The Security Breakfast Series launched in WDC this morning. Titled “What’s Next: The Future of Homeland Security Technology,â€ the event included a mix of official DHS representatives and private sector leaders mainly from the venture capital and investment banking community. Crowell Moring and Legend Merchant Group were core sponsors.
Main theme over danishes: there’s money to be made in homeland security and the government is looking for us to wise up to the fact.
Bob Hooks, Director of Transition for DHS S&T, made two important points. First, the asymmetric nature of the threat faced by DHS and its component agencies is far broader than that which DOD must confront. Second, technology as a “force multiplier” serves a central role in meeting DHS needs in this mission. To make it even easier for the investors in the room, Hooks brought an unclassified document that lists (without too much specification, of course) the high priority technology needs the Department seeks.
Drawing a difference between DHS and DOD is easy to do, but Hooks’ point suggested an added challenge. Technology is in great need at DHS, but the budget is far smaller than anything similar at DOD. Hence the market forces that came for coffee this morning. An underlying assumption made explicit by almost every panelist was that the most successful technologies for homeland security will require a commercial application. Michael Steed of Paladin Capital drove this home with a drumbeat of investments his group has made in funds valued at several million dollars. Heck, the Department was even smart enough to bring on a Chief Commercialization Officer to help the private firms get the idea.
Tom McMillen of Homeland Security Capital Corp spoke to the trajectory of the threats DHS will likely consider top priorities while suggesting that a Democratic win of the White House in 2008 is sure to generate greater federal investment in homeland security (at the expense of Iraq funding, which is about $452, 447, 997, 763 to date).
However,Â another important role of the private sector in securing the homeland was out of scope for today’s discussion. In addition to selling services and solutions for DHS to defend against terrorism, the private sector is also in many ways the target of terrorism. What makes the asymmetry in protecting the homeland so much broader than that which the Pentagon deals with has both to do with the methods that must be defended against and the spectrum of targets that includes almost anything in the civilian domain. Private industry, however, is not only a target or vector for terrorism. There are ways in which the private sector — global shipping, banking industry, HAZMAT, etc — can become part of the defense in doing daily business.
The guys at the DNDO call this “grafting security onto the private sector.” In this way, a globally flung network of shipping fleets could be vectors for detecting the presence of dangerous materials. The international banking industry could partner as they sometimes do through SWIFT to detect the presence of dangerous money flows. As the public and private sector begin to work more collaboratively from this standpoint, we might see the asymmetry winnow. Moreover, if terrorists use our weaknesses against us, let’s use theirs against them: they don’t have international alliances through the World Customs Organization, but we do. They don’t have working relationships with the global banking community, and yet we do. Indeed when panelists this morning spoke of how technology has the potential of being a “force multiplier” for federal efforts to secure the homeland they may have sold it short. A broader perspective on how the public and private sectors can work together and exploit our shared strengths â€“ â€œgrafting securityâ€ onto the private sector â€“ could go a long way in shifting the asymmetry.