Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 6, 2013

Our secular Trinity: supply chain, critical infrastructure, and cyber security

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Infrastructure Protection,Private Sector,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 6, 2013

Above from the conclusion to Zorba the Greek, please don’t watch and listen until reading post, then it might make some sense.


Late Tuesday a third key component in an emerging national strategic architecture was highlighted on the White House website.  The Implementation Update for the National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security outlines progress made (and if you read carefully between the lines, problems experienced) over the last twelve months since the Strategy itself was released.

This update — and the original National Strategy — should be read along side Presidential Policy Directive: Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience (February 12, 2013) and the Executive Order: Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (February 12, 2013).

Together these documents frame a new Trinitarian order: three distinct strategies of one substance, essence, and nature. Trade depends on production, transport of goods and communication of demand.   We can also say economic vitality depends on these factors.  Often  life itself depends on these mysteriously mutual movements.

The Supply Chain is a particular manifestation of the mystery that benefits from specific attention.   Most minds will not immediately apprehend the wholeness of  cyber, critical infrastructure and supply chains.   A purposeful focus can help. But the Implementation Update is explicit regarding the connections and — much more than connections — the interdependence and indivisibility of the Strategic Trinity:

Priority actions include… building resilient critical infrastructures by creating new incentives… to encourage industry stakeholders to build resilience into their supply chains, which then strengthens  the system overall; mapping the interdependencies among the supply chains of the various critical infrastructure sectors (such as energy, cyber, and transportation); and creating common resilience metrics and standards for worldwide use and implementation.

There are, however, heretics.  Personally I tend toward a Unitarian perspective.   Others insist on the primacy of Cyber or of Critical Infrastructure. Some others recognize the relationship of Cyber and Critical Infrastructure but dismiss equal attention being given to Supply Chain. There are also “Pentecostals”, especially among the private sector laity, who celebrate Supply Chain almost to the exclusion of the other aspects of the Trinity.  I might extend the analogy to principles of Judaism, Islam, and other worldviews.  I won’t. (Can I hear a loud Amen?)

If this theological analogy is not to your taste,  then read the three policy documents along side a fourth gospel: Alfred Thayer Mahan’s  The Influence of Seapower Upon History.  Admiral Mahan wrote:

In these three things—production (with the necessity of exchanging products) shipping (whereby the exchange is carried on) and colonies (which facilitate and enlarge the operations of shipping and tend to protect it by multiplying points of safety)—is to be found the key to much of the history, as well as of the policy, of nations…

The functional benefits of colonies have been superseded by the signaling capabilities of multinational corporations, global exchanges and transnational communication, but the Trinitarian structure persists. Mahan called the Sea the “great common” from which and through which “men may pass in all directions, but on which some well-worn paths show that controlling reasons have led them to choose certain lines of travel rather than others.”

Around these lines of travel, civilization is constructed, information is exchanged, and trade is conducted.   A bridge (critical infrastructure) may determine the direction of trade (supply chain), but the information and money exchanged (cyber) in the village beside the bridge may send supply in previously unexpected directions.   Today the bridge may be a digital link, the village an electronic exchange, and the product an elusive formula for the next new wonder drug.  But still the three must work together.  Corruption or collapse of one aspect will unravel the other two.

Our secular trinity is not eternal. There are ongoing sources of corruption.  There are prior examples of collapse.

I was involved in some of the activities and consultations noted in the Implementation Update.   Some personal impressions:  Many government personnel are predisposed to control.  Many in the private sector have a deep desire for clarity.  Each tendency is understandable.  Each tendency is a potentially profound source of dysfunction.   I know this is not exactly a surprise.

But… the desire for clarity can easily become reductionist, even atomist.  Imposing such radical clarification leads to a kind of analytical surrealism.   Some “lean” supply chains are absolutely anorexic.    The desire for control is justified by (sometimes self-generated) complication.  The more complicated the context, the more — it is said — that control is needed.   The more the laity seeks to deny complexity, the more the priests justify the need for their control.   Both tendencies miss the mark. (Sin in Hebrew is chattath, from the root chatta, the Greek equivalent is hamartia. All these words mean to miss the mark.)  The purpose of our secular Trinity is to hit the mark when, where, and with what is wanted.

There is at least one explanation  of the sacred Trinity relevant to our secular version.  John of Damascus characterized the Trinity as a perichoresis — literally a “dance around” — where, as in a Greek folk dance, distinct lines of dancers (e.g. men, women, and children) each display their own steps and flourishes, but are clearly engaging the same rhythm,  maintain their own identity even as each line dissolves into the others… in common becoming The Dance.

Rather than obsessive control or absolute clarity, the Trinity is a shared dance.  We need to learn to dance together.

Just getting private and public to hear the same music would be a good start.

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Comment by Christopher Bellavita

March 6, 2013 @ 11:02 am

“perichoresis” should become part of the common lexicon.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 6, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

Chris: Ha! But it is a beautiful word for something we need to do well and almost never do well-enough. Perhaps another thesis topic: “The Decline of Folk Dancing as a Negative Influence on Private-Public Collaboration.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 6, 2013 @ 11:41 pm

Who determines the significance of the Trinity as to its heirarchy or is the Trinity one of equivalence?

What Committees oversee supply chain issues in Congress?

Do CIFIUS reviews include supply chain impacts?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 7, 2013 @ 5:56 am

Bill: I don’t follow CIFIUS close enough to cite a specific example involving the supply chain per se, but my reading of the statute and regulations suggests a CIFIUS review could include supply chain. (But just to add confusion, I think the legal justification would involve treating a supply chain as “critical infrastructure.”) So, in the 2008 Final Regulations for CIFIUS we read, “the definition of critical infrastructure turns on the national security effects of any incapacity or destruction of the particular system or asset over which a foreign person would have control as a result of a covered transaction. Consistent with this approach, the Committee will not deem classes of systems or assets to be, or not to be, critical infrastructure.”

As mentioned in the post, in regard to this secular strategic trinity, I tend toward a Unitarian perspective… so I am inclined to equivalence. Right now I would say most of the attention is focused on cyber. (Another report on cyber vulnerability, this one by the Defense Science Board, was made public on Tuesday.) But I argue the distinctions between the three elements pale to near imperceptibility when the interdependencies among the three are honestly examined. It is not helpful — it is profoundly unhelpful — to separate supply chain, critical infrastructure, and cyber.

As with so many aspects of homeland security (no caps), many committees and sub-committees could claim a legitimate interest. But as a complex adaptive system the supply chain is really beyond the jurisdiction of any committee.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 7, 2013 @ 8:23 am

Thanks Phil!

By the way how does the Panama Canal and its ongoing widening fit into the Trinity?

No longer US, is my understanding correct that a Chinese firm operates the Panama Canal?

How dependent is the US on ocean going shipping and who monitors that dependence? I know WAL-MART is largely dependent on ocean going shipping or that is to the best of my knowledge! At one point in time 16% of Chinese GDP was focused on WAL-MART!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 7, 2013 @ 9:05 am

Bill: The expansion of the Panama Canal (critical infrastructure) in 2014-2015 will have potentially significant impacts on the US supply chain, especially east of the Mississippi. I don’t know about particular cyber implications, but would not be surprised there are some.

The best estimate I have seen is that six to seven percent of US GNP is directly dependent on maritime shipping, the indirect relationship would be considerably higher.

The Panama Canal is administered by an agency of the Panamanian government. There are many, many global contractors involved including some with significant Chinese connections. Given the complex adaptive character of supply chains, critical infrastructure, and cyber as a system-of-systems, I am skeptical of the ability of any entity to “control” these systems. Destructive behavior is always possible. But that is different from control.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 7, 2013 @ 10:02 am

Thanks Phil! Could a disabled cruise ship block the canal now or after widening?

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