Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 16, 2009

85% of what you know about homeland security is probably wrong.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 16, 2009

Here’s a question:

“What percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector?”

The answer — as practically everyone associated with homeland security knows — is 85%.

It’s probably the best known homeland security statistic.

I suspect it’s wrong.

I’ve been trying — unsuccessfully —  to find the source for that number since July 2002.  I hope someone can point me to the data supporting this number.

I first saw The Number on page 8 of the 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security: “The private sector—the Nation’s principal provider of  goods and services and owner of 85 percent of our infrastructure—is a key homeland security partner.”

What could that number possibly mean?  Did it mean all infrastructure (there was no qualifier).   Or, with hindsight, did it mean only critical infrastructure?

How could that percentage even be estimated, let alone calculated with enough precision to be a basis for policy?  Do you take every provider of goods and services that could be considered as infrastructure, find out who owns each business, and then figure percentages?  Do you group them into sector categories first and then figure out who owns the sectors?  Does “own” mean government has no say in operations?

Those were the days of vague critical infrastructure (CI) definitions. There were 13 critical sectors then; today there are 17.  While the number of sectors has changed, the mystical 85% has not. (The 85% term is also repeated in the 2007 update of the strategy)

IN 1998, Presidential Decision Directive 63 initiated contemporary interest in critical infrastructure.  It defined CI, but did not say who owned what.  (Although someone claimed PDD 63 concluded “… 90% of the nation’s critical infrastructures are owned and operated by the private sector….”)

In 2003, the Bush White House issued HSPD 7: Critical Infrastructure Identification, Prioritization, and Protection.  It avoided saying anything about percentages.  But it did introduce a new wrinkle into who owned what: “America’s open and technologically complex society includes a wide array of critical infrastructure and key resources that are potential terrorist targets. The majority of these are owned and operated by the private sector and State or local governments.”

State and local governments were now in the mix.

Even though HSPD 7 tried  to get away from the numbers game, it was too late.  Apparently there’s something memorable or perhaps even magic about the 85%.  People latched on to it.

The White House: “Private industry owns and operates approximately 85 percent of our critical infrastructures and key assets.”

DHS: “Partnership between the public and private sectors is essential, in part because the private sector owns and operates approximately 85% of the nation’s critical infrastructure….”

GAO: “Because the private sector owns approximately 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure and key resources … it is vital that the public and private sectors form effective partnerships to successfully protect these assets.”

The US Chamber of Commerce
: “As 85% of our nation’s critical infrastructure is owned or operated by the private sector, it is vital to our economic and national security that business is actively involved in the formulation of homeland security policies.”

Universities: “With approximately 85 percent of the Nation’s critical infrastructure owned by the private sector, and no single, overarching body managing this infrastructure, the task of protecting critical infrastructure is daunting.”

Think tanks:  “Over 85 percent of the critical infrastructure (CI) in the United States is controlled by the private sec­tor.”

The Information Sharing Environment: “The private sector owns and operates an estimated 85% of infrastructure and resources that are critical to our Nation’s physical and economic security.  It is, therefore, vital to ensure we develop effective and efficient information sharing partnerships with private sector entities.”

Associations: “Approximately 85 percent of all of the nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and or controlled by the private sector.”

The Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security: “As owners and operators of 85 percent of our nation’s critical infrastructure, the private sector absolutely must lead our efforts to protect our most critical assets.”

The ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: “Another area where the next secretary must forge a partnership with the private sector is the security of our nation’s critical infrastructure.  With more than 85 percent of those assets in private hands, this is a daunting task.” (p.5)

The new Secretary of Homeland Security: ‘I understand the importance of working with the private sector, given that over 85 percent of our Nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector.” (p.55)

Those are just a few of the many  quotes that could be cited.  I would not be surprised if scientists found that 85% of the people who talk about critical infrastructure use The Number within the first five minutes of their talk.

The Number also transcends borders.

In Canada, there are “…ten indispensible, interconnected sectors, from food and water to public utilities, aviation, banking, public health, and telecommunications. As is the case in the United States, more than 85 percent of those networks, physical resources, and services [are] owned and operated by industry, the provinces, and non-government actors….”

In the South Moravia region of the Czech Republic, it turns out “85% [of] Critical Infrastructure [subjects] are in private sphere.”

I once brought up my admittedly obsessive concern with the source of the 85% to a senior DHS official who had significant responsibility for CI.  He recited all the usual suspects to support The Number: PDD 63, NHSS, HSPD 7, NIPP, and so on. I said they were carriers of The Number, not sources.  Ending the conversation, he said “It really doesn’t matter whether 85% is right or not.  We’re still going to do the same thing.”

I thanked him for his honesty and stumbled back to my ivory tower.

But I think getting it right does matter.  For the last 7 years, the 85% figure has been used to justify a laissez fair critical infrastructure strategy. Private sector “ownership and control” has been interpreted to mean government frequently has to ask politely before it tries to do anything to improve safety and security.

If the 85% figure is wrong — or at least unsupported by any empirical basis — maybe the policies derived from that belief are also wrong.

A year ago, a colleague in a position to know, said he received a report in the 1990s that indicated 85% of the defense industrial base was owned and operated by the private sector.  He speculated someone (probably inadvertently) dropped the “defense industrial base” qualifier and an urban homeland security myth was born.

In the absence of a better story, I use his.

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Comment by J.

March 16, 2009 @ 7:56 am

Ending the conversation, he said “It really doesn’t matter whether 85% is right or not. We’re still going to do the same thing.”

I love it. Public policy in action. It reminds me of the Air Force and its view of chemical weapons attacks on its airbases in Korea. No matter what munitions are used or how hot the war gets, the Air Force will sustain a 95% ready capability. The details are unimportant, it’s the Number that counts.

Comment by Randall Larsen

March 16, 2009 @ 10:09 am

One advantage in starting my studies of homeland security in 1994, I know where most of the bodies are buried. The 85% figure came from the Presidential Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection Report (1997). Phil Lacombe was the Executive Director. Ask him. AS I remember, it was a SWAG.


Comment by William R. Cumming

March 16, 2009 @ 10:41 am

Great post and thanks to Randy for beating me to the source. That report in fall 1997 resulted in the drafting of PD-63 (I was FEMA rep for 5 of the 12 drafting sessions). The 85% figure was used to indicate the difficulty of the US getting done what needed to be done on CIP. That report by the way broke out for the first time cyber security from physical security so was a landmark. The first physical security Executive Order was 10421 revoked by EO 12656 which still exists but amended. Phil Lacombe was former Air Force if I remember correctly as was General Marsh. Still that report mandated by Congress was a landmark. Hard to believe 12 years old this fall. PD-63 was a very hurried effort by many of those involved to get out a document that the Clinton Administration could show Congress it was concerned. It did call for the NIP (National Infrastructure Protection Plan) among other things.
The reality is that cyber security and CIP are closely related and should be administered together.

As to the 85% figure, it may be correct as to privately owned but my guess is that 85% of Critical Infrastructure (and several definitions have been put into statutes–e.g. the Defense Production Act of 1950 and the Stafford Act) is directly or indirectly supported by government funding at some level. The biggest failure in the report and efforts since 1997 in my view is that the regulated industries and their regulators have escaped for the most part the burden of developing security and protection and resilience schemes for their industries. To me CIP and Cyber Security must be built in from the ground up so that standard setting authority is most important and sometimes volunteer private systems just don’t do what is needed. An interesting effort by OASIS on Homeland Security standards shows what exactly might be possible though. Hope we see more research on the 85% figure. Thanks again for the post.

Comment by Charlie Jasonberg

March 16, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

One of the GMU CIP reports investigated the 85% claim for the water sector. It used EPA and other data, and learned that 61% of the water sector was owned by the private sector, with 28% owned by local governments.

So, the % will vary from industry-to-industry.


Comment by FOIAThat

March 16, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

I suspect you will be quite surprised if you put a FOIA request in on this number (which is unclassified and not FOIA-exempt) into the National Protection & Programs Directorate at DHS. Specifically ask for the nationally-critical CI/KR list’s counts (not the list itself, which is classified). Share that number with everyone. 85% is bunk.

Comment by John McGowan

March 17, 2009 @ 7:01 am

In 1999, DOT issued a report on the Marine transportation System that included the common knowledge statement about ownership.

See page 3 of chapter II of http://marad.dot.gov/documents/Assessmnt_of_the_US_MTS_-_Rpt_to_Congr_Sep_1999_combined.pdf

“The Ports
In 1997, the U.S. port system handled more than 2 billion metric tons of foreign and domestic
waterborne cargo. This cargo moved through 326 coastal, Great Lakes, and shallow-draft ports.
Within the individual ports, cargo is transferred between water and landside transportation modes
at publicly and privately owned marine terminals. Private ownership of inland waterway facilities
is more pronounced than that of the coastal and Great Lakes facilities, with 87 percent privately
owned, compared to 66 percent at the deep-water ports.”

Comment by Greg Brunelle

March 17, 2009 @ 10:52 am

“What’s past is prologue” – The National Archives Building

Apparently “85%” is the new “80%” in the world of emergency planning. Lee Clarke discusses in his 1999 book, Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disasters, the widespread assumption in early 1980s that a fully-realized civil defense program would allow for 80% of the U.S. population to survive a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. This sounds great, except that no one is sure what the “80% survival rate” assumption is based on.

President Carter’s PD-41 directed that civil defense programs “…take advantage of the mobility of the population…” for evacuation planning (avail: http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.org/documents/pddirectives/pd41.pdf). In response, the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency wrote in 1979 that “…if you could make the relocation work pretty well, total survival could be 80% or better.” (Clarke, p. 34), though no evacuation study is cited.

With the emergence of ‘crisis relocation planning’ in the 1980s, the 80% survival figure took hold, was assumed to be a scientific fact, and became the basis of civil defense planning programs since an 80% survival rate suggested that a nuclear war would be winnable. Elected and federal officials cited the figure throughout the early 1980s in speeches and documents as they sought funding for preparedness efforts. Clarke’s book outlines several examples.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 17, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

Great comment by Greg B. Shelter or evacuation are two basic protective action recommendations. Unfortunately, mass confusion over these PAR not in the least caused by Tom Ridge’s “Duck Tape” speech as DHS Secretary. The hosting issues involved killed crisis relocation as federal policy.

For one of my technical backgrounders captioned “The Civil Defense Legacy” contact me offline at vacationlanegrp@aol.com

Oddly in the last 5 years several civil defense histories have appeared produced by competent reseachers and even DHS put out an historical piece captioned “The History of Civil Preparedness”. That document also filled with errors but all of the above are good background. An important study completed in 2002 by CSIS researcher Amanda Dory entitled “Civil Security” analyzes the terrorist threats and indicates that not all of the civil defense legacy should be retired as semi-crackpot. Just as shelter-in-place and evacuation should be technically driven and may be legitimate choices posturing on ignorance is no help when faced with real situations. Amatuer night should be over but clearly is not yet.

Pingback by Who, what, when, where, and why | Homeland Security Watch

March 28, 2009 @ 5:45 am

[…] the last month the top-stories – by far – have been Chris Bellavita’s essay on 85% of what you know about homeland security is wrong and this Thursday’s piece on The Republic of Texas v. United States.  A  quick post on a […]

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 29, 2009 @ 9:09 am

Two further footnotes to Greg B.’s comment. I have located a HSAC document dated June 2006 on CIP which may be of interest. Contact me off-line at vacationlanegrp@aol.com

Also in the Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program vaguely assigned to FEMA by White House Press Release and an NRC appropriations statute, (SEE 10 CFR Part 50 Appendix E and 44 CFR Part 351-354) litigation at several nuclear power stations, in particular Shoreham and Seabrook, discussed “successful evacs” using an 80% figure based on FEMA guidance documents. FEMA unfortunately confused almost continuously data or surmise from the civil defense program in its design of NUREG 0654 which while technically co-authored by FEMA and NRC staff was largely authored by NRC staff on detail to FEMA. That basic guidance has been supplemented several times by NRC and FEMA in joint publications. But again the basic theory of the REP program is evacuation not shelter in place. What is becoming interesting is that the availability of public transportation for evacuation may be key as privately owned vehicles diminish in number for a variety of reasons. Actually the evac in NOLA during Katrina exceeded 80% by some calculations but the still over 1200 died that were unable or unwilling to evacuate.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » “… it is not fish they are after.”

May 29, 2012 @ 12:12 am

[…] infrastructure sites.” The usual estimates typically cite an 85% figure. Since the 85% number has no basis in anything beyond rhetoric, I admire the attention to precision suggested by 86%.  I also respect the creative addition of […]

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July 1, 2014 @ 4:20 am

[…] of prolonging the myth that 85% of critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector, the QHSR authors simply wrote:  ”The majority of the Nation’s infrastructure is owned and […]

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