Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 29, 2010

What I Learned in 2010

The end of one year and the beginning of another gives one pause. New beginnings are a chance to start over. If we’re honest with ourselves, a bit of reflection can help us enter the knew year equipped with insights that help us avoid or at least reduce the impact of new calamities like those that confronted us in the year before. As I look back at 2010 for lessons, here are the top five things I saw that make me wonder what the year ahead holds in store:

We still don’t know security when we see it. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously quipped in a landmark First Amendment case that he knew hard-core pornography when he saw it. Unfortunately, the naked truth about homeland security is we still know know what it is when we see it. Full body scanners and aggressive pat downs to search airline passengers have, however, hinted at the limits of public support for security theater. That said, we still have few clear hints how we should balance the competing interests of civil liberties like privacy and security.

We may be smarter, more successful and skillful than our adversaries, but that ain’t saying all that much; or, maybe it’s just hard to find good help these days. Most of the homeland security successes we witnessed this year, seem more like lucky strikes than genuinely skillful performances by our security services. Maybe that’s because our adversaries have had less success recruiting skilled operatives than we might have imagined. This makes me wonder: with unemployment still running nearly 10 percent nationally (and much higher in some minority communities) why is it so hard to find skilled help? What’s more, as local and state governments find themselves in the death grip of fiscal austerity, how will they meet public expectations of them for safety and security? Judging by public criticism of the response to severe weather events as we end the year, not well at all.

It’s the economy, stupid. Before we had even managed to stop writing or typing 2009 when we meant 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake that some estimates suggest killed more than 250,000 people and left millions more homeless. As the year came to a close, the country languished in the grip of a cholera epidemic and a presidential succession crisis. The flow of aid lagged far behind pledges from international donors, leaving the impoverished country barely clinging to life. If we ever had any reason to doubt the fact, Haiti confirmed that poverty is any adversary or calamity’s best friend. The corollary to that observation is equally clear and simple: Resilience is about resources. The fungibility of capital — that is the ability of any individual or group to apply their stores of human, social or political capital to conduct transactions that transform natural, economic or material resources to their own or others’ benefit — depends on both the sufficiency and diversity of those hard assets as much or more than any degree of cleverness or incentive to apply themselves. Necessity is the mother of chaos, not invention. In the absence of resources, don’t expect that to change unless you are willing to watch things get worse not better.

Victory (sometimes) favors the unprepared. The benefits of diverse stores of all forms of hard and soft capital was aptly illustrated by the New Zealand response to September’s earthquake in Christchurch and the numerous and still ongoing aftershocks. People there weren’t all that well prepared (especially for the specific event that occurred), but they knew how to use what they had to take care of what they needed. As such, they fared much better than the Haitians and required no outside assistance. The Chileans too, although better prepared than either the New Zealanders or Haitians, demonstrated that was all the more true when a society’s resources and mindsets are both well-adapted to the environment they inhabit.

Casting oil on the water sometimes makes waves. Rather than calming turbulent seas, the explosive destruction of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico and the resulting release of millions of gallons of crude oil into the sea made waves for months. Rather than crystallizing public opinion on energy policy and the need to invest in alternatives to petroleum, the federal response — both on a regulatory level and an operational level — came under intense criticism for ignoring the needs of local citizens who depended upon the Gulf of Mexico for their livelihood. Never mind that some depended upon industries that posed a risk to these ecosystems while others depended on the ecosystem itself, the debate never fully confronted the difficult policy choices facing the country now or in the future. As the federal government continues its work with Gulf Coast states on a recovery plan we should be looking forward not backward for answers about the future.

Clearly, many more things happened in 2010 than I have covered here. What were your top lessons learned from 2010? And what are your hopes for the year ahead?

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5 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 29, 2010 @ 3:14 am

A great yearend post by Mark.All of the above list are worthy of the fullest attention of all “learning organizations” and people.
Perhaps my key contribution to the above would be the substantial change in mindset in HHS and CDC on public health issues and importance of awareness of that sector to resilience overall of the US its economy and polity. These organizations are clearly leaning forwards. My suggestion is that Public Health become fully federalized since we can no longer tolerate weak “sisters” in the form of the STATE and their local governments on public health issues. Energy and health seem to underpin any other efforts in HS to me including “security”!” What is the 250 FTE operation in DHS doing exactly under the Chief Medical Officer?

I view health care reform as being highly deficient in not really addressing public health and preventative health measures more directly as enacted.

And now it looking like Haiti is just as scary and domestic a disaster as I have argued. Also interesting that the Cuban effort there, completely missing from MSM in USA, has in fact grown from more than battalion strenght and on it ways to regimental strength in that country. Remember Grenada? The CUBANS seem to be at the very forefront of the Cholera Control and response effort. Where are WE?

And despite the almost ferocious attacks on the Coast Guard I think they did pretty well on the BP Catastrophe but others may disagree. They have so many critical missions that if I was the President I would double their funding and staffing and give up some of the DOD dollars being wasted through fraud and abuse and lack of oversight.

Well Happy New Years to all! The Republicans in the house have decided to make no changes in Committee structure or oversight. A major failure of governance in my mind. Perhaps the theory is that they will have the Senate also by 2012 but in the meantime oversight of HS issues, policies and problems will not be driven by the HOUSE.

Comment by Jason

December 29, 2010 @ 11:32 am

“We still don’t know security when we see it.”

Sure we do. It’s easy to recognize “security theater” for what it is. It’s easy to acknowledge the limitations of throwing billions of dollars at a problem, and when assuming risk is a much more logical approach to developing homeland security solutions. It’s Congress that will not accept security as it is or what is required to acheive a sustainable security program.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

December 30, 2010 @ 9:02 am

As we close out 2010, We here on Main Street USA
question whether the so-called “Blizzard” that struck the east coast met all the technical criteria needed to be actually recorded as a “Blizzard” rather as to what I saw as a classic nor’easter here at least in the metropolitan Boston and Cape Cod area where we I will refer to http://www.bluehill.org and as our nation’s oldest weather observatory boasting daily climatological weather record keeping since 1885, as hearty New Englanders look forward to such vertical development into the atmosphere hoping the storm will stall off our south and east coast like the great Blizzard of 1978….

Imagine, so many locals especially in the Brooklyn area didn’t even have snow shovels ready when those in Virgina and North Carolina seemed to be far more prepared and the citizenry of this country will be prepared for bio/chem attack….

We will rely on the politicians who will soon be awakened as Sunni and those on the other side will rock the Middle East as the “Brutes of Tehran” cause calamity, a well known intent and a western world having no one lead the charge – oh…history repeats itself and we learn little from the past and afford the evil axis existence and position to place the civilized world at great peril.

Buy your snow shovels – its Winter and more snows expected by the end of next week and February promising even more snows, maybe even a real Blizzard of epic proportions as We as New England weather enthusiasts look forward to seeing the beauty and strength of Mother Nature as depicted here at least in New England for many a storm with factual stories of snows over the rooftops!

Be prepared, enlightened yourselves to your surroundings. Get out and get to know your neighbor.

Be prepared as well for Spring promises gasoline prices nearing $6 and by summer even more as all will pay the cost of a Congressional membership entrusted by our precious vote which has obvious self-agenda as its priority and a Goldman Sachs executive administration who could give a damn as to the principles of this nation and its values, just the bottom line, getting the monies out of the pockets of Americans as quickly as possible and enslaving them to third world nation status as we are bankrupted many times over and with housing prices at their lowest, unemployment still hovering around 10%, the jobless recovery and more…

Mrs. Obama put back the bust of Winston Churchill which you took away and replaced with Marin Luther King for We here on Main Street USA know full well our nation’s rich history and the stories of unfortunate issues of slavery and those that encountered such ignorance and so much more, yet today in this 21st century, it is Winston Churchill we seek, not Martin Luther King for it is hoped that We have clasped hands and are proud of our diversity as a nation, but it is the “Brutes of Tehran” which demand our nation’s leadership immediate attention as soon it will not only be the trigger they have in hand, but the bomb which threatens the Hebrew and as importantly, the Saudi, those in the UAE and so many more and unfortunately like many in Brooklyn without snow shovel to be prepared, our Executive and Congressional have turned their cheek to the whirlwind – not a nor-easter or blizzard – the whirlwind which will sweep across the Middle East as the dastardly deeds of this regime with even rich Persian blood on its hands…a bunch of thugs who cannot be underestimated and soon will spin off a “Whirlwind of the 21st Century.”

God Bless America and God Bless us all!

It is time to demand clarity, accountability and to confront those with evil intent, those seeking our demise for we here on Main Street USA see our inability to deal with a nor-easter never mind far much more created by mankind.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 31, 2010 @ 9:04 am

Recommending wet/dry vac be added to each families emergency supplies. If you don’t need it your neighbors may!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

January 4, 2011 @ 12:21 am

A terrific suggestion! Very handy. Have used four at one time helping a neighbor cope with flooding rains! Without these vacuums, water would have filled the basement as we worked in shifts to keep up with the water coming up through the floor. Many varied uses!

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