change-says-greens-leader-bob-brown/story-e6frf7jx-1226101441515). 25 July 2011.

Fisher, Aled-Dilwyn. “Calls to regulate fertilizer after bomb.” Views and News from Norway. 25 July 2011. (http://www.newsinenglish.no/2011/07/25/calls-to-regulate-fertilizer-after-bomb/). 25 July 2011.

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