Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 10, 2012

Homeland security’s all star old timers’ game

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on July 10, 2012

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold two hearings this week about The Future of Homeland Security.

July 11th features a session on “Evolving and Emerging Threats.” On July 12th, the topic is the “Evolution of the Homeland Security Department’s Roles and Missions.”

Based on the list of witnesses, homeland security’s future looks a lot like its past.

The lineup is only two people short of an all star team:

  • Michael Hayden
  • Brian Jenkins
  • Frank Cilluffo
  • Stephen Flynn
  • Jane Harman
  • Thad Allen
  • Richard Skinner

I wonder what these first rate intellects will say. I wonder what they will say that is new or substantially different from what they’ve said and written before.

I wonder where homeland security’s all stars get their new ideas from.

Or maybe their ideas about homeland security’s future won’t be new. Maybe these dedicated, proven and honorable leaders will make the same points about homeland security they frequently make when they write or talk.

Maybe — like major league baseball’s all stars — they are not expected to do anything new. Perhaps it’s enough simply to watch them do again what they do often and well.

Maybe they are all stars because their ideas need to be restated, motivated by the eternal hope that words will lead to behaviors that might influence how homeland security evolves.

I wonder if anyone will actually listen to what these people say.


Baseball’s all star game matters because the league that wins (tonight, 5 pm Pacific time, Fox TV and radio) gets home field advantage for the world series.

Home field advantage matters. It certainly helped St. Louis in 2011 (that, plus the baseball gods smiling on David Freese)

I would like to believe senate hearings matter.

I recall from the “How a bill becomes law” chapter in my 9th grade civics book that congress holds hearings to discover what the problems are, and then writes laws to solve those problems.

I don’t know the political science literature well enough to know how accurately that chapter describes reality.

But, I have my beliefs.


Speaking of beliefs about homeland security, Jonathan Haidt — in his wonderfully written, cognitively disruptive book, The Righteous Mind — cites the work of Tim Gilovich, a social psychologist (p. 84):

His [Gilovich’s] simple formulation is that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” Then … we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of psuedo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks.

In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.”

The best part about the Can I and the Must I reactions is they often happen below the level of conscious awareness.

I’m looking forward to this week’s hearings so I can test myself.

What will I hear that triggers my “Can I believe it” reflex?

What will I hear that triggers my “Must I believe it” reflex?


I wonder what would happen if the Senate held a homeland security hearing and no one listened, because they didn’t know how?

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Comment by John Comiskey

July 10, 2012 @ 9:06 am

I would like to change the lineup:
1. Start Thad Allen (Semper Paratus)
2. Add Chris Bellavita (General Manager)

Include the following question in the agenda:
How should homeland security higher education educate homeland security policy makers and practitioners to secure the homeland?
See my reply to Learning and doing are too often different: http://www.hlswatch.com/2012/06/29/learning-and-doing-are-too-often-different/#comments

Near a year after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, HLS is, IMHO, stagnant. I sense that absent another 9/11 or Katrina, HLS might go the way of Civil Defense.

HLS ought not to!

Comment by John F. Morton

July 10, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

Where are the state and local and private sector and NGO mission-partner leaders in the roster?

DHS is but one node, a supporting one at that, in the Homeland Security Enterprise, the National Preparedness System.

No post-Cold War “threat” by itself has the legs to compete with the Soviet geo-strategic threat that informed governance and Federal acquisition from NSC-68 to the Fall of the Wall. Ballistic missile defense by itself doesn’t even cut it. Cyber threats just might. But the generic threat is what some call system disruption.

If you agree, then you can’t look at the problem from purely a federal-centric perspective.

How about Jim Gilmore, Tom Menino, Lee Baca, Ellen Gordon, Joe Becker, Warren Edwards, A.D. Vickery, Jim Kallstrom, Mike McDaniel?

Comment by David Gomez

July 10, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

I have to agree with John Comiskey and ask “Where is Chris Bellavita in this line-up?” Or perhaps more collegially, “Why is the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) not represented?”

I find it disturbing that the CHDS is not regarded as influential as George Washington University and the Homeland Security Policy Institute, or even the Research Institute for Homeland Security at
Northeastern University. Knowing the quality of the thinkers at the Center, I would like to see more of them on witness lists reflecting policy experts.

John is also correct in observing that learning and doing are essentially the same thing. We perform how we practice, and therefore the Homeland Security enterprise needs to concentrate as much on education and training, as grant funding of more bright and shiny objects for jurisdictions in little danger of suffering a catastrophic event.

Too many current HLS practitioners, both Federal and local, lack the knowledge, skills and abilities to respond effectively to a major disaster. Thinking BIG in advance of disaster is key. Perhaps what we really need are Senate hearings on imagination and innovation in Homeland Security rather than reflections on who to worry about next.

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