Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 28, 2010

A Fine Day for Homeland Security Bananafish

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on January 28, 2010

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.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 28, 2010 @ 4:12 am

Okay my take! Aviation security still overshadows what the real priority of DHS and Homeland Security should be about–specifically WMD and its milieu currently and in the future. Even a single plane going down or crashing into sensitive infrastructure (national icon?) does not match what any theoretical or practical risk analysis could show for employment of a WMD domestically in US. INTEL also still limited inherently by bureacratic arrangements and the minds of men and women. We collect far more information than we can analyze. Critical infrastructure protection/Cyber Security still a stepchild in DHS.
As to the State of the Union given the time spent on various subjects as indicative of US priorities, my guess is one of the last in which a US President will be able to pretend any kind of domestic economic control in a globalized world. Those things that make US strong, also may make US weak. The great balancing act for the American polity, briefly evident during the Cold War, will soon be much more evident in the US. Specifically the balance between what really determines the US role and capability–domestic events and policies or alternatively foreign affairs and foreign relations. We continue to have a largely militarized and completely ignorant foreign policy and the blowback will be substantial. Now predicting huge blow back from third world, and maybe second and first on Haiti. Why? Just over two weeks have gone by and now we will watch a continued die off and illness and long term destruction of Haiti by the failure of the US led response and the confusion as NGO’s fail to adopt and streamline their operations. Confusion as to actual number of NGO’s and their staffing in Haiti. US leadership does not know.
Today and interesting and highly valuable lesson may be taught by Paul Farmer, Harvard PhD and MD who failed to become head of AID as we watch his testimony before the US Congress and learn what real depth of expertise has to say about US operations in Haiti. Perhaps a much more important hearing than the repetitive dog and pony show that continues over the Xmas bombing attempt in Congress.

Comment by christopher tingusi

January 29, 2010 @ 8:00 am

What is interesting about J.D. is the fact we have heard very little from him for decades, however excitement stirs as it is hoped that he has been writing and his death will afford us even more of his best contributions –

As far as Haiti, first hand experience here holding portable water purification units in hand and currently available 200 sq. ft. eco-friendly, earthquake resistent housing ready to be shipped in 40 ft containers – 75 houses at a time for easy build – bureaucratic, disorganized and while the DC logistics folks are working night and day…too long to respond to the imemdiate needs and long-term solutions –

As far as Homeland Security, by now, we should be far along…we are NOT…

Too much bureaucracy, too many unqualified to serve – a serious and integral part of our preparedness or obvious lack of –

God Bless America!

These career politucians must be removed and finally I was personally so pleased to see Nancy Pelosi’s smug smile off her face as good ‘ol Barney and she obviously do not understand the real ramifications and the atrocities AQ and others prefer in defacing us as the only nation giving hope to the despair and a waning hope it indeed is as we increase our debt ceiling and spend and spend despite our bankrupt state of the union Mr. President and Senate members –

Get it together or get out – we here in Massachusetts send a message of clarity and whether Republican or Democrat – we here on Main Street USA have just about had it – you have all been “entrusted” be – precious -vote and your void in leadership and personal agenda has been so noted….

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA USA

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 29, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

Despite this guy (Salinger) living off-grid pretty much for several decades his influence persisted and IMO will persist. An uniquely American Giant.

Where do we get such Men? [Michener’s book and movie “Bridges at Toko-Ri’!]

Comment by Pat Longstaff

January 31, 2010 @ 10:00 am

Your update was the first time I have laughed out loud while at this blog. It WAS a pretty, um, interesting coincidence. But I’ll bet Salinger would have liked the joke.

Comment by Leonardo Rhude

August 6, 2010 @ 12:00 am

This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article This put us even further behind, and it took us a few months to get caught up on that loan.

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