Rain Spill On Building

Rain On Building.jpeg

Just thought this was a really interesting photo. 


The way the rain splattered down the side of this building.


The water hitting only on top and then trickling down the side like a big spill. 


“The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain,” but in Washington, D.C., it falls down the side of the buildings in these weird artistic patterns.


When I was a kid, I remember when it rained, my father would tell me positively and jokingly, “Ah, we’re getting a free car wash today!”


Isn’t it amazing how G-d made the world where it rains, and provides us not only the water to drink and sustain ourselves, but literally a shower to clean our cities and wash away the dirty excesses. 


The ecosystem is just an amazing array of literally everything we need and with checks and balances to keep the goings-on of the world suitable for His children. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Corruption Vs Balance Of Power

faces

Widely reported now in the media is this notion of a shadow government.


There is a difference between a true shadow government and the way our government is set up with two types of leadership.


– Career civil service are the regular public sector (government) employees. 


– Political appointees are the people installed upon a new President by the winning party, and they are the most powerful leaders and policymakers in the government. 


In  a sense, the “winner takes all” and the political appointees become the heads of all the executive branch agencies–viola, that is power!


The vast majority are people of the utmost integrity and deserving of our respect and gratitude for their leadership and what they do for our country. 


There are about 7,000 Senior Executive Service (SES) positions in the federal government, and about 90% are regular career civil service, and the remaining 10% are non-career political appointees. 


Aside from SES political appointees, there are another 3,000 other presidential and confidential (Schedule C) appointees (for a total of 4,000 presidential appointees running the government).


In a normal situation, this works just fine and civil service and politicals work hand-in-hand to advance the interests of this great nations. 


But when a nation becomes highly divided or an election looms and power is “up for grabs,” then the leadership can diverge over the issues and perhaps some may even resort to extreme measures. 


If you’re a political appointee (and maybe even one confirmed by the Senate), you still sort of by definition represent the interests of one party and their leadership over another–that’s the two party system. 


And if your civil service, while you may have your personal leanings, as a professional, you’re really there to do the best you can overall, that’s your job!


What happens if the run-of-the-mill career civil service leaders have a hypothetical clash with political appointee leaders (such as before an extremely divisive election)?  


Ah, that can be some of the worst of politics and bureaucracy!


On one hand, you could get told (i.e. ordered) to do one thing, but on the other hand, what if partisanship would be getting in the way of function? 


While most of the time, “more is better”–like with the 3 branches of government and a 2 party system that serve as healthy checks and balances–in this unique situation, 2 may be dysfunctional at best. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Answer Injustice With Justice

Justice

So what is amazing about government scandals is not that they happen, because of course, they do. 


But what is amazing is that the American public is frequently denied justice–whether committed under Democratic or Republican administrations.


Maybe this is because the Justice Department is headed by the Attorney General a political appointee of the President, rather than being independent.   


The President oversees all the government agencies in the Executive Branch of the government, including the Department of Justice (DOJ).


When any of the government agencies in the Executive Branch do something wrong, what should happen is that the Department of Justice (including the FBI) would investigate and bring the offenders to justice. 


But instead, a politically motivated President can direct a politicized Justice Department to stand down–and in a sense end up being the “Chief Obstructionist.”


Obviously every agency is headed by political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the President and who further the administration’s vision, but Justice is unique. 


And if you follow the news, I am sure you can think of more than a few examples where Congress has gotten involved to investigate and even request action by DOJ, but yet nothing seems to happen. 


What is disappointing is that we would like to think that every leader is an icon of righteousness, integrity, and propriety, but instead partisan politics can get in the way, and the leader ends up protecting, whitewashing, or covering up the very wrongdoing that needs to be corrected.


The government system cannot work for the people and the country, if it cannot be accountable to them to do the right thing.


The President–no matter what political affiliation–must assure and be perceived as assuring that everyone under his/her watch is doing the right thing. 


And if and when they stray from serving the people of this country, it should be the President who leads the charge to make it right. 


We all would respect a leader that recognizes and course-corrects when things go astray and does it with integrity and justice–that makes a truly great Democracy.  😉


(Source Photo: Rebecca Blumenthal)

Head Spinning From All The Spin

Head Spinning From All The Spin

The Nazi Minister of Propaganda, the evil Joseph Goebbels said, “He who controls the message, controls the masses.”

All dictatorships function very much from this premise as we see even now a days in totalitarian governments that limit Internet access, block websites, and filter news and messages from the people, so as to keep them docile and servile.

However, even in a democracy as fine as ours, the ability to control the message is a very powerful tool in directing how events are understood by the public and what action is taken, or not.

Some recent examples:

1) Syria’s Use of Chemical Weapons:
Numerous allies including England, France, and Israel say they have intelligence about Syria’s use of sarin gas against their own people…So did Syria cross the red line and use chemical weapons requiring us to take action or is this a matter for investigation and evidence?

2) Iran’s Violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty:
Iran is one of the world’s richest in energy resources and reserves…So is Iran violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty necessitating that we stop them or are they just building nuclear facilities for peaceful civilian energy needs?

3) Egyptian Military Coup and Roadmap For Reconciliation:
Egypt’s military overthrew the Egyptian Prime Minister from the Muslim Brotherhood who oversaw the rewriting of the constitution in 2011 to be based on Islamic law and not inclusive of other more secular elements of society…So is the restoration of true democracy and civil rights for the Egyptian people or a brutal coup?

4) Sudan Committing Genocide in Darfur:
With over 400,000 killed, 2,500,000 displaced, and 400 villages completely destroyed in Darfur…So did Sudan commit genocide requiring prevention, intervention, and punishment or was this just Sudanese internal conflict?

5) People Employed in U.S. at 30-Year Lows:
The proportion of the U.S. population that is working is at low rates not seen since the recession of the 1980’s…So is the unemployment rate still a critical national issue or is the unemployment rate really better and the economy strong again?

6) Edward Snowden Leaking Classified Information:
Snowden sought out the job with Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence on classified NSA surveillance and when he did he leaked this information to the news and harmed national security…So is Snowden a traitor or a whistleblower?

7) An $82 Billion Federal IT Budget:
The Federal IT budget is anticipated to rise to $82 billion in 2014…So are we still spending on large troubled IT projects or realizing billions in IT savings from new technology trends in cloud, mobile, social computing and more?

As Bill Clinton in 1998 said when questioned about the Monica Lewinsky affair…”It depends what the meaning of the word is, is?”

We see clearly that definitions are important, interpretations are important, and spin can make right seem wrong and wrong seem like right.

How we communicate and present something is very important and has critical ramifications on what is done about it whether in terms of action, attribution, and retribution.

Moreover, we should keep in mind that “He who knows doesn’t tell, and he who tells doesn’t know,” so there are limits to what even gets communicated from the get-go.

What is communicated, when, and in how much clarity or distortion is a function one on hand of people’s agendas, biases, career building (including the desire to get and keep power), as well as the genuine need for secrecy and security.

On the other hand, the desire for openness, transparency, truth, and healthy debate (facilitated by the media, checks and balances in government, and the judicial system) provides a counterbalance.

We the people must press to determine–is the person telling it like it is or are some things being contrived, manipulated, edited, and Photoshopped.

In the end, critical thinking and looking beyond the surface can make the difference between what we know we know and what we think we know. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Jah~)

No Such Agency (NSA) Listening To No Such Information (NSI)

No Such Agency (NSA) Listening To No Such Information (NSI)

The National Security Agency (NSA) frequently referred to by the secretive surname of No Such Agency is at the forefront of our signals intelligence (SIGINT) and in protecting America–they are amazing!

Recently, there is a lot of controversy about the PRISM program for sifting through communications looking for terrorist contacts, plans, and imminent attacks to be foiled.

Is this necessary for security or a violation of our privacy?

Of course, we value our privacy and generally wish we had more. (For me growing up in the busy and crowded city that never slips, I craved a little more quiet and secluded life and that’s how I ended up in the Washington D.C. suburbs).

Anyway, if your an average hard-working Joe or Jane, what do you fear about PRISM?

For me, if “they” are tracking calls or listening–this is what they hear:

– The occasional squabble with my loving wife (yes, we drive each other nuts sometimes).

– My teenage kids hanging up their phone on me, not wanting to hear my brilliant (in my own mind) parental advice and guidance.

– My elderly parents lecturing me and telling me that I should go to synagogue more often.

– The daily life transactions with the plumber, the cable service, and the credit card company.

If your honest and loyal, and the system works fairly, the way it’s supposed to, your communications are just some transmission packets travelling through cyberspace to carry out your life’s goings on.

Then again, if you’re crooked, a traitor, or planning to or have hurt someone, well then your up against some very powerful technology tools and (hopefully) your going to get caught and get what’s coming to you.

The big concern then is not when the system works well and fairly, but when it’s used corruptly, fraudulently, or for political ends.

Then it’s not what someone overhears you say or sees you do that’s a real concern, but rather, with all the advanced electronics and technology, what can be made up about you to address personal or political gripes, grievances, or just settle a score.

You don’t have to be afraid (generally) of what you do honestly, instead you need to fear the dishonesty of those who can or are apt to misuse the technology for their own ends.

Then what you really did or said, can be taken out of context, exaggerated, edited, spliced, or otherwise doctored to something else entirely.

This is why the integrity and ethical backbone of those who run the country and our vital institutions are of paramount importance.

With honesty, ethics, and justice–a surveillance system can greatly enhance national security. Without these things, they can be a tool of corruption. The best protection is not unplugging the system, but hooking in lots of internal and external controls to keep it honest. 😉

(Source Photo: here by LittleBirth)

>Diplomacy and the Pitfalls of Dictatorship

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Let’s say yes to sound governance, and no to absolute power…

Power is a strange thing: the more you have, the more you want – it’s never enough. It’s an addiction of the soul that often results in poor decision-making and project failure.

I remember a teacher in high school that used to repeat to us the maxim that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Obviously someone has to be in charge and get things done, but there is more than one way to achieve results:

The first and crudest method that we have seen since the dawn of humankind is dictatorship. This is the aforementioned tendency for those in power to collect it, savor it, and protect it—and to want to wield it alone. Often those with power, not enlightened by the benefits of sharing and “checks and balances,” like to hold decision-making power for themselves. While perhaps made “in consultation” with others, it is their decision and theirs alone to make. Thus, decisions by the individual are more subjective, prone to mistakes, and driven as much by gut, intuition, and personal whim as by real facts. Furthermore, those who have to carry out the decisions do not understand them as well and are not as committed to their success because they weren’t fully part of the process.

A better method is diplomacy, when we work with others to strategize, collaborate, and vet decisions. Working with others in this way may often costs more in terms of time and effort upfront to “work though the issues,” but invariably these result in better and less-costly decisions being made in the long run. Diplomacy works especially well when the group you are working with is diverse and can bring a variety of experiences and perspectives to the table. You end up seeing things in ways that you would have missed otherwise.

Working through the decision process with others on a governance body (councils, boards, committees)—with individuals representing the universe of our stakeholders—provides a solid mechanism for all perspectives to be heard and for decisions to be scrutinized and challenged before being implemented. This is what good governance is all about.

Of course, there are occasions when diplomacy may fail and governance bodies may become dysfunctional. When groups fail to work together, dictators can sweep in and take over or, on the other hand, there can result endless bickering, a state of analysis paralysis, and no decisions being made at all. This is why governance must be well defined, structured, have an end-to-end process, and clear roles and responsibilities.

Although sometimes dictators can be brilliant and effective in getting things done and we can all think of business leaders who fit this style, too often these individuals can become drenched in their own “absolute power”—falling victim to ego and selfishness, and making decisions that are not in the best interest of the organization. This is a condition that must be countered with solid, structured organizational governance, in which decision-makers work with others collaboratively and share in the decision-making process, and the collective interests and those of the organization as a whole are put above those of the individual. In this way, diplomacy protects us from the whims and errors of dictatorship.

This is one of the nice things about our system of government, where despite the many strong differences of opinion and results that we may not always agree with, the system of checks and balances results in governance by the people for the people, where everybody has a chance to participate and be heard.

>Security Architecture Q&A

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Recently, I was interviewed on the subject of Security Architecture and was given permission to share the Q&A:

In general, what kinds of information security issues does an organization face?

The overarching information security issue in any organization is one of communication, collaboration and the need for transparency vs. the need to protect information from being compromised. Information security is about more than just “stopping leaks.” It is also about making sure that people don’t intercept, interject or otherwise manipulate agency information for their own ends.

A related issue has to do with protecting the agency’s critical IT infrastructure from physical or cyber attack. It’s the age-old conflict: If you lock it down completely, then you’re protecting it, but you also can’t use it. And if you open yourself up altogether, then obviously it won’t be long before somebody takes aim.

Finally, the largest threat to an organization’s information is clearly from insiders, who have the “keys to the kingdom.” And so one must pay great attention to not only the qualifications, but also the background, of the employees and contractors entrusted with access to IT systems. Additionally we must institute checks and balances so that each person is accountable and is overseen.

How do leaders demonstrate security leadership?

Leadership in the area of security is demonstrated in a variety of ways. Obviously the primary method for demonstrating the importance of this function is to formalize it and establish a chief information security officer with the resources and tools at his or her disposal to get the job done.

But security leadership also means building an awareness of risk (and countermeasures) into everything we do: education, awareness, planning, designing, developing, testing, scanning and monitoring.

When new applications or services are being planned and rolled out, does security have a seat at the table?

I can’t imagine any organization these days that doesn’t consider security in planning and rolling out new applications or services. The real question is, does the organization have a formal process in place to provide certification and accreditation for IT systems? By law, federal agencies are required to do this.

Would you say that information security is generally tightly integrated into organizational culture?

I think that a security mindset and culture predominate in professions where security is paramount, such as law enforcement, defense and intelligence, for obvious reasons.

But the larger question is, how would other organizations make the transition to a culture of greater information security? And this is actually a really important question in today’s age of transparency, social networking, Web 2.0, etc., where so much information is freely flowing in all directions. One approach that I have adopted as a culture-changing mechanism is to treat key initiatives as products to be marketed to a target audience. The IT security professional needs to be a master communicator as well as a technical expert, so that employees not only grudgingly comply with necessary measures, but are actively engaged with, and support, their implementation.

At the end of the day, the organization’s information security is only as strong as its weakest link. So security has to be as deeply ingrained into the culture and day-to-day operations as possible.

Is information security an inhibitor to new initiatives?

Information security is one of many requirements that new initiatives must meet. And of course there will always be people who see compliance as an inhibitor. But the reality is that security compliance is an enabler for initiatives to achieve their goals. So the key for IT security professionals is to keep educating and supporting their stakeholders on what they need to do to achieve success and security at the same time.