Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 8, 2013

Eleven books to read during the shutdown

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 8, 2013

Some of my friends are heading workless into week two of the Great Shutdown.  The week after that may take us into Act 2: The Great Default.

I doubt that will happen because… well, … reasonable people….  I mean, responsible people will….

Well, I try to stay positive about these things.

If you’re looking for something to read as the rest of us whistle past the graveyard, here are eleven good reads.  And they all have something to do with homeland security.


1. The Politics of Crisis Management: Public Leadership Under Pressure, Arjen Boin, Paul ‘t Hart, Eric Stern, and Bengt Sundelius

Any leadership crises going on? If so, here’s a book for you.  I think its the best book I’ve ever read on crisis leadership.  I like it because it blends scholarship with practicality, and it’s written by academics to help, not impress, the reader.

Here’s a description from Amazon.

In times of crisis, communities and members of organizations expect their leaders to minimize the impact of the crisis at hand, while critics and bureaucratic competitors try to seize the moment to blame incumbent rulers and their policies. In this extreme environment, policy makers must somehow establish a sense of normality, and foster collective learning from the crisis experience. This uniquely comprehensive analysis examines how leaders deal with the strategic challenges and political risks they face. It is based on over a decade of collaborative, cross-national research.

2. Thinking Fast and Slow,  Daniel Kahneman

Any thinking going on these days?  Either fast or slow?

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.  It may be overwritten — as only a Nobel Prize winner can get away with — but I don’t believe you can read it without changing the way you think about your own thinking.

In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

3. The Story of America: Essays on Origins, Jill Lepore

Where did we come from again?

A collection of American history stories you probably have not read anywhere else.  Lots of leisurely drawn portraits of the people who shaped the nation.  It can easily be read one bite at a time.

Jill Lepore investigates American origin stories–from John Smith’s account of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address–to show how American democracy is bound up with the history of print. Over the centuries, Americans have read and written their way into a political culture of ink and type. Part civics primer, part cultural history, The Story of America excavates the origins of everything from the paper ballot and the Constitution to the I.O.U. and the dictionary. Along the way it presents fresh readings of Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as histories of lesser-known genres, including biographies of presidents, novels of immigrants, and accounts of the Depression…. Lepore argues… Americans have wrestled with the idea of democracy by telling stories. 

4. Little Brother, Cory Doctorow

Last week’s reality may be stranger than any fiction. Speaking of fiction…

This one is like reading a dime novel. I am sort of surprised how many homeland security professionals really enjoy this book. Maybe it’s because the villain is DHS.

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems. But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days. When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

5.  Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, Andrew J. Bacevich

Back to reality. A West Point graduate, a retired Army colonel, a Catholic conservative, a critic of American militarism. All in one increasingly popular voice.

A… challenge to the conventional wisdom that American security requires the United States (and us alone) to maintain a permanent armed presence around the globe, to prepare our forces for military operations in far-flung regions, and to be ready to intervene anywhere at any time. Adopted by administrations on both sides of the political spectrum during the past half century, this Washington consensus on national security has become foreign policy gospel when…it has outlasted its usefulness.

6. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow

Yes, that Rachel Maddow.  And her voice in this book sounds just like her TV voice. Did  System 1 or System 2 activate?

Maddow argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war. To understand how we’ve arrived at such a dangerous place, Maddow takes us from the Vietnam War to today’s war in Afghanistan, along the way exploring Reagan’s radical presidency, the disturbing rise of executive authority, the gradual outsourcing of our war-making capabilities to private companies, the plummeting percentage of American families whose children fight our constant wars for us, and even the changing fortunes of G.I. Joe. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the scope of American military power to overpower our political discourse.

7.  Illuminating the Dark Arts of War: Terrorism, Sabotage, and Subversion in Homeland Security and the New Conflict, David Tucker

David’s a colleague.  He’s a historian who has as much intellectual integrity as anyone I’ve met.

The opening chapter shows that every threat to American security has led to an increase in governmental power. Is there an alternative approach? The book argues there is. It shows the inherent limits to terrorism, sabotage and subversion and argues for a correspondingly limited response by government. It takes this argument further by contending that since the “dark arts” it discusses are used by those who hide among the people, the people and not the government are the best way to uncover and neutralize them. The conclusion discusses ways this could be done. Overall, the book argues that the decentralization of power, not its increase and concentration in the Federal government is the best way to make America resilient and more secure. The book also makes a useful comparison between the threat of communist subversion in the 1930s and 1940s and the supposed threat of religious subversion (Christian and Muslim) today. by Peter Schramm

8.  Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond, Erik Dahl

Erik’s another colleague.  He’s a former Naval intelligence officer who approaches the successes, failures, and troublesome developments in U.S. intelligence with academic rigor and objectivity, infused with practitioner knowledge.

How can the United States avoid a future surprise attack on the scale of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, in an era when such devastating attacks can come not only from nation states, but also from terrorist groups or cyber enemies?  Intelligence and Surprise Attack examines why surprise attacks often succeed even though, in most cases, warnings had been available beforehand. … Dahl challenges the conventional wisdom about intelligence failure, which holds that attacks succeed because important warnings get lost amid noise or because intelligence officials lack the imagination and collaboration to “connect the dots” of available information. Comparing cases of intelligence failure with intelligence success, Dahl finds that the key to success is not more imagination or better analysis, but better acquisition of precise, tactical-level intelligence combined with the presence of decision makers who are willing to listen to and act on the warnings they receive from their intelligence staff.

9. Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America, Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman

I’m reading this one now.  “Beware of the words ‘internal security,’ for they are the eternal cry of the oppressor.” Voltaire wrote that, the authors remind us. If you pick this one up (or download it to a Kindle), it may be difficult to put it down.

In Enemies Within, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman lay bare the complex and often contradictory state of counterterrorism and intelligence in America through the pursuit of Najibullah Zazi, a terrorist bomber who trained under one of bin Laden’s most trusted deputies. Zazi and his coconspirators represented America’s greatest fear: a terrorist cell operating inside America.

10. America the Vulnerable; New technology and the next threat to National Security, Joel Brenner

I read this for the second time last month. The book’s two years old.  It’s still relevant, but reading it reminds me how fast the cyber world is changing.  I wonder if congress, the executive, the courts, the states and localities, the private sector, and the people can keep up.

“Cybercrime, espionage, and warfare are among the great challenges of this century, but as Joel Brenner argues, we are woefully ill-prepared to meet them. Drawing on history, law, economics, common sense, and his rare experience in counterintelligence, Brenner deftly describes the problems and offers a series of very practical solutions. This book is both well written and convincing.”
(-Joseph Nye, author of Soft Power and The Future of Power )

“If you have a responsibility for protecting intellectual property, trade secrets and other instruments of successful business; if you are responsible for protecting national information and technology interests then you have a responsibility to read this book. Bring a change of underwear.”
(-Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist at Google )

“America the Vulnerable offers an expert’s keen insight into the netherworld of cyberrisk. Rich in facts, stories, and analysis, the book is a clarion call for more effective cyberpolicies and practices in both the government and private sector. America should take heed.”
(-Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, author of The Art of Intelligence )

11.  The Psychology of Dictatorship, Fathali Moghaddam

Let’s say it all goes to garbage.  Congress can’t get its act together, the economy free falls, something huge and ugly happens in the nation, we-the-people demand that ever elusive “strong leadership.”  Write your own scenario.  What happens next?

Ali Moghaddam is also a colleague.  He’s written a very readable book on a difficult issue.

Fathali Moghaddam presents his springboard model of dictatorship, derived from both a substantive analysis of the common structures underlying dictatorial regimes and his own personal experience of life in a modern dictatorship. He discusses the importance of psychological processes such as displacement of aggression, conformity, obedience, fear, and cognitive dissonance as tools that aid the development and maintenance of dictatorships, as well as the crucial role of ideology in cementing the allegiance of elites. Since even democracies contain an ever-shifting relationship between democratic and dictatorial tendencies, with elements that can pull democracies back to dictatorship, this book has important implications for citizens of all nations, even our own.


I put the last sentence in bold.  I doubt anything like that will happen because… well, … reasonable people….  I mean, responsible people will….

Well, I try to stay positive about these things.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by William R. Cumming

October 8, 2013 @ 2:37 am

Thanks for great list!

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

October 8, 2013 @ 6:52 am


I have the first one on hand and will reread it shortly.


Comment by Martin Pastula

October 8, 2013 @ 8:41 am

Excellent list……thanks. I’m in the middle of #1 The Politics of Crisis Management and it’s very thought provoking and enlightening.

Comment by TwShiloh

October 8, 2013 @ 8:58 am

Allow me to recommend ‘Imperial Secrets: Remapping the Mind of Empire’ as well. Available from the National Intelligence University Press. http://www.ni-u.edu/ni_press/pdf/Imperial_Secrets.pdf

Comment by Donald Quixote

October 8, 2013 @ 9:42 am

For those exempt (aka essential) furloughed employees still completing their daily duties in hopes of a continuing resolution and future compensation, below are some more reading ideas:





These readings may not be as intellectually stimulating, but may be more useful as this dispute plays out over the next weeks or months.

Comment by Solomon King

October 9, 2013 @ 3:38 am

No 1, the Bible!

Comment by phelandrtom

October 9, 2013 @ 6:41 am

The shutdown is costing me $65/hour in lost income with no way to recover.
Politics is completely out of control.
We are all being held hostage.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>