Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 2, 2009

The Long Blog: Practical policy continued

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

Editorial Note:  This is the seventh in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy.  This strategizing is organized around the approach taken by George Kennan in a seminal 1946 document.  Links to prior posts are provided below.


A bit more than a year after sending the Long Telegram, George Kennan reworked his analysis of Soviet neuroses and published “Sources of Soviet Conduct as an unsigned piece in Foreign Affairs magazine.  This revised and expanded text included a top contender for the most important single sentence of any strategy document of the Cold War.

In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.

I have been trying to argue that in our current circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the risks we face must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant extension of the boundaries within which we can achieve equilibrium.  If this sounds odd, listen again to Brian Walker’s 7 minute explanation of resilience.  

This strategy is fully cognizant of our limitations, which I have suggested can best be approached by embracing the tragic.  This is also a strategy that recognizes the potential of complex adaptive systems to preserve core identity in the midst of profound flux.

While depending on your mastery of last week’s literary analysis and the insights drawn from the study of the commons and complexity, I will take the risk of translating these arcane analogies into a direct — if very wonkish — statement of homeland security strategy. You should hear echoes  from the last six posts.


(With an Operational Example)

The United States faces a range of natural, accidental, and intentional threats that cannot always be accurately predicted, as a result these threats cannot always be prevented.

Accordingly, the homeland security strategy of the United States seeks to maximize individual, local, regional, and national capacity to:

1. Absorb or buffer disaster while preserving and, if possible, advancing physical, psychological, social, economic, and constitutional integrity.

2. Effectively observe and adapt to change while preserving or advancing physical, psychological, social, economic and constitutional integrity.

3. Learn and increase capacity to adapt to changes experienced at the local, regional, and national level and across social and economic sectors.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, in cooperation with the President and other departments and agencies, shall undertake to:

Support and facilitate community-based Risk and Resilience Assessments. These Risk and Resilience Assessments shall be undertaken on a voluntary basis.  The Department of Homeland Security shall provide conferences, training, and expert facilitators to assist in completion of the Risk and Resilience Assessments.  Completed Risk and Resilience Assessments shall qualify to compete for up to $1 billion in federal grants.

Every level of government, major agencies of government,  private sector organizations, and neighborhoods shall be encouraged to undertake Risk and Resilience Assessments .  The Department of Homeland Security shall contract with well-established voluntary, not-for-profit organizations to serve as legal liaison and grant administrators for informal organizations or other parties (e.g. a neighborhood) wishing to participate in the Risk and Resilience Assessment process but not having status to receive federal funding.

The Risk and Resilience Assessment process shall include local, regional, statewide, multi-state, and national workshops, conferences, and related digital resources to encourage participation, collaboration, deliberation, and interaction among those undertaking Risk and Resilience Assessments.

The Citizen Corps program of the Department of Homeland Security shall be funded and organized to provide facilitation and expertise in the Risk and Resilience Assessment process.

The Risk and Resilience Assessment process, as outlined above, shall be monitored by a team of expert observers/evaluators who will rapidly share lessons-learned.  A web-based, peer-to-peer network will also serve as a dynamic and growing knowledge base for the Risk and Resilience Assessment Process.

The Department of Homeland Security, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School, and the National Academy of Sciences  shall cooperate in establishing the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for Risk and Resilience to develop, conduct and encourage others to develop and conduct professional development, educational, and other learning programs related to Risk and Resilience.

All parties completing Risk and Resilience Assessments shall be eligible to compete for a total pool of $1 billion per year in federal grants to address the findings of the Risk and Resilience Assessments.  Every three months $250 million shall be awarded in the following tranches:

  • Up to five grants of $5 million each,
  • Up to 25 grants of  $1 million each,
  • Up to 50 grants of $500,000 each,
  • Up to 100 grants of $250,000 each,
  • Up to 200 grants of $125,000 each,
  • Up to 1000 grants of $40,000 each,
  • Up to 2000 grants of $20,000 each, and
  • Up to 4500 grants of $10,000 each.

Recipients shall be chosen by majority vote of 500 electors drawn from nominations submitted by the Governors of the States and territories of the United States and apportioned by population.  After one year of service, 125 electors shall retire every three months and be replaced by a new class.  (So that, of the inaugural class, 125 shall serve one year and nine months.)  In this manner, beginning in the second year of operations, the electoral body will receive new members each quarter.


I never voted for Ted Kennedy.  For most of my youth he represented the ultimate personification of the “other side.”  But I cannot think of anyone who better personifies resilience.

The foregoing program is mostly offered to demonstrate how the strategic principles drawn out in prior posts might be reasonably implemented.  There are practical ways to encourage broadbased participation, collaboration and deliberation. It is possible, even for a large bureaucracy, to offer facilitative leadership and eschew authoritarian tendencies.  It is possible to encourage local creativity and accountability.  It might even be possible to encourage  communities and the system to embrace tragic potential. 

I hope you can see how these common attributes of  resilient systems can be applied to a wide range of programming across the Department of Homeland Security’s mission beyond this example.

I don’t expect the Department of Homeland Security, much less the entire homeland security establishment, to suddenly adopt a strategy of resilience.  But the foregoing strikes me as a doable, potentially powerful means of seeding resilience thinking and behavior.  It would probably cost $1.3 billion per year.  But please give more attention to how the attributes of resilience are being seeded.

The seeds of the first season should multiply in subsequent seasons. With care — and some fortuitous emergence — we might even be creating a new commons, a widely shared resource for enhanced understanding of risk and resilience.


Previous posts in this series:

The Long Blog:  A strategy of resilience (October 19)

The Long Blog: “Basic features” of US risk and resilience (October 21)

The Long Blog: Four preliminary deductions from seven premises (October 23)

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, the role of neurosis (October 26)

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, embracing the tragic to avoid the ironic (October 28)

The Long Blog: Its (our risk analysis) projection in practical policy on official level (October 30)

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 2, 2009 @ 5:19 am


There are sooo many. But in this case, I perceive that several of the principal weaknesses in the argument and the example could contribute to making my next argument in this series, so I don’t want to skew the results and will wait to see your critiques, questions, and more.

FYI… depending on your challenges, critiques, and such, I think we might finish this serialized strategizing ahead of schedule, even by this Friday.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

November 2, 2009 @ 7:15 am

The objectives are admirable, but your plan for implementation needs work in my view. I do not agree with your choices for lead organizations for the implementation.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 2, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

Phil! Absolutely correct that the key sentence ever written by Kennan is as stated below:
“In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”

Kennan was perceptive enough to know that long-term thinking, patience and firmness and vigilance was almost the last thing that governmental policy process and apparatus was designed to do. First, changes in Commander-In-Chief and Chief Executive. This is a fundamental strength but because so little official business is conducted transparently or openly little is known of the real policy process of government. I found my strength as a bureacrat, but also a weakness in the sense that gave others a basis for character, policy and other attacks on me or my positions, was that I was always ready to discuss, record, recommend openly, on the record no matter what. There is a tendency for bureacracy and the ever present appointees to be innately conservative about stating a position because the WASHINGTON scene for years has been about taking sides on issues and no longer seeking correct policies. Opponents can wait for someone to adopt a position and then their path is clear–oppose that policy no matter what its merits. Perhaps it has been always so and of course history records those who ended up on top or with staying power as to choices. There was a joke when I was on active duty–It follows: Those who made flag rank knew which orders to obey and which to disobey! Those who did not make flag rank but might have usually did not correctly surmise which orders to disobey! It made me realize how even in the military accountability, much less use of authority could be ducked.
Why this discussion of Kennan is so important is because I personally believe he hit the nail on the head. What now occurs is that few, like the President obviously is trying to do in AF-PAK, is take the time to decide the policy before discussion of issues. This long blog seems to me an excellent choice to looking at long term policy and the choice of resilience I think is the key to domestic Homeland Security and like your first draft (knowing you there were more) of a formal statement of policy. Speaking of that the HSPDs are remarkable for how they confuse policy, issues, mandates, delegations and certainly lack a clarity that time might have revealed even more. Hoping they are systematically review and perhaps reissued or revoked. Most don’t want to make the huge intellectual effort to properly decide policy and the flow therefrom. The problem of course is that often policy is decided at a very low level and then rather than categorized and systematically review, just allowed to let stand or reversed with no rationale. Example, leaving FEMA in DHS and failing to identify clearly a domestic crisis management system and chain of command. Revelation–It does look like the STAFFORD ACT may be looked at early next spring for a variety of reasons–but it is clearly obvious now that it is NOT the domestic crisis management or chain of command statutory framework and the incapacity of the public works committees that have principal oversight will never see it but as a form of justified long-term pork witness billions going into NOLA that will not be resilient in the next CAT 3 storm much less a CAT 5. Perhaps more later.
P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 2, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

I have no particular brief for the specific organizations, just trying to exemplify how a particular approach to implementing the strategy might be organized.

How would you — or with which organizations — move to implementation?

There is, I perceive, a DC tendency — even a very American tendency — to engage in ready, fire, aim. I think Bill Cumming and I are both encouraging a bit more ready, aim, fire.

In the private sector the tendency to experiment before setting explicit objectives can encourage creativity. It also explains the significant failure rate.

In the public sector the lack of clear policy/strategy aims can result in an “activity trap” that can too often and for too long be justified despite questionable outcomes.

So… yes, I am trying to suggest the why and what of a long-term policy and strategy. If we can agree on the whats and whys, I expect there are many different hows and ways to achieve it.

Comment by Mark Chubb

November 2, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

Phil, it’s taken me a little while to figure out why I am not fully on board with the risk and resilience assessments as a way forward. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, risk presents certain obstacles when trying to engage the public, and is not much more successful as a way of engaging public officials.

At a recent conference, Patricia Levy, a colleague from Fort Hays State University in Kansas, gave a fascinating presentation on critical incident analysis from the perspective of the social work discipline. She grounded her approach in the strengths-based clinical practices promoted by Dennis Saleebey and work on coherence by Aaron Antonovsky.

This work comports well with many of my previous comments on the importance of moral coherence to the success of resilience as a strategic approach (much less an improvement upon our current approach) to homeland security.

In short, the strengths-based approach aligns with the appreciative inquiry model of organizational development (see Cooperrider and colleagues). As such, it asks not “what’s wrong with the status quo,” but rather, “how can we use our resources better to achieve what we want.” (Of course, it also requires us to consider what we want, and, perhaps more importantly, why.)

Successfully engaging a strength-based approach requires people to accept their deficits, tragic or otherwise, and work with what they have to get what they want. In doing so, it requires them to take stock of what they’ve learned from past experiences both good and bad.

Organizing this stuff into something that makes sense of the world in which we live requires us to develop a coherent view of the world in which we live and our place in it. (I hope, as noted in previous comments, that this view accepts culpability for our past mistakes, embraces humility, and seeks to reduce our vulnerabilities by building upon our diversity.)

We should be careful in taking such an approach to avoid focusing on the deficits of our adversaries (their neuroses) anymore than we would focus on our own. (A preoccupation with either assumes we are victims of circumstance with little or no control over our situation.) We cannot and should not assume that our adversaries will continue to act in ways that are grounded in grievance and pathology.

While I suggest that we should not assume we lack control over our environment, I accept your premise that we cannot afford to assume either that the future is ours to mold as we will it. A middle ground exists in which we manage our expectations of ourselves and those of others of who look to us for leadership.

I would like to explore this further, but need to chew on some of these ideas a bit more. In the meantime, thanks for producing such a thought-provoking series. Here’s hoping it stimulates some critical reflection in the corridors of power and policy-making.

Comment by Mark Chubb

November 2, 2009 @ 11:27 pm

My efforts to edit my comment online failed me once again.

The sixth paragraph of my previous reads a little more tautologically than I had intended: “Organizing this stuff into something that makes sense of the world in which we live requires us to develop a coherent view of the world in which we live and our place in it.”

Let’s try it again: Organizing this stuff into something that makes sense of the world in which we live, our place in it, and the way we should respond to it calls for moral coherence.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 3, 2009 @ 4:14 am

There has been an interesting off-line exchange on my prior prescription for embracing the tragic. (October 28 post) Mark Chubb’s comment here might bring that discussion into the open.

Mark has not been part of the off-line exchange and he was the one commentator who seemed most open to my embrace of the tragic.

But above Mark expresses a realistic concern as my focus on tragic potential is operationalized through the Risk and Resilience Assessments. (This is a benefit of any effort to operationalize the purely strategic, it begins to make more concrete what the strategy means.)

I am sympathetic to the strength-based approach that Mark outlines. This would certainly make the whole effort more readily acceptable. I, too, was raised to accentuate the positive.

But when and where I was raised, the positive was perceived as a point of light in a tragic landscape. A farmer knows there is much he can do — must do — to plow, plant, cultivate, and harvest. But there is nothing much he can do to control drought, wind, hail and more.

The coal-miner knows there is much he can do to enhance his safety. But sometimes the mountain collapses.

Unlike the farmers, coal-miners, and other neighbors of my youth, there is much about our modern context that obscures the persistence of tragic potential. In dozens — even hundreds — of ways we are much more in control of our lives today than we were a half-century ago, not to speak of three centuries ago.

Yet in many essential ways we have no more control than a 17th Century farmer.

Modernity chaffs at this lack of control. We have spent three very productive centuries seeking to transfer Newtonian insights from our physics to our politics and economics. We are comforted by action-with-predictable-reaction.

But it can be a false, delusional comfort. Newton has not been succeeded, but he has been complemented by Heinsenberg, Schrodinger, Einstein, et al.

I worry that leading with only a strength-based approach reinforces our delusion and will undermine our outcomes. Sometimes there is no avoiding the hard way.


“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

From the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 3, 2009 @ 5:10 am

WOW! The Velveteen Rabbit! It has always interested me how some parents breed and raise children that are resilient and how many continue to encourage dependency. Perhaps an analytical framework could be be shorthanded to distinguishing policies that promote resilience as opposed to those that promote dependence? Maybe Phil is right in that both resilience of America and Americans is at stake in the arena of resiliency? And was “Peter Rabbit” really risk analysis in disguise? From another Peter Pan who really did NOT want to grow up!

Comment by christopher tingus

November 3, 2009 @ 7:55 am

Terrific post and such thoughtful views –

Wow! The Velveteen Rabbit – I bet there are few insightful blogs like this the White House is reading as it makes attempt to impose itself in every domestic and AfPak nook and cranny without the necessary perception of the respective participants in play and how their steadfast policymaking and employed strategies affect the global landscape which we have less and less credibility to offer….

Unfortunately it is the present beltway beaucracy and its inability to be resilient in the apparent partisanship we watch on C-span and – Fox News – and CNN as well which has resulted in rigor mortis with no breath of creativity. It is this present void in leadership which assures us of a continued course of impoverishment and third world status as the top tier continue to play basketball and polo, take scenic flights over NYC watching droves of people running for their lives and keeping tabs on a President on a date, a couple who agreed to spend four years to help the country as well as a first lady helping obese kids become healthy!

We, our beloved Republic are at peril and as a – bankrupt nation – an unfathomable growing deficit induced by corrupted self-agenda and the ongoing greed of corporations and their industry lobbyists, your discussions and good intentions herein are at times inspring, but too few with such resilience as well as prerequisite attentive listening skills, with so many depicting the contrary –

The numerous substantive issues affecting us require strict discipline and willingness to clasp hands and lead this nation from the velcro decision making along party lines – from what most of us on Main Stret USA see, hear and feel in our empty wallets – conclusion – we’ ve lost!

It has been so written for we have become a nation unwilling to repent, unwilling to be respective of our forefather’s insightful Constitution or the Judeo-Christian values which created this great nation pervaded with entrepreneurial and resilience which
thwarted foe from afar, but now it is those within that we truly mistrust, obviously with little acumen at the helm or ability to alter the compass needle presently pointing to the smug smile of Pelosi which depicts it all!

God Bless us all!

It is not the children and Grandchildren we worry about now, it is the near term, it is you that have bailed out Paulson et al and print “fiat” dollars at your whim placing the value of the dollar at risk and our livlihood, while enslaving our families to an ever growing government presence seeking to impose its agenda as a “know it all” – Barney Frank – mentality affording us little recognition for it our resilience, our creativity, our daily toil and certainly those before us who have created the American dream and poised America as the beacon of hope to so, so many….for generations!

We encourage views to be shared and such interesting discussion as herein, however the clock is ticking and unless Congress and the John Kerry types can get past their arrogant ways, the ongoing power shift to the European continent so well orchestrated by the Germans leading the EU creating an organization of states beholden and the Vatican supporting every concurrence in strategy will once again bring much disharmony and war, a great suffering to millions, millions of souls….

We “entrusted” you as public servants.

Whether at the local level, from the elected school committee person to the executive branch, no matter your party, no matter your personal preference, you have been negligent in your pledge in oath and commitment to the principles of this great nation and its most charitable people, a compassionate people willing to reach to the shores and lands far yonder and reluctantly, yet willingly sacrifice its most precious, its very own youth to thwart the evil doers who seek to undermine the goodness of mankind.

You are such a disappointment – though is it, fot is is written that very manmade government no matter form, has failed from Babylon to present and you have only once again substantiated the reasons for man’s lack of ability, no matter the scholarly attempts, in creating an environment which our Creator wished for individual and all humanity and today must weep at the disregard for another’s dignity, Rights and Responsibilities within the community….

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by Mark Chubb

November 3, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

I’m not sure taking stock of strengths necessarily means accentuating the positive. It sounds like I was raised not too far geographically or culturally from where you were, Phil.

My hometown was a crossroads, where farming, industry, the military, and suburbia intersected. As a child of the Cold War who lived on the doorstep of one of the chief strategic targets of the Soviet Union, I was not raised with a particularly positive view of the future. Apprehension and anxiety were more the norm.

That said, like most of us I did not know any better, so I can’t really call my childhood unhappy anymore than I would consider it unproductive. It has made me who I am though, and that has a lot to do with my predisposition toward taking stock of what we have and where we are today.

For me, the strengths-based perspective to which I referred in my earlier comment is not so much about trying to put a happy face on adversity as it is an effort to understand what we can make of what we have left ourselves with. This can be a very sobering experience for some if not most of us.

By casting the quest for meaning in qualitative (vulnerability and capital) as opposed to quantitative (risk and consequence) terms, it seeks to ask and answer very subjective questions in more or less objective ways. This means taking an approach that involves both epistemic and ontological streams.

Flora and Flora have taken such an approach to rural development by organizing their examination of what makes rural communities work (what makes them resilient) according to various forms of capital: material and social. Social capital involves more than networks, and asks how culture, politics, and individual human capabilities and potential combine to make a community successful (or not). Material capital includes a community’s economic and natural endowments. One of the insights gained from this approach is the importance of cultural values to resilience and community success.

I remain convinced (largely as the result of direct personal experience) that embracing the tragic is a key element of a resilience strategy. The little town I grew up in was devastated by a massive tornado when I was a youngster. FEMA did not yet exist. The state mobilized National Guard troops and imposed a curfew and martial law. Our neighbors offered what help they could despite having suffered many of the same effects from the storm system themselves. When the dead were buried and the debris cleared, we were left to figure out for ourselves most of the tough parts associated with response and recovery.

We clearly made mistakes in the rebuilding process. Another smaller tornado a few years later followed much the same path and caused a bit less damage and fewer deaths. It proved we still had a lot to learn.

About that time, someone noted that the Shawnee people who had settled in the area before Europeans arrived had referred to it as the “place of the devil winds,” and, as such, had decided to build their permanent settlement a bit farther up river. Had we noted and respected the cultural knowledge of those who came before us, we might have avoided some of our mistakes.

Learning from the past, indeed resilience as a whole, is not about avoiding losses or minimizing consequences though. (And it is certainly not about asking what could have been or why things didn’t turn out differently.) It is about how we appreciate the often tragic circumstances we encounter and what determining how that experience informs both our response and the path we take toward recovery.

We can (and often do) choose to repeat some if not all of our past mistakes. But when we do, we should be prepared to accept the consequences of our actions. This does not require fatalistic acceptance of fate anymore than it would preclude action to remedy or avoid similar fates in the future.

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