Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 12, 2010

Homeland security as a legacy concept

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 12, 2010

A few weeks ago a friend suggested that homeland security was a legacy concept.

Legacy is a polite word. It is used as a synonym for something no longer in fashion. It also refers to what’s left when somebody dies.

In the computer world, legacy means something that has been superseded but that is difficult to get rid of because it is still widely used.


“Homeland security’s outlived its usefulness,” my friend said.

To paraphrase the rest of his argument:

Most terrorism prevention is either law enforcement or military work; sometimes both. The concept of “homeland security” does not add much value to what the police or the defense department already do.

Emergency management takes care of things that can’t be prevented. Except for a few very well publicized events, the nation’s emergency management enterprise does a good job responding to disasters. Covering emergency management with a coat of homeland security paint doesn’t add much.

To many state and local agencies, homeland security means “what we have to do to get emergency management grants so we can prepare for the events we will actually experience.”

Public health may not have performed perfectly during the H1N1 season; but it’s not obvious how incorporating public health into the homeland security stew made anything better.

DHS component agencies — Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, TSA, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service — take care of their areas of responsibility. Why do they need to be connected to the same federal overhead agency?  And does anyone recall why we keep the Customs part of Customs and Border Protection separate from the Customs part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

What do any of the overhead management agencies in DHS actually contribute to making the nation more secure? Is there any evidence other than rhetoric about the value overhead agencies add?

Sure there is DHS rhetoric about value:

“We are a unified Department with a shared focus: strengthening our Nation – through a partnership with individual citizens, the private sector, state, local, and tribal governments, and our global partners. We must also coordinate across Federal agencies, while shaping homeland security policy and coordinating incident management.”

But that language comes from the DHS “One Team, One Mission, Securing Our Homeland” strategic plan. It was issued in 2008. By DHS Secretary Chertoff. It’s still featured on the DHS website, in spite of language on the same web page that says

“…it is important to acknowledge that this Strategic Plan is a living document and will be revised as needed to guide a dynamic Department and its ever-changing requirements.”

If the strategy has not been revised in two years, is that evidence of a legacy strategy and a moribund department?  Or should we look at the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review as the new living document?

There is little question “homeland security” as a concept has been replaced at the national level by “national security.” Last year the homeland security council staff dissolved into the national security staff.  The country no longer has a national homeland security strategy.  The 2007 National Homeland Security Strategy was replaced, with little fanfare, by the May 2010 National Security Strategy.

If homeland security is not already dead, it’s getting there.


I dismissed my friend’s argument out of hand — meaning I didn’t think much about it. Or rather I tried not to think about it.

But the thought would not go away.  What if he was right?

I asked colleagues what they thought of the idea.  Most agreed with my first reaction: the idea is wrong.   There are no unambiguous measures of whether we are better prepared to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and catastrophes today than we were a decade ago.  But the consensus of people I asked was agencies were better at sharing information and working together than they were in early 2001.  Is that improvement because something called “homeland security” served as an organizing and funding device? Possibly.  Probably.

No, I don’t think homeland security is a legacy concept.

But what if it were true? Or at least in the early days of being true? What kind of argument could be constructed to support the claim that the nation is moving beyond the concept of “homeland security?”

What if, like a soft green blanket, homeland security was what the nation needed to get past the trauma of the first years of this new century? How would we know when it was time to let go? When it was time to move on?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 12, 2010 @ 5:31 am

Well Chris I don’t believe Homeland Security is a legacy concept although as this blog readers know I would call it “civil security” largely to distinguish its focus from armed conflict and armed defense or offense and law enforcement. Focusing on resilience I think is an excellent paradigm shift as long as the modern world evolves technologically and refuses to build resilience into its systems, processes, economy, and citizenry from the ground up given current threats and hazards. What we really have designed is a modern world in which the citizenry is threatened by the fact that risks to that citizenry are never factored into new technology or strategies without dedicated personnel at all levels struggling with improving resilience both in and out of government. What we do have now is a mish mash with no real accountability for problems that are obvious, from an electric grid highly vulnerable, to other energy threats, to terrorism and just failing to understand that the “community” must be protected but thoughtfully so as to preserve civil liberties and privacy. This is a worth governmental task and would not exclude health issues from that array that is homeland or civil security. In fact riots and civil disorders stemming from vaccine shortage or bioterrorism was high enough on my personal concern list to ask the Attorney General of the United States in writing after formation of DHS to explain clearly in a publically available document similiar to the brilliant monograph produced by Mary Lawton for DOJ in 1980 on Military Support for Domestic Disorders that fully revealed that DOD and the military had been given lessons in unConstitutional employment of the military for many years in its various JAG schools. Hey to some degree MILITARY LAW is an oxymoron but at least let’s make it Consitutional by having lawyers outside the JAG schools and DOD review all training products that involve civil military issues.
I wish of course the world was otherwise but since it is still a world in which religions, other dialectics, other political systems wish to impose a dictatorship or authoritarian rule that would supersede our frail very frail democracy I do worry that civil security remain a focus for the best and brightest since its resolution of issues is not [even if sometimes] going to result in the deaths of our democracies enemies by violence either through the military or criminal law enforcement paradigm. And of course it would help if Congress upgraded itself for the modern world. Perhaps adding the word “criminal” before “law enforcement” in Posse Commitatus Act which in fact was the real intention in the beginning of this statute designed to remove UNION troops from criminal law enforcement in the former Confederate States. Well much to be done. I also believe that non-civil security programs, functions, and activities must be removed from DHS as soon as possible. Also that more effort must be made to decide how cooperative and collaborative DHS should be on civil security issues generally and perhaps even given direct regulatory authority and standard setting authority. Note that the critical nodes of our society often exist in regulatory and standard setting “never-never land” as a deliberate strategy by lobbyists to enrich those operating in those sensitive nodes often at high risk to the public.
And is the failure of any White House to organize a domestic civil crisis management system [the closest was Ronald Reagan oddly enough in NSEC and EO 12656] and chain of command. The British Military always talks about “having a grip on things” as in get a grip and it is becoming clearly by the day that no one in Washington as currently structured has much of a grip on what could be considered normal and certainly not for what widely might be perceived as a domestic crisis. So let US get to work.
Hey the British Coat of Arms contains but a single word–ENDURE– and it does seem that the question of whether any government such as ours so concieved can long endure when so few are trying to ensure its protection. We are a large complex country and citizenry in a large and complex world. That is assured until Apocolypse. So let’s just get on with the fact that technology is a two side sword and we must recognize and deal with it.

Crude efforts at internal security in the past have yielded a present in the US that makes this challenge one that is steep and forbidding for those who wish to preserve liberty and individualism and democracy. It probably never will be perfect but it can involve collaboration, cooperation and compromises that allow our system to endure. This is a worthwhile task to have for DHS to participate in now and probably forever.

Comment by J.

October 12, 2010 @ 7:42 am

I agree, homeland security is not a legacy concept. Maybe the challenge is that it was never really organized well to begin with. In the scramble to “do something” after 9/11, there was too much to assimulate into one department and no one has ever gone back to re-organize the department for efficiencies. Add to this the many, many congressional committees and subcommittees involved in DHS oversight, and it becomes a very tough thing to do.

HLS is not done, not going away, but it sure isn’t efficient. As you point out, Christopher, developing a new strategic plan would be a place to start. Reducing the congressional oversight would be second, and realigning some of the internal components of DHS would be third. It could be done.

Comment by John F. Morton

October 12, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

The discussion is worthwhile but misplaced. The terms national security, homeland security and emergency management can be defined as broadly or as narrowly as the parties to the discussion may wish to debate. But the fact of the matter is this: our system of security governance still dates from the National Security Act of 1947. At that time, the Federal government pretty much solely was the governmental level which dealt in national security. States and local governments didn’t really have any equities then in policy development and execution vis-a-vis the geostrategic threat. Nobody would hold to that today. Yet we are still talking as if some sort of Federal-level reorganization and focus is going to straighten everything out. It won’t. The Federal government, indeed government at all levels, does not own the problem. Witness the oft-cited statement that the private sector owns 85% of national critical infrastructure. The Federal government thus does not own the solution–regardless of whether DHS exists, the HSC gets rolled into the NSC or homeland security as a legacy concept has no meaning. Here’s my point. Since the pre-World War One Progressive Era, this country has matured structures and processes that are progressively centralized in the Federal government. They are 19th and 20th century industrial. We have to move on. It is time to look at U.S. governance in this “post-industrial” era with all its threats and realities. If we want a resilient polity (mandatory for COG and COOP), we need to revisit “federalism” and consider a 21st century “networked federalism” with policy development and execution devolving to the states and in home rule states (as most are)to local juridictions. Required is a new constitutional contract where these three levels of sovereignty over a common people and common territory come together to find collaborative structures and processes. And I submit that would be best done at the regional levels for that region in structures and via processes tailored for that region by policies developed by co-equal partners, Federal, state, local, tribal, territorial and private sector and NGO.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 12, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

Agree with you comments John M. but unfortunately most inside the beltway really have no use for the opinions of “others”! Many are driven by egos, hubris, and greed and the thought of “service” to the greater good and betterment of the community is looked on as irrelevant and immaterial and ridiculous. It is not just the need to be “right” but the need to have control and to “win” that is part of the problem. The founders worried this might happen but of course they could only hope that their Constitutional choices in separating powers of government would make for compromise for the greater good. Part of this goes to the judgement of the political leadership as to the future and current choices. What’s in it for “me” seems to be the basic policy driver. A non-profit sector run largely to benefit the officers of the non-profit seems to me to epitomize the problem. That sector alone is now 10% of GDP! Yet few of the non-profits ever spend much on preparedness even thoughs with federally chartered roles like the ARC [American Red Cross]! ne

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 12, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

Post Script! Let’s hope that the legacy of Homeland Security is not to have made vestigal democracy in US.

Comment by The Boyish and Devilish Ways of the Beltway!

October 13, 2010 @ 8:12 am

Wow! Reading these comments and after so much money spent on Homeland Security and given the reality of Life….it is obvious the esteemed William Cumming is again right on target with his perspectve shared within and to those of us on Main Street USA, we are so utterly amazed and disappointed by those we “entrust” to serve the public as they stand with arm raised high and swear to uphold our Constitution and our beloved Republic….

This void in leadership and this “What’s in it for me” portrayal we see on both sides of the aisle is so unfortunate when so many truly seek our demise with swords sharpened and computer technology at their fingertips! To those of you reading this blog, let no one underestimate the passion and patriotism we feel for country and our neighbor…Not far from me is the Lexington Green and to those who doubt the ommitment we feel towards our beloved Republic, read our history showing how resilient we are as a people and a nation!

As I have pointed out, now come the currency battles and as the global economies worsen and Middle East peace is compromised not by the building of settlements or rocket attacks to kill innocent civilians, but by a change in Egyptian leadership and the same in Turkey where more “fundamentalism” will cause an erosion of regional stability and a rising Germany and its side kick, the Vatican to rise and with their swords sharpened, the strife will be quite evident whether you watch CNN or Fox News….

Chris has provoked a healthy discussion and more should share their input as he cited his friend’s statement that “Homeland Security was a legacy concept.”

Unfortunately I do not agree.

I have seen Homeland Security in action at the local level work quite well with men and women prepared in skill and prepared 25×7 whether on a weekend or during the afternoon, always vigilant and prepared, working together quite capable and very serious in their valued skill sets and commitment to protect citizen and country. Bravo!

Monies have been wasted of course and this is unacceptable and yes, there are far too many political appointmentees and more experienced and devoted men and women need to be recruited into the ranks. It is of course Homeland Security!

I applaud the folks such as NYPD, the Massachsuetts State Police, local police and detectives in cities and towns everywhere USA and others as well so committed in their unselfish dedication to pursue every concern and criminal who chooses to do harm against citizen or country. Our flag still flies high with these dedicated men and women who make our Life safer than any other place. We say, thank you for your service!

Thank you to Chris for this presentation for it is apparent that DHS HQ and its composition must be cleaned up of those who do not feel the patriotic passion for our nation and for the requirements of a strong Department of Homeland Security for those of us on Main Street, many of whom remember quite well the experiences of War and thr ruthlessness of man that we do not want America the legacy to be written so, but the nation of a strong, yet charitable people who work pretty damn hard and fully respect those that were so diligent to create America, our beloved Republic which has been the beacon of hope for so, so many fleeing the taxes and fees imposed by the King and for so many fleeing oppression and those who prefer to prey on those who have less. To anyone who chooses to subvert the righteousness God’s laws and the respect for fellow human and Life, God is witness to all!

To you Mr. President and the first lady, you have far too narrow perspective to achieve a great deal other than to impose government and to “enslave” Americans here on Main Street USA with the only “change” realized, the remaining “change” you have stolen from our pockets. Your trip to Spain with daughter in hand versus a trip to teh Grand Canyon to show the richness of America, the public school system which is not good enough for your daughters and so on and so forth…even your cigarette smoking when you are at the helm and not only your daughters watch you light up, but Andre sitting at his eloquent office in Switzerland must surely relish at more profits with each of your light ups and puffs of smoke so much a portrayal of the incompetencies portrayed by you and in fact, many elected government folks who as William Cumming states, “What’s in it for me as the basic policy driver.”

Com’on America, overcome your narrow perspectives for we must look within to see the dysfunctional ways and to you Janet, clean up your house. You have far too many dedicated and truly caring Americans working within the Department of Homeland Security and they do not need deadwood seated net to them or across the table for the price is far too high and the clock continues to tick as this world, riddled with so much corruption, promises another crossroad in history where man’s existence will again fall into the hands of our Creator and the Biblical verse he bestowed upon the believer giving us the opportunity to be responsible, not to create a Homeland Security which Chris’s friend suggested that it was a legacy concept, but a Judeo-Christian based nation of people tolerant of others and respectful to the dignity of another of God’s children understanding that certainly we are often different, but our similarities from genetics to our most basic requirements are much the same and wheile we need not embrace, we can attentively listen to another and as long as we do not impose our values on another, for the most part, we can overcome much….

I reieterate taht we here on Main Street USA have much appreciation to those who stand tall each and every day protecting each of us even from the dastardly way of the “Brutes of Tehran” or the “KGB Putinites” and unfortunately from the boyish and often devilish ways of the beltway!

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
Po Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645

Comment by Art Botterell

October 14, 2010 @ 12:47 am

John Morton has brought us back to the essential question that’s been posed on this blog before: what exactly is it that we’re securing? The word “homeland” (and does anyone else feel faintly uneasy about some of the resonances of that term?) has become a rorschach for a lot of different preconceptions and agendas.

But whatever particulars get mapped to the H-word, it’s a fundamentally conservative construct in its nature. HS seems generally to refer to the perpetuation of some sort of political, economic or cultural status-quo-ante. Which might not automatically be the best national strategy in a changing global, economic, technological and social environment.

Although it does, of course, work for the folks for whom it already works.

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