Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 26, 2012

Government and the cyber-domain; or command-and-control encounters complexity

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Cybersecurity,Strategy,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on September 26, 2012

There is considerable expectation that an Executive Order will soon try to pick up the pieces from a failed effort at cybersecurity legislation.  You can read more at CNET, Wall Street Journal, or The Hill (for three very different angles on reality).

Technical challenges, political problems, and real philosophical differences complicated the legislative process.  I already gave attention to many of these issues in a February post.  Whatever the text of the Executive  Order these complications will persist.

Many of the most vexing problems are not particular to cyber.  Similar issues are encountered in regard to strategy, policy, regulation, innovation, security, resilience, and competition in domains seemingly as diverse as eCommerce, supply chains, and the global financial system.

Sunday there was a brief two-page essay in the New York Times Magazine that focuses on how the Internet was created.  Following are a few key paragraphs.  As you read cut-and-paste your preferred networked-entity over the word Internet.  When I do that,  the author’s explanation still holds.

Like many of the bedrock technologies that have come to define the digital age, the Internet was created by — and continues to be shaped by — decentralized groups of scientists and programmers and hobbyists (and more than a few entrepreneurs) freely sharing the fruits of their intellectual labor with the entire world. Yes, government financing supported much of the early research, and private corporations enhanced and commercialized the platforms. But the institutions responsible for the technology itself were neither governments nor private start-ups. They were much closer to the loose, collaborative organizations of academic research. They were networks of peers.

Peer networks break from the conventions of states and corporations in several crucial respects. They lack the traditional economic incentives of the private sector: almost all of the key technology standards are not owned by any one individual or organization, and a vast majority of contributors to open-source projects do not receive direct compensation for their work. (The Harvard legal scholar Yochai Benkler has called this phenomenon “commons-based peer production.”) And yet because peer networks are decentralized, they don’t suffer from the sclerosis of government bureaucracies. Peer networks are great innovators, not because they’re driven by the promise of commercial reward but rather because their open architecture allows others to build more easily on top of existing ideas, just as Berners-Lee built the Web on top of the Internet, and a host of subsequent contributors improved on Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web…

It’s not enough to say that peer networks are an interesting alternative to states and markets. The state and the market are now fundamentally dependent on peer networks in ways that would have been unthinkable just 20 years ago…

When we talk about change being driven by mass collaboration, it’s often in the form of protest movements: civil rights or marriage equality. That’s a tradition worth celebrating, but it’s only part of the story. The Internet (and all the other achievements of peer networks) is not a story about changing people’s attitudes or widening the range of human tolerance. It’s a story, instead, about a different kind of organization, neither state nor market, that actually builds things, creating new tools that in turn enhance the way states and markets work.

Legislation, regulation, many theories of management and the practice of most managers assume someone is in charge of something.  Someone is accountable for discreet action that leads to reasonably foreseeable consequences.  There are intentional practices to regulate, systematize, and evaluate.   Certainly this is part of reality, but only part and its proportion of the whole seems to be decreasing.  In homeland security I expect most of our reality cannot be accurately described in these traditional “Newtonian” terms.

When I have most seriously failed it has been because I have very reasonably, diligently, and intelligently applied the lessons learned in one corner of reality to another corner of reality without recognizing the two realities are almost totally different.


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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 26, 2012 @ 8:53 am

Again and again sounds to me like Mary Parker Follett had it right when analyzing how modern society with its technologically driven change requires collaboration and cooperation not command and control to drive its successful projects, missions, and goals.

Given her concepts perhaps the fact that she was a woman using her own name not a male cover she again is becoming worthy of deep study and analysis. Too bad so many of the finance bean counting types are technophobes and will do almost anything to erect boxes and units that their number crunching pretends to give the corporate types the illusions of control.

And now we may be seeing in the 2012 Presidential election the contest of cooperation and collaboration vis a vis those who believe that an individual with his or her own funds can control the results and outcomes when a more participatory system exists.

Perhaps although I have long thought otherwise the fact that Presidents are elected by 50 individual states rather than one centralized system is a strength not a weakness. Wondering also which states will truly become most competitive in their ability to allow business and other elements of our society to be cooperative and collaborative.

One thing for sure that government funded research with its desire for certain outcomes has largely destroyed the independent research that drove the USA’s research universities to self destruction since the compartmentalization and secrecy of government requirements destroyed cooperation and collaboration in many fields.

In my time in FEMA during the 80’s and 90’s under all administrations those who were interested in developing cooperative and collaborative systems were largely viewed as “bureaucratic activists” and destroyed by a largely incompetent management. Unfortunately, based on my information the same authoritarian style of management largely exists reinforced by many new hires with either early career experience or actual careers in the DoD environment.

Well the cultural climate is controlled by management.

Wondering how many in FEMA know who Mary Parker Follett was and what she studied and consulted upon.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 26, 2012 @ 10:00 am

Just in case readers want to know more about Mary Parker Follett, The New State, one of her major works, is available online at:


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