Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 18, 2009

Terrorist Politics

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 18, 2009

In an interview Monday with Spiegal Online, Secretary Napolitano explained avoidance of the T word at her inaugural appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee:

“Although I did not use the word terrorism, I referred to ‘man-caused’ disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.”

Regarding the Secretary’s testimony James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation tells Fox News what everyone inside the beltway knows, but has been whispering,  “By deliberately trying not to use the T word they run a serious political risk. If something does happen, they’ll be accused of taking their eye off the ball and no amount of explanation after the fact will suffice.”

The markers for post-hoc accusation are being actively placed.  Several Republican members of the House HS Committee were very clear in their warning.  Former Vice President Cheney was his usual subtle self in telling CNN’s John King, that President Obama, “is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

The prospect of merging the HSC into the NSC runs the same political risk… among other risks.  In seeking to de-politicize terrorism the new administration is running the risk of handing their political adversaries a great gift.

Quite often in pursuing one goal we accept risk to another goal.  It is not always a zero sum game, but the trade-offs can be painful.  A big part of effective risk management is being explicit in advance about the potential trade-offs.

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5 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 18, 2009 @ 9:46 am

There is a huge problem in avoiding use of the word terrorism. Again the Secretary does not know the history that long long before 9/11 in fact back in the 70’s the National Governors Association study that focused on the idea that a FEMA might be a good idea (and note they had the clout to get it through even though the approval document for the reorganization by President Carter shows a check under the yes block but with the hand written word “Reluctantly” next to it) included as one of its key parts domestic terrorism. In a rather interesting article posted on the JHSEM (Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management) 2009 edition (articles are added virtually as they are cleared by the editors throughout the year) which is managed by Bepress.com authors of an article on revising the Stafford Act state flatly that that statute has no application to terrorism (see ftnt 73) a position with which I disagree. I would for example cite the response to WTC bombings in 1993 and 9/11/09 and the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing in 1995 as contrary evidence. But the article is overall excellent in indicating the limitations of the Stafford Act. It certainly is not the nation’s premier risk management statute for all hazards nor does it provide the architecture for a domestic civil crisis management system or chain of command. I think that is the real issue and I actually favor merging the HSC and NSC in particulary after reviewing filed testimony before a House Homeland Security Committee subcommittee earlier this week. I have the highest regard for what Fran Townshend was able to accomplish but one of her officer’s testimony this week reveals several things. Secretary Chertoff DID NOT follow White House direction on many FEMA issues and did not really do anything to smooth out the system Post-Katrina instead resisting efforts that became at least in part PKEMRA (Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006). Congress trying to design organizational structures for the Executive Branch particularly in the EM/HS arena is a catastrophe in itself. An absolutely brilliant McKinsey & Co. study leading to President Eizenhower’s Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1958 and giving the President the freedom to design his domestic civil defense program is intuitively the correct approach. The problem is right now the OBAMA Administration despite having known since the Lehman failure that it might win is still studying and making up its mind over key issues. No brilliant 100 days here. Nevertheless the particpants in PSD-1 and the key Congressional committees need to be aware of the McKinsey & Co. study because it directly addresses issues involved in the NSC/HSC merger issues and the FEMA location in or out of DHS issue. By the way all reorganization plans are codified in US Code Annotated at 5 USC Section 901 and its notes.
By the way I personally believe the testimony in the House does indicate that amatuer night has been almost continuous since 9/11 on HS and EM. Will it continue–who knows?

Comment by Arnold

March 18, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

I’m not convinced that those trade-offs are actually being made. I think you’re right about the political markers, though. After the shock of 9/11, there was a brief moment of national unity. After the next attack (and put me in the group that believes there will be another one), however, the political fight will be vicious on all sides regardless of the facts of the case.

Back to the trade-offs: while Napolitano didn’t say the word “terrorism” in her testimony, Obama does pick as his Homeland Security Adviser the first head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Doesn’t seem like terrorism will be ignored in the White House.

In terms of the HSC/NSC, I’ve read that those in favor of separate councils cite the potential loss of focus on non-terrorism related subjects as one of their primary arguments. If anything, a combined super council would risk focusing on prevention of terrorism (an area in which the NSC has had experience) with little focus on the issues of preparedness and response.

And the barbs thrown in DHS’ direction ignores the fact that the Department is not the primary counter-terrorism actor in the U.S. government–despite it’s title. It has an important/top tier role to play in that domain, but is not the lead either internationally or domestically (though if someone can make the case in favor of DHS over the FBI in this regard, I would genuinely like to read it).

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 18, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

The lines between DHS and DOJ/FBI on Counterterrorism are redrawn daily. 65,000 -85,000 DHS personnel are armed and badged and many in uniform.

Comment by Arnold

March 18, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

That may be the case, but it is my understanding that DOJ/FBI is the designated lead agency for any investigation into suspected or post-event terrorism activity.

Not withstanding the intel office in DHS, it is also the FBI that has taken on the role of primary lead in domestic intelligence/counter-terrorism. It seems to me that that the JTTFs are the primary interface in this regard for locals rather than DHS personnel assigned to fusion centers (since I also believe that there are not yet DHS personnel assigned to every fusion center).

So while those armed and badged personnel in DHS play an important role (and certainly affect the internal cultural dynamics of DHS), if charges of “losing focus on the terrorist threat” are going to be lobbed they should take into account departments other than and most likely prior to DHS.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 18, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

I hope a definitive book about the FBI and its May 2002 Reorganization to reflect 9/11 appears before the decade is out. Published reports indicate that
the FBI has over 30,000 FTE but somewhere between 7-12,000 are Gold Badge agents. Published reports indicate 1,000+ FTE devoted to analysts with principal focus on terrorism. With over 100 federal statutes using the word “terrorism” not all in the US criminal code (Title 18) it would perhaps of interest to know how many investigations by the FBI have led to indictments under Title 18’s terrorism provisions? Perhaps this is looking for a meaningful bottom line but still might be a benchmark for the “lead” domestic civil agency on terrorism prevention! ospaHow many iw

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