Yesterday was a fine day for watching national homeland security leaders.
The day started (for me) watching the House Committee on Homeland Security hearings: “Flight 253: Learning Lessons from an Averted Tragedy.”
It ended with President Obama’s State of the Union talk.
The hearings were nominally about “what happened on December 25th on Northwest Flight 253, how it happened, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
But it was also a display of the multiple varieties of leadership that fills some of the homeland security ecosystem.
Democrats and Republicans complained about Secretary Napolitano’s absence from the hearings.
Her representative, Jane Holl Lute, Deputy Secretary of DHS, stayed forcefully and persistently on the “layers of security” message.
Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management at the Department of State, leaned into the microphone smoothly, but a tad unctuously, assuring everyone that improvements had been made since Christmas.
Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), seemed impatient to get back to work, instead of spending three hours in a meeting that could have been finished in maybe 30 minutes .
Chairman Bennie G. Thompson and ranking member Peter T. King showed different ways to lead — one conducted like he was directing an orchestra; the other barked.
Peter DeFazio, a democrat, praised the former leader of TSA, Kip Hawley, and complained about a “wacko republican” who believes unionizing TSA employees will threaten national security.
Paul Broun, a republican, said Napolitano should resign and be replaced by “someone who’s not in LaLa land.”
Candice Miller reminded people that Attorney General Eric Holder helped defend Guantanomo terrorists, and for free.
Bill Pascrell pointed out this was the 4th congressional hearing held on essentially the same topic. He claimed the bureaucracy — especially in the intelligence community — is as great a threat to national security as anyone else. Intelligence is a bureaucratic nightmare, he said, no one’s accountable. “That’s why we create bureaucracies.”
Sheila Jackson-Lee, Daniel Lungren, Al Green, Pete Olson, Yvette Clarke, Dina Titus, Mary Jo Kilroy, Charles Dent, Christopher Carney, Michael McCaul, Emanuel Cleaver, Mark Souder, Mike Rogers, and Jane Harman all took a brief turn channeling the voice of the American people, or at least the voices they hear.
They spoke about controlling and sharing intelligence, whether anyone was disciplined for the December 25th incident (not yet), what the State Department does, the role of the NCTC, Miranda rights for the attacker, “preparing, not scaring” the public, “the part of the system that did work was the aware public on Flight 253,” how to revoke a visa, using dogs that can smell “the vapor wake” when someone walks past, the fiscal obligations of other nations to assist us, continuing vulnerabilities, whether NCTC has the money, people and authority it needs (no), new and improved technology, are Custom agents trained to interrogate terrorists, we’ve tried terrorists before in criminal court and it worked out ok, how to avoid political correctness, how to build a system that will be able to detect an adaptive enemy that tomorrow might show up as a blond Anglo Saxon, and whether anything could be done to make sure Congressman John Lewis is not always getting hit by secondary screening.
I’m not sure what I learned about homeland security leadership watching the hearings. But it did strike me that the representatives are as pressed for time, and their cognitive bandwidth as compressed, as everyone else in the complexity that is the homeland security enterprise.
I’m not sure I know what the country wants or expects from its homeland security leaders.
“Do the best you can,” one of the congressman said. Anything less is unacceptable.
I think that’s what all the people at the hearing were doing: the best they could.
Obama outlined his idea about the best we can do toward the end of his speech:
Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I’m not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who’s tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future — for America and for the world.
All in all — amidst symbol, stupidity, caring, tediousness, anger, posturing, thinking, reacting, recommitting, hoping – it was a pretty good day for bananafish.
J.D. Salinger, 91, Is Dead
It was a bizarre coincidence.
Last night I used J.D. Salinger’s “A Fine Day For Bananafish” (later published as a “Perfect Day for Bananafish”) indirectly, as a broad theme for the post. I hadn’t thought about Salinger or Bananafish for maybe a decade. Not sure why I thought about him last night.
Around 11 AM Pacific time today (January 28th), I learned J.D. Salinger died in his New Hampshire home.
I had nothing to do with his death.
I hope no one criticizes the New Hampshire authorities for failing to connect the dots.