Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 9, 2009

Drifting back to September 10th

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on April 9, 2009

“Osama bin Laden declared war on America.”

An FBI agent told me that in 1999 when we were planning security for the 2002 Olympics.  My first thought was he must be crazy.  Not bin Laden. The FBI agent.

I didn’t know who bin Laden was.  But I did know that you had to be a Country to declare war on another Country.  A person can’t do that.  It all but says so in the war rules.

I remember humoring the FBI agent – his name was Ray — so I could get back to work on what I thought was something important: how to find housing for 15,000 public safety officers.  But I was wrong about what was important.  Ray was right.

I thought about that conversation this week when I got a call from a friend.  He wanted to vent.

“It’s happening again,” he said.  “We’re getting lazy about terrorism.”

My friend is a senior official in the family of agencies that cares about homeland security.  He works in the field, not in DC.  He’s on the road a lot, visiting the cities and states he’s responsible for, talking to people about homeland security. I know him as a levelheaded, reasonable person.  He’s not an alarmist or a fanatic.

What he’s finding — what he’s worried about – is a diminishing interest in terrorism as a credible threat.  Understandably, perhaps, in this economy, state and local counter-terrorism work (where it exists at all) is moving to the back burner.

“If the feds pay for it, maybe states will keep it going,” my friend said.  “But it’s like the fire has gone out.  It’s hard to get people concerned about terrorism.  The capacity we’ve built over the last few years is starting to go away.”

If one has a suspicious nature, there are other signals we are regressing to a September 10th mentality.  Neither terrorism nor homeland security were significant issues in the 2008 presidential race or the 11 races for state governor. The 2008 State Homeland Security Directors Survey, released in March, only mentioned terrorism 4 times: once in describing funds for the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, and three times as a part of a compound word.   The Obama Administration is phasing out the use of the “war on terror,” possibly to be replaced — one hopes not — by “Overseas Contingency Operation.”  Ignoring for a moment the sexist language, DHS Secretary Napolitano talks to Congress about “man-caused disasters” instead of terrorism. The FBI has reassigned people from counter-terrorism to mortgage fraud, and the agency’s director has to reassure congress that the FBI cares about terrorism.

“I heard a rumor that the JTTF was going to drop the first T from its acronym,” my friend said.   “I think it was a joke.”

If someone (other than Dick Cheney ) wanted to build an argument that we are backsliding, there’s enough hay to build the straw man.

But there is enough straw around to construct the opposite argument.

“… [T]here is always a threat from terrorism,” said Napolitano on March 16, 2009.

“In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, counterterrorism became our top priority, and it remains our top priority today,” said Mueller on March 25, 2009

Preventing terrorist attacks in the homeland is Obama’s number 1 homeland security priority. “And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you,” the president said on March 27, 2009.

So what is the real story here?  Is there a reasonable position between fear mongering and complacency? Between seeing a terrorist behind every mosque and changing the channel the next time someone mentions terrorism?  Is it possible for homeland security policymakers to untangle the country from the war on terror trap and still prevent terrorist success?

To paraphrase Shakespeare horribly:

There is a tide in homeland security policy,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to preventing attacks;
Misread, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

Another name for this pattern is the issue attention cycle.  It works like this.  Some people see things before others.  Sometimes the vision is prescient, like the Gilmore Commission or the Hart-Rudman Commission reports. Or the Minneapolis FBI supervisor who, in August 2001, battled FBI headquarters because he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” (Described on page 351 of Lawrence Wright’s amazing book, The Looming Tower.)

Sometimes the vision is … well, “loony” is the only word that comes to mind, but there probably are kinder descriptions.  Some people warn  of FEMA’s involvement with the “impending police state control grid.”  Others worry about the soon-to-be-constructed (probably also by FEMA) “re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward.”

Since we all get to use at least some version of the First Amendment, when you see something important happening, you have an obligation to tell others.  Frequently you will be ignored because many people are also working on something different that’s also important.  If you’re lucky, you may have a few helpful allies.

But then comes the alarming discovery that the danger you’ve been talking about is real.   Four planes are hijacked and thousands die.  Suddenly the public demands that something be done immediately to, in the American vernacular, “solve the problem.” Time passes, and with it comes the awareness of how hard it will be to solve anything.  And how expensive. But time can also bring some measure of progress.

Then, from a parallel policy universe, the financial system gets lockjaw and the stock market loses half its value.  Someone demands the problem be fixed immediately.  Homeland security gets dumped into the second tier of public policy.  And people like my  friend start to see signs that the issue attention cycle is repeating.

I do not know how long these cycles last. I do know there were 8 years, 6 months, and 16 days between the February 26, 1993 attack on the World Trade Tower and the September 11, 2001 attack.

You don’t think the bad guys would be planning to strike again, on March 27, 2010?  They couldn’t be that predictable.  Could they?

So what is to be done?

You probably have your own list.  I hope I learned from my Olympic experience ignoring early warnings and weak signals.  But I also do not want to trade in fear or complacency.  I think there is a middle path.

1.    Keep the pressure on.  If you think homeland security ought to be, at its core, about preventing terrorism, keep pushing.  Hurricanes, tornadoes and the flu are threats.  But the bad guys are not finished with us yet.  There is at least one reputable scholar who sees al Queda as an amateur version of what is still to come.  If you need reminding about why you care, look at Dave Grossman’s “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs.”   It is possible to be alert and persistent, without being a jerk about it.

2.    Speak what you perceive to be the truth, but leave space in your head for learning about other truths.  My friend is reluctant to talk to his bosses about his perceptions. He is a realist.  He knows what can happen in organizations if you go against the party line.  That is sad.  How many other perceptions and ideas about homeland security do we lose as a nation because, as someone once remarked, “Unemployment doth make cowards of us all.”?

3.    Get ready for the Day After.  You might think September 11, 2001 was the last time in our history the nation will be successfully attacked by terrorists.  If you are not in that group, what changes would you want to see in the homeland security enterprise immediately after the next attack?  What are your ideas for making sure we do not overreact to that attack?  When terrorism returns to our land, what do we do to make certain, as Lincoln wrote, “We shall nobly save…the last best hope of earth?”

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 9, 2009 @ 4:10 am

Thanks for the important reminder. Another method for making the attention cycle our friend: daily discipline. I face a couple of chronic health threats. Nothing immediate, but I need to anticipate and manage the risk so that chronic does not become acute. Over the years I have organized my investment of time to ensure at least 40 minutes each day is focused on avoiding the worst. Some days I invest more, but I always invest a minimum of 40 minutes. There are lots of risks and even more opportunities, but each day I will invest 1/24th of my time awake to preventing what is a predictable disaster. Seems like a reasonable analogy for prevention, mitigation, and deterrence of terrorism.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 9, 2009 @ 8:20 am

Post is an important reminder that whatever priorities are adopted by leadership there are always threats that cannot be ignored. Blair the DNI says international economic collapse is the top national security threat. No ranking published to see where terrorism stands. My guess is that it must rank high throughout the Western World include Islamic nations. Why simple demographics and economics dictates that outlook is bleak for many talented, educated young people that turn inward and self-destructive when their dreams are crushed. So where does that leave those who must decide priorities?
What interests me is how hierarchial and closed down DHS remains with no evidence that it is a learning organization or that key members of the Federal Executive Branch really rely on it or trust it. Same for Congress. The failure of Congress to really reorganize for effective Homeland Security oversight despite the repeated call for that from Congressionally mandated Commissions, including of course the 9/11 Commission is evidence that jurisdiction over federal grants and contracting dollars is much more important to Congress than the good of the people. I often wonder if the attack on 9/11 had achieved obliteration of the Congress what would be the concern level now by those elected to that body.

It does appear that some permanent changes have occurred that will only be proved effective in hindsight after the next attack, which I believe will occur. What bothers me is that both the Executive Branch and the Congress seem almost totatlly insensitve to criticism from outside. We learned after 9/11 and staff notes are scheduled for release after Sept. 11th this year that connecting the dots might have had an impact. Yet the connecting the dot systems seem to be largely a facade and civil servants are still punished for cooperation and collaboration with other organizations personne. Congress by it stovepiping of committee staff and system enhances the notion that it is all a zero sum game. What one organization gains, another loses. I think the knowledge base is there for improvement but it must be tapped in order to do that.
Thanks Chris for the reminder and the 2009 State Survey did not pop up when toggled.

Comment by David C. Gomez

April 9, 2009 @ 8:31 am

Well timed article as I was just researching the value of calculating endogenous risk. It seems, to quote Pogo, “I have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

I would take issue with your very subtle assertion that mortgage fraud should not be as important as terrorism to the FBI. The collapse of the financial markets and the economy has only just begun, and there have been clear links to terrorism and transnational organized crime groups involved in mortgage fraud for the purpose of terrorist financing. As a national security issue, the banking and financial industry is one of 14 critical infrastructures worthy of protection. If the economy and the American way of life is forced into depression due to the lack of attention to the impending collapse of the economy due to the sub-prime crisis, has not Osama Bin Laden achieved one of his goals?

Comment by Gary

April 9, 2009 @ 9:13 am

Christopher, first of all, thanks for linking to one of my articles, though I don’t appreciate being referred to as “looney.” In reading your article here, I can say only one thing that might be of value to you and that is that you might consider taking a post-9/11 view, yourself and get on board with the millions of us who have since then become aware that, not only did our own government stage 9/11, but that our government is criminal and means us great harm. I realize, of course, that you will only scoff at this, since you are in complete denial, still fettered by the mental shackles of the false left-right paradigm we were all born into. My advice: watch “9/11 Coincidences” and “Loose Change,” as well as Alex Jones’ “Endgame.” Google these. Google such terms as “Project for a New American Century,”and learn about what has been happening, not only for the last eight years, but for centuries.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 9, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

Dave Grossman’s “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs.” (Chris Bellavita links to the essay in his post)is disturbing in a helpful way.

In my youth I raised sheep. They are less vulnerable than their reputation, especially a bunch of tough old ewes. A wolf pack would have the advantage. But a single wolf would usually be wise to keep his distance. I guess this makes Grossman’s point about the need for Todd Beamer’s when danger looms.

There was once a leader – sometimes known as the good shepherd – who encouraged his followers to “feed my sheep.” By this I understand the sheep are to be taught there is no need to be afraid. Yes, evil exists. Yes, evil will be done. But, no, there is no cause to fear. Fear feeds evil. Courage can – eventually – starve evil.

I hope that HLSwatch feeds some sheep. To have no fear, know what you fear. That is what we are trying to do for both sheep and sheepdogs.

Comment by Mark DuPont

April 10, 2009 @ 11:49 am

I have a cartoon that appeared in the Boston Globe some weeks after 9/11/01, while I was a Homeland Security Officer and standing up a Maritime Homeland Security Watch Center. The cartoon has in it a picture of Uncle Sam with his top hat resembling the twin towers, and from the right of the picture comes a plane with the word “COMPLACENCY” written on the side.

I cut that cartoon out, framed it, and it still resides in my office today. As a Chief Intelligence and Homeland Security Officer for a law enforcment agency, I am increasingly troubled by what I see happening around me.

I see that plane flying by me as we drift back to the way things used to be. Back to where our respective comfort zones reside. Back to the moment before evil makes an impact.

Comment by Bob

April 12, 2009 @ 10:18 am

Thanks Gary, I couldn’t have said it better. The main reason we have not had another “event” is because since the false flag of 9/11 a growing portion of our public is watching the government very closely. Cheney and Gingrich have both said another attack is needed. No doubt they can invoke it, but we will catch them this time. The biggest fear among the people is the growing police state and loss of liberties. It is very scary to see so many dollars and so much weaponry being sent to a huge number of domestic agencies and knowing they are getting “peace” officers pumped up daily by DHS to jump into action with a hair trigger. The novel 1984 was a warning, not a blueprint. 9.11 was a staged event to bring this all into play.

Comment by christopher tingus

April 12, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

Dear friends,

Well, my goodness..reading these responses is very frightful for those of us here on the street going about our daily responsibilities as Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen. Some of you hold places at DHS HQ and other agencies where we hold great esteem for you and also hold you responsible to safeguard our nation.

Wow…this is 2009 and it appears to me that very few are reading their history books and even far fewer the Bible.

This great nation was founded on values and on behalf of those who have given their lives on the islands of Asia, the sands of northern Africa, the shores and lands of Europe and so many places here and there to afford us our freedoms as well as our responsibility to be vigilant and to understand that the evil ways of mankind here and there must be opposed with strength and commitment to a diligent and organized strategy to confront any and all who seek our demise.

Soon we will see German-led EU fast deployment forces in the Middle East challenging Iran and the Middle East as a power broker – for now and temporarily aligning itself with the KGB led Russians – as Germany seeks to secure oil as its manufacturing industry emerges once again to gain prominence though for only a temporary time at that…and of course the good ‘ol boys at the Vatican in their muster of a crusade which the Islamic fundamentalists is oblivious of as it still looks to us as their worst nightmare – they will see much strife soon –

Unless – I reiterate, unless this country which has been the – beacon of hope – for so many generations, a people who fled their homelands to get far away from tyranny and establish America, unless this country closes its border to AQ cells utilizing this outragious and unacceptable border crossing fiasco where no other country anywhere allows illegal citizens the privileges this nation allows to those crossing the border of any soverign nation – unless this country and this Congress of good ‘ol boys – almost incestuous in their mannerisms and accolades towards of one another while the country of Adams, Jefferson, Eisenhower, and so many who laid the principles to adhere to principles, unless this country understands that the clock is ticking, it is not only this Republic I fear for and its most charitable people, but we Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen have in fact raed our history books and we surely read the Bible and the written word is quite clear –

When I have lunch at Farragut Square and the well dressed and obviously privileged eat at the next table, I often want to rise and ask, “Does anyone in this room know what a gallon of milk costs? Do anyone of you elected Congressman and Senators – ENTRUSTED – by us – Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen really understand how we live and think for the majority of you certainly are quite apathetic as to our majority interests –

We know we are at WAR with the Islamic Fundamentalists as well as others who seek authority over the individual, those of us who have walked the streets of Cairo, Hebron, Jericho and enjoy friendship with the Hebrews as well as their Palestinian brothers – a good Palestinian people who the league of Arab States have used as pawns, a people who see very little of the oil revenues of their Arab brothers throughout to build new schools, to HOPE, to learn respect for those who may not believe the same with no need to embrace one another, yet simply to respect one another and NOT to impose their values and to allow people to make thier own choices….

Pornography and so many evil ways grip so many millions here and there and it is only through repentence and respect for the value of human Life that maybe world leadership will understand that we – Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen know the Russians are building new submarines, we know China and Russia can in fact affect our power grid, however we, too can to the same and we rely on the brilliant and devoted Americans at NSA, at the Pentagon and in other subject agencies – fellow citizens – to thwart not the Russians and Chinese in cybersecurity issues as we remain quite competent ourselves in this sector, however as Mr. & Mrs. Joe citizen, we fear the rogue countries and their dedicated efforts to secure numerous challenges which would affect not only us, but our fellow brethren everywhere – We are just working folk and somehow those in leadership roles here and there forget that they, too are really no more astute than we, just arrogant, evil and your ways will continue to lead to the demise of all –

What a pity for the Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, whether in Palestine, Ireland, Singapore, Latvia, wherever, we seek a world offering us all HOPE and a Life of happiness where we can utilize the entrepreneurial minds of the West who are very near to extending Life for the average Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen another 25-35 years, however not unless those who truly represent the majority interests of good perople everywhere show strength and commitment to thwart those who seek our demise – We must help one another now our family, friends, our brothers in Israel, in Palestine, in Amman, in Sofia, the good people of Ethiopia, those in Riga, here and there as apparently those no both sides of the aisle here in Washington, Mr. Putin et al of the KGB, Mr. Chavez, present Iranian leadership which should be disposed of by its own people, never mind by the Germans who will soon be kicking out good and bad Arabs residing in its neighborhoods and ridding Iran of its nuclear ambitions once and for all –

Read your history books before they are altered for after all, the Armenians and Jews – innocents – Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen were stripped of their gold and clothes, herded on to railcars and marched into the showers while fellow brothers and sisters – human beings here and there turned their cheek just as many are doing again, however a weakened America may be a third world nation and maybe having the weapons, but from reading your posts and admittingly reading every word of the Bible – even the Chinese will not survive all this irrational and distrespectful behavior towards one another –

Mr.& Mrs. Joe Citizen are not duped by the lack of tranparency of $350+ billion in monies Hank Paulson & his Wall Street cronies enjoy in thier million dollar Long Island homes or at Hilton Head, nor are we oblivious to all the central bankers here and there printing “fiat” dollars at their whim, however inflation is certain and it will not really matter whether the dollar is the global curreny, the Euro or the Yaun as we know better than you that God created man with Love and simply asked all to adhere to the principles he plainly laid out while seeing Eve encouraging and enticing Adam to pluck the apple from the tree…Well, in your grandiose schemes, you have plucked all the apples from the tree and unless we clasp hands together and properly nuture the Tree of Life, no one will see even a blossom of HOPE!

Time is of the essence!

Mr.& Mrs. Joe Citizen
Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA USA

God Bless America and to all those everywhere who have given their Life to enable – “the Family” – to thrive and youngsters everywhere to search the skies and ask pertinent questions of God in the heavens, while still believing in our great nation and wonderful populace, a nation which has been so Blessed, yet a nation prepared to show determined strength and harmony at the helm!

We should know our etiquette knowing not to touch the Queen, not bowing to a King who has forgotten many of the Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizens who are his brothers and sisters and have very little hope living in squalor, and never forget that when the G-20 snubs us – which will surely only be to their own detriment – we must halt all supportive payments abroad to these types and allow everyone who chooses their way to get along for we have new aircraft and naval ships and cybersecurity programs to address and these monies given abroad to the King and to others should cease –

Let’s see how the kids in the block will get along for a while as we build new stealth bombers, F-22s,
F-16s, and a missile defensive shield, let’s see how all these G-20 know-it-alls deal without us calling us bully and being so critical of us – well, from a street perspective, it won’t be very long when they will be praising us and begging us to help as the devious ways of evil knock on thier doors….

By the way, when you make an attempt to swap a ship’s captain for a pirate, even as kids here on the street, we would not have handed the pirate over until we knew our ship’s captain was in secure hands –

Also, let’s stop telling the KGB we are willing to get rid of nuclear warheads when they are announcing that they are building new weapons – The Russians may have Vodka in one hand, but never can be trusted with their other hand!

Pingback by the audacity of a torture truth commission | Blatherings Blog

April 23, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

[…] i suppose this utter hypocrisy is just more evidence of a deepening September 10th mentality. […]

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>