Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 10, 2011

Shouldn’t we at least agree about the ground rules first?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 10, 2011

This is another in a series of posts considering the analysis and recommendations of Linda Kiltz in a recent edition of the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.


“To date, there is no agreed definition of homeland security, no grand theory explaining the phenomenon of homeland security, no standardized curriculum, little discussion of the history, paradigms and philosophies of the field, and ill defined faculty roles.”
–(Kiltz, p. 13).

Definition of GROUND RULE
1: a sports rule adopted to modify play on a particular field, court, or course
2: a rule of procedure <ground rules for selecting a superintendent — American School Board Journal>s.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
While in her article Professor Kiltz paints a beguiling image of a “homeland security education,” the current lack of even general consensus around a definition of “homeland security” itself should be sufficient to give pause and raise a host of questions.  Taking a step back to consider the bigger picture, how can a subject be taught if it cannot be defined?  And why should such a subject require a distinct educational identity when the concept of “national security” is lacking such a robust academic foundation (which seems not to bother practitioners)?

The definition issue

This particular blog post is not about coming to any conclusion, or even arguing for, a particular definition of “homeland security.”  For the sake of the argument considered this week, Kiltz offers the most recent version supplied by the Obama Administration:
The QHSR describes homeland security as the “intersection of evolving threats and hazards with traditional governmental and civic responsibilities for civil defense, emergency response, law enforcement, customs, border patrol, and immigration” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2010, vii).
“Homeland security is a widely distributed and diverse—but unmistakable—national enterprise. The term “enterprise” refers to the collective efforts and shared responsibilities of Federal, State, local, tribal, territorial, nongovernmental, and private-sector partners—as well as individuals, families, and communities—to maintain critical homeland security capabilities. The use of the term connotes a broadbased community with a common interest in the public safety and well being of America and American society that is composed of  multiple actors and stakeholders whose roles and responsibilities are distributed and shared (U.S. Department of  Homeland Security, 2010, viii).”

Fantastic stuff…if complicated.  And unclear.  Somewhat confusing, actually, if you get beyond the aspirations and attempt to imagine the practical implementation of including not only business and NGOs, but private citizens as well into what is still an overwhelmingly government enterprise.

Homeland security was a term adopted following 9/11 and expanded (providing greater emphasis on non-terrorist events) after Hurricane Katrina.  The federal department was thrown together by a small cadre of officials with little thought given to considering the state of the final stew that would emerge from all the ingredients put into the pot. Long standing boxes on the organizational charts at the state and local level were soon moved under new homeland security headings.

Useful synergies were created, though the response to Katrina suggested to many that existing capabilities were also degraded.  Will a common educational foundation help blend all the ingredients in the homeland security pot, or could it instead produce weak stew? Is it possible that the different parts of homeland security bring their own unique point-of-view to solving the big problems, and that this edge could be blunted by attempting to meld this into a multi or interdisciplinary program?

“This stuff will make you a national security Tyrannosaurus, just like me.”

(If you don’t recognize the edited movie quote, than you don’t have time to bleed…)

national security(DOD): A collective term encompassing both national defense and foreign relations of the United States. Specifically, the condition provided by: a. a military or defense advantage over any foreign nation or group of nations; b. a favorable foreign relations position; or c. a defense posture capable of successfully resisting hostile or destructive action from within or without, overt or covert. See also security.
DOD Dictionary of Military Terms

The character played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura in “Predator” would have assumed he was working in the field of national security, even if he might have been at a loss to define it or point to a formal educational foundation. In the real world, the same goes for the members of Seal Team 6 that brought Bin Laden to justice, as well as the intelligence analysts who determined his location and the diplomats who had to deal with angry Pakistani counterparts following the operation.  All work in “national security,” but come from different educational backgrounds.

General Petraeus, COIN jedi and the next director of the CIA,  earned a Ph.D. in international relations while Ash Carter, nominated to be the next deputy of defense, has a Ph.D. in physics.  Their personal backgrounds differ, and they lack common educational training, yet both have risen to national security leadership roles.  More importantly for this conversation, despite their profound differences they have come to not only speak compatible languages but contribute to a shared “national security” goal.

A common educational core does not enable someone from the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, and Langley to work in the same general field and support each others’ efforts while advancing the goals of our national security enterprise. Education is obviously important, as well as common language and joint training and operational opportunities.  Scholars from various fields of study contribute national security-related research–engineers, chemists, sociologists, anthropologists, etc.  The strength of “national security” seems to rest on diversity.

What lessons can be learned for advancing homeland security…whatever that is?

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 10, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

Arnold, I love the line, “This stuff will make you a national security Tyrannosaurus, just like me.” And I didn’t even see the movie.

I also appreciate the diverse sample of national security mavens you identify.

They are really different, and yet — at least in my experience — they often (not always) share an identifiable intellectual approach. Or maybe decisionmaking is the better word.

When I am at a CSIS seminar, for example, even when two national security mavens are trying to tear each other to shreds, they usually deploy similar methods to making claims, presenting evidence, and defending their claims.

Yesterday I tried to suggest this was a product of interdisciplinary thinking. Do you have a better, more grounded explanation? Assuming you have perceived something similar?

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 10, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

Okay what discipline or organization or bureacracy will be defending the USA from “FLASH MOBS”?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 10, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

Bill, Arnold may give you a more direct response, but since you asked — and I happen to be online working on the flash mobs — I will answer with the following long quote. The source is I think germane… it is a 2008 report by a London-based think-tank focused mostly on al-Qaeda and domestic UK radicalization… but in the spirit of all-hazards and resilience and other favorite topics, I think it is worth reading. In your head, cross out references to Muslims, terrorists, and al-Qaeda and read apropos the last several days.

The long quote is also germane to the current discussion. Here is an example of interdisciplinary thinking focused on a specific threat but having all-hazards implications. I don’t know the author, Rachel Briggs, but she demonstrates the approach that I have been trying to make sense of and describe. It is the kind of approach that Arnold’s list of national security leaders seem to take more often than not.

Maybe an unhelpful analogy — it’s been a long day — but after about 20 minutes I can usually tell if someone is the product of a Jesuit or Quaker secondary education. This may redound to Dr. Kiltz’s argument in favor of a more standardized approach to HS higher education. But I cannot usually differentiate one ivy league graduate (broadly understood as including public “ivies”) from another unless they expose a preference for Cambridge or New Haven or Philadelphia or whatever. This suggests a common intellectual “technique” that can transcend place and discipline. This is, I think, closer to Arnold’s argument.

Anyway the quote:

Communities need to be at the heart of our approaches to counter-terrorism for four reasons. First, and most obviously, they offer important sources of information and intelligence: our own in-built early warning system. This is especially important when terrorists are willing to inflict mass carnage without any warning. British intelligence services have been relatively successful at foiling attempts, but complain that they are getting very little information from Muslim communities to help them. Initiatives such as that to decentralize intelligence gathering through a new network of local MI5 branches will prove useless if the Service does not have trusted links into the communities.

Second, communities picking up these signals are themselves best placed to act pre-emptively to divert their young people from violent extremism: the selfpolicing society. Bread and butter counter-terrorism is not the stuff of police raids and intelligence infiltration, it is the everyday, mundane and unglamorous work done on street corners and in living rooms by concerned parents, friends, and neighbours. They are what we might call ‘the unlikely counter-terrorists’.

Third, while the state must also play a role, communities must take the lead in tackling problems that either create grievances or hinder their ability to organise, such as poverty, poor educational and employment attainment, and the paucity of effective leadership and representation. Without a good community infrastructure, government policies and interventions often struggle to gain traction. This point links most directly to what I will say about social resilience.

Finally, the police and Security Service cannot act without the consent of communities they are there to protect. There are those who would argue that Muslims should tolerate inconveniences for the greater good, but this illustrates a lack of understanding about how security is delivered in practice – always through consent, never through force. The nature of the threat from Al Qaida and its associated networks means that the police will often need to intervene much earlier, thereby increasing the risk of making mistakes. Sustaining this practice over the long term will be possible only if Muslim communities trust the police enough to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Social Resilience and National Security – A British perspective (April 2008) Rachel Briggs

By the way, no national security maven that I know would write what I have written here. This is not consistent with the approach. I am not a good example of the approach I am advocating needs to be more prevalent in HS.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

August 10, 2011 @ 6:52 pm


I don’t know the answer to your question, but I would guess law enforcement–from the local level all the way up to the feds.

It’s not like we haven’t had urban riots in this nation. In addition, hopefully a few law enforcement professionals have read Arquilla and Ronfeldt’s edited “Networks and Netwars,” where among others John Sullivan’s chapter touches on the issues facing the UK. (http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1382.html)

But I’m not a law enforcement expert, so I will be very interested in the after action reports if they become public.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

August 10, 2011 @ 7:18 pm


I should be honest, since you haven’t seen the movie. I left out a curse (since this is a family-friendly blog), and replaced an original word with “national security.” The original was a bit more, uh, primal in nature…but I liked the quote as a way to emphasize the overwhelming nature of what most perceive to be the “national security” domain, and to point out that if this huge creature doesn’t require a narrow educational foundation, perhaps homeland security doesn’t either.

I agree with you that mavens almost always exhibit interdisciplinary thinking. I was privileged to have worked at the same research center as Carter and the current science adviser, John Holdren, and recognized that while both had physics-related educational backgrounds they came to work on multidisciplinary issues with an interdisciplinary mindset (and they are really just wicked smart…).

The point I was attempting to make was that “national security” does not have an educational foundation that is either multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary. I believe that mavens become mavens because of their ability to operate in a multi-universe using inter-skills. Others working in this space acquire skills from both, often without having a formal education that emphasizes either. Instead, I perceive there is something about the culture or _______(fill in the blank) about national security that over time has fostered these skills in professionals working on these issues.

In other words, homeland security-related education and training is important but shouldn’t aim to meet goals that don’t even exist in other longer-standing subject areas. Perhaps instead patience is required–homeland security leaders will emerge that display similar ranges of maven-ready skills. Part of that patience is recognizing that many homeland security professionals grew up in disciplines lacking a national or international outlook prior to 9/11. Those emergency managers with whom you engaged concerning the first homeland security strategy did not grok you because of different educational background but because of different perspectives–you were thinking in a national security mindset where national strategies matter, while they still occupied a space where local concerns predominated.

Just a guess.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 11, 2011 @ 4:34 am

Arnold, Thanks for the reply, especially:

The point I was attempting to make was that “national security” does not have an educational foundation that is either multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary. I believe that mavens become mavens because of their ability to operate in a multi-universe using inter-skills. Others working in this space acquire skills from both, often without having a formal education that emphasizes either. Instead, I perceive there is something about the culture or _______(fill in the blank) about national security that over time has fostered these skills in professionals working on these issues.

To the extent we look at the national security mavens as a model I am sure you are right. While I continue to perceive an interdisciplinary education helps, you are right that the mavens (T-Rex’s?) come from every sort of educational background. Yet through apprenticeship experiences they develop “inter-skills” appropriate for the “multi-universe” of national security. Along the way they develop networks of relationships that are crucial to their influence.

I also value the distinction you make between the local focus of EM and the national/global perspective of national security. This would return us to Alan Wolfe’s Tuesday comment related to the potential disconnect between policy and practice (and policy-makers and practitioners). I have often perceived that this is where and how “homeland security” as a discipline (more than a profession) could have ongoing value. To the extent homeland security is rooted in local and regional realities of practice, while also fluent and influential in regard to national and international policy, then HS could deliver value across the continuum.

Tuesday I was in a meeting where local firefighters, assistant chiefs from different jurisdictions, a public health official, an emergency manager and a few other locals were quite effective interacting with folks from the Office of the Secretary of Defense scoping out strategic and operational assumptions for some “national security” issues that go way beyond fighting fires. They were “doing” homeland security: bridging local to national and practice to policy.

I don’t know most of the participants well enough to know their educational backgrounds. At least two of the locals had, however, studied with an interdisciplinary program. I still think this helps.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 11, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

Thanks to all for interesting post and thread. And providing answers to my questions.

Over 1200 arrests now in Great Britain stemming from the riots and facial recognition systems in major play.

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