Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 16, 2010

Homeland security: Ceding the high ground

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 16, 2010

An excerpt from Secretary Napolitano’s September 10 remarks to New York City first responders:

Tomorrow is also a reminder that each of us bears a unique sense of responsibility to one another, to our communities, to our states, and to our nation. Whether you are a police officer on the street, a firefighter, a doctor, a businessman, a student, or a stay-at-home parent, you – we – are the very backbone of our nation’s homeland security. We are all interconnected in the effort to protect this country.

Right around this time last year, I gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York where I described a new framework for how we’re approaching homeland security. It didn’t involve a complex restructuring of DHS or big, flashy new programs. In fact, we streamlined operations, prioritized efficiency, and organized ourselves around our core missions.

Our starting point was the idea of interconnectedness and mutual responsibility. The question we kept asking was: “how can we do a smarter and better job of broadening the collective mission of protecting the homeland?” And our answer was this: we do it by seizing every opportunity to build a bigger and stronger security team and then equipping that team to succeed.

Therefore, over the past year and a half, I have made one of my very top priorities for DHS to get information, to get tools, and to get resources out of Washington, DC, and into the hands of the men and women serving on the front lines. That includes you – the first responders – but it also includes citizens, community groups, and our partners in the private sector.

This may not generate big headlines. But this hometown-centric approach has a big impact on our ability to be effective – and more important – to support you in the field.

The Secretary seems intent on being heads-down and practical.  Avoid flashy promises, make expectations realistic, and keep ambitions in-check.   As I listened to her I thought, again, about what Art Botterell had written in response to my September 2 post:

In our ambition we’ve defined Homeland Security so broadly as to make it for all practical purposes impossible. Now the very scope of the turf we’ve carved out threatens to swallow up our ambitions. What can we learn from this?

By the same token, we’ve always had ideological divisions in this country. What makes our current environment different, IMHO, is that folks seem to be entertaining an unbounded ambition to make their own ideologies, if not universal, at least unchallengeable.

The common factor, I’m afraid, is that many of us have been acting as if we only need to feel a thing in order to make it so. Passion has become its own rationale. It’s not so much that the center doesn’t hold as that each of us individually seems to imagine we are, and have a right to be, that center. More than anything else I think a bit of humility is what we need.

And so yes… there’s nothing like a real emergency to help us get in touch with our own limits, dial back our personal and institutional ambitions, and refocus ourselves on our obligations to one another. So maybe this natural hazard will offer us a brief respite from man-versus-man arguments over who and what comprises the Homeland. (I did not ask Art’s permission to move this comment to the front page.)

The natural hazard referenced was Hurricane Earl, which stayed well out-to-sea.  As a result, our abstract arguments over the homeland continued apace. (I don’t even agree with Art on capitalizing the word.)

I have, though, continued to reflect on Art’s comment.  I am tempted to offer a riff on the Baby Boomers’ sense of entitlement (including my own), the dangers of esteem-based parenting, and self-criticism as a lost skill.

I will stick to something just a bit — but barely — more practical.

I am an advocate for broadening the homeland security discussion.  Spend any time with me and you will hear, “What’s the strategic objective for that?” or “Why is that important?” or “How does that reinforce (or challenge) policy X?” or “What is the relationship between A and Z?”  Regular readers can imagine I sometimes see relationships where no man has gone before (and for good reason).

There are substantive motivations for this broadening. There are also instrumental reasons.  I bet the instrumental is more important than I want to admit. 

For example, homeland security competes for mind-share —  attention, funding, and more — with defense, diplomacy, and intelligence. Over the last half-century all of these older disciplines have created sustainable ecological systems.  By this I mean they each have far-reaching networks of political, intellectual, and institutional support.   Think tanks, corporations, academic departments, fellowships, conferences, journals, and much more foster a shared lexicon, common–  if contentious — concepts, and a rich web of personal relationships.

While the defense, diplomatic, and intelligence communities spend plenty of time on tactics, operations, and nuts-and-bolts, there is clearly a high priesthood and a sustained engagement in “high-end” strategizing, conceptualizing, and such.   Homeland security? Not so much.

I generally consider the homeland security core as consisting of law enforcement, firefighting, public health, emergency management, and the owners/operators of critical infrastructure and supply chains. Give any of these groups, alone or together, a real problem (e.g. hurricane, fire, pandemic) and they will tackle it with a vengeance.  Pose an abstract question of strategy or policy and it can be tough to keep the conversation on track.

As a result, others shape the strategic and policy context.  Consider most of the staff and members associated with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new Terrorist Threat Assessment.   No critique of substance is implied by noting the absence of many with deep connections to the homeland security core listed above. They are mostly distinquished  veterans of long-time work in defense, diplomacy, or intelligence.  Law enforcement gets the most traction, usually through former prosecutors.  Even the BPC’s project name signals the issue: National Security Preparedness Group.  (If you access the link, please notice that the URL reads homeland-study-group.  This suggests to me a conscious rebranding at some point.)

When Steve Flynn, a member of the BPC’s preparedness group, wrote The Edge of Disaster, I enthusiastically called a colleague to suggest he read it.  He already had and responded, “Oh, you mean where Steve discovers emergency management?”  Well… yes, exactly.  Steve did a great job of restating core principles of emergency management within a meaningful strategic context.  The book was, by the way, published by the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Some of this reflects that nine years in, homeland security remains the new kid.  But much of this is also the result of homeland security professionals not stepping up to the challenge… or opportunity.   They (we?) have stepped up to the tactical and operational challenges with intelligence, courage, and creativity.  But there is something about the strategy and policy “game” that they (we?) seem to disdain.

I share Art’s frustration with most of our “man-versus-man arguments over who and what comprises the Homeland.” But my frustration is often with the lack of ambition reflected in the arguments.  In homeland security’s very practicality we too often cede strategic leadership to those with much less knowledge and competence regarding our domain.

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Comment by Potomac

September 16, 2010 @ 12:52 am

Amen to the last sentence. We have yet to develop a consensus around what the “profession” or the “discipline” of this 9-year old construct has become, hence anyone from any marginally related background with the proper political gravitas can claim the leadership role.

It should be noted that emergency management, despite its claims of professionalization, suffers from the same contagion. Thus anyone, from any first responder disciplines, to non-profit groups, to military or civil service, can claim membership and leadership. As EM is to HS, so HS is to NS (perhaps a bit too SAT).

Until we define the core principles of the fields, until we certify the membership of those who profess or are appointed to membership and leadership in those fields, and until we establish a core method for indoctrination of those who seek to join in the effort and move up the leadership ranks, we will be left with a field of endeavor that flounders not due to the lack of commitment nor lack of patriotism nor lack of intention, but simply to to lack of grounded knowledge in what the enterprise entails. We are still, in metaphorical terms, in the era when the barber served as the surgeon.

The Secretary’s remarks serve as a great testimony to this… for all the energy and effort and speeches, the locals remain mostly left out of the equation and disconnected from the “things that get fused”, yet it is in the hometowns that the domestic defenders stand with the resources to bear in the protection of our homeland. Oh, if the Founders of Federalism had accounted for more than the relations of the federal government to the state, if they had conceived of this thing called local government, then perhaps we would be where the Secretaries think and hope we are, but in reality, until we fix the understanding of our federal system, and its core integration (something by design meant to be fragmented) as the great challenge of our HS effort, we will remain subject to the whim of leadership that is disconnected from the profession and mission of securing our homeland, no matter the definition that anyone has posed to describe that endeavor.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 16, 2010 @ 7:39 am

Well at risk at being a curmudgeon too much talk and too little action. Essentially the discipline of Homeland Security is multidisciplinary but instead of drawing from the “infinite variety” of skills and competencies available there is at tremendous desire to dominante the dialectic without adding very much. Thus I always argue that the paradigm of “homeland” is the very essence of the problem. What we are actually talking about is civil resilience, preparedness, planning, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery with utiliziation of the entire range of the skills of the populace, including upgrading those skills, and the various governmental units and organization and NGO’s that can bring something to the table. What has in fact happened is that there is serious erosion since 9/11/01 in the capability of the civil sector. It is nicely covered up by some investments that catch the eye, fixed shiny EOCs for example, when mobile and agile EOC’s and perhaps even multiple EOC’s should have been the goal. The real failure is the unwillingness to share and collaborate and stimulate the nation’s brain power even as some would militarize the civil sector in the needes resilience approach. Line drawing between armed force and law enforcement and HS still has not occurred. Part of this is organizational and part is the background training and cultures of those who have dominated HOMELAND Security since 9/11/01. And still up to 30% of the entirety of the DHS budget really does nothing to promote HS, all-hazards, civilian organizational structures, etc. Thus, the Quadrennial Homelanda Security Review totally failed because instead of a bottom up review of all programs, functions, and activities housed within DHS there was no such effort made. This would have revealed and documented the 30% of DHS’s budget execution authority completely or almost completely irrelevant to HS.

Next is the fundamental inability of DHS leadership to focus on priorities and constantly trying to convince the public that it is in fact accomplishing its mission through talking and speeches.

So here is my suggestion for this blog and for the DHS leadership and for the 112th Congress? Document the successes and failures of DHS since 9/11/01 from whatever standpoint you wish to examine the carcass. Then decide whether any of those successes or failures are due to lack of statutory authority, administrative skill or lack thereof, organizational failures, or whatever. Document document document, as the devil is in the details. I keep hearing over and over that an inordinate amount of time is spent in the top echelons of DHS trying to figure out FEMA and its role vis a vis DHS role. Now it comes out that a largely distracted and ignorant resilience unit under John Brennan at the NSC and part of the NSS are spending huge amounts of time building stovepipes with little real input as to the existing knowledge base on civil resilience and civil preparedness from those whose past interests have been foreign intelligence and foreign relations. Some of that resilience staff is constantly in motion being deployed for international not domestic civil issues. Hey basically the first two years of the Administration can be written off as not accomplishing a whole lot in defining or refining or establishing homeland security policy and its development and implementation. This is now becoming an attempted “fix” through wordsmithing. Instead first principles should have been agreed upon. One of course at the top of the list is the US Constitution. And of course just to throw out a controversial example, would Predator strikes on domestic terrorists holding US Citizenship be Constitutional? Okay plenty to chew on and time for brains to be utilized if we want our democracy (actually a Republic) to survive. Another example, where and when does any actionable intelligence go from a fusion center to organizations that are empowered to act on that INTEL? Some recent evidence of a shocking development in Pennsylvania where normal right of assembly provisions and domestic protest unrelated to civil or HS were labeled terrorism by a fusion center resulting in the Governor Ed Rendell reacting strongly to this assault on Constitutution. Hey lets get each member of the NSS a copy of the Constitution and make sure they read it. John Yoo’s extremist views of the unitary executive should never be applied through carelessness domestically. Whatever SCOTUS says about it internationally.


September 16, 2010 @ 8:24 am

Fame has many snares and few benefits. Best avoid and count blessings and have peace of mind. They’re living a lifestyle that takes lots of money making security cost more money. Security inflation and is that all you get for your money? Debt through the roof and the roof is shaky. Patch things up and avoid leaks. No regrets and lots of works. What’s this going to cost? Check with DSS.


September 16, 2010 @ 9:01 am

Every year the votes cost more, election costs go up and the lies get bigger. You need to take up a collection just to be buried. First grade costs ten grand a kid a year and the lawyer wants a grand an hour. The best things in life are like the best people. Free and easy living. You could be the prisoners of your own price tags and build more gated communities. Fortifications like billboards are monuments to the stupidity of man. Health care costs keep going up, so you can’t afford to get sick and if you do you can’t afford to get well. They’d make security unaffordable and some guy with a ball and chain would make a killing. The dishes need washed. Will save the world later. Cars keep going bye. Dial 0 for operator or be an operator. The investors are in trouble as usual and we’re out of funds. Mix business and pleasure, not business and torture. People have bad information. Have a good time at least.


September 16, 2010 @ 9:25 am

“Some people thought it would be a good idea to kill the families of boys that told the secrets. Tom said it was a good idea, so he took a pencil and wrote it in.” Huck. Of oafs and oaths. Boys thought it’d be a good idea to spill them secrets. Didn’t think it through enough. I just do regular old robin, the other birds they do the killin’. They’re always airborne and dangerous. If you want to talk about fishin’ that would be OK. Good thing the lake ain’t leaking. Dam shame about some people. Feeders need fillin’ and roots need canalin’.


September 16, 2010 @ 10:29 am

They’d go fishin’ in the cellar, come up empty and want the fillin’ out of your tooth as a reward. Got to the lake, take some lead for sinkers and think it over Doxology. It’s the right way and regular way. If you want to catch fish go where the fish are. Sometimes the fish don’t want caught or God wants to keep them in the lake. I got a couple case knives need a sharpening. The sharpening service don’t pay well. It’s honest to God work and sparks fly. Lead flies, just not as far as you need to go. Speed fast ahead and speed hump in the rear view. You try taking pictures with an ax, you ain’t winning the battle though. “Ah well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool,” and He’s holding the high ground. The other fools built on the low ground and now the mortgages are under water. Call a mortician and order more lower ground. I’m just trying to keep digging out. If you want to dig in here or fish, you’re in the wrong spot. Two weeks away and most of the garden died. Got a bill for fifteen grand and ambulance service for a forgotten amount. Some things go missing and some people aren’t missed. Feet are still working, even if arms are ripped off. People enforcing the laws been known to break them. With the egg war, you got to crack a few laws to crack heads. Then you crack the eggs and they’re all rotten. You call it high ground and there are two unaccountable freaks, both last spotted in Washington DC running up a high tab. I’m having soup.


September 16, 2010 @ 11:14 am

16 September 1814: A detachment of Marines under Major Daniel Carmick from the Naval Station at New Orleans, together with an Army detachment, destroyed a pirate stronghold at Barataria, on the Island of Grande Terre, near New Orleans.

Now it’s a new pirate party and leaks. It seemed like stronghold until it became a stranglehold. At least they’ll be famous in the end. They are romantics, the first to fail. The first to fight have experience, so it’s fail safe and fool proof. People disappear all of the time and are never heard from again. Less leaks, more lakes and fishing. Hook and ladder work is a one rung operation. Don’t slow down fire apparatus. That turns into a piggyback operation and you find a broomstick. Sweep up and remember what you learned in ranger school. Watch for pigs riding hogs. Don’t ransom the kids to out bail the pirates. Never mind the details, it would be better to leave you to imagine them I imagine.

Comment by Art Botterell

September 16, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

Well said, Bill. There’s an underlying assumption that Homeland Security has some coherent essence that could be informed by a unified theory. I’m not sure that’s actually been demonstrated.


September 16, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

Unified theory. One nation under God. Now they claim you have a responsibility to the nation and the nation is responsible for corporate and Chinese debts. Good luck finding liberty and justice for all from your creditors morons.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 16, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

It is entirely possible that “homeland security” is a label that implies a category or predicate that is unnecessary. It is clearly true that it is a category for which key qualities, relationships, and representations (See Charles Peirce) have not yet been well-established.

I absolutely agree the kind of documentation that Bill Cumming calls for is needed. Such documentation serves to clarify the meaningful content of the cateogry — if any. Unfortunately, not much such documentation will come forward from this blogger. The time and effort needed is well beyond what I can contribute here. At best I will occasionally aggregate the good work of others.

But I persist in arguing there is also value in seeking to find or craft a unified theory. This homeland security thing — bastard or beautiful, potentially both — is now with us… and the reluctance or inability to shape its strategic direction strikes me as, at least, self-defeating. Peirce wrote of his proposed categories, “the function of conceptions is to reduce the manifold of sensuous impressions to unity, and… the validity of a conception consists in the impossibility of reducing the content of consciousness to unity without the introduction of it.”


September 16, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

“We have no power of Intuition, but every cognition is determined logically by previous cognitions.”
There is safety in precog. “But a people bent on soft security, surrendering their birthright of individual self-reliance for favors, voting themselves into Eden from a supposedly inexhaustible public purse…learning the art of political logrolling” etc..So create more swollen bureaucracy. Foreclosure rates set new record, so some incapacities are greater than others.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could cost the government $53 billion through 2020 or save the …Let me guess. The capacity for incapacity for generations to come. “The argument from analogy, which a popular writer upon logic calls reasoning from particulars to particulars, derives its validity from its combining the characters of induction and hypothesis, being analyzable either into a deduction or an induction, or a deduction and a hypothesis.”

They’ll do for security what they did for home ownership and you’ll get a deduction and introduction to public housing and the thieves can move the people in public housing into your nice 3 bedroom 2 bath house using vouchers. You’ll need 2 jobs to pay for the other guy to live better than you can with no jobs and more jobless benefits. Everybody can vote for more benefit nobody can afford so Sorry Charlie can get paid. Very abortive and all so troubling. Anybody want to buy two used plots, we’re relocating bodies. Low ground for sale and resale. Vote the wrong way, lose that bread card and stand in security lines for dough. Despots.


September 16, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

Since 2007, when Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae introduced “risk-based pricing,”…All risk, no market-based logic. Home security at risk across the land and bad gas lines along with soup lines. Duck soup and let’s pump poison to crack shale for more gas. I can’t get the regulator off because the valve is frozen solid. Call the gas company and wait. No hot water and if you call about odor they ignore you and I’m smelling here. California couldn’t get service and you got more homeless families. A guy called 911 and responders ended up at a cell phone tower. Good luck guys, it ain’t easy.


September 16, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

Do Main Street. Screwed by Wall Street. 2008 was the test. Everybody who failed got checks. Now comes the real crisis and nobody knows where the check is coming from in 2010. Fold the lousy newspaper to cut fraud.


September 17, 2010 @ 4:59 am

Blow the car tire out in the car next to you at 70 MPH. Create a more out of control situation to control a situation. Have firefighters shoot gas on fire to speed up burning to save time and install speed humps to slow down fire apparatus. Let the good times roll as the fire burns out of control. Use your heat shield to stay cool calm and collected. Do more fishing and less oiling.

“The third principle whose consequences we have to deduce is, that, whenever we think, we have present to the consciousness some feeling, image, conception, or other representation, which serves as a sign. But it follows from our own existence (which is proved by the occurrence of ignorance and error) that everything which is present to us is a phenomenal manifestation of ourselves. This does not prevent its being a phenomenon of something without us, just as a rainbow is at once a manifestation both of the sun and of the rain. When we think, then, we ourselves, as we are at that moment, appear as a sign.”

Serve as a sign thanks for Rainbow Division.

Put arms straight out and make sign of the cross. TGIF and stay safe fighting the good fight and God bless America!


September 17, 2010 @ 5:33 am

“Since the beginning of man’s awareness, the rainbow, spanning the horizons, has been a mystic symbol, displayed in the heavens to signal the passing of yet another storm and the birth of new hope for mankind.

So it is today. Twice in this century, the Rainbow has signaled to millions of people the end of tyranny and oppression, and the beginning of new hope for a better world.” http://www.rainbowvets.org/

Life gets stormy, we don’t need storm trooped. So it is today again. How are they going to come after us now? When guns are not enough…The way we do it is 100% certain. Guns jamb, gadgets fail and jets get grounded. God never fails US.


September 19, 2010 @ 5:54 am

The under ground person arrived about gas line valve being frozen open. Can’t shut it down. Another under ground person told me the buried lines were coated with fish oil. Yes and the fish aren’t doing well. No leaks no problem. High grade work pay fourfold or it’s back to four incapacities.


“Now, a proposition whose falsity can never be discovered, and the error of which therefore is absolutely incognizable, contains, upon our principle, absolutely no error. Consequently, that which is thought in these cognitions is the real, as it really is. There is nothing, then, to prevent our knowing outward things as they really are, and it is most likely that we do thus know them in numberless cases, although we can never be absolutely certain of doing so in any special case.” Special shields are absolutely certain. Errors bring another 9/11. That error cannot be repeated. Suits of armor will not be enough. Faith in the future is faith in ourselves. God is in you or again you. As it’s printed In God We Trust, trust is important. I’m a trust man, not an oil or gas man. Cone man cost 250,000 grand to not be so grand.


September 19, 2010 @ 6:07 am

When you hear sirens, remember they are going where angels dare to tread and God bless them for it. Don’t let the devil slow you down. Faster for Gods sake faster.


September 22, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

Money got you into trouble, how come it can’t get you out of it? The bailouts won’t help. Bailer goes to the bottom and the bottom feeders are going to save the other bottom feeders. Dow looks ready for a big drop again and circuit breakers won’t help. Expect more talk about stimulus and other last ditch speeches. Low morale this side of a prison camp and the switchboard is on the blink. Spain looks to be having problems or pain in the rear. Fannie is down and Freddie is down on Fannie. I’ll keep insulating here. Gas lines shot. 38K problems and girlfriends need .38 snub noses. Water lines up and running.


October 4, 2010 @ 7:42 am

“A man’s house is his castle, and God’s law, as well as man’s, sets a guard upon it; he that assaults it does so at his peril.”
– Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Exodus 22
Hold your ground and hold it with a weapon if need be.

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