Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 2, 2009

Finding a frame that fits the whole world

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 2, 2009

Secretary Napolitano has five priorities:

  • Guarding against terrorism
  • Securing our borders
  • Smart and tough enforcement of immigration laws
  • Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters
  • Unifying and maturing DHS

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review — or at least the public dialogue around the QHSR — is organized around these  priorities.  A “senior official,” who would never talk to me again if I mentioned his name, told me the use of the Secretary’s priorities to frame the QHSR is an example of “over eager staffing” and a “bad idea” that is skewing strategic thinking.  He added that, “the Secretary probably hasn’t even noticed yet.” 

The senior official is trying to “open up the discussion to more interesting, or just more frames.”   Good idea.  Good luck.   I’m hoping this post helps and thanks for giving me permission to report your concerns.

I have already offered my own oblique critique of the current process, even while I commend the Department’s intentions and efforts.

The Secretary’s priorities are entirely fine.  They are perfectly reasonable  operational goals.  I have not, however, been able to — without considerable creativity — convert them into a meaningful strategy for homeland security.

According to the White House website, President Obama frames homeland security around some “guiding principles” and  seven verbs.

The President’s highest priority is to keep the American people safe. He is committed to ensuring the United States is true to our values and ideals while also protecting the American people. The President is committed to securing the homeland against 21st century threats by preventing terrorist attacks and other threats against our homeland, preparing and planning for emergencies, and investing in strong response and recovery capabilities. We will help ensure that the Federal Government works with states and local governments, and the private sector as close partners in a national approach to prevention, mitigation, and response.

The verbs with their objects are:

  • Defeat terrorism worldwide
  • Strengthen our bio and nuclear security
  • Improve intelligence capability and information
  • Ensuring a secure global digital information and communications infrastructure
  • Promote resiliency of our physical and social infrastructure
  • Pursue comprehensive transborder security
  • Ensure effective incident management

Interesting to compare and contrast these seven with Secretary Napolitano’s five. 

By weaving together the President’s Cairo speech (and his remarks on Ramadan last evening) and John Brennan’s CSIS speech I have a pretty clear framing of a policy-strategy-operations continuum for counterterrorism.  In most other areas of homeland security I hear and read about priorities, goals, operations, budgets and tactics. But I have a hard time finding anything that strikes me as homeland security policy or strategy. 

Some will say policy (and strategy) is a matter of pretty is as pretty does.  I take the point.  My colleague Chris Bellavita would, probably, argue that it doesn’t matter all that much what is said, written, or earnestly intended,  but what actually emerges in behavior.  Yes, that is the real world.

But it is also my experience that what is written can, especially overtime, influence how we think and what we do.   Writing exposes sloppy thinking and hidden attitudes. Writing exposes relationships and opportunities.  Writing is — or can be — the genesis of new worlds. 

For Karl Popper writing is as “real” as the physical world and the world of human perception.  He called the physical, world 1, and  perception, world 2.  Popper named the written word and its products world 3.  In 1978 Popper concluded a University of Michigan lecture with this explanation of how these three frames interact.

Our minds are the creators of world 3; but world 3 in its turn not only informs our minds, but largely creates them. The very idea of a self depends on world 3 theories, especially upon a theory of time which underlies the identity of the self, the self of yesterday, of today, and of tomorrow… Our relationship to our work is a feedback relationship: our work grows through us, and we grow through our work. This growth, this self-transcendence, has a rational side and a non-rational side. The creation of new ideas, of new theories, is partly non-rational. It is a matter of what is called ‘intuition’ or ‘imagination’.  But intuition is fallible, as is everything human. Intuition must be controlled through rational criticism, which is the most important product of human language. This control through criticism is the rational aspect of the growth of knowledge and of our personal growth. It is one of the three most important things that make us human. The other two are compassion, and the consciousness of our fallibility.

I wonder if the paucity of attention given — so far — to a written homeland security strategy is due to the criticism it will inevitably attract.  The criticism will be delivered with little compassion and even less consciousness of fallibility.  Much of the criticism will be gratuitious and self-serving, won’t help much, and may even hurt in substantive ways.

Better to just keep our heads down and do, instead of writing or saying much about it, I can imagine practical men and women concluding.

But still, without world 3 our experience of world 1 and world 2 is narrowed, impoverished, and even threatened. 

As you contribute to the QHSR — and please do contribute — season your criticism with compassion and significant creativity.  It seems to me that the QHSR is the most promising process for producing a meaningful expression of homeland security strategy.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 2, 2009 @ 7:09 am

Several bullets in reacting to a great post!
First, that SENIOR OFFICIAL may be right but his/her perceptions may be contagious like H1N1. Virulence unknown but so far no vaccine.
Hey, I do like the verbs analysis. If I had to choose like the President’s effort better than the big five of the Secretary. Question though where did these five arise? Seems to me being used by her last January at confirmation hearing and a lot of water under the bridge since then. For one thing all the hearings she complains about, all the letters, and all the reports. Don’t think close analysis of those would have resulted in the same list.

Be that as it may the post seems to be addressing the question: Did humans think before they could speak or have language?

Well in the realm of HOMELAND SECURITY except for the excellent RISK LEXICON released publically no real agreement on language yet for HS! So perhaps cultural evolution will be evidenced by the QHSR, hoping so.

And yes do agree the words have meaning. I am still looking for those friends and neighbors that Lyndon Johnson mentioned in his personal letter to me June 12, 1967! The letter in part stated “Your friends and neighbors have selected you for service in the Armed Forces of the United States”. None of the ones I knew selected me and interesting that Johnson could not even be honest that it was his war and his draft. Oh well, despite Communism winning Viet Nam seems to be thriving economically and as tourist destination. I do know that American culture and society was enriched by those fleeing Viet Nam to come to the US! And yes that very wonderful food.
So in conclusion yes words do have meaning. By the way Lyndon underlike Robert McNamara never apologized to my knowledge.

Comment by Pat Longstaff

September 2, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

As always, a thoughtful and brave communication, Phil. I actually tried to participate in the first round but could not figure it out. This time I left a comment on defining resilience but now cannot find my way back to it. It is a paradox – trying to capture everything can lead to capturing less.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 2, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

Agree with PAT! Interesting also that NAPA is providing administrative support only and not input on substance. Despite this the DHS QSHR sites show NAPA prominently as if giving seal of approval or something else, not sure what. Also the statutory mandate requires that DHS coordinate with other federal agencies on the QHSR! I would like to see made public all correspondence between DHS and the rest of the Executive Branch on the QHSR! I have chosen to spend my time giving input where I think it will be listened to and of course not including this blog as anything but a chance to brainstorm and vent subjects Phil and Chris so intelligently and importantly discuss. Do wonder sometimes why some of their posts draw such little commentary since I myself detect several policy changes, some inside and some outside DHS, from someone important reading the blogs and this one in particular. Keep up the good work Chris and Phil! And yes we all know you have day jobs.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

September 2, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

I hate to admit it, but I’m somewhat dubious of the public participation part of the process myself.

The first round seemed confusing at first, with a number of vague statements that were generally hard to critique (and it was not readily apparent what the point of input should be).

During this round, it is a bit more clear and navigable, but I’m still dubious as to impact. Chris and Philip have heard that DHS is listening/reading…but is it absorbed and considered? To what end?

While I’ll probably give it a go, I agree with Bill and attempt to pick the spots where I think the chance of being at least considered is reasonable.

Though it should be noted that DHS is reaching out. The coordinator of pre and post-doctoral students at my place of work received and forwarded an invitation to participate aimed at the academic audience. Which slightly improved my perception, though I suppose I’m a natural skeptic.

Comment by christopher tingus

September 3, 2009 @ 9:13 am

It is my understanding that this blog is daily reading for even the senior tier at DHS HQ as well as even the folks at NSA and even the White House staffers – Kudos to Philip and Chris!

From others I hear that numerous adversaries also read this blog, self-proclaimed adversaries and even nations who should not be underestimated in their attempt to keep abreast of our perspectives and employ certain strategies from a vast amount of information forthcoming at all time from such Democracy, folks who are so committed to our demise
potraying such narrow perspective. To them, I (we) say, “We may be a young, charitable and decisive nation with intent to encourage women’s Rights and the Rights of individuals, yet we are not as transparent as you might believe….and we, too should not be underestimated!”

While we all concur that William Cumming is truly an enlightened 21st century gentleman, articulate and well versed and all should read him closely, my ongoing question is –

“Where are others from within and even citizens as this blog is public and demands attention and sharing of invaluable input as well as shared perspective?” There are many reading this essential blog and it would be nice to hear from more readers –

To Phil and Chris – thank you in your willingness to share such informative topics to keep us so well informed and open to any comment. Other than my Economist Magazine, Homeland Security Watch is a must read for even you Mr. President!

I was present at a Somerville High School gathering of over 2,000 locals featuring the illustrious John Kerry and from observations, you, Mr. President surely have your hands full with this healthcare issue.

While holding my sign in protest over MA State Legislature statute and a local MA/DOR issue stripping folks over their Right(s) to mode of transportation over state income tax Appeals and non-payments, is was truky a wake up call to see so many angry and disheartened citizens pointing fingers at one another as well as the Hitler like Obama sign which visiting French and European journalists found rather frightening bringing back unwanted memories….

While so many dedicated Americans stand tall in vigilance pertaining to Homeland Security, let’s hope we can get a consensus for we need on this Healthcare issue as we are very much a nation in debt and we need no more division among us –

Also, placing Kennedy’s name on any healthcare bill may not be such a terrific idea for outside New England, many have considered Kennedy nothing more than another Senator on equal footing as other distinguished Senate members and while his soul rests in peace – the Kennedy name associated with the bill may send it to the shredder at a time when there is a necessity to gather a comprehensive and bi-partisan consensus on this issue.

To our Senators and to you Mr. President, reform whatever is necessary and only what is necessary as 91% of Americans are said to be happy with the plan though do acknowledge the importance of scrutinizing associated costs which are threatening healthcare for the babyboomers who have begin to retire or at least attempt to retire given taxes and fees and the econmich challenges that are impoverishing us –

Like so many dedicated to Homeland Security, as a citizen who is concerned for seemingly failed policy in Af/Pak as well as Egypt apparently soon to be besieged by fundamentalists and more slant to Islamic fundamentalism upsetting the Middle East region and a very aggressive EU/Vatican agenda which will inevitably contribute much unrest, we all have much to do to challenge all those who seek our degradation dfrom outside to within – God Bless the Constitution and our forefathers’ insightfulness –

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah Drive
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

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