Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 3, 2012

The blurring of homeland and national security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 3, 2012

[Forgive the rambling nature of this post.  I blame the long weekend, skimming an article I should read more carefully, and too much Doctor Who.]

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.

The other nugget that got me thinking was this from a Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) news brief mounting a public health defense of the Biowatch program

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.

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6 Comments »

Comment by Fiscal Hawk

September 4, 2012 @ 5:11 am

“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.”

Whether accurate or not, there are parallels with the 7075-T6 aluminum tube fiasco where the alloy was intended for the Iraqi Nasser 81 rocket program rather than as rotors for centrifuges to enrich uranium. See “A History of the World Since 9/11,” by Dominic Strearfeild c 2011.

Comment by Alan Wolfe

September 4, 2012 @ 9:51 am

I don’t see the difficulty here other than what is created by people with agendas to prosecute. Homeland security is a subset of national security, just read the National Security Strategy to find that out. What you’re alluding to is not a definitional problem but a “missions and roles” issue for the federal government. It may be that an obscure DHS program discovered the China metal issue, but export controls are and will continue to be a nonproliferation issue, not a homeland security issue. See, EXPORT denotes going OUT of the country, ergo, not DHS mission. Border control, sure, that’s DHS.

The failure, if one exists, is the lack of oversight and measures by the National Security Staff on these types of issues. They’re so busy trying to avert near-term crises that no one is providing assessments of the long-term strategy of conducting homeland security as described in national security goals. But we’re not going to solve that as long as federal agencies jealously guard their missions and budget from scrutiny or control by other bodies.

Comment by Michael Brady

September 4, 2012 @ 11:22 am

Arnold,

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.)

You say that like it would be a bad thing. Is there no one else who thinks spinning off the law enforcement, investigative, and intelligence collection tasks would be the very best thing that could happen to our country’s emergency preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. The very concept of defending the homeland (Motherland? Fatherland?) is symptomatic of the jingoistic fervor that has done our republic very little good, and more than a little harm, over the past decade.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 4, 2012 @ 11:57 am

As a matter of theory I agree with Alan, including his call for more strategic conceptualization and coordination.

But as a matter of experience I perceive there are issues where national security actually threatens my understanding of homeland security. Here I share Arnold’s concern about public-health-joining-the-intelligence-community. This experience also prompts my sympathy with Michael’s comment.

I don’t quite know how to express this experience. Maybe one of you can help. There is a concept of national security that has emerged somehow separate from the nation. It swims in the same channels as the nation, is clearly connected to the nation, but is not so much “of” the nation as appended to the nation.

An analogy: It seems clear to me that religion is often distinct from faith and the Church (churches) can be subversive to the fundamental tenants of faith. Does “national security” bear a similar relationship to the nation?

I wonder how many hit lists I just joined?

Comment by Michael Brady

September 4, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

Phil,

There is a concept of national security that has emerged somehow separate from the nation. It swims in the same channels as the nation, is clearly connected to the nation, but is not so much “of” the nation as appended to the nation.

An analogy: It seems clear to me that religion is often distinct from faith and the Church (churches) can be subversive to the fundamental tenants of faith. Does “national security” bear a similar relationship to the nation?

Theological particulars aside, your analogy is apt if “nation security” is the institution and the “nation” is the assembly of the faithful.

I commented elsewhere today regarding an interesting opinion piece about “political resilience” posted at START http://www.start.umd.edu/start/announcements/announcement.asp?id=404

Here in the States there are politicians, media outlets, and opinion leaders who seem committed to keeping fear of transnational jihadis (who just happen to be dark-skinned Muslim foreigners) on the front burner who at the same time apply political and social pressure to discourage the FBI from aggressively investigating and disrupting our domestic right-wing terror organizations (whose members are reactionary, white, and Christian). We have a powerful military industrial security complex lobbying nonstop in support of new regulations tailor-made to result in new sales and service opportunities. It is staffed at the highest levels by former military officers and political leaders who have used the Beltway’s revolving door to enter the private sector and reap the profits that come from meeting a need that they promulgated. We have politicians who dare not interfere with this absurd security theater lest they perceived as soft on terror and turned out of office.

I wonder how many hit lists I just joined?

Several of the better ones. Welcome…

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 4, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

What are the arguments pro and con to defining National Security as military defense of the nation and HS and non-military defense of the nation?

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