Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 26, 2012

The scream becomes a yawn

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 26, 2012


Dana Priest and William Arkin ( in Top Secret America) describe why almost one million Americans have top-secret clearances.  They write about 1200 government organizations and 2000 private companies that work on classified counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence programs at over 10,000 locations across country.

Priest and Arkin are describing what has emerged from a complex adaptive system.

As is the case for any complex adaptive social system I am aware of, no one is in charge of the national security state, and no one can manage its growth. The system seems to have transcended human control. It will manage itself.


Complex systems have their own management logic.

I’m in the tribe that believes humans can’t control complex adaptive social systems. I do think people can influence how those systems emerge. But I don’t think control works very well in complex social systems.

A man called William Ward wrote “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

He was suggesting a strategy for engaging complexity.


I think it’s time for homeland security realists to adjust sails again.

And I don’t just mean realists in the Department of Homeland Security. DHS realists are always adjusting sails.

And I don’t mean realists in the rest of the enterprise needing to adjust to less money. That adjustment started years ago.

I don’t have good words to describe the change.  Only images.  And comparatively small ones at that. But they feel fundamental to me.


Some time ago I heard a senior police executive from a major urban area say — respectfully — ideas about terrorism, the dangers of violent extremism, and all hazards preparedness were somewhat tired.

He was not saying these threats were unimportant and could be ignored. His observation was more aligned with a belief the public and private sectors have adapted to the shocks symbolized by the September 11 attacks and by Katrina.

It seems the nation was much more resilient than the commentaries in the years following the shocks acknowledged.

Terrorism and all hazards are old ideas, the police executive said. “Is there anything new going on in this homeland security world?” he asked.


Does the homeland security world need new ideas to sustain itself?

For some parts of that world — as Chapter 6 in Top-Secret America suggests in language reminiscent of Bartleby, the Scrivener– maybe not.

After describing how Northern Command lost influence over a WMD program (p121-125), Priest and Arkin write

But the fact that Northern Command would even continue to exist as a major, four-star-led, geographic military command, with virtually no responsibilities, no competencies, and no unique role to fill, demonstrated the resiliency of institutions created in the wake of 9/11 and just how difficult it would be to ever actually shrink top-secret America. Northern Command, with its $100 million renovated concrete headquarters, its 2 dozen generals, its redundant command centers, its gigantic electronic map, and its multitude of contractors, looked as busy as ever, putting together agendas and exercises and PowerPoint briefings in the name of keeping the nation safe.

For other parts of the homeland security  world, the winds are not as institutionally benign.

Over the past few months I’ve been hearing how some homeland security education programs are having difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified students.

I came across research that said most of the homeland security jobs are in TSA and Customs and Border Protection. It’s not obvious most people who are successful at those jobs need an undergraduate or graduate degree in homeland security. Other experiences and degrees are quite acceptable.

Here’s another image:

A police chief I know recently attended a Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) Executive Development program. One of the courses was about the history of terrorism. The chief told me that for a variety of reasons, POST is considering revising the entire two week program, including taking out the terrorism piece altogether. “The feedback from the participants,” the chief said, “is that this is no longer a relevant topic.”


Last night I heard a song called “Dreams So Real,” by Metric.

The refrain seemed relevant:

So shut up and carry on
The scream becomes a yawn

Maybe this is another strategy for engaging complexity.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 26, 2012 @ 3:05 pm


One of the most inspiring — and aggravating — aspects of your practice is the radically realistic angle you bring to our supposed profession.

Compared to you I am a perpetual romantic, and unhappy with myself for being so.

I spent most of the last two days at a regional conference of homeland security and emergency management professionals that caused me more than a few stifled screams.

At the same conference I also perceived several opportunities to celebrate.

Last night I barely slept, distracted by this fractured reality. Which was “more real” — which wind was blowing stronger– that which tempted screams or prompted shouts of joy? I don’t know.

But in my sleepless tossing-and-turning, I did discern a pattern. Each barely contained scream was directly related to someone who was absolutely sure they were right and was on a mission to get the rest of us to agree. Each source of joy involved someone asking interesting questions, wondering aloud, and inviting the rest of us to explore with them.

My mother’s favorite song has this as a refrain:

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life,
For as long as you live.

There is real courage in the lyrics of your song. There is a different courage in my mother’s song. I understand your song is more realistic. But from personal experience I know my mother’s song is not entirely unrealistic.

Comment by Donald Quixote

June 26, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

Your questions are thought provoking as always.

With diminishing governmental funding and our current economic challenges, the homeland security enterprise shall likely reduce its footprint and influence until the next significant incident that once again questions our imagination and demonstrates that we did not connect the dots.

The education issue within DHS has been an area of continued concern for those interested in the maturing of DHS. As long as DHS utilizes TSA and CBP as entry-level agencies into the department, the importance and prevalence of higher education (beyond a high-school diploma or GED) in any subject shall likely continue to decline from the previous and current levels (which is often quite lower than the legacy agencies that merged in 2003). These entry-level positions are unionized and afford a less-educated and/or less-experienced applicant an easier opportunity for employment in a field that often supports certain political parties and empires.

Once an employee enters TSA, they often realize that there are much better positions in CBP that pay more and require less negative interaction with the public. A portion of the CBP workforce realizes that there are even better positions within other DHS agencies with more interesting opportunities (but a four year college degree is required). In an effort to improve morale and address the many years of negative survey results from the DHS workforce, the department encourages this unofficial career path concept; hence, the education levels previously required by certain agencies are ignored in hopes to improve morale and survey results.

Beyond a degree in homeland security or a related field, can experience totally replace education? Should it? If so, how much? Is it important for a department to encourage and support higher education in a complex and evolving field? Is it an image or function issue?

In response to the comment regarding the relevancy of terrorism within the training course, what is the definition of homeland security today? If we experience a terrorist attack every ten, twenty, fifty or one hundred years on our soil, how relevant is it as compared to other threats? If we experience one tomorrow, it is quite relevant.

Once again, as homeland security grants and funding dry up and other issues rise up to the top of the priority list, those questions by the chiefs shall continue and likely increase.

To join the use of music for this topic, I would like to quote the great Geddy Lee:

No, his mind is not for rent
To any god or government.
Always hopeful, yet discontent,
He knows changes aren’t permanent,
But change is.

Comment by DHS Funding

June 27, 2012 @ 5:25 am

As Biblical scripture has advised, Egypt will fall to the Muslim extreme, Turkey will have little ability to maintain a moderate stance throughout the Middle East, Germany will downsize its EU to only ten (10) nations and while I weep for the dysfunctional and disorganized ways of humanity which will see much calamity dead ahead, the ineptness, the lack of vision, the abusive ways within western culture will not bode well as the uncertainty of economy become far more clear as we again double dip and more and the need for a less political, yet well focused DHS as well as taking the 108 nukes from European spoil and placing them along our borders are a few of the prerequisites which we must do now and we will not!

God Bless America!

I have emphasized the necessity for securing rare earths, engaging and embracing carbon nano tube technology and now – graphene technology – and the enlightened in and out of government are few…

We have been shining – red white and blue, yet black and blue we will not be able to hide – as our lack of foresight has already etched our course and to the rocky shoals we are cast from within!

China just offered $10+ bil to buy equity in gas and oil fields…am I do sell tehse fields and the $1.75 bln in rare earths (heavy) I represent in Greenland, well, reluctant to do so, yet a Congress and two parties which do not represent those of us on “Main Street USA” – simply their own self-agenda….We are at peril! The lack of leadership as the world’s economy slips into global depression w/the additional printing of fiat currencies….humanity is tumbling over itself with such disregard for the well being of each of us who understand that Germany will once again lead the charge to global strife and a – schock and awe – never imagined, far worse that the atrocities of any previous War! What other can inflict such pain and suffering on its own? How dare you are so selfish in your ways and have failed to read scripture and heed the warnings of your ways….

Christopher Tingus

Comment by Django

June 28, 2012 @ 11:52 pm

Chris –

You ask if the homeland security world needs new ideas to sustain itself?

I would argue that it needs more than just new ideas…it needs something to do. HS is still only 11 years old. I didn’t know what to do at eleven…still don’t.

It’s kinda like after a buying spree…you sit around and look at everything you got but your just gonna put it in the closet anyway. What next? It’s still you but with a few nicer things.

Would these ideas you speak of be coming from the US HS enterprise or from the folks who want to terrorize us? If terrorism is a form of communication…it is also an exchange of ideas. The events of 9/11 carried and generated a lot of big ideas and many of them with an even bigger price tag.

However, where are we now in the conversation? Have we understood the ideas that have been communicated to us and that we are returning? If we made a better attempt to communicate would we find these sustaining ideas that you speak of?

As you suggest, HS is morphing…emerging. Lots of parts and pieces. Definitely a complex animal. CHDS is one way to leverage it. One way to carry on a strategic conversation. But what’s your business idea? What does CHDS know and do that nobody else can or should?

Regardless, let’s be honest…HS does not know where it is going. Maybe the optimists should stop having that expectation? As you say it is managing itself. We will predict and be wrong. We might feel better spewing probabilities but who saw the Chief Justice Robert’s healthcare vote coming? Probably no odds in Vegas for that one.

As you suggest, it is better to adjust our sails.

New course idea: Homeland Security and Buddha Mind.

Comment by Donald Quixote

July 2, 2012 @ 8:33 am

After the major weather event on Friday in the mid-Atlantic and the current world-wide economic and political challenges, would it be realistic for the chiefs to re-evaluate the placement of terrorism on their priority lists?

Once again, if we experience a terrorist attack every ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred or two hundred (War of 1812) years on our soil, how relevant is it as compared to other threats?

Is it just too sensitive to talk about?

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>