Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 1, 2011

Listening to a deaf falcon – homeland security in transition

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 1, 2011

I returned recently from almost two months of seminars and conferences about homeland security. During that time I spoke with close to 150 people, all of whom have some involvement with the homeland security enterprise. Here are some random, unscientific observations I took away from those conversations. They all lead me to the conclusion that homeland security could use some new DNA.

1. Homeland security does not have a center of gravity. I think it once did, back in the day when the prime directive was prevent another terrorist attack.

On the other hand, I did find one person who could cite — almost verbatim — the 32 words in the new national preparedness goal. That should count for something.

2. The parts of the homeland security enterprise focus on too many different and important things. Can whole of community move beyond FEMA’s nouvelle idée? How great would that be,TSA, CPB, ICE, USSS, S&T, DNO, I&A, USCIS, USCG, states, territories, and tribes?

What would it even look like?

3. The overall feeling about homeland security I came away with reminds me of the first part of a Yeats poem:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

But that was just a feeling.

4. The money’s just about gone. And what’s left is going to get smaller. This may have been the primary theme over the past 2 months.

There were two general reactions to that reality: “What a waste” and “Deal with it.”

The what a waste voices complained about the inevitable deterioration of the capabilities that have been built over the past decade. The deal with it voices said we’re going to have to suck it up and find new ways of working — like regionalization and sharing things — so the capabilities do not deteriorate.

The deal with it sounds gave me confidence that grownups continue to hold homeland security together.

5. Doing less with less. Government should be run more like a business, people often say.  Excluding, of course, those who say government is run by business.

Let’s try running homeland security — across the country — like Jack Welch used to run GE. Put programs in three categories: good (20%), average (70%), and poor (10%) performers. Each year, terminate the poor performing programs.

How to measure performance? Let the programs decide, in public.

No, it’s not perfect, and the 20/70/10 approach has significant disadvantages.  But combine that with the process Tim Harford describes in his book “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure” — try new things; know some will fail; make failure survivable; make sure you know when you’ve failed — and see what happens.

6. The threat is (still) overblown, I heard a few speakers suggest.  Maybe a few years ago the threat was significant — let’s just say it was. Now, not so much. Two out of our three wars are sort of over. (Even that sentence canot be expressed directly.) Al Qaeda is as gasping as Gaddafi’s final “Do you know right from wrong?” question.

There will always be natural disasters.  Not much prevention there.  What about “mitigation?” the emergency managers in the groups always brought up. Don’t forget pandemics, whispered the unceasingly quiet public health voice.

There is a non-zero probability of a biological attack, a dirty bomb, a domestic nuclear detonation, a chemical attack — you know the list. But the probability/possibility/plausibility of one of those events is too small to justify spending much money building prevention or response programs. The money could be better used elsewhere.

That message was never well received. Much of the time the listeners attacked the claim before allowing the speaker to finish constructing the argument. It was almost as if there were an incentive in the homeland security enterprise to amplify the threat.

There was one threat no one — speaker or listener — argued against: IEDs and small arms tactics.

7. In spite of the almost knee jerk defense of remaining alert to the conventional unconventional threats, there was a sense among the people I spoke with and listened to that these traditional threats are moving into the “Tired” category.

Several groups said focusing on Islam, al Qaeda, and typical terrorism was getting dull. Not because the issues were unimportant or uninteresting — “eternal vigiliance” and all that.  But because the topics focus too much on the past. They wanted homeland security to pay more attention to the future: cyber, synthetic biology, and slow moving threats like climate change and planetary resource depletion. Even Occupy Whatever came up as something worthy of homeland security concern — not the people bringing the message, but the message they bring.

8. There is a well known paper in the public safety community by Dave Grossman called “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs.” Sheep (most Americans) live in denial that evil exists in the world; “that is what makes them sheep.” But there are wolves (the evil guys) who “feed on the sheep without mercy.” Then there are sheepdogs (the good guys) who “live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”

Where, asked a friend who works in the Enterprise and who spends a lot of time thinking about doing the right thing, are the shepherds in this tactical metaphor?

9. There were numerous discussions about rights and duties, and about the need for some serious civic lessons throughout the country.

Occupy Wall Street — is that an example of people meeting their civic responsibility to remedy ineffective national governance and cororate greed? Are privacy objections to the new TSA “chat up” procedures — and there are objectors in the first responder community — examples of neglecting one’s civic duty to support legitimate authority?

The Constitution mentions rights over a dozen times. Duty shows up thrice, and in each case it refers to a financial charge not a responsibility.

What duties do Americans have in the homeland security enterprise? The QHSR says people have the responsibility to

“take the basic steps to prepare themselves for emergencies … reducing hazards in and around their homes… monitoring emergency communications carefully, volunteering with established organizations, mobilizing or helping to ensure community preparedness, enrolling in training courses, and practicing what to do in an emergency…. In addition, individual vigilance and awareness can help communities remain safer and bolster prevention efforts.”

These duties will not stir Tea Party or Occupy Party convictions.

10. To mashup Anne-Marie Slaughter’s introduction to the “National Strategic Narrative,”

The United States needs a homeland security narrative. We have a national security strategy [and a National Preparedness Goal],… but those are documents written by specialists for specialists. They do not answer a fundamental question that more and more Americans [should be] asking. Where is [homeland security] going? How can we get there? What are the guiding stars that will illuminate the path along the way? We need a story with a beginning, middle, and projected happy ending that will transcend our political divisions, orient us as a [people], and give us both a common direction and the confidence and commitment to get to our destination.


Yeats ends his poem with a question:

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Maybe Steve Jobs spoke an answer with his final words: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

That’s a feeling that might guide even a deaf falcon toward an evolutionary reconstruction of homeland security.



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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 1, 2011 @ 3:07 am

Excellent post with which I largely agree. Disclosure: Once since 9/11/01 was a subTier consultant to TASC on an S&T open source study of the RDD threat. Otherwise no FEMA or DHS contracts. My problem is that those who might have helped in the past because of their brainpower, thoughtfulness, and competencies from education, training or experience were often excluded while those who pushed forwards in an attempt to get contracts or jobs ending up ruling the first decade of HS. There is no doubt that the focus on terrorism damaged a three decades effort to promote the small cadre of Emergency Managers that understood the complexities of each city, state, or even the federal governments resources and systems for response to a domestic crisis whatever the cause.

I believe the issues however and threats are real and not just from terrorism so that the US will face increasing challenges from humans and technology so that HS will not go away particularly if cast as CIVIL SECURITY. I just saw a population estimate of 478 million Americans by the end of the Century. I was sort of hoping for 400 million but whatever because there are increasing signs that resilience for the population we have now has been or is being destroyed by factors unseen and unstudied that undermine our national resilience and individual resilience. And of course I do like the term “resilience” without which not much chance of enduring democracy (our Republic) for the rest of the Century much less what follows. I do think that we have failed to educate the public into how vulnerable they are to various kinds of challenges. Oddly older people who have lived through a few seem to understand better than younger ones.

So let’s really use more carefully the dollars available and I think if some of my comments over the years on posts on this blog made clear, at least I tried to make clear, was that political will has been largely lacking in addressing the American people and the challenges. This needs to change.

Long term problems are real. Drought in Texas for example. Hurricanes for example. And reluctantly unless demographics changes suddenly overpopulation with its consequent pressure to settle new land but in hazardous areas. Old hazardous areas that continue to drain resources unrealistically such as NOLA and even Coastal Florida as sea levels rise. And racial and ethnic and tribal hatreds will continue to provide the threat of not just random but intentional violence.

Brazil has chosen to insulate the well off in gated communities and with armored car convoys. Mexico somewhat the same and even in China close observers talk of party members being insulated from the general problems of that huge population. These are choices not default mandates. So the USA must decide what its vision is for the future and work to gain that end. Drifting and posturing will not bring security. Nor will good intentions unless backed by technical knowledge, brainpower and the rule of law.

So to react again to the post most specifically why have the key assignments to DHS not been accomplished? One of its key roles was the line drawing on civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy in a growing surveillance society. The underfunded understaffed Privacy Office in DHS does not have a chance of completing this key mission as currently operated. Does this get attention from DHS leadership or Congress? NO IMO.

Japan is reeling from Fukishima. Knowledgable persons about Japan indicate to me that this event is peeling away a core of civility and competence projected by the Japanese to reveal a culture of corruption and self-dealing and secrecy that does not bode well for that society. Who knew?

I do know that it appears not just Japan but much of the EU is on its way to being shattered by its lack of understanding of how Globalized fads some criminal can undermine any society if allowed to do so. Candidate Ridge says US must invade Mexico [he backed off somewhat] and perhaps as the 12 year Governor of Texas he should know. Clearly the number of failed states in the world are growing not shrinking. And definitions of failed definitely need closer analysis.

So plenty of work ahead just need more will and less money.

And Chris it might be of interest to know who exactly you met with over the last few months and what they indicated to you about the future of HS? Hopefully not all were burnouts from the last decade.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 1, 2011 @ 3:12 am

Correction: Reference should have been in my prior comment to Candidate Perry as Tom Ridge to my knowledge has yet to announce for the Presidency. A VP pick perhaps?

Comment by Alan Wolfe

November 1, 2011 @ 5:19 am

Yes yes yes. Ten great comments. This ought to be the read-ahead for the next Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

November 1, 2011 @ 8:54 am


Comment by Michael Brady

November 1, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

“Where, asked a friend who works in the Enterprise and who spends a lot of time thinking about doing the right thing, are the shepherds in this tactical metaphor?”

Sheep dogs lick the shepherd’s hand and eat from his table, and wolves choose to operate where he isn’t, but unless he is in the business of killing wolves both regard him as just another sheep.

Comment by hgrattan

November 1, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

The more people I ask: what is homeland security and the more answers I get, the more that I sense that whatever post-9/11 center of homeland security gravity we had (terrorism-centric) is now anything but centered. I count about 100 people that I talked to. They are mostly undergraduate and graduate students, college aspirants and their parents, and academics too. Their responses are mostly terrorist-centric and Department of Homeland Security centric.

I sense that HLS is a lot about three kinds of threats:

1. Intentional (crime & terrorism)
2. Natural (mostly floods)
3. Accidental

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the events leading up to and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Financial Crisis, and the events of Deepwater Horizon produced a heightened awareness that the unlikely is more likely that we are now comfortable with.

Sometimes a heightened sense of awareness can generate a knee jerk reaction or what appears to be a knee jerk response.

IMHO there are a lot of sheeple and more wolves than we can count. There are those that are content with the status quo who resists those with heightened awareness.

Let it be, it will work itself out, the sheeple say. The wolves are saying the same thing.
I am an ardent fan of the National Strategic Narrative and especially its emphasis on education.

I propose to include educators as primary homeland security practitioners. They are nation builders!
How about a National Education Strategy as a top-priority and integrated element of our National Security Strategy?

Comment by Unfortunately the money has run out and time running out shortly....

November 2, 2011 @ 8:28 am

Unfortunately the money has run out and time to run out shortly as we no longer present a capable and confident nation for we have entrusted the “beltway bandits” and they have bankrupted us $14+trillion times and this Goldman Sachs administration just keeps on spending and spending….

Prepare yourselves for a Middle East soon to erupt into a tinder box and the streets of Europe filled with angry folks and Islamic terrorists taking advantage of the obvious weaknesses of the West and it will be through the discip[lined efforts of the German Led EU fast deployment forces and its right hand side kick, the ever powerful Vatican who will raise its sword and strike back, however this will all take place soon and after the billions lof dollars spent lon homeland security over the decades and emergency management, shame on you…This nation, our beloved Republic, has been led by a bunch of self-serving intersst groups and individuals and we are bankrupt in so many ways….

We will continue to fall behind and as a third world nation, we will eventually suffer great harm for We have no discipline, few have the integrity and the willingness to stand tall and wage war against the “Brutes of Tehran” and the hoodlums in Syria , all w/so much blood of our youthful soldier on their hands. You lok to the Middle east and you believe there will be peace, Love, harmony and freedom, Not!

Hoeland security here on “Main Street USA” means securing monies being sent to Iraq where Iran will control and even further embrace those in Egypt, Turkey, Libya and so on…the factions are far too many and we want more first respondersa, more trained and we demand federal monies to stay here and support local and state police officers, firefighters and EMT’s. We are so utterly disorganized, corrupted by politics and the lustfulness of power and greed and here in New England in talking about how government is reaching into everyone’s lives, many local governments “cancelled” Halloween because of inclement weather related conditions. We wouldn’t mind if the local public safety officials aqnd governing bodies stated, Halloween and Trick or Treating will be left to the discretion of parents, but heck, we the government will step in and cancel the holiday, not even thinking about rescheduling for the following week ….. Kids are nlot too happy and it is only a taste of just how government led by this administartion and these idiots in Congress intend to get involved in every aspect of US citizenry….

We have failed as a result of greed and incompetence and We will fail to the extent that this upcoming global recession will lead to War and don’t anyone fret over the 7 billion in global population for the numbers will be greatly diminished just as they were not even 100 years ago in WWII…. What a world and what egos men have and their selfish, self-serving agendas…indifferent to God watching all and this all our watch and everyone of us responsible for acts of kindness and tolerance, while also having the willingness to stand strong against the evil which chooses to abuse the innocent by dastardly acts –

Homeland Security…by now, we should have done much better and an F grade for the future of this once great nation led by strong willed and devoted folks who, unlike these ignorant candiates from the Presidency to those aspiring for the office, flip flop Romney, another idiot from here in Taxachusetts w/a State Legistaure as corrupt as the US Congress, folks who are vindictive and surely have only themselves to represent, another candidate who does not know her American history, another fellow who has only run to create an audience as his aspiration is to sit and the microphone at his talk show and his topic should start off with discrimination, and the list goes on…where are the Statesmen…where is Winston Churchill who stood up against Lucifer. Oh, yes, he has passed and so will darkness onec again prevail and as written in scripture, finally the most charitable people of this country in this Judeo-Christan nation, well, some will be saved and the ill-suited as creations of man gpne bad as rotten apples will be tossed aside….

Get your high schols and community centers stored up with rations, with water and beds and blankets for we must try and save as many people as we can as the future and I mean the near future looks bleak and unless someone stands up on behalf of this great Republic, we will encounter much strife and anguish….

God Bless America! Pay heed, read your Bible as you watch the mischief, the politics of local, state and Congress, for remember, those that seek our demise see the same and will pounce when ready…. Fear Not for Israel, for despite the intent, the Hebrew has been Blessed as none another in covenant and while East Jerusalem may be on fire, Jerusalem will never be overrun as neither the Islamic fundamentalist, the “Brutes of Tehran” or the Christian ever powerful and corrupt Vatican will control nor defeat Jerusalem as only God will reign and No on else….

We have wasted monies here in the US in every way included the funding for DHS and FEMA as the monies have not been transparent and ill spent, political appointees to DHS and have far tooo many who are ill prepared have only their retirement in mind, much like so many today who will never see their retirement monies and that I am sure….Just wait, 2012 is here and if you see the complexities before us, watch as it all unravels into chaos and despair with too few able to be reach and assist….we are so unprepared…what corrupt ways of mankind.

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