Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 1, 2010

Playing basketball with the National Security Strategy

Filed under: Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on June 1, 2010

1. Sometimes I show a video about two groups of people playing basketball next to an elevator. One team has white shirts and the other team has black shirts. Both teams are bouncing basketballs. The task is to count the number of passes the white team makes. [If you have not seen the video, you might want to look at it first before you read further]

While the 30 second game is in progress, a person dressed in a gorilla suit walks through the scene. In my experience, 80% of the people watching the video do not see the gorilla.

As I was reading the 2010 National Security Strategy, I could not tell if I was watching people passing a basketball or watching someone in a gorilla suit walking through the world of homeland security.

2. I am reading a book by George Friedman called The Next 100 years: a Forecast for the 21st Century. Friedman believes the United States has five geopolitical goals that historically have directed its national strategy.

1) The complete domination of North America by the United States Navy.

2) The elimination of any threat to the United States by any power in the Western Hemisphere.

3) Complete control of the maritime approaches to the United States by the Navy in order to preclude any possibility of invasion.

4) Complete domination of the world’s oceans to further secure US physical safety and guarantee control over the international trading system.

5) The prevention of any other nation from challenging US global naval power.

When seen against the backdrop of our national history, any 100 year projection makes the 50+ page National Security Strategy seem insignificant. I am reminded of a man I used to work for who believed, “It all matters. But not very much.”

3. Last week I attended a four-day conference of state and local homeland security leaders. By leaders, I mean public safety officials with significant responsibility for the security of parts of the nation. No one I spoke with was  interested — even moderately interested – in the National Security Strategy that came out Thursday.

Maybe that’s ok. But it was disturbing

4. I watched part of a YouTube video of a White House question and answer forum about the National Security Strategy. It was one of those behind the scenes views that used to belong to radio, but now thanks to CSPAN it’s no longer unusual. It did not appear those folks were very excited by the National Strategy either.

Another video of the U.S. National Security Advisor talking about the Strategy also did not exude a lot of energy. Secretary of State Clinton was a bit more energized in her video. But I think it’s difficult to project excitement and read a somewhat dry speech at the same time.

The people I watched sounded like policy analysts briefing the results of study. It was not especially inspiring.

5. One columnist from the Financial Times doesn’t believe the document is even a strategy. Here are some quotes from the author, Clive Crook:

The worrying thing is that the US president and his team seem so deluded about what they have produced….

To judge the content of the statement [i.e., the Strategy], you have to overlook the way it is expressed, which is not easy. It was run through a management-speak machine. It emerged, repetitious and full of misprints, with added verbiage and reduced intellectual content. Then it was put through a second time.

Imagine 50 pages of this: “To prevent acts of terrorism on American soil, we must enlist all of our intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security capabilities. We will continue to integrate and leverage state and major urban area fusion centres that have the capability to share classified information….”

Previously, as you know, many people denied that homeland security capabilities should be used for homeland security. So much for that false doctrine. And notice how state and major urban area fusion centres will in future share information. Another bold departure. The previous approach to these strangely impaired fusion centres was different, entirely different. Thankfully, those days are over.”

I’m told what we call sarcasm, the British term irony.

6. “America’s greatness is not assured,” writes the president of the United States in his introduction to the National Security Strategy. “Each generation’s place in history is a question unanswered.”

Last week I participated in a discussion about the American narrative. The topic came up within the context of Al Qaeda’s narrative: that Islam is under attack all over the world. What is our narrative? Some people in the room asked why America even needs a narrative.

Another person — a scholar from Mexico — said the American narrative was about the future. America is where the world’s future emerges, created from the friction of multiple interests, battling factions, and conflicts about what to do next, all governed by a living Constitution.

Our strategic narrative welcomes those who can contribute answers to our never ending question.

7. Homeland security is mentioned directly almost 2 dozen times in the National Security Strategy. It is evident that under this administration, homeland security is an integral part of national security. Just as the president said in 2009 it was going to be.

Unsurprisingly, the language in the National Security Strategy echoes frequently the words of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (see pages 18 and 19, for example).  Resilience, all hazards, pandemics, information sharing — the usual suspects make their expected appearances.

According to GAO,

The statute mandating the National Security strategy [50 U.S.C. 404a] calls for the document to provide a comprehensive description and discussion of U.S. worldwide interests, goals, and objectives vital to national security; detail the foreign policy, worldwide commitments, and national defense capabilities necessary to deter aggression and implement the strategy; identify the proposed short- and long-term uses of national power to protect our interests and achieve our goals and objectives; and assess the adequacy of our capabilities to carry out the national strategy.”

As untold gallons of oil spew without restriction from the crust of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Security Strategy seems as out of place — or maybe as invisible — as someone in a gorilla suit walking through a basketball game.

I have a vague feeling I’m missing something.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 1, 2010 @ 4:40 am

The great task of any administration is to prioritize its goals because the window of opportunity for each new administration often closes suddenly and often because events get in the saddle.

To me, the NSS is nowhere near the document needed and with respect to Homeland Security priorities not much help. Since I count HS top two priorities WMD prevention, proliferation, defense, response, recovery etc as NUMERO UNO and cyber security as number two I always am looking for these to be stressed and given priority. Oddly I think that many experts might agree with me on these priorities. What is also of interest is that they would seem to be atop any list of National Security objectives in the more traditional sense even without a HS focus. Well there is always next year I guess if the statutory mandate is fullfilled.

What terrifies me of course is that I work exclusively with open source material and really wonder what the so called “message traffic” about the state of the world and US position and strategy in that dynamic world in which clearly “History Has NOT Ended.”

Again are restrictions and policies on international flow of capital a national security concern?

Are restrictions and policies on migrations of populations and their international flow a national security concern?

Is the destruction of the agriculture sector in many developing nations by the large international agricultural and chemical corporations with their policies and efforts on genetics, and herbicide development and usage a national secuirty concern?

Are the lack of international or even national biosurveillance systems a national security concern?

Is the investment in HS a national security concern because of its lack of focus and huge investment?

What do international drug cartels and criminal organizations mean to national security concerns?

What does the INTEL community of the US provide in the way of protection and opportunity to those directing the national security effort of the US? Is foreign INTEL against the US a national security concern?

Is the failure to have the academic community fully involved in national security policy and its evolution a national security concern?

Are workforce issues in the defense and INTEL sectors a national security concern?

Is the failure of the US population generally to understand the languages, history and cultures of “others” a national security concern?

Should Mexico with its problems now be labeled a national security concern?

Is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a national security concern?

Can the Armed Forces of the US accomplish their assigned missions?

If war breaks out in the Korean Pennisula what can the US do and what should it do?

Should we really still continue to give informal guarantees of survival as nation-states to almost 60 nations on the basis they are important to US national security?

Is the effort by corporate lobbyists to end the life of the DOE National Labs and the DOD FFRDC’s a national security issue?

Is dual citizenship for and by US nationals a national security issue?

Well you get my drift?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 1, 2010 @ 6:40 am

Chris, I like your gorilla-in-the-game scenario, but will reverse your application.

What is more important, the basketball game or the gorilla? What is more important, the great game of international economic, political and military power or the weirdly unpredictable nature of natural, accidental, and intentional risk?

In reviewing the video we easily see that both realities can exist in the same time and space. But when participating in the basketball game — or focusing intently on the basketball game — it is easy to miss the gorilla. This White House is famous for its fiercely competitive basketball games. This is a very intentional National Security Strategy.

I know the value of intention and admire the intentionality of this administration. But intention can complicate our attention. There is a particular problem when unexpected — man-in-a-gorilla-suit — kind of problems require our attention.

The National Security Strategy is worth careful reading and thoughtful application. Your state and local homeland security leaders betray their own myopia of (misplaced) intention and (in)attention.

But the NSS is also a document written mostly by long-time basketball players.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 1, 2010 @ 7:15 am

Well so be it? Is National Security a “game” of offense or defense? While both are necessary does one trump the other?

And have America’s long term strategy of avoiding home court encounters now ended?

In basketball home court often dictates the outcome. Hate game analogies even with gorillas.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 1, 2010 @ 8:07 am

Bill, I share your reluctance regarding game-and-sport analologies.(Where are rules and who are the referees in the real world?) But I also perceive that games and sport emerged as a way for us to train and exercise for real-world challenges.

While we can always find good cause to disagree with the strategic priorities selected, I would argue this administration has made reasonable choices. At the very top is counter-terrorism. The clear, nearly exclusive, focus on al-Qaida and its network is remarkable… especially for a National Security Strategy.

I think the NSS also demonstrates that WMD and Cyber threats will receive sustained priority. Whether this priority attention will be effective is another issue. But the strategic choice is clear.

Your list of questions, however, highlights my concern.

Shortly after being named Prime Minister, Winston Churchill flew into France to meet with his hard-pressed allies. Examining the battle map with Nazi columns already approaching Paris, Churchill asked the French generals, “Where is your strategic reserve?” How could the French respond to the unexpected?

Where is our strategic reserve?

When Churchill was told there was no strategic reserve, he flew back to London with a heavy heart. He would later write, “After the first forty days we were alone.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 1, 2010 @ 11:16 am

Unlike Churchill we don’t stand completely alone in our quest for a better world but we certainly act like we are alone. And more so the actual decisions on military deployments seem to some extent driven by those old causes of war identified by Sir John Keegan when he erroneously predicted that warfare might end in fact and become at most a vestigal rather than central activity of human life. After all its long history is counterintwined with the evolution of humans in the last 10,000 years and perhaps even before that. Keegan indicates that ego and ignorance for much of history drove warfare as a vehicle to organize everything from economics systems to evolution of the nation-state. Whatever is theory it seems that several major sections of the world, including the US and Islam have characterized their world view by the necessity for organized violence. I am not a pacifist but know many. What I do know is that the national security strategy as published makes war more rather than less likely IMO. Why this choice by the world’s oldest and richest democracy? Perhaps what we have here is the line from the classic staring Paul Newman—A failure to communicate.

Comment by dan oconnor

June 1, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

While I agree with all your opinions, I see this not as an intellectual issue but an emotional one.

Homeland Security is not an owned behavior but a series of policies. Homeland Security is an overused axiom instead of a theme.

Fear to some degree is everywhere, and polarization prevails. Instead of a bell curve of support its been inverted with each side pulling like mad. Faith in institutions – corporations, government, the media – is not just down, but cynical and growing less likely to return to any favorability rating. I think faith in our selves as a people is also at risk. I always bet on us. But who’s running and equipping and planning for my country?

With respect to fear and the future sometimes I wonder if there’s a manufactuing of the threat to further present agendas and ideologies. But than we see events, whether successful or not present themselves and I wonder why we aren’t doing more. Than I wonder why its so hard to deal with people who want to do us harm… doesn’t it seem complelety illogical to “befriend” those who wish to do us the greatest harm? And yet, this is our complex model we wrap around our bipolar American ideology. Stunning, numbing, and painful.

Americans are becoming angry, and they long ago grew accustomed to expecting the resolution of problems in very short order, even if reality rarely works that way. I also think we are also grossly overinformed in rhetoric and uninformed in reality. News cycles and information surplus is everyewhere, all the time.

We no longer talk. Our influence, once a combination of forward deployed military, pragmatic foreign policy, fair trade, and some degree of what could be described as the “American Way” seems not just fading, but gone.

I often wonder am I seeing the end of American Exceptionalism? Is there a certain rhythm to it all and our time, much like England, France, and Spain in their respective time?

I too have read Friedman’s The Next 100 years: a Forecast for the 21st Century. It certainly has series of points of view, but I have to balance it off other points of view and our fiscal picture.

Like any successful planner, focus too far out on the future can skew your present picture; so to Chris’ use of the video, the condition (future) was impacted by focusing on what was to happen, the passes and not on the present, the gorilla…

I cannot see focusing over the horizon when there is so much we can do now to affect now.

If things are too big to fail, are they too big to exist? If we cannot win in Afghanistan, if winning is so ill defined and all the experts one hears echoes the there is no winning, why remain there? It’s a juxtaposition of reality. We continue to assume or worse, expect to stack all these emerging requirements, issues, and needs with desires that cannot effectively coexist.

And yet, the new reality prohibits action, in my view. So I have to wonder do our elected bodies reflect the change we want or the change we created, because they are different.

Substantive, deep conversations are necessary but so to is identifying where these polarizing ideologies have gotten us. We cannot police the world, feed the world, pay the world, and culturalize the world all the while bankrupting our means, methodoligies, and mantras. It is at the same time arrogant and ignorant, yet a repeaded theme through history.

I hate the idea of empire, but also recognize we are one. What would happen if we radically changed our behavior? There would be very favorable and unfavorable outcomes. But would you not aggree we must?

And our way of Government is a messy, delicate, adaptive process. We’re not designed to keep secrets very well. We want complete safety and security without any impact on our individual rights. We want abundant energy at little or no cost, high returns and low risk. We consume and create great waste and practice NIMBY rules when it comes to putting it somewhere. We create extended benefit platforms but are no longer able to fund them. A huge, expensive Army but tightly constraining rules for its use. We subsidize much of the world and than borrow money to create tax breaks… The great contrast.

Until we are able to discuss all of it, not from some appointed perch or ideology we will not prevail. Homeland Security is so much more than borders, containers, and planes. Its so much more than oil, money, and stuff. We are responsible for the present; today. There is too much talking and not enough action.

From the Pirkei Avot in the Talmud; “ If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now — when?” In essence; if not us, who; if not now, when?

And from Robert F. Kennedy; “The future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.” Address, Seattle World’s Fair, August 7, 1962. Is this a truism or merely a sound bite?

Are we at the tipping point? Are we still“. . . any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . .”? Can we endure?

I know no other way than to be Americans; the ones we read about in our history books and the ones that stories have been told about for generations. I have to believe we can do better. I have to believe our way is the right way, the honorable way.
All of your points of view are accurate and compelling. I just felt like I had to add my 2 cents +/-.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 2, 2010 @ 5:37 am

Dan, your comment on the place of emotion prompts a potentially unfair (and emotional?)response. I have been fascinated and repelled by media coverage and editorial comment on the emotional impact of the oil spill and President Obama’s allegedly passionless response.

I am of a tradition that mis-trusts emotion. I don’t try or want to deny emotion, but I do want to direct emotion with reason. The narrative of news coverage from the Gulf suggests the culture mistrusts and is impatient with reason — especially anything dealing with the limitations of physics, engineering, and problem-solving a mile under water.

Perhaps part of the problem (and this may be what you were saying) is we are talking too much about feelings and impressions and not working enough to translate our impressions into insight and our feelings into considered action.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 2, 2010 @ 9:22 am


Usage is oh so importaant! Perhaps passion is better suited. My point was and is this; if the vast majority of citizens of the United States do not start to give a damn, no amount of intellect, physics, engineering, or problem solving will matter.

Whether its rage, passion, violence of action, sticktoitivness, or capturing the initiative, whatever, we collectively lack the intangible, the passion to change our behavior and nationally let our self interests dictate our desires.

I used to think we held the patent on the intangible; the American pioneer spirit; can do, “THE RIGHT STUFF”.

That’s the emotion I speak of. Not histrionics or melt downs or hand wringers but clarity of purpose and clarity of prose!!

I wish you a good day Sir!

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 2, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

Ah rightous indignation as the Bible might discuss. Seems the sense of rightousness in not limited to any particular group but wondering if the over 5000 profit making colleges and universities invest much in R&D or worrying about anything but making sure that their students get loans they can they provide a substandard education in return for. Name an industry that is making a profit off not ripping off those with less knowledge? I would start with my own–the lawyers!

Comment by purchase essay

June 3, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

In September 2003 CSIS released a report by Amanda Dory entitled “Civil Security-Americans and the Challenge of Homeland Security” which is still available from CSIS. That report proposed a construct largely adopted by the new NSS concerning citizen involvement. It dealt in part with perceptions and risk psychology of the public including preparedness, public warning, alert and notification, protective actions and some history. Interestingly it was almost the very first report to talk of citizen and community resilience.

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December 16, 2010 @ 7:00 am

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