Putting the legal issues aside for a moment (though they are certainly important: Phil has been raising important questions in his post on the matter and the blog Lawfare is a great source for approachable legal analysis), the operation that led to the death of Anwar al-Awlaqi may represent a model for homeland security operations.
According to a Washington Post article, the CIA and Defense Department worked closely in the Al-Awlaki drone strike:
Aulaqi’s death represents the latest, and perhaps most literal, illustration to date of the convergence between the CIA and the nation’s elite military units in the counterterrorism fight.
But after a decade of often inconclusive efforts against al-Qaeda, the Obama administration has relied on new levels of collaboration between the CIA and JSOC to push the terrorist network closer to collapse.
The attack on Aulaqi blended capabilities from both sides and was carried out under CIA authority that allowed for greater latitude in conducting lethal operations outside conventional war zones.
This is not a trivial development or an expected evolution of our national security capabilities. Instead, this cooperation that led to a fearsome ability to find, fix, and finish terrorist threats came about through the realization that the threat was greater than bureaucratic priorities and departmental politics.
Can this general outcome be repeated in the homeland security sphere?
I am not referring to dealing with identified terrorist threats within our borders. Instead, can departments instrumental to preparedness, response, and recovery forge a working relationship as close as our intelligence agencies and military? Can DHS and HHS and DOD etc., as well as local responders, public health officials, and other relevant non-federal stakeholders put aside their own priorities and create an incredibly efficient resilience machine?
This includes flexibility in legal statutes, willingness to let others take the credit or lead, and sharing of resources without thought to the bottom line.
I am hopeful…but wouldn’t bet on it.