Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 3, 2011

Operational Cooperation Led to the Death of Al-Awlaki: Lessons for Homeland Security?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues — by Arnold Bogis on October 3, 2011

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.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 4, 2011 @ 4:28 am

Arnold, I am generally a cheerleader for collaboration. I agree the enhanced collaboration between Intelligence and the Military has — and will — generate important benefits.

At the same time, I am concerned to see the intelligence community, as currently governed, assume such a forward-leaning and robust operational role. The “as currently governed” is the key clause.

Our system of political oversight for the military has its flaws, but it is waaay more robust than effective oversight of the intelligence community.

At this point, I will take some FBI-CIA competition and some local-federal conflict to constrain what I am not sure we otherwise have effective structures to constrain.

Good people pursuing the very best intentions too often undermine essential freedoms when their operations are covered in secrecy.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

October 4, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

Apologies for not providing a more in-depth explanation of what I was alluding to in this post. I did not intend to get into questions of the oversight, legality, or morality of intelligence/military operational cooperation.

Instead, to me at least, that cooperation is an example that government can work in an impressive manner. When the law is used to advance the mission instead of hinder it (i.e. JSOC personnel operating under CIA direction), when cultural differences are ignored or instead utilized to advance the operation, etc. Constraint and oversight is important, but I don’t think we’re even close to worrying about that situation in the homeland context. In my opinion, relevant departments are not even close to achieving a similar level of cooperation.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 5, 2011 @ 6:09 am

Arnold, I apologize for not more fully acknowledging your main point. I agree with it.

Comment by luces Led

October 19, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

I hardly comment, however I browsed a few remarks on this page
Homeland Security Watch ? Operational Cooperation Led
to the Death of Al-Awlaki: Lessons for Homeland Security?

. I do have a couple of questions for you if you tend not to mind.
Could it be just me or do some of these comments look like they are written by brain dead individuals?

:-P And, if you are posting on other places, I’d like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Would you post a list of the complete urls of your social pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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