The term “homeland security” is notoriously hard to define. Even more difficult is where to draw the line between “homeland” security and “national” security. Simply perplexing is the issue of whether there should be a line or not, and the possibly negative effects of attempting to draw one.
Large natural events, such as Hurricane Issac or the western wildfires, serve to highlight the emergency management/preparedness/response/recovery/etc. portion of the enterprise. Terrorism, health events, and technological disasters comfortably fit here as well, at least in terms of preparing for and responding to effects.
Preventing terrorism would seem, at first, to fit easily within the homeland security arena. “See something, say something,” fusion centers, the concern about domestic radicalization, and the shift in FBI focus from criminal investigations to terrorism prevention. But set alone, this effort seems a bit inconsequential in terms of fighting terrorism. The minor leagues, if you will, to the game being played by intelligence services (and not just U.S. agencies…) and the military overseas. What major, potentially catastrophic, and realistic (an aspect that is interpreted by different people for different reasons) plots have been disrupted solely on the basis of domestically-gathered information? Besides the FBI and the NYPD, what domestic agencies are conducting true intelligence-type operations domestically?
This is not a bad thing. I personally do not want the CIA carrying out operations against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. We do have rights…or so I was led to believe in civics class. Intelligence gathered abroad can be filtered and shared with relevant domestic law enforcement agencies in the hope of preventing attacks. Well…one hopes. Radicalization of at-risk individuals can be countered by developing relationships with responsible authorities among particular (really wanted to avoid the term “suspect,” sounds a little too NYPD-ish…) populations. Well…perhaps. And is anyone paying attention to the non-Islamic groups? (I know they are, but I also know that the Red Sox are still playing games. The underlying issue is who’s paying attention?)
My point is that counter-terrorism is neither simply a home or away game–it’s a continuum better understood with sci-fi metaphors rather than sports.
So how do we talk about homeland vs. national security? Should we even bother? (Though I suspect that if we don’t, the “national security” community will out of superior numbers and positioning take what it wants from “homeland security” and leave the rest to emergency management. Kinda like if FEMA had been separated from DHS following Katrina.)
What prompts these rambling thoughts are two somewhat recent articles. The first is a Washington Post story on the successful melding of a homeland security sector, customs at the border, with a traditional national security realm, counter-proliferation:
The Chinese toymaker said he was seeking parts for a “magic horse,” a metal-framed playground pony. But the exotic, wildly expensive raw material he wanted seemed better suited for space travel than backyard play.
Only in recent months did the full scope of the ruse become apparent. The destination for the specialty steel was not China but Iran, and the order had nothing to do with toy horses, U.S. investigators say.
“We are certain,” said a law enforcement official familiar with the case, “that the metal was meant for advanced centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program.”
How this effort was discovered:
Perhaps the most striking fact about the toy-horse plot, investigators say, is that it was discovered at all. The tip came in late 2008 from an obscure Homeland Security program that involves occasional factory visits by U.S. officials to guard against foreign pilfering of sensitive U.S. technology.
During a visit to a Puget Sound steelmaker, an export manager there told a U.S. official about a bizarre query he had gotten from China.
Export controls have a long and important history in the national security efforts aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, they remain a little publicized but very important mission of the Department of Homeland Security’s broader border security efforts.
Some public health officials’ discomfort with BioWatch also may be related to a culture clash between the public health world and the law enforcement and security realm, according to Biedrzycki.
“Public health typically hasn’t been part of that culture, of law enforcement or national security and the intelligence community,” he said. “This is new territory, and I think we don’t fully understand how to operate within that culture.
“It’s very difficult for us, coming from a very transparent, open, trust-building relationship with many of our clients, going into a less open environment in terms of information sharing. I can understand those criticisms, but in reality I think the trend is for public health to be integrated with the intelligence community.”
Emphasis added to underline my concern.