Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 3, 2009

From the HLSWatch Archives: Homeland Security as the new Maginot Line

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 3, 2009

Occasionally we will look back at some of the previous posts on this blog.

Four years ago, HLSWatch’s Beckner presented what he called a “rather dour opinion piece … on homeland security”  from the Wall Street Journal. The Journal piece is republished below. I have highlighted in the article some of the questions and ideas that continue to have relevance:

  • Are we more secure now than we were before DHS started?  Was massively restructuring government an over-reaction to a threat few people understood? How would we know?
  • When did collective bargaining become a threat to national security?
  • Will Congress ever streamline its oversight of DHS?  Why aren’t the number of committees DHS has to report to a national security threat?
  • Does the FBI have an effective enterprise-wide computer system?
  • Is our adversary “nimble?”  Is our anti-terror strategy more than an expensive Maginot Line? How would we know?
  • Do we have the institutional and organizational arrangements we need to “effectively prevent domestic terrorist” attacks?
  • Is it time to start doubting “the seriousness with which the American people take the terrorist threat?”
  • Why do we still use the metaphor of “a game” when talking about seemingly endless wars that have killed more than 8,000 and injured more that 30,000 Americans?  Let alone the dead and injured in other nations.


The Maginot Department: Homeland security is about more than playing defense.

Saturday, December 31, 2005 12:01 A.M. EST

Wall Street Journal

When the Department of Homeland Security was created in November 2002, largely at the instigation of Congressional Democrats, it was touted as the biggest restructuring of the federal government in more than 50 years. The new department’s “overriding and urgent mission,” said President Bush, was “securing the American homeland and protecting the American people.” Three years later, the bureaucratic deck chairs have been moved. But are we more secure as a result of it?

One way to answer the question is to think about “homeland security” as something more than a government agency. Creating the 184,000-man, $40 billion DHS was supposed to be a way of integrating 22 semi-autonomous agencies, dealing with everything from border security to emergency management, into a single unit in which redundancies would be eliminated, gaps filled and synergies achieved. But DHS was also intended to serve as an emblem of American resolve; to demonstrate, both to our enemies and ourselves, that we are serious about defending ourselves. Here, then, is some evidence of our collective seriousness.

• In August, federal Judge Rosemary Collyer blocked an Administration effort to create more flexible pay and personnel rules for DHS, on ground that it violated the collective-bargaining rights of government employees. So much for synergies.

DHS remains subject to the oversight of too many Congressional committees, despite some recent consolidation. The Coast Guard, for example, which operates under the DHS umbrella, remains subject to the House and Senate Transportation committees, while the Transportation Security Administration, which comes under the Homeland Security Committee in the House, is overseen by the Transportation Committee in the Senate.

• The FBI (which is a part of the Justice Department) remains unable to upgrade its computer systems after having burned through four chief information officers and $170 million in four years. As a result, the agency continues to rely on legacy computer systems and hundreds of different kinds of paper forms. The Bureau is now at work on another system, which may or may not be ready by 2009.

Instead, what we have is a kind of antiterror version of France’s pre-World War II Maginot Line; an expensive, highly visible static defense against a nimble adversary. Congress loves it because it offers the chance to throw money at domestic constituencies, and liberals love it because it allows them to sound hawkish on terror without having to fire a shot. The rest of us, however, need to be realistic about its abilities.

Such examples, of course, are merely anecdotal, and it would be unfair to tar the work of the DHS or FBI based on these shortcomings. Nor is it right to suggest that things aren’t capable of improvement; DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff may well prove the man for the job. But the points aptly illustrate the underlying problem with our collective homeland security apparatus, which is that no government bureaucracy is ever going to be the kind of well-oiled machine that can reliably and effectively prevent domestic terrorist threats. And this is to say nothing of natural disasters. This is especially the case as Congress becomes increasingly unserious about the domestic threat. It says something about the current state of play that Mr. Bush must now profess gratitude to Congress for graciously agreeing to a one-month extension of the USA Patriot Act, which in 2001 passed the Senate 98-1. Even more unserious has been the political posturing and mock horror that followed this month’s revelations of the National Security Agency’s warrantless phone intercepts. It’s refreshing to know that 64% of Americans, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, approve of the eavesdropping, not that we ever had doubts about the seriousness with which the American people take the terrorist threat. It’s the seriousness of American elites that concerns us.

Not the least of the ironies in the current debate on homeland security is that many of the same people who oppose the war in Iraq also oppose renewal of the Patriot Act and other domestic counterterrorist tools. That is, they are as opposed to going on offense in the war on terror as they are against playing defense. But the war on terror is not a game the U.S. can opt out of. There is a great deal that can be done to improve homeland security–and to improve the department that bears that name. But it won’t count for much if we aren’t clear about the choices we face.

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


Comment by William R. Cumming

December 3, 2009 @ 3:19 am

Truly exquisite timing for this piece of remembrance. Like the Maginot line, which some argue worked and others argue was simply bypassed by the NAZIs, the same flip side of the coin can be argued about DHS. Still no documented terrorist attacks by foreign nationals on domestic territory. So like the Maginot Line it may have well worked, or it may be revealed in the future as a defective organization.
Now, almost 4 years later the WSJ article does it in fact reveal again serious problems not faced by the Executive Branch or Congress. So here is Bill’s take on what has happened, mostly under the horizon.
First, the FBI! The total reorganization of the FBI announced by Robert Mueller in May 2002 has totally failed. Few Gold Badge Agents steeped in the foreign cultures and languages necessary to prevent terrorist attacts or conduct INTEL ops that mesh with law enforcement. Why? Essentially cultural barriers to accomplishing what needed to be done were just too strong and deep within the Bureau to succeed. It is always of interest to me that so many former FBI Gold Badge Agents go into the “Security” business when in fact that discipline has never been a comfortable arrangement for the Bureau’s Gold Badge Agents or accomodated by their training. Confirmation, just ask the Secret Service who is most helpful from DOJ on Security Issues. Perhaps DEA but not sure. The imbedded culture from the Hoover days of fear of helping in the drug wars because it might end up corrupting the Bureau, a worthy concern by the way. still lingers. We do know that the failure to transfer DEA to DHS was a major failure since drugs and terrorism are closely linked and more than enough evidence exists on that score. Okay decided to break up this comment so see next comment.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 3, 2009 @ 3:24 am

Continuing—Well the resort to legacy computer systems and failure to develop effective new one is systemic and government wide and shows how skillful in the IT world has been in scamming the Executive Branch. Examples, the FAA flight control system–at least $10 Billion invested with a still crippled system. DHS investing over $40 Billion in the destruction of legacy system and the failure of new systems since its creation. There really is no computer security in the Executive Branch. And computer security totally separate from Critical Infrastructure Protection, one of two prime rationales for creation of DHS, the other being INTEL, and DHS computer security is a joke. Cyber world and its security documented in fall 1997 by an independent Commission as being more important with each passing year and much more important than even physical security.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 3, 2009 @ 3:34 am

Continuing— Should have mentioned in previous comment that guess who or is it whom has overall computer security lead in Executive Branch–that is right–OMB not DHS–just look at OMB Circular A-130. DHS is trying to have overall lead on cyber security but Administration misteps have continued to undercut it and the promised Cyber Security Czar recommended in the Hathaway Report continues to be AWOL because those who might fit that role realize the portfolio is doomed to become one for failure. Hey another Administration failure and I voted for these guys and gals. And guess where Cyber Security is buried in DHS–National Protection & Programs Directorate which just lost its Intergovernmental Affairs role to the Secretary DHS and gained in turn the Federal Protective Service which Jessica has so correctly analyzed as fitting together nicely with the Secret Service Uniformed Division. I mention these changes only because the WSJ article appeared the first DECEMBER following the August events of Hurricane Katrina. Secretary Chertoff was the key failure in that event and his OPS CENTER but hey FEMA was a better political target and hated (too strong a word) by those running DHS. Why, perhaps because the President’s program not DHS’s program. Proof-read the STafford Act!
I do compliment Secretary Chertoff on his attempts to get immigration reform. Killed by Senate Republicans that still festers and in fact no progress since creation of DHS. But hey making up for 40 years of DOJ adminsitrative and management incompetence in the form of the former INS does NOT happen overnight. Question? Is immigration policy a foreign or domestic policy issue or both? Congressional oversight very screwy in this arena.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 3, 2009 @ 3:53 am

Continuing—Collective bargaining changes that appeared in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (November 2002) appear to have had a stake driven through their elimination by the statute by the Judiciary. End of story not quite. It is interesting that in fact 22 different personnel systems were gained by DHS in its establishment. So much for the coherence of a civil service system largely destroyed by President James Earl Carter who thought his Navy career and personnel experience would be a better focus for civilians. Establishing a Merit System Protection Board and Office of Special Counsel largely staffed by non-careery lawyers exempted from the civil service since the mini-HOOVER Commission decison in early 40’s that all government lawyers occupied essentially policy making positons.
Any how back to DHS. With almost 100,000 of its vaunted ranks carrying guns, badges and being able to retire after 20 years (because of danger?) that culture is very different than any administrative or regulatory culture normally found in civilian agencies. And of course many in DHS actually wear uniforms. Ever sat in a meeting where all others but you were carrying a GLOCK? Interesting experience.
Then there are those in DHS that have an obligation and culture to deal with our federal system as mandated by the Constitution. Do you really think all those former DOD types and military types really understand STATE and LOCAL issues? Hey the cultural divides in DHS make the width and depth of the Grand Canyon look leapable compared to DHS and its many cultures. And why have only former lawyers been put in charge of DHS. Disclosure once was but long retired. Lawyers are trained analysts but not ususally great a synthesis, management, policy, or seeing the big picture (forest versus trees) and in many cases the DHS Secretaries have been lost in the Bushes. Pun intended. The 2SR changes mandated by Chertoff, approved without thinking by Congress, then reversed by Congress, were the final blow to a FEMA that was not a FEMA as that lady named Katrina arrived. Former FEMA (actually Deputy Under Secretary Harvey Johnson) testified under oath that on the day Katrina arrived it had 1500 FTE on boards and the day Director James Lee Witt departed had over 3500. Hey sometimes a little back up is good. Well I have explained elsewhere in comments on how the animosity of the Gang of Six that drafted the Adminstration version of the Homeland Security Act released to Congress in June 2002 wanted so badly to do in little FEMA, I guess partly as a Clintonian success. But hey remember how Obama did not even publically state a rationale for keeping FEMA in DHS when that announcement made. Well of course one of the things the Administration and Congress still do not get is that militarism is ascendant in the US and early reliance on the military which is not trained or equipped to do is run domestic civil crisis management response and even be in the direct chain of command. When (meaning what event will it take to figure out) will those in the political leadership learn you don’t wan’t the military or hardened veterans policing civil communities post-disaster or even in riots and civil disorders if not properly trained and led. KENT STATE? LA RIOTS? The use of the military in domestic crisis management in 90% of the world is to suppress regime opposition and make sure that the powers that be stay the powers that be and get most of the gravy. Hey isn’t that part of the President’s plan for AF-PAK? Whatever.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 3, 2009 @ 4:19 am

Continuing–Screwed up Congressional oversight! Well perhaps like the Gordion Knot reform will occur if both HOUSES are led by the Republicans after November 2010-12. There is not a chance in the world that reform of oversight will occur before that change. Why? First the knowledge base is not there to create understanding either in Congress or the Executive Branch why that oversigh system needs change. I argue de facto and de jure corruption of our (US) political system led by SCOTUS treatment of corporations as having full rights of an individual. Others might argue different reasons. But like Brer Rabbit who complained and complained of being thrown into that only “Briar Patch” DHS complaints about too much oversigh really reflects its internal glee that no one giving adequate oversight and huge gaps in oversight by GAO and understaffed DHS/OIG continue. Did you know that almost 60% of OIG/DHS staffing originated in little old FEMA? Why? Because none of the other components joining DHS had their own OIG operations. And of course Secretary Ridge and his travels and office ops were not funded properly when DHS created so again little old FEMA helped out, screaming and kicking while almost $200 million went from FEMA to help run a department that if it has a crucial failure of staffing is contract oversight and budgeting. Did Congress notice while FEMA was being gutted? Did Congress notice while no domestic civil crisis management and response and recovey sysem or chain of command existed. Of course not. Former Senator Proximire worried that in creating FEMA President Carter had fully enabled a federal ATM machine for state and locals and of course that is exactly FEMA’s strength and weakness. But FEMA is not and cannot be the key domestic civil crisis management and response system player when it was designed before and even now as a funding source, and hopefully accurate information source, but not a technical analyst or provider in what could be essential activity like an actual WMD incident/event. Hey Mr. President and hey Congress, perhaps time to fish or cut bait. The absoluted dreadful performance of the Obama Administration on SWINE FLU/H1N1 has finally resulted in Secretary Sebelius of HHS to announce publically a study of what lessons have been learned or not learned and what changes are needed. The fact that years and years of study by the Academic and Medical community of pandemic issues and vaccine production and distribution was ignored seems to have caused ignorance and hubris to again lead the charge in what hopefully will not be a large-scale domestic civil crisis situation. Hey leadership on vaccinations? Did members of Congress get vaccineated for either seasonal or swine flu? The key members of the Administration including the President and White House staff? And Congress let’s get OTA re-established in a hurry because you cannot rely soley on the Executive Branch for you technical/scientif information. And Obama Adminstration let’s get mitigation going again in FEMA! Re-establish the FEDERAL WATER RESOURCES COUNCIl and review closely the outstanding report prepared by the U.WASHINGTON on the water resource guidelines adopted by the Reagan Adminsitration in 1983. These principles by the way DON’T really have many believers in the structural protection agencies like those who helped NOLA so much before Katrina arrived. Time to get going?
Oh and can you make the flu CZAR someone other than the nice, friendly, competent on INTEL Mr. Brennan and give HHS and CDC the lead. If you had not been so tardy in getting an HHS Secretary perhaps DHS would not have given out all that bad technical advice at the beginning of the onset of the WHO declared Pandemic. Enough for now. And by the way having been retired ten years and counting from FEMA sounds like the same issues that plagued the Executive Branch in 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 will still be around for 2010. Can’t Washington improve anything? Please up-grade Clinger-Cohen and merge Cyber and Computer Security and have an outstanding official running both in all federal agencies and departments and federally created or charted agencies. Stop wasting all that money reinventing the wheel each time Microsoft changes its formats. It should be back to basics. And hoping the instant training of 30,000 troops in COIN by the Pentagon goes well. My guess is five to ten years to train up that kind of force with the skills needed. The rotational assignments of the Officer cadre in the US military is ridiculous. Eliminate 20 and out except for those wounded or particpants in combat. Desk riders don’t need to all retire at 20 years nor do all Law Enforcement personnel.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 3, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

Post script! In December 2005 focus on FEMA! Now December 3, 2009 FEMA Administrator Fugate has ordered a new reorganization effective immediately and only impacting Headquarters. It is primarily designed to improve operational capability although not ICS compliant as you might expect for the organization that mandates it for others (STATE and LOCAL)! Still perhaps progress as FEMA crosses the 50 mark for reorganizations and realignments since April 1, 1979 when it opened its doors. The proof of course is in the pudding. Next catastrophic event.

The reorg also had the purpose of reducing direct reports to the Administrator but the org chart still shows over 20 if my count is accurate. Hoping for the best as always.

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>