Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 31, 2009

Counter Terrorism: CT should also mean Clarity of Thought

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 31, 2009

Last Tuesday two HLSwatch readers had a quick dialogue related to the UKs new counterterrorism strategy.  Their comments are worth further consideration.

In describing the British document’s value, one of the readers observes it models the principle: “Be clear about the threat and the government response. See former Senator Bob Graham on the importance of talking about risks clearly and without talking down to the public. Does there exist a comparable document from our government that clearly delineates the threat and the strategy behind the response? I would argue no…”

The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism is well-written in a way that can elude US official prose.  We might amiably credit the Queen’s English or an Oxbridge literary education.  But it seems to me something more fundamental may be at work.

In intelligence circles the Brits  complain that Yanks are sloppy because we have too much money.   We don’t make choices.  We take-on everything… or at least try.  In contrast  the British spy services are careful in choosing their targets.  They are acutely aware of  post-imperial limits and make choices accordingly.

The British author and critic Anthony Daniels  (aka Theodore Dalrymple) has argued,  “In good writing, what is left out is at least as important as what is included.”  Is this what gives the British CT strategy the clarity on which the reader remarks?  Can Yanks learn what to leave out, in both our writing and in homeland security?

A second reader comments on the UK strategy, “Another example of where a smaller country demographically and geographically, and administratively centralized, can perform wonders that might fail or not work well in US.”  Is our sometimes complicated and confusing approach to homeland security an inevitable reflection of national scope and scale?  Does our size and diversity resist choosing what to leave out?

If so, doesn’t that argue for giving more priority to local, state, and regional approaches?  The Founders’ original sense of a federal union can be seen as a proto-network well-suited for confronting modern networks.

It is not merely a matter of better or worse writing.  Written words reflect and influence thought.  Thought — we can hope — has a relationship to decision and action.

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2 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 31, 2009 @ 7:34 am

Part of the problem is that the shared sovereignity designed into the Constitution and not resolved by that document (obviously partially resolved by the Civil War) was left to each generation to work out properly. The real question looming over American life and its governmental organizations is whether the threat and risk analysis of the GWOT and Long War domestic impact likely to be resolved into new governmental forms on preparedness and response. With going into detail I think given the revision of language on things like the Federal Response Plan becoming the National Response Framework it is clear that mutual benefits to each level of government would occur if all levels stop trying to lay off their costs on other levels and obtain most of the benefits. Instead, each level should be closely analyzed and documented as to what it can do best–including funding and staffing and over all preparing ( logistics, equipment, training etc). Without this documentation and analysis (hopefully thoughtful) the mish mash that occurs means that citizens will unnecessarily suffer. The key is determine from a variety of viewpoints (including legal, technical and scientific)in advance of incidents/events who actually has the capability NOW not at some future date and how can that be leveraged and improved? Dreaming of some different future arrangement being designed is just that a dream or nightmare. Instead let’s reinforce by proper administration what now actually works and enhance that by proper funding and staffing and preparedness. By the way the TOPOFF exerices now renamed to National Level Exercises (I guess this means top officials don’t have to play and learn their jobs) with what I will continue to call TOPOFF V coming up this summer should and in fact have allowed us to learn of past problems. The problem is that the lessons learned were not learned because fundamentally the play and deficiencies identified in those exercises were not really captured. Perhaps what has happened is the top officials are really just not disciplined and knowledgable enough to do their jobs in emergencies and large scale catastrophic events (we now know from testimony that it was Secretary Chertoff who had been on board for 8 months before Katrina, not Michael Brown who should have been relieved because he did NOT know key elements of the Stafford Act or of his own National Response Plan and had never seen himself as a key link in domestic crisis management and response so acted completely ad hoc throughout the event)and some may just be untrainable despite what is done to improve their capacity. The Senate certainly should be looking for evidence, if any, of domestic crisis management ability and competence and knowledge before confirming some of these wannabes. Again Congress should do its job.

Pingback by DHS report confirmed and convicted, this blogger offers a dissent | Homeland Security Watch

April 15, 2009 @ 6:48 am

[...] Another problem with this part of the report — and the whole report — is signaled by the use of (U), (LES) and (FOUO) or Unclassified, Law Enforcement Sensitive, and For Official Use Only.  These are the lowest levels of classification, but they represent an effort to veil the report from wide public distribution.   It didn’t work.  Often won’t work.  And we can be glad for it.  The single best way to ensure the strategic perspective of DHS is both accurate and constitutionally appropriate is for such strategic perspective to be made explicit and open to public discussion. (A prior post is potentially relevant.) [...]

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