Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 22, 2010

No rush to judgment here

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2010

Late last week Secretary Napolitano was in the Boston area.  She announced a new grant for Logan airport, visited with the Boston police commissioner and Cambridge firefighters, officiated at the swearing-in of new citizens,  gave a speech at Harvard, and had a round-table discussion with nine college presidents.  (Do you occasionally worry our cabinet secretaries have been remade into little more than mouthpieces, kept busy doing testimony, media interviews, speeches, and announcements?)

In a read-out of the closed door session with higher education leaders DHS tells us, “During the meeting, Secretary Napolitano highlighted the Department’s strong partnerships with universities including support for training, coursework in homeland security-related fields and industries, and for research and development in science and technology, such as the DHS Centers of Excellence, which bring together multidisciplinary homeland security research and education assets of more than 200 institutions across the country.”

The Boston Globe reports, “she was in Cambridge meeting with college and university presidents to discuss new courses and majors aimed at preparing graduates to enter the field of cybersecurity.”  In remarks at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government the Secretary noted, “Combating the cyber threat is going to require a partnership among government, academia, and the private sector as ambitious and sustained as any our nation has seen before. And I should say to the bright students here that DHS wants the best minds coming out of our universities to come join us in this effort.”

I have a second-hand report (good enough for a blog?) that the session with university presidents was mostly about science and technology research grants, not about homeland security education or professional development.  This is not a surprise and says much more about the role of modern universities and their presidents, than about homeland security or the Secretary. (And suggests homeland security officials are not the only ones with a serious grants habit, see Dan O’Connor’s Tuesday post.)

On the same day the Secretary of Homeland Security was meeting with higher education leaders in Boston, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was in Atlanta.  According to Georgia Public Broadcasting, “Duncan paid a visit telling students that America has to educate itself to a better economy by improving science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects.”

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) released in February emphasizes, “Maturing and strengthening the homeland security enterprise includes enhancing shared awareness of risks and threats, building capable communities, fostering unity of effort, and fostering innovative approaches and solutions through leading-edge science and technology.”

Am I working too hard to connect some dots (smudges?) or might there be a pattern here?

Science and technology – like mom and apple pie – attract widespread  support.  Investments in research and development for these hard-subjects (“hard” as in practical and difficult) are measurable and meaningful… for me too.

But read the QHSR’s paragraph again. What is the role of science and technology in shared awareness of risk and threats?  We have lots of technology to gather, sort and display information on risks and threats.  What we don’t have is a shared understanding of what is meaningful to gather, what is helpful to sort, and how to interpret the results.  That’s a judgment call.

How about building capable communities?  Science and technology certainly have a role in infrastructure development.  But given the QHSR’s attention to psychological and community resilience, I perceive its definition of “capable” goes well beyond the boundaries of science and technology.  How do we build a capable community?  It depends on the context of the particular community, doesn’t it?  It depends on the purposes we seek to advance, doesn’t it?  Capable of what?  It’s a judgment call.

Scan the QHSR table of contents and there are plenty of opportunities for science and technology to support good judgment.  But mostly we are given complex, constantly changing contexts beyond the capacity of precise prediction.

Once upon a time, we presumed to teach good judgment.  This was always a dicey business.  Since the 1960s – after what many saw as a series of profoundly bad judgments – the notion of good judgment has been widely discredited as self-serving fiction.

In this we have neglected to understand how and why well-intentioned men (mostly) made tragically flawed judgments.  We are increasingly inclined to ex post facto assessments of every judgment.  If we like the results, the judgment is good.  If the result is not satisfactory, there can now be a compulsion to uncover deceit and deception.  And in any case, the culture insists that threat, vulnerability and consequence should be predictable.

In this confidence regarding predictability we are, I perceive, indulging the fatal flaw at the heart of the worst kind of  judgment.  In those ancient days when we earnestly endeavored to teach good judgment, we learned that hubris – trying to control what is beyond our control – is the tripwire for tragedy.  Toward the end of his life Robert McNamara wrote, “…it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend.  Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate.”  This is the beginning of wisdom.   McGeorge Bundy, another of the Sixties best and brightest, tells us, “There is no safety in unlimited technological hubris.”  Two of the tragedy’s main characters seemed to learned its lesson.  But those of us in the audience?

How do we choose well when we cannot – when no one can – be sure of the outcome?  How do we choose well when the risks of failure are real?  How do we choose well when threats are unpredictable, vulnerabilities are inherent to our liberty, and the consequences could be catastrophic?  It’s a judgment call.

Is it too late to retrieve – or create anew – the teaching and learning of good judgment?

For further consideration:

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

Aristotle’s Ethics by Richard Kraut (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The Aims of Education by Alfred North Whitehead

Justice: A Journey in Moral Reasoning by Michael J. Sandel (video)
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Comment by Publius

April 22, 2010 @ 4:14 am

From page 71 the QHSR:”Develop the homeland security community of interest at all levels of government as part of a cadre of national security professionals. A well-documented need within the national security community is a professional development program that fosters a stable and diverse community of professionals with the proper balance of relevant skills, attributes, experiences, and comprehensive knowledge. Executive Order 13434, “National Security Professional Development,” initiated a program for developing interagency national security professionals through access to an integrated framework of training, education, and professional experience opportunities. We must work together with our national security partners in bringing that important idea to fruition.”

Anyone seen some EO13434 fruit? Is it ripe? Does it taste good? Is it nutritious?

I haven’t seen or heard of any such fruit. Maybe it’s not mature yet. Or maybe it suffers from a bureaucratic plague.


Comment by William R. Cumming

April 22, 2010 @ 7:06 am

Complicated post by Phil and interesting comment by Publius. The EO referenced in the comment called for preparation of another National Strategy this one to prepare Security Professionals. Did I miss this National Strategy or was another direct writter order of the President of the United States ignored?
As to Phil’s post the decline of Cabinet government occurred from LBJ on in which second opinions, alternative points of view and even choices of how best to implement federal programs, functions, and activities were all precluded by the WH from being the appropriate subject of the Cabinet heads. In reality while never formally adopted the Nixon plan of having a supercabinet was pretty much accomplished. The key departments were to be STATE, TREASURY, JUSTICE and DOD. To some degree they still dominate policy and here how they do it.

First STATE dominates foreign policy and foreign relations to the extent that the President, National Security Advisor and Secretary of DOD let them. Jesse Helms almost destroyed the STATE Dept and has yet to recover but it does have certain opportunities that somehow slip by the oversight of the other mentioned powers that be in foreign policy and foreign relations. Again, STATE should automatically get 10% of the DOD budget passed each year at a minimum. Treasury through its Assistant Secretary for Tax policy and other expertise can support, reject or even cancell outright the efforts of the other Cabinet level departments and certainly the independent agencies. The tax code has more policy buried in it than any of the civil agencies know or understand and few are equipped to understand how the tax codes dominate their programs, functions, and activities. By the way I helped get disaster outlays to individuals to be non-taxable for income tax purposes.
The Department of Justice uses it dominance of federal litigation to influence, effect, support, or cancel the policy decisions of other civil agencies. That alone means that those other Executive Branch organizations in particular the ones with Sue or Be Sued authority cannot go on the offensive to implement their policies. And by the way DHS does NOT have in its statutory charter the authority to sue or be sued generally and most of its programs, functions, and activities have not contained waivers of sovereign immunity for money damages against the department. This fact alone makes it a second or third tier civil department.

And finally of course, we all know of the fact that directly and indirectly the culture and efforts of DOD which should also include DOE and VA as part of the defense establishment have largely corrupted the democratic process by kowtowing to contractors for unnecessary weapon systems that represent corporate socialism at its best. DOD also by dominating the National Security establishment also corrupts the independence of the policy process. Up to 2/3 of the NSS staff are actively serving military officers who never, repeat never, will cross DOD or their service. A huge and inherent conflict of interest. By using WHAMO and other detailees to the White House, hey pomp and circumstances can always enthrall the unwary, and detailing large cadres of active duty officers to other Executive Branch orgs and the Congress, the undiluted militarism of the US grows year by year.
As to the Academic Community described by Phil, many of the toop 10 Univerisities get an automatic rakeoff each year from the NAS and NRC through grants. These are no longer truly competitive and of course that practice stems from the days of Science Advisor to FDR, Dr. Vannevar Bush, who skillfully saw that MIT where he had been President got 10% of all WWII research contracts and built MIT into a powerhouse. With the research universities surviving on government grants for in excess of 50% of their revenues is it a wonder no research is produced contradicting federal policies or giving new wisdom.

Well this is the US as it is in the beginning of the second decade of the 20th Century. Playing UNCLE SUGAR for all its worth by corporate America, Academic America, and with government policy designed to produce and maintain but not empower an underclass that now grows to almost 50% of the population including illegal and undocumented workers the path to third world status appears to have been designed well and now is just being implemented year by year. Time will tell of course as to whether my analysis is correct. And of course could be wrong but that argument will have to be made by others.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

April 22, 2010 @ 7:43 am

An excellent education and knowledge are not the only factors. There are many other elements — such as political will and integrity — that affect what if anything gets done.

Recently, I heard an official with a major role in the post_Katrina periodin LA comment that the key determinants of what was accomplished during the recovery period were attitude, policies, and interpretations rather than the laws or lack of laws.

Comment by Mark Chubb

April 22, 2010 @ 10:58 am

Phil, I would add John Ralston Saul’s excellent 1992 tome Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West to your recommended reading list. In a 2009 post on The Atlantic’s website, Marc Ambinder draws a line from Saul’s analysis through Robert McNamara’s awakening the the fatal flaws in his reasoning to our present-day dilemmas. As you note, it seems we still have a lot to learn that science alone cannot teach us.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 22, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

Claire Rubin’s comment prompts a clarification. Judgment was once understood as more than intellectual activity. To make a good judgment was, in an important way, an expression of will and an act of integrity. For Aristotle judgment could not be separated from character. The teacher of Alexander (and others) probably would have nodded knowingly in regard to the post-Katrina observations.

In the Michael Sandel video listed above the most striking (to me) comment is by a student who says something like, “This is the first time I have experienced this type of class.” The class features a disciplined discussion of important issues, examined through the lens of various frameworks, for the purpose of shared deliberation regarding the meaning of justice. And after 12 or more years of education this is the first time to have experienced such a class? The Sandel class is, by the way, perhaps the most popular class at Harvard.

I feel anachronistic and moralistic saying so, but I perceive that in our efforts to predict and control we too often are inclined to a kind of reductionism that squeezes complex – very human – reality out of the equation. This is bad judgment. Which, by the way, is what I perceive has probably happened to implementation of EO 13434. It is what happens to entirely too much of homeland security-related education.

In a twisted way I am pleased with Bill’s comment that this post is “complicated.” I am not sure it would have seemed as complicated to those who graduated from most American colleges and universities prior to 1950 or, in some cases, as late as 1960 or so. But it is no longer possible to make reference to “judgment” and assume the general reader will immediately cue up some shared understanding of classical, medieval, and enlightenment notions of judgment.

We begin each conversation with a nearly clean slate. It’s not the most efficient educational outcome to the extent shared deliberation is a purpose of our educational effort.

Then again, Bill is certainly aware of such antecedents, and it is entirely possible I have just used bad judgment in framing the topic.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 22, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

Remembering the intro to Superman TV show: Protecting Truth, Justice, and the American Way! What does that mean to many under the age of 40? Still the collective judgment of humanity does sometimes result in a step towards Justice like adoption of the UN Convention Against Genocide in 1951. Perhaps we can only hope for progress and not retrograde movement. But hey the Sandler video is great and had heard of him but not seen him in action before.

Comment by Aristotle,Socrates and Plato

April 23, 2010 @ 10:37 am

The last time I saw Robert McNamara was on Martha’s Vineyard sitting alone on a curb apparently quite at peace seemingly enjoying a simple ice cream cone, though I cannot remember whether his choice vanilla or chocolate, yet recalling my momentarily thinking as to how the ambitious thinker and achiever like this man sitting on the curb might process decision differently from one who prefers chocolate or vanilla, if any? Only “glancing” to the Secretary’s way not to be intrusive in his moment of obvious contentment with the ice cream cone in hand and/or with himself and his ice cream in a quite moment for him long after his challenging responsibilities as Secretary of Defense, as I – glanced – I thought, here sits a man who could have catapulted mankind into nuclear holocaust as school officials practiced safety drills at school whereby we went under our desks to somehow keep us safe from missile attack?

Here was Robert McNamara who practiced good judgement and by the hand of God, he had acquired by valued Life’s experience the wisdomcoupled with that of Jack Kennedy, the decisive strength strength in conviction to willingly challenge the lack of good judgement by the Russians to place missiles seventy or so miles from our coastline.

The blockade, the stern warnings, statements reflecting the understanding that implementation of policy must enhance the nature of well being rather than the Russians who were choosing to threaten Life to the extent of willingly jeopardizing morality in decision-making affecting many requiring instead the ethical requirement to be steadfast in rational perspective and courage engaging in the overall well being by making decisions based in morality, virtues in temperance and justice….

I would have enjoyed a debate on the corner curb especially challenging the former Defense Secretary in his reflection referenced herein that “…it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend. Our judgement, our understanding, are not adequate. This is the beginning of wisdom.”

Winston Churchill in the 30’s in his contemplation of the necessity of depicting morality, justice, courage understood full well in his foresight what the Brits and even the Americans must eventually do to directly combat those whose dastardly intent threatened Liberty!

We as human beings, creations of the almighty, many of who share the m168 genetic same makeup despite citing differences among rather than the many similarities mankind share, humans who often potray laziness rather than ambition even when much can be lost, surely do have the ability to make appropriate reasonableness in judgement, in understanding good versus evil, right from wrong, those for example that choose jihad today and to be very well aware of their actions which kill innocents and even in the beheading of infidels….

As we watch and listen attentively to the wonderful Michael Sandel, Justice: “A Journey in Moral Reasoning” lecture presented, when thinking about DHS and its numerous challenges presented by this technologically-oriented 21st century, especially cyber threat, it is obvious that ethical consideration must be very integral to DHS policymaking and implementation in its role to assure and especially do its utmost to safeguard our way of Life in our beloved Republic, our Liberty, the peldge in oath to uphold the principles of a Judea-Christian society as many of us strive to enhance the nature of well being in our country as well as for as many human souls as possible in a global populace which now reaches to 7 billion souls with many unfortunately very much at the hands of power lusting,
immoral and unjust deranged political leaders seeking to fill their own coffers with the theft of mankind’s dignity and individual Right to Life and the pursuit of Liberty for indivdiual and family!

Aristotle understood the necessity of rationality to further quality in Life for human being, however with thousands of yars and thousands of pages turned in history, like every other man-made government since Babylon no matter the form, the political appointees we see at DHS, the growing beltway bureaucracy we see and the hugh increase in so short a time in budget deficit in a tax and fee mentality to resolve the inequities of societal dysfunction, well, it is not only California’s debt-ridden ways, or Greece and Portugal, Italy and Latvia we must be ever so concerned about, but the irrationality in immorality and injustice which pervades mankind everywhere only to soon revisit the depths of evil we saw only seventy (70) years ago when western civilization underestimated and preferred turning its cheek to those very much like the “Thugs of Tehran” today who prefer the demise of mankind versus choosing the virtues of temperance, justice and the courage to enhance the mostly unused capacity of man to bring creative innovativeness to make a difference to so, so many who today, some 1 billion human souls in 2010 who do not have access to even a clean glass of water, subjected to so much anguish in a world which promises so much to so many!

Unfortunately, seeing and hearing all the charade at hand especially by those we “entrust” by preciousness in individual vote in the polling booth, where some folks are killed by cold blooded murder while waiting in line to vote in some parts of the world, I am a pessimist and despite my optimism for the vastness in the unused capacity of man’s mind and his compassion, the future looks quite bleak and many are becoming weary of folks like “Mr. Barney” and “Smug-smiled Pelosi” – elected officials – who talk about knowing better and “controlling” the populace, fellow human beings who toil and rise to the responsibilities of the daily and often arduous task while addressing family and making moral and just decisions despite the bureaucrats, the demogoges, the self-serving, ego-stroking, corrupt among us!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

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