Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 3, 2010

The National Security State’s B Team

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 3, 2010

In one of his first official statements, President Obama wrote — or at least signed  — “I believe that Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security — conceptually and functionally, they should be thought of together rather than separately.”

The new National Security Strategy is consistent with this belief, to the detriment of homeland security.

From the perspective of international security and homeland defense I have no serious problem with the strategy.  It is clear-eyed regarding our nation’s essential strengths and current vulnerabilities.  If I were part of the foreign policy, intelligence, or defense establishments I would find some obscure aspect with which to demonstrate independence and otherwise congratulate the White House for being wise enough to agree with me.

But instead of the establishment, I am part of a fractured, intellectually  immature, strategically incoherent, often squabbling, sometimes foolish, usually courageous crowd of competing tribes that, if pushed hard enough, travel together under a ragged banner on which is scrawled “homeland security.”  The new National Security Strategy — unfortunately — reflects the tattered nature of this very loose alliance.

According to the National Security Strategy the role of homeland security is similar to that of Puerto Rico in major league baseball, or Ringo Starr in the Beatles, or  the Gauls in the early Roman Empire.  We are occasionally crucial, usually peripheral, and just not something those at the political pinnacle spend a great deal of time thinking about.  

On page 15 of the National Security Strategy, homeland security is explained as one element in a whole-of-government approach.  Here is the full description:

Homeland security traces its roots to traditional and historic functions of government and society, such as civil defense, emergency response, law enforcement, customs, border patrol, and immigration. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the foundation of the Department of Homeland Security, these functions have taken on new organization and urgency. Homeland security, therefore, strives to adapt these traditional functions to confront new threats and evolving hazards. It is not simply about government action alone, but rather about the collective strength of the entire country. Our approach relies on our shared efforts to identify and interdict threats; deny hostile actors the ability to operate within our borders; maintain effective control of our physical borders; safeguard lawful trade and travel into and out of the United States; disrupt and dismantle transnational terrorist, and criminal organizations; and ensure our national resilience in the face of the threat and hazards. Taken together, these efforts must support a homeland that is safe and secure from terrorism and other hazards and in which American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.

The use of  “strives” is key to reading this paragraph.   As Sisyphus strives to roll his rock up the hill, homeland security strives to adapt the tribal jealousies of narrow-minded provincials into some semblance of strategic value.  Strives is derived from an old Gallic term for quarreling and disputing, neatly implying the interdisciplinary, inter-governmental, and public-private struggles that characterize homeland security.  Gaul was divided into three parts, homeland security into three times thirty.

Notice too the strategic value that — if only our striving is one day successful — might be squeezed from this unwieldiness.  It is mostly responsive,  defensive, and protective.  Other more agile players are needed to analyze, prevent, mitigate, and strategically engage.   And even within these limitations, there is something mournfully uncertain in the use of, “taken together these efforts must support…”  It is the tone a frustrated father might take with squabbling children.

I sympathize with the frustration.  There is a part of me that respects the realism of the White House in framing homeland security so narrowly.  But — perhaps only from partisan pride — I regret this disemboweling of potential.

It is as if the wise (wo)men of foreign policy, defense, and intelligence have decided homeland security is beyond civilizing.  Rustics related to homeland security are to be integrated into the national security state as subordinate tribes were integrated into the ancient Imperium.  John Brennan is our Julius Caesar.  He has been assigned as our provincial governor, but serves purposes far beyond our province.  Janet Napolitano is our Titus Labienus.  She understands us better, but given our fractiousness such knowledge is no great advantage.

Returning to the text: did it seem to you that “other hazards” has been inserted in the last sentence apropos of  nothing else in the paragraph?  I imagine Richard Reed arguing that some courteous nod be given the old creed. Otherwise, the National Security Strategy gives intense focus to eliminating al-Qa’ida and its network. This narrow targeting of the enemy may be the strategy’s principal strength. Other hazards, it has been decided, can be managed by the B team.

If homeland security is in fact conceptually and functionally indistinguishable from national security, this strategy desiccates the capabilities-based approach that many in homeland security have struggled to cultivate. While resilience is often referenced in the National Security Strategy, it’s absence from the summary definition above is significant.   The cross-cutting, silo-busting, resilience-building capabilities-based potential of homeland security is ignored, neglected, dismissed, merely missed… choose your verb.

A White House blurb offers, “The strategy is grounded in a pragmatic understanding of our strategic environment – the world as it is.”  Long-time national security professionals have considered homeland security as it is and concluded our “traditional and historic functions” are only capable of a supporting role in confronting our threats and achieving our priorities.  Given the world as it is, I will not argue.

But in his foreword to the National Security Strategy the President writes, “Simply put, we must see innovation as the foundation of American power.”   What I have seen in the years since 9/11 is innovation in interdisciplinary and intergovernmental collaboration, in regional planning, and in risk assessment.  Since Katrina I have seen the traditional and historic functions of homeland security begin to work together to craft authentic, community based resilience.  In just the last few months I have seen the private and public sectors plan and work together in unprecedented ways to anticipate a range of natural, accidental, and intentional threats.  Whatever else, I hope the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico will spur public-private collaboration in risk-readiness and catastrophic planning. (See: BP “not prepared”) Innovation is underway.

The National Security Strategy underestimates and, as a result, under-values the potential role of homeland security.  This should not discourage further innovation.  If those of us loosely linked to homeland security are true to our traditional and historic values, we will find the National Security Strategy’s implicit critique an impetus to further and faster innovation. 

For further consideration:

The Gallic Wars by Gaius Julius Caesar

Bomb Power by Garry Wills

Creating the National Security State by Douglas T. Stuart

Analytic Architecture for Capabilities-Based Planning, Mission-System Analysis and Transformation by Paul K. Davis

Obama’s NSS: Promise and Pitfalls from the Council on Foreign Relations

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2010 @ 9:21 am

Another excellent and thoughful post.But here goes my vision statement for HS!

First! It is not the word “security” in Homeland Security that is the problem! IT is still the word “Homeland” that creates such a problem. So why keep it. Just rename DHS the Department of Civil Security and much confusion will go by the way side.

Second! it is not lack of funds but lack of talent that has made DHS such a problemattic effort. Why? Too many political appointees very junior and not very thoughtful. I think DHS has all the money its needs but it is definitely a second tier, second career organization with most worn out civil servants and former military that struggle to overcome the constant reorganizations mandated by the DHS leadership or Congress. The Quadrennial Homeland Security was supposed to do a “bottom up” eval of all DHS programs, functions, and activities yet that still is nowhere in sight at this time. Maybe by Labor Day? OKay since DHS prides itself on openess, how about an alphabetical list with current levels of funding attached, of all DHS programs, functions, and activities, and whether authorized by statute or Executive Order or just self initiated.

Third! The too much money theme is really sung by the efforts in the IT arena with almost $50B now spent since the department’s formation and not sure what has been accomplished. What has not been accomplished is Cyber Security and Computer Security. That is documented by OIG/FEMA and GAO and outside think tanks to the extent they have information.

Fourth! The lack of priorities is amazing in DHS but rather who can garner the most staff and funding and be the least accountable for the goals being met. No real accountability. Who exactly has been fired in DHS in last 8 years and for what? That might be an interesting list.

FIFTH: Trying to be a mini-DOD and using the same culture as DOD and many of the same contractors.

Okay now let’s turn the wheel a bit. I absolutely agree with Civil Security is related to National Security and in fact that is indicated by the National Security Act of 1947, as amended [and that statute badly needs updating NOW]! The Civil Security Department should take the lead for all civil agencies on following missions: 1) personnnel and document security and classification; 2) the role of the STATE and locals in civil security: 3) Whether all those wearing guns and badges in DHS should be under a single leadership/management! 4) Whether the Coast Guard civil security mission has adequate staffing and funding! 5) How should the Civil Security Department relate to DOJ and DOD and other agencies that have civil security roles–this should be determined by statute and I highly recommend that Congress in the 112th sessions create a joint committee on Civil Security and do away with the Homeland Security Committees. 6. The non-civil security missions of DHS should be identified and determined to be appropriate or transferred out to other departments or agencies. The mitigation function for natural hazards seem to be one favorite of mine for that determination. Also the National Flood Insurance Program.

Well this as always is just a starter list. I would include the AG and Secretary of Civil Security on a revised NSC as statutory members.

And while I am at it why not look at DOD and DOJ for futher transfers of civil security funtions to the renamed Department of Civil Security.

Just out of curiousity Phil how did you like the emphasis given in the NSS to WMD issues and nuclear proliferation?

Oh and while the National Security community drools over the revolving fund that is the President’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) how about deciding for real Obama Adminstration if this is the source for LAW ENFORCEMENT EMERGENCY funding or domestic deployments of the military for civil support? Fish or cut bait! In or out and stop playing around with NO line drawing by the new Civil Security Department and its twin rivals–DOD and DOJ! And by the way did you notice the DOJ OIG says DOJ has no clue as to what to do in the event of a WMD attack? I wonder if anyone from FEMA has briefed top-level personnel in DOJ on DOJ emergency authorities or roles since I retired in October 1999 from FEMA. I used to average about 10 phone calls a month from DOJ on just those issues my 20 years in FEMA. Hey Brad Kieserman, new Chief Counsel of FEMA, do you read this blog?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 3, 2010 @ 10:15 am

Bill, I support the priority being given to WMD and proliferation. From a national security perspective, I agree with most of the priorities outlined in the NSS… and I perceive a reasonable hierarchy among the priorities.

In response to your vision, my own vision for DHS and homeland security more broadly is not dramatically different. Neither of our visions, however, will come anywhere close to being achieved until our community (I referenced “tribes”) stands up and makes a credible commitment to the level of education, professional development, accountability, good practice, political engagement, and strategic thinking that characterizes many of our colleagues in foreign policy, defense, and intelligence.

Criticizing leadership is always fair game. There is certainly a yin and yang, a push and pull to such things. But we are more likely to make practical progress with some self-critical commitments.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2010 @ 10:40 am

“Neither of our visions, however, will come anywhere close to being achieved until our community (I referenced “tribes”) stands up and makes a credible commitment to the level of education, professional development, accountability, good practice, political engagement, and strategic thinking that characterizes many of our colleagues in foreign policy, defense, and intelligence. ”

Well I agree with that comment but also would argue that community is not what it used to be.

Comment by essays purchase

June 3, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

One does have to sit back with a slight smile and a look of amusement at the frustration and anger of the Republicans over Obama. So far they haven’t been able to draw a “bead” on him, though they have tried mightily. And they may yet succeed on that regard.

But, I think he has proven far more competent and politically smart than anyone (Democrat or Republican) anticipated.

Look, this is a guy who came out of the back of the pack, took on 8 other Democrats and won the nomination. More importantly, he knocked off the person who expected the Democratic primary to be her “coronation”. Did y’all really expect him to fold after winning the Democratic primaries?

I said on here over a year ago that I thought Obama had “it”, though I can’t describe what “it” is. Then this spring when he won Super Tuesday I said that I thought he would end up being the nominee.

He was not my first choice (Kucinich was). He wasn’t my second choice (Clinton) or even my third (Richardson). So I’m not head over heels in love with him. But I do think he’s a smart politician.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

Unfortunately the process of governance is not directly proportional to brainpower. It helps a lot but not necessarily decisive.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 3, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

He indeed may be an astute politician. However, that does not enable him to affectively lead in a crisis and does not endear him as a change agent.

We do not need a politican; we need an effective leader and quite frankly he nor many on both sides of the aisle have not proven effective in that light

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 4, 2010 @ 6:14 am

If I read Chris, Mark, and your comments correctly, none of us ended up impressed, inspired, or itching to deploy the NSS in our various efforts on behalf of homeland security or more broadly.

Part of this, I suspect, is that when one reads “Homeland Security Watch” there is a particular interest in what the title suggests. The NSS integrates HS into NS in a pretty pedestrian way. Our — at least my — professional prejudices and priorities were given short shrift.

Another possibility I have considered, but not considered enough for the front page of the blog: I don’t think this administration is inclined to be “strategic” (ala Mintzberg, Porter, Sun Tzu, etc.) I perceive the President and many of his senior colleagues are principled and pragmatic, but not strategic.

They have principles — a way of behaving and a disciplined problem-solving methodology (see definition of principle) — but where this behavior and method is taking us tends to become vague. Someone (Chris?) might say the White House is open to emergence.

In contrast a strategist conceives specific actions that s/he intends to shape his/her context in a particular way, to advantage the strategist’s ability to achieve a self-defined victory.

Most effective strategists recognize the reality of emergence too, but they are working to influence the interactions of emergence so that what unfolds is pointed in one direction and not others.

I don’t know when I will find the time, but here’s an assignment I am giving myself — and any of you who want to help: Reduce the 52 pages of the NSS to no more than 5 pages that describes “victory” and how we will get there.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 4, 2010 @ 6:36 am

Last comment helpful. Problem is the NSS is in fact supposed to be a strategy!

Actually for some reason the US produced a large number of execellent strategic thinkers in the 20th Century. Is it remarkable that so many were foreign born or had extensive contacts from family and interests in the European theatre?

My question would be how are Asian-Americans utilizing their past and traditions–Is it only to compile a fortune or is it also to understand their past.

So here goes for my NSS:

First, acknowledge that Europe’s principle desire is to be the world’s leading cafe society and a place where the rest of the world goes to be educated and eat and play. The events of the last 500 years have taught the Europeans that in fact WAR does not really pay off for victors in any economic sense and yes over the next 100 years the integration of European states into the United States of Europe is the big problem. Still some miitary capability is necessary so the US should pull out of NATO and encourage the European Self-defense force.
The US should focus entirely on East Asia and South Asian for its foreign policy and military efforts. Demographics alone dictate this strategy as the US becomes demographically much smaller in a relative sense to these areas of the world and much poor financially. Personally I think China, India, and Japan and some others regard the US primarily as a source of commodities and a trading partner. Otherwise they really would like the US to go away. This will not happen for many reasons including the fact that the US is a Pacific Power and even now it tradeweighted economy and financial sector must have the Pacific rim and India to survive profitably. So the military capability to influence events should abandon any pretense to a N.Atlantic effort.

The western hemisphere is in fact an arena for US national security interests. Almost unmentioned in the NSS it should get its own NSS. Probably should have one for Africa also.

Well just some quick thoughts but you get the drift. Besides if Europe does live up to its past it will become a clossus and then by misrule or civil war drag the US back into its affairs but probably not for the next 100 years. That is as long a period as a NSS should have to worry about.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 4, 2010 @ 6:49 am

Bill, Well, there’s a grand strategy if I ever saw one and generated in less than a half-hour after my post!

For what it is worth, the assignment I am taking on is to “translate” the existing NSS into a recognizable strategy. Across much of my life this is how I have paid my bills.

Large organizations, even those full of smart, sophisticated, talented, and committed people often have difficulty thinking and acting strategically. A big part of the problem is that they are immersed in the day-to-day problems. Effective strategy requires a stripping away, clarity, honesty and essential simplicity that is very difficult to push out from the inside.

But every effective strategy I have ever encountered is pulled out from the inside. In other words, it is a crystallizing of what internal audiences already know but have not been able to communicate (even to themselves) with clarity. The NSS is the carbon, already under pressure. What might the diamond look like?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 4, 2010 @ 8:13 am

This sentence in your comment is a “gem” so to speak:
“But every effective strategy I have ever encountered is pulled out from the inside. In other words, it is a crystallizing of what internal audiences already know but have not been able to communicate (even to themselves) with clarity. The NSS is the carbon, already under pressure. What might the diamond look like?”

Hoping you can spin dross into gold or whatever? They (whomever they are?) picked the right guy? My altime favorite strategy book was written by Edwin Luttwak “On the Military Strategy of the Roman Empire” [about 1977)! He has been criticized by many but that book is a “gem”!

So good luck and good thinking Phil.

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