“Start thinking like the people who are trying to kill us and design our defenses to respond to the threat.” Charles S. Faddis
Today’s post, by Daniel W. O’Connor, reviews Charles S. Faddis’ 2010 book Willful Neglect, The Dangerous Illusion of Homeland Security.
In Willful Neglect, The Dangerous Illusion of Homeland Security, Charles S. Faddis goes to great lengths to convince the reader that our homeland security mission and efforts are misplaced, misrepresented, and ineffective.
Faddis, a former CIA chief of station in the Middle East and author of Beyond Repair (2009) and Operation Hotel California (2008) methodically assesses the actual protection afforded our vital infrastructure. Quick to point out that he is not a physical security expert, the author nevertheless demonstrates a keen knowledge and application of security acumen.
In layman’s terms his experience outside the United States as an intelligence operative enable him to see right through the theater of security. The author points to countless situations in which security measures taken do not address the threat of a terrorist attack.
Faddis’ thesis is that the trillions of dollars and effort spent to create the illusion of security actually make us more vulnerable. Using his past experience and skill set, the author moves around the National Capital Region (NCR) and other key areas inspecting our critical infrastructure from the perspective of an attacker not a defender. That perspective exposes the exploitable vulnerabilities of our mass transit, natural gas, military installations, damns, and biological testing facilities.
With detailed and well-documented accounts, the author strips away the façade of security on our key installations and nodes. Avoiding operational details, Faddis describes his methodology, use of available intelligence, attack point(s), expectation, and fallout. He supports his conceptual approach with real-world accounts and combines theory and experience to present his view of the most likely targets.
He is also very quick to point out that the vulnerabilities are so glaring that a novice trained in sabotage or rudimentary information gathering will come to the same conclusions.
Faddis believes the “it won’t happen here” mentality is more pervasive now than pre-9/11. The author painstakingly demonstrates how our laissez-faire approach to infrastructure protection could very well be our undoing. Unguarded train stations, mile-long chemical freight train lines, and unsecured biological laboratories provide all the necessary raw material for a massive mass casualty event. In my view, his methodology is sound and his information is accurate.
Faddis says we in the United States still live in a dream world. He is convinced that our homeland security enterprise fails to take the terrorist threat seriously. Instead, homeland security is used to dispense pork and create corporate welfare.
He is convinced that our failure to adequately use the last eight-plus years of post-9/11 to revitalize and strengthen our critical infrastructure and security protocols will only lead to a more catastrophic calamity within the United States.
While I found the title of the book, Willful Neglect, initially misleading, I think it is strategically accurate. Having done similar analysis on military installations, chemical facilities, rail logistics, and the like I can unequivocally state that the author is right in his assessment that we are unable to protect much, let alone respond adequately to the catastrophic events Faddis warns about.
Faddis’ strongest commentary is reserved for the lack of common sense used in administering the variety of homeland security grants that provide funding for hardening facilities and infrastructure. He meticulously explains with some derision where taxpayer money has gone and its relative inadequacy and lack of efficacy in preventing terrorism. Items like tractors to pull airplanes, fitness equipment, printers, and ornamental lighting for quaint tourist villages have been purchased with grant funds. They do not make us safer or more secure, but that’s where the funding went.
He believes protecting long lines of rail cars packed with the most dangerous substance on earth, nuclear power plants, and bio labs must be the priority. He notes how the black plague was initially spread (as a weapon) and that 50% of those exposed perished. And, that these labs, holding plague and a variety of other deadly products, are easily exploitable and vulnerable. Many of these facilities have little physical security and are literally in our back yards.
His final key point is to remind us that paperwork and bureaucracy are not what stop bad people from doing bad things.
Is Faddis correct in his assessment? In my opinion, almost always. The tipping point becomes what is our risk tolerance, our risk to cost threshold, and our expectations. Retrofitting a Nation will continue to be cost prohibitive, and we cannot protect everything all the time. However, we can be more judicious in applying funding and conducting more accurate, candid risk assessments to put that funding to better use.
Willful Neglect does not provide any new provocative information. Unfortunately, it points out what we already know, but seem reluctant to act on: the Nation remains unprotected to a large degree; we should not be surprised when the next incident happens. Willful Neglect is a worthy read.