Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 17, 2010

Homeland Security, Home Depot, Fusion Centers, and a Local Hardware Store

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on August 17, 2010

July’s Washington Post investigation of the national security and intelligence system continues to live —  least on the internet, its blogosphere suburbs, and (in October) on public television’s Frontline.

Jessica Herrera-Flanigan summarized the size of the intelligence enterprise in her July 19th post. :

  • 45 organizations (with 1,271 sub-units) engaged in top-secret work.
  • 1,931 companies engaged in top-secret work for the government.
  • 854,000 individuals  hold top-secret security clearances.
  • Over 50,000 intelligence reports published each year.
  • A $75 billion (public number) intelligence budget for 2009.

What does the nation get for those numbers?  What does it lose?

Today’s post is from a colleague who is a member of what might be called the pre-9/11 intelligence community. Her essay was written before the Washington Post investigation was published.

She writes specifically about the growth of fusion centers (there are now more than 70 of them).  But she makes a larger point that something important may have been lost amidst the growth of Top Secret America and homeland security.


Recently, the joys that accompany homeowner responsibility found me on my way to the local Home Depot to purchase the supplies necessary to fix a leaky kitchen faucet. I arrived at the store lacking any anxiety about the shopping trip.  After all, I was bound to easily locate my required plumbing supplies at the largest home-improvement retailer in the United States… or was I?

Two hours later, the same, but now greatly decreased, joys of home ownership found me at my local hardware store, where the anxiety created by my Home Depot visit was alleviated by the knowledge and helpfulness of the familiar owner.

As I made my way back home, finally armed with the correct supplies to complete my project, I thought about the reasons I had encountered such obstacles at Home Depot. I realized the big-box concept that initially gave Home Depot its innovative value had been overcome by inconvenience and a loss of trust due to unfamiliarity. The resulting experience was less efficient and more time-consuming, thereby negating any monetary savings.

Upon further reflection, I recognized many similarities between my Home Depot visit and the problems besetting homeland security in the United States. Since the events of 9/11, the number of individuals working in the homeland security field has greatly increased. New initiatives abound, most of which consist of adding people and resources as the solution to any and all problems.

But given the current issues within this field, including the struggle for success of fusion centers, mission creep between agencies, and vast duplication of responsibilities, are the solutions working? Or has the safety of our nation fallen victim to big-boxization?

People working counterterrorism matters prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were part of a much smaller cadre of personnel focused on the security of our homeland. They operated through a voluntary collaborative effort on Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), before the days when collaboration became a forced requirement. They worked as a team, before the days when that team became a behemoth. They knew the right people to contact for the right information, before the days when all of those people were required to sit in the same location.

Revisiting my Home Depot experience, I can draw many parallels with the current problems found in homeland security and, specifically, within the fusion centers that have been established allegedly to ensure information sharing between federal, state, and local stakeholders.

Similar to the various departments within a Home Depot store, the fusion centers are staffed by people representing various agencies, levels of government, and areas of expertise. But just as the salesperson assigned to the electrical department at Home Depot could not assist me when I couldn’t locate a plumbing representative, the physical co-location of personnel within a fusion center does not produce the ease of one-stop shopping.  Instead, issues of security clearances, proprietary information, and the lack of data interoperability cause the same refrains to be echoed throughout the fusion centers as I heard in Home Depot: “Sorry, ma’am, that’s not my department.”

My inconvenience at Home Depot was further exacerbated by the sales staff’s lack of familiarity with the local community. I live in a town home community built in the 1940s and, as is often the case, the historic nature of my neighborhood is accompanied by many quirks in construction and materials. The plumbing salesperson at Home Depot (who I finally located) did not know anything about my neighborhood and its quirks.  His penchant for guessing what supplies I needed did not increase my confidence or trust in his knowledge.

When I finally abandoned my attempts to succeed in Home Depot and went to my neighborhood hardware store, I was greeted by the long-time owner who was intimately familiar with the inner workings of the construction of my townhouse. Combined with his broad-based knowledge of every item on the shelves within his store, his familiarity immediately fostered my trust that I would walk out of that store with the correct supplies.

The large number of agencies and personnel being pushed into fusion centers risks creating the same lack of familiarity exhibited by the Home Depot salesperson. Only time will tell whether this familiarity, and corresponding trust, will be established. The common physical location of personnel may not be the answer to full collaboration because, as is seen in Home Depot, the issues of stovepiping and the lack of broad knowledge still remain, no matter how many people and resources are assigned to a single location.

I know for certain that I will not be visiting Home Depot the next time I need home improvement supplies. Instead, I will return to my neighborhood hardware store in which I have full confidence. Will I soon say the same about homeland security and avoid the fusion center, as I long for a return to the days of the “mom and pop” version of counterterrorism?

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Comment by G.W. Schulz

August 17, 2010 @ 4:45 am

Very thoughtful. We examined this same subject last week with a post titled “On the government’s growing obsession with Hollywood-style command centers.” We’ve tried to track all of the new centers for our project on homeland security, but it’s been extremely difficult. There are so many at the federal, state and local levels.


Comment by William R. Cumming

August 17, 2010 @ 6:29 am

First to respond to G.W. Schultz and his excellent article and comment. I count over 40 active EOC’s run by various Departments and Agencies of the Executive Branch. Sorry but I have been retired for 11 years and only operate open source but cannot divulge my source for that number which I believe it low. I personally prior to retirement have been in over 20.
As to the post my only comment is that gathering of domestic intel is a complicated and frought with peril subject trading off and drawing the bright line between need for the collection, analysis, and dessimination of that information and privacy and civil liberties. I was hoping that given three lawyers heading DHS that line drawing might in fact have been viewed as a priority but apparently it was beyond all of them. That “wicked problem” as the Administrative wisemen of the PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION discipline have given a label for is still not the best we (the US) can do as the oldest and richest democracy (Republic). Of course as readers of this blog know I put the domestic intel problem at the top three of the issues or problems for DHS and in fact was the reason for its creation. The others of course are WMD prevention and response and recovery, and note that FEMA has produced eighteen months after its first effort another supposed interagency document on Response to a NUDET. If this kind of guidance is official it should at least be noticed in the federal register and notice given of availability. And then of course cyber security and computer security. Both of these have also been DHS failures. Perhaps its (DHS) focus could be improved by returning TSA to DOT and spinning off non-homeland security programs such as natural disaster relief and flood insurance.
Thanks anonymous for the post. Yes, Home Depot business plan of rolling up the mom and pop home supply business is now in the process of failing as the home repair and building industry declines. Which like Detroit which will never again build and sell 16 M automobiles a year in the US the homebuilding and repair industry will never achieve 3 million plus years again. I will be posting today on my blog why disaster housing failed in FEMA and why it is not in HUD. Note here however that the long-term disaster recovery housing strategy published several years late in February 2010 has not yet been finalized. Well hoping MOTHER NATURE does grant a variance to the US this Hurricane Season. The 5th year reports on status of NOLA post-Katrina indicate that that recovery effort largely failed for the 80% of the population that was at the bottom economically.

Comment by Mark Chubb

August 17, 2010 @ 10:57 am

The big box business model is predicated upon an assumption that narrow but deep market specialization produces economies of scale that benefit the producer, retailer and consumer. As I noted in my tongue-in-cheek post about now-confirmed DNI Clapper’s comments on the July WaPo series, competitive analysis does not always yield a comparative advantage.

As Barry Schwartz pointed out in his insightful 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, we sometimes find it difficult if not nearly impossible to make decisions when we have too many choices or too much information. This goes for deciding who needs to know something as well as what any one bit of information means. Even when our access to information or its volume is limited, our system inundates us with choices of competing categories to assign it to or meanings to ascribe to it.

Sometimes less is more. Even when the paucity of choices provides us with inadequate answers to our questions, we find it easier to tell whether or not we’re on the right track when we have fewer options, which makes it possible to stop or change course more quickly if things do not develop as we expect. Often the initial feedback is enough in and of itself to put us on the right track. This is a far less straightforward proposition in the bloated bureaucracy we now confront.

Please thank your colleague for sharing her salient insights into our current dilemma in such a clear and concise fashion. She must be an awesome operative or analyst!

Comment by 66

August 17, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

“The library, I believe, is the last of our public institutions to which you can go without credentials.
You don’t even need the sticker on your windshield
that you need to get into the public beach.
All you need is the willingness to read.”
— Harry Golden

Our hardware store is about the size a hardware store needs to be, which is about the size of the library. One person can operate the entire place. It’s closed for business. A high traffic area and still dead. The Home Depot is near the vacant Circuit City. We have millions into new roads and sewers. Nobody is building much. The value of the lots went up, so we have expensive empty lots. They got rid of lots of trees, all for nothing. I’m not sure who is moving in next, I am sure that the real estate developers are total morons. Start a one man newspaper and invent something, because “in present-day America it’s very difficult, when commenting on events of the day, to invent something so bizarre that it might not actually come to pass while your piece is still on the presses.”

Home Depot can get bizarre, so we’ll see how we might not actually find what we need and how long it will take not to find it.

Comment by 66

August 17, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

Note: I reckon they used computer models to forecast and site these things. They then took the same thought process and proceeded to wreck GM and Chrysler. That had to be extremely difficult to do. It must of taken Upper West Side smarts with Wall Street connections. It’ll take all the Washington corruption they can muster to pay for it, so they need to expand the Top Secret America agenda just to hide the loses. With a police state you can sell lots more police cars and who cares what they cost? You build your little case, I’m hunting for a new country. The US is ruined. The kids are expected to pick up the tab. Pick up the kids and leave.

Broad knowledge: Sex in a woman’s world has the same currency a penny has in a man’s. Every penny saved is a penny earned in one world and in the next every sexual adventure is a literary experience.
Harry Golden

Comment by Good vs Evil

August 18, 2010 @ 6:39 am

Indeed, very insightful replies and whiel many of us concur that the “Goldman Sachs” fellas within the White House and their hands far extending even past both sides of the Congressional aisle….

….to those of us who truly Love our once grand Republic, I ask, stay and hold onto the spirit inherent within you that prompts tears in your eyes when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the National Anthem and which will bode well in each of your patriotic spirit to “take the boys on” – be vigilant and vocal and cast your precious vote!

Cybersecurity is most important.

The use of laser and technology development is of utmost importance. I promise you that the astute and quite vigilant folks at NSA and within the DoD at senior levels will not succumb to GS as we all share the same Love of America and respect to our forefathers (Blacks and Whites) who built this nation…

….well, it is our duty and obligation to stand tall.

Never, never forget those who have given so much in sacrifice to make this nation a people who have always shown concern for others – You do not necessarily have to embrace your neighbor, but surely care about the other – do your utmost to reach to another of God’s creations who you may be able to assist in some way –

….do not allow anyone to place the Constitution aside and consider those folks like Pelosi and Frank and individuals like Jimmy Carter and you, Mr. President who knows the Constitution well and chooses to allow its pages torn from it bounding…do not forget that without America, hope is lost and oppression and a world ridldled with rampant corruption and evil ways will become terror to so many….

We must show our younger generation, those who were born after Jack Kennedy was killed by the fellas in cold blooded murder that America is America, a peopole who were heros, choosing against all odds to come to an unknown land and flee the taxes of the King, very similar to 2011 and GS agenda whereby “rights” will be stripped from the individual as well as enslaved to the government for most will be of dire need.

NYPD, LAPD, so many in local, state and national intel and first responders who are proud of their heritage, who truly know what it means to be an American, please, go to the polls, vote out the incumbent, listen attentively and peruse a candidate’s history and vote as well as demand term limits, no more professional polls –

You within Homeland Security, especially at DHS HQ, I remind you that Homeland Security is not always about peering outwards, it is safeguarding us all from within just as our forefathers cautioned of those who agenda in seeking demise from within….

As a citizen, I am proud of the police officer, firefighter and EMT who have a badge to which they have sworn to honor in conducting themselves in professional manner and response to help others and let’s not pick up the kids and go where?? – Yes, maybe to another planet, however even funding for that is jeopardized for the monies have been stolen from the coffers and in closing, by the way Mr. President, the Chicago community organizer who believes that getting two guys together with a beer on the White House lawn will patch it all up – give us a break – where are the jobs Mr. President?? Where are the banks who you said would help distressed owners modify their loans? Foreclosures are skyrocketing which means Mr. President that “kids” are being moved around like baggage, but after all, the fact is, most of em are White kids, not oppressed like the Black kids or the Muslim kids which seem to be your lesson teachings as to the history of Blacks and Muslims as the real agenda of this administration.

Enough is enough. Natural born Americans – Black and White – Muslims and so many others who are in the majority are hurting while we fly Goldman Sachs drones from desktops and take care of everyone else while our own struggle in the mud….We know the real story of slavery, we know the real story of Hitler and we know the real story of Goldman Sachs.

Our flag is being torn away, our Constitution both federal and States ignored in every way and our nation is trillions of federal reserve notes in debt while the Chinese with much wisdom use this buying power to control resources, the oceans and the skies above – if it comes to them or Goldman Sachs, I will prefer learning Chinese w/a Bostonian accent!

Christopher Tingus
aka Citizen Joe
A Proud American
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645


Comment by jim gerard

August 19, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

The below piece of venting was submitted to the Washington Post, but I knew it would never see the light of day for a variety of reasons, many of them figments of my own imagination, but it felt good to send it.

I am late in submitting a comment about the 3 part report by Washington Post Reporters, Dana Priest and William Arkin on the extraordinary growth of the Intelligence Community( IC ) following the 9/11terrorist attacks. I initially hesitated in writing because I thought that some IC expatriate would come forward and state the very real fact that several of the 3 letter members of the IC did initially do what they are sworn and paid to do, but for a unbelievable lack of moral integrity and acts of gross dereliction of duty , the biggest “what if” “in American history since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is left unexamined for reasons known only to our policy makers. If every IC member involved In this “what If” had done the “right thing” and passed critical information to each other, and even to their own organization, Priest and Arkin would have had no reason to spend 2 years investigating the bloated growth of the IC because it wouldn’t have occurred ,thousands of people would be alive today, and two wars would have been averted. But for certain members of the CIA, NSA, and the FBI ,who lacking the moral and ethical fiber to rise above their ludicrous and deadly turf wars and blind allegiance to the “law” , and see that their duty to protest the American public is the sole reason for the existence of their respective institutions, 9/11 would not have happened. And this is not hind sight speculation on my part.

As shown in Lawrence Wright’s book , The Looming Tower and the NOVA PBS documentary that aired February 2nd 2009, specific members of the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI knew that 2 Saudi men ( Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi ) who would eventually help in slamming a jet liner onto the Pentagon ,were in the United States and had recently attended a “terrorist “summit” in Malaysia. Nothing was done to track these men. The burning question is why? I won’t spoil the plot for those readers who may be unaware of the fact that FBI operatives knew they were in the country because the CIA told them they were, but forbade them, yes forbade them. from telling FBI Headquarters and thus precluding an investigation. Why two gun carrying FBI agents would listen to a CIA spook is lost on me. The NOVA documentary answers this question. The senior FBI Agent who listened to the order and participated in the documentary is a brave soul whose public anguish about his lack of doing what I consider the “right thing” in notifying his superiors is obvious. But mea culpas no matter how heart felt unfortunately don’t undo history. He is not alone , but other IC members were just as guilty in following the unwritten IC rule that you are more likely to get in trouble sharing information as opposed to not sharing. One hopes this attitude is changing, or history may repeat itself.

Congress should have given the IC not a boat load of money, but injected into its members, ( and I apologize to the female members of the IC ) , a shot of human growth hormone to grow a pair you know what. Plus , inculcated the lesson that occasionally you have to risk to do you your job. Sometimes the job isn’t worth your soul.

Comment by history detective

August 27, 2010 @ 5:59 am

Playing what if doesn’t change what works. There’s no gain at a low level and high grade work pays fourfold. Keep raising the bar and keep your chin up. I don’t deal in data, I deal in pictures so paint me a picture.

The nuclear codes will not be leaked today. Thank God!

Comment by Magnesium Ascorbate :

October 29, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

i would really have to a have kitchen faucet that is made of silver or at least silver plated. `

Comment by Casey Mosbey

November 16, 2010 @ 11:41 am

we are using plastic kitchen faucets at home because they are very cheap and you can easily replace them if they broke -“.

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