Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 3, 2011

Not the end. But maybe the beginning of the end.

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on May 3, 2011

I don’t know how you first learned bin Laden was dead. I learned from a text message.

I don’t know what you said when you found out. I said “Wow!”

I rarely say wow. I never use exclamation points.


We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.

I read those words a few days ago in Mother Jones in an article called “The science of why we don’t believe science.”

I still can’t get my reason or my deliberate around bin Laden’s death. So this post is filtered through quick-fire emotions that are highly biased about a topic I care about.


The physical effects of September 11, 2001 were localized to three places in America. The psychic impacts unquestionably were global.

The physical effects of bin Laden’s death were localized to one compound in Pakistan. The psychic effects can also be global.


The meaning of his death is not something to be discovered. It is something to be created.

Bin Laden’s death presents a historic opportunity for American leadership to alter the meaning of American history.

For what do leaders do if not create an image of a possible future and enlist others to work to make that future happen.

What should that future be for homeland security? Do we drift? Do we take advantage of this opportunity and disrupt complacent routine?


George Bush wanted an Office of Homeland Security, not a Department of Homeland Security.

Rightly or not, his instinct was to give Tom Ridge the responsibility — from within the White House — to redirect the efforts of myriad agencies responsible for intelligence, counter terrorism, and the other functions that failed to protect the nation from the 19 hijackers.

Bush’s vision was trumped by reality politics that threatened to out macho him unless he supported a Department of Homeland Security.

What did we gain from being so politically correct?

John Mueller and Mark Stewart — in an eviscerating analysis of homeland security spending (available as a pdf file here) — write “The cumulative increase in expenditures on US domestic homeland security over the decade since 9/11 exceeds one trillion dollars.”

What has that money purchased?

Their analysis supports in extensive detail Bush’s instinct.  They cite an observation by Michael Sheehan, former New York City Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism:

The most important work in protecting our country since 9/11 has been accomplished with the capacity that was in place when the event happened, not with any of the new capability bought since 9/11. I firmly believe that those huge budget increases have not significantly contributed to our post-9/11 security….The big wins had little to do with the new programs.

Mueller and Stewart conclude “in order for enhanced United States expenditures on homeland security to be deemed cost-effective …, they would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect against 1,667 otherwise successful Times-Square type attacks per year, or more than four per day.”

And Mueller and Stewart are being conservative.


Bin Laden’s death may not symbolize the end of the war on terrorism. But his death can, if we want it, be the beginning of the end of the war on terrorism.

That does not mean we ignore the hundreds if not thousands of people who still want to destroy the United States.

But we have institutions more adept than our still-cobbled homeland security apparatus to defend against, disrupt, and destroy that threat: our military, our diplomats, our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence professionals.

We have institutions to protect the border and transportation systems, respond to disasters, ensure the public’s health. Maybe there was a political case at the turn of this century for including most of them within a single organization. Does that case still make sense?


Demobilization after both major 20th century wars did not prove easy for government. There is little reason to expect it to be easy in this century. But if the end of this forever war cannot at least begin with an event like bin Laden’s death, what is it going to take?

There have been almost 6,000 American casualties in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. How many more do there have to be before this thing ends?

Yes, there is still a threat. But is it that big a deal?

Where do we go to find an answer to that question? Is there someone in government who will say? Think tanks? Universities? Google?

John Mueller and Mark Stewart remind us of Stephen Flynn’s 2004 test for when the United States knows it has enough security: when “the American people can conclude that a future attack on U.S. soil will be an exceptional event that does not require wholesale changes in how they go about their lives.”

Are we there yet?

Even after Hitler’s death and Germany’s World War Two surrender, many Nazis continued terrorizing. But they were beaten.

Can we say with this man’s death al Qaeda is beaten?

Can we go about our lives not checking over our shoulders every few minutes to see if death is coming?

Can we get back to creating a more perfect Union?


What vision of homeland security do we want now?

For starters, let’s get rid of the term. I know nobody who thinks the phrase “homeland security” is in any way right for what we are about as a country.

How about human security? Security for people instead of for land.

Porter and Mykleby (in their essay A National Strategic Narrative) offer a way to get closer to that end. Spend less on defense and more on the other dimensions of American life that bolster our security. Invest in “intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.” And be better stewards of the “natural resources we need for our continued wellbeing, prosperity and economic growth in the world marketplace.”

You can read U.S. Navy Captain Porter and U.S. Marine Colonel Mykleby’s monograph at this link.


America needed to retool economically, politically, and socially after World War Two. It was not a painless process.

Bin Laden’s death offers a new chance to retool.

Bring the troops home. Reduce and re-channel defense and homeland security spending. Attend to human security: jobs, education, health care, civility.


No one knows what bin Laden’s death means.

It can be as big a deal in our history as the Towers crashing and the Pentagon burning.  If we allow it.

His death is not the end of the barbarity he symbolized. But it can symbolize the beginning of the end of one struggle and a renewal of where we’ve been before, a time not long ago when:

We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.


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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 3, 2011 @ 7:07 am

A great post by Chris! Again showing why the posters out gun the commentators on this blog by a long way intellectually.

The two main drivers of the American economy are Health and organizing violence for use domestically and internationally. So demobilization may have unintended impacts since the world does the first better for less money elsewhere and the world probably does not need a nation-state that outspends the rest of the world on organized violence and its implements.

UBL to me is a sympton of a disease not the cause of a disease. The disease being the failure of morality in the modern world to enable the renunciation of violence to spread various “isms” and religions and political systems and economic systems. Perhaps this is the way of the world for all time. In reading Sci-Fi (a lot) from 4th Grade to 8th Grade it often occurred that a peaceful earth was under attack by aliens but repelled them because the Earthlings were able to use the collective wisdom of their members to do so and often utilizing systems and processes that allowed them to do it. The Internet? Anyhow one of my favorite all time movies was the first “The Day the Earth Stood Still” with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. Also took place in a 1950 Washington DC where I lived in Arlington VA. Peaceful interaction followed by human stupidity. Well insightful then and now IMO.

I realize that some of the reports mentioned in the post reflect the real reason why DHS failed so miserably in its first QHSR because it failed to follow the statutory mandate of a BUR that tracked budget and staff to contributions to HS for all DHS programs, functions, and activities.

It has long been clear that the big three of DHS purposes was well beyond the intellectual or administrative capacity of those chosen to lead DHS. First, WMD prevention and response. Second, CIP and in particular cyber security. And third, collection, analysis and dessemination of domestic INTEL while protecting civil liberties and rights and privacy.

And many legacy systems and processes and programs, functions, and activities were allowed to wither because of political beliefs. Most of DHS should be operated on a non-partisan and non-partisan basis but with over 1000 politically vetted positions that will not happen ever. In bureacracy power to conduct a programs is gradually accumulate and knowledge is also gradually accumulated. By dependence on contractors has largely lobotomized DHS in its ops.

Well we will now be learning whether AQ has been lobotomized by the death of UBL or perhaps as I believe made more dangerous and capable since oddly I view UBL as being daring but extremely patient and cautious in implementation until fully ready for implementation of his ideas. Perhaps I am wrong about that also. One thing is clear is that UBL did not try and probably could not “trump” the 9/11/01 attacks for audacity and impact.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 3, 2011 @ 8:41 am

The Muellar/Stewart article is excellent. No discussion of opportunity costs or reform of current defective systems and processes existing since before 9/11/01 still in place. Was Katrina response a cost of HOMELAND SECURITY becoming DHS?

Personally I count at least a dozen federal programs, functions and activities outside DHS more important to HS than anything in DHS? Two are those located in EPA and CDC!

Comment by HGRATTAN

May 3, 2011 @ 8:54 am

UBL K.I.A 02 MAY 2011, nearly 10 years since 11 SEPTEMBER 2001.

I learned of UBL’s death early Monday morning. I woke to a string of e-mails with the news. I started my day with my morning run. As is my custom, my run is my means to reflect on the issues of the day. Running has sustained me through many trials and tribulations. Sometimes I stopped running for months at a time for various reasons. I stopped for four days on the morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001 and have not stopped running since. I know very few things with certainty. I do know that running, above all else, got me through 9/11 ….and Monday, May 2, 2011.

I was taught to hate the sin and not the sinner. Truth be told, I have no love for UBL. He killed my friends and colleagues. He could have killed me.
The precepts of jus ad bellum and jus in bello afford government the right, if not the obligation, to assassinate the likes of UBL. If asked, I would have joined the action and I thank those who took part. I pray for them and those that stand in harm’s way for justice and the American way of life. (See qualification below)

I am considering praying for UBL and especially his followers who continue to hate America and terrorize mankind.

QUALIFICATION: I am not sure that every aspect of American [and Western] government and culture is a jus ad bellum.

On Easter Sunday, my family watched the movie The Wind That Shakes the Barley see trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hc61Cjmmbkg

My wife, who had not previously seen the movie, was so disturbed by what she saw that she left the room saying no wonder her father hates the British.

Like many NYC Police Officers, I am of Irish heritage. Both of my parents were born there. Both of my wife’s parents were born there. As a teenager, I once came home with a black T-shirt with a rock band with a Union Jack in the background. My father tore the shirt off of my person.

I know a good deal of Irish history. I know little of my Irish ancestor’s dealings with the British.
I know my parents left Ireland. I think I understand some of the anguish and resentment that some Irish feel towards the British. I believe that England should get out of Ireland.

Few have the strength of Gandhi, when offended they strike back. Our forefathers struck back against the same British government because they were offended and resented the way they were treated. Our forefathers created a great but not perfect government.

“Why do they hate us? Perhaps, some US policy is offensive and some governments and people rightfully oppose and resent US hegemony. Might some US policy “shake the barley?”

Some have spoken of a legitimization scale of terrorism wherein some terrorists are more or less legitimate then others. Sometimes, as was the case of our forefathers 234 years ago, the terrorists are freedom fighters that become Presidents of great nations.

Sometimes terrorists leverage and intertwine legitimate grievances with selfish and evil intentions.

For the record, I believe that AQ and its affiliates are the enemy and a jus ad bellum.

Mine is not an attack solely on Western and US hegemony. The history of mankind is that of groups of people and varying forms of governmental hegemony or worse of other peoples and their governments.

Where do we go from here?

Some good news:

Support for AQ (prior to UBL’s death) is on a downward spin (PEW).

Tyranny has a new enemy the WWW, FB, TWITTER, other.

Proposals for school books instead of guns are on the rise.

Me, I am going to keep running, praying, and educating.



Comment by Dan O'Connor

May 3, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

The blog post and comments are rich and deep in a variety of tones and also heritage for me. I am struck at the willingness of Bill to say organizing violence is a mechanism of commerce and my connection with HGRATTAN sentiment has been previously stated in blog responses and the fact that both are connected in some fashion to empires to me is fascinating.
There is some highly provocative prose and to a lesser degree lamentation in the writings Chris attached as well as his central theme. Few people can define Homeland Security…even fewer can define security contextually in safety. Is safety a “feeling” or a state? In either case it is a human construct, not a natural one. In nature, safety or survival is maintained by avoidant or bellicose behavior, not usually both. Safety is also akin to insurance…if you have it, it changes your behavior.
There are some additional thoughts here to hopefully tie this together; On page 7 of the National Strategic Narrative it states that…”America is a resplendent, plentiful and fertile land, rich with natural resources, bounded by vast ocean spaces. Together these gifts are ours to be enjoyed for their majesty, cultivated and harvested for their abundance, and preserved for following generations. Many of these resources are renewable, some are not.”

In some context, we were spared the devastation and destruction of generations of War on European Soil and were left standing, with resources, work force, and primacy as a world superpower. It was inevitable that our exploitation of our own wealth and resources would elevate our economy, standard of living, and expectations through the roof. It’s in that expectation that our demise of potential thereof lies.

We vigorously pursue a culture of bounty and abundance without investment or stewardship. If we are unable to account for our spending and cannot define, identify, qualify or quantify a return on investment that why do we do it? So in the probability neglect juxtaposed to unmeasured spending is supported by a trepidatous economy, than we have an overextended empire.

Now, that maybe a negative connotation for American Expectionalism and/or manifest destiny but the chicken or the egg dance with the left and right, the pure capitalist and the pure socialist, has left the “middle” holding the bag, so to speak. The American Dream now requires two full time employees to maintain…qualify maybe more appropriate.
Recently, McDonalds had over 1,000,000 people apply for a minimum wage job. Only 60, 000 workers were hired for a 6% selection rate….You had better odds of getting into Harvard than working at McDonalds.
According to Forbes, the United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Technology has replaced a lot of those jobs but by and large, millions of jobs are lost forever.
The education system we are currently flogging was built to feed an industrial aged economy with rudimentary complaint workers , not a knowledge based one and we are not preparing future employees. We’ve also conditioned these future American adults that debt is irrelevant, satisfy now, instant gratification is what it’s about and it’s all about you… the entitlement culture…
What does that have to with any of this? Well, to Bill’s point, if Clausewitz was correct and war is simply an extension of politics than is politics an extension of economics? And if that’s the case, than war is economics and in that context in order to preserve our economy we must continue to fight…
Many, many jobs are tied to supporting the department of defense enterprise. Further still, the burgeoning intelligence and homeland security industries have created employment but only for transferring money. There is not a great deal of enterprise or entrepreneurial production when your primary client is the United States Government. How does the government pay? See raising the debt ceiling and deficit spending for details.
So yes, one could make a clear and concise argument that organizing violence globally is an engine of commerce… do we understand the price of our culture…not a judgment, but a rhetorician’s tool… Please see Rome, Portugal, Spain, Ottoman, French, Dutch, and English empires for their attempts to maintain power and economic over extension.
Fear is a wonderful tool for compliance. Fear of the unknown breeds consent and allows those who differ with a trend to be drowned out with mongering. If fatigue makes cowards of us all, than fear simply emasculates us. What happened on 911 was horrible; a tragic and cowardly attack that scared the dickens out of us. So what does Killing UBL do for us? On a traditional American front; we got our man. On a more ephemeral one; He is the 2 TRILLION DOLLAR MAN.
We have been given the allowance of fear and entitlement because those who remember or lived through the depression and were sandwiched with two world wars were not so fortunate. Our post war affluence has erased our memories of resilience and made us nationally weak and terrible dependant on entitlements. Are we entitled to live in a zero vulnerability world? What’s the cost of that dream?
So the jump for me is; are we safer now than we were a decade ago? And if not, when will we be? What price is our safety, our way of life, and our future? Do you think those 340 people who died in Alabama last week were really interested in the Royal wedding as much as the newscasters were? Do you think they could use the funding for assistance in lieu of an artificial exercise program, a gamed UASI grant program, or bloated bureaucracy continuing to provide an ill defined return on investment? Is their loss and tragedy any different because it was a tornado vice a terrorist? What is the likelihood of a repeat of either?
Do you think the English could have spared a bit of food for the Irish? I mean it was the Irish’ land stolen from them and rented back to them so they could farm for the English all the while starving… symbolism and metaphor aside until we really address our problems and really have leaders that can influence behavior and unite a growing polarization of constituents, this exercise is the epitome of futility. Where will we go if the land turns against us and the empire crumbles? What will we do if we continue to lose manufacturing base and jobs? Who will lead us and tell us not what we want to hear but what we must do?
Matthew 7:3-5 (New International Version)
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
It’s often difficult to discuss these subjects without a degree of hypocrisy. We are all involved in some degree or another in the “enterprise”. John Boyd, the famed Air Force pilot, self made intellectual, and OODA loop designer had a saying; “ …you’ll come to a fork in the road and you’ll have to decide; do you want to be somebody or so something? ”. The “be somebodies” are in charge and they will grind down the “do somethings” . Probably a bit of hyperbole, but I’ll let the facts speak for themselves. Complexity grows and answers are less probable. Solutions will be fleeting.
So is this an existential threat? “Can we go about our lives not checking over our shoulders every few minutes to see if death is coming?” The only existential thing about it is death. It will come to all of us at its choosing, not ours.
Not the end. But maybe the beginning of the end…. Nature and the body have a way of righting their system; ones called adaptation and the other called homeostasis. To my ear the beginning of the end is both literal and metaphorical. One way or the other our current path needs to be fixed or it will fix itself. Unsustainable means just that… no longer able to proceed as is.
Chris is right; can we get back to creating a more perfect Union? Killing bin Laden means nothing if in our pursuit of him means we lie in ruins. What will be the return on investment?

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 3, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

Great comments by others who also exceed my intellectual firepower.

Comment by Dylan

May 4, 2011 @ 9:39 am

“Personally I count at least a dozen federal programs, functions and activities outside DHS more important to HS than anything in DHS?” Really? Twelve that are more important than our border screeners, our ICE removal activities, our coast guard operations, our customs inspectors, our naturalization processors, our information sharing programs, our CVE efforts, our Federal Air Marshals, our Secret Service agents, and our Federal Protective Service? I could be persuaded that there are a dozen that are more important than our TSA screeners, our US-CERT analysts, our Science and Technology researchers, our FEMA response and recovery frameworks, our FLETC trainers, our NOC and CAT functions, USVISIT, and whatever the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement do. But let’s not dismiss DHS so easily.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

How about the other 15 members of the INTEL community as a starter?

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

And Dylan you might document how FEMA has a role in prevention, protection, and deterrence of terrorism? I would argue that FEMA is or should be prohibited by law from expending resources or funds on Law Enforcement, military ops, or certain other activities under the Robert T. Stafford Act.The others you mention have not been documented by DHS in its summary of its successes in HS so far but in fact in their pre-9/11/01 programs, functions, and activities all of which have declined for the most part in staffing and funding since 9/11/01! I believe that within DHS and its various components almost 500 FTE policy analysts have so far assisted in ensuring that DHS has met few if any statutory mandates.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

Whatever happens internationally the next 6 weeks the floods on the Mississippi will prove conclusively whether the new FEMA exists and whether it is the little agency that could.
Whatever else happens the NLE 2011 Exercise should be rescheduled for later not during this next 6 weeks. The real test for FEMA is going to be stressful enough. And in another interesting development the requests of TEXAS for drought/fire assistance from FEMA turned down with extensive documentation by FEMA that many previous declarations and grants for TEXAS same subject in last 24 months were provided. I have never repeat never seen a FEMA turndown before publically defended by recent prior declarations and grants. So if repetitive losses for the NFIP are a problem perhaps repetitive disaster declarations are now a new issue for FEMA evaluations of STATES and their local governments real needs. Of course beware drawing a line in the sand with the TEXANS! OUCH!

Comment by Dylan

May 6, 2011 @ 9:04 am


You originally said “more important to HS,” not prevention, protection, and deterrence of terrorism. Certainly there may be more than a dozen programs outside of DHS that are more important to prevention, protection, and deterrence of terrorism than FEMA. There are not, however, a dozen outside DHS that are more important to HS than FEMA.

You are absolutely right about NLE 11. NLE 2009 occurred in the midst of H1N1 planning and everyone was distracted from the exercise.

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