Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 24, 2013

An Open Letter to Jeh Johnson

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues,Resilience,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2013

October 24, 2013

Mr. Jeh Johnson, Esq.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
1285 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York

Dear Mr. Johnson:

There are some professional advancements that prompt more sympathy than celebration. I will not congratulate you on your recent nomination as secretary of homeland security. But I certainly wish you well.

Your nomination prompted reading again your remarks of last November before the Oxford Union. I had forgotten your closing reference to Martin Luther King’s November, 1957 sermon on “Loving your enemies.”   It is a great sermon with profound implications for counter-terrorism.

Dr. King’s comments are equally well-suited for aspects of the homeland security mission at some remove from counter-terrorism. Early in the sermon, he asked and answered, “How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self.”

It is this aspect of love that best differentiates your new homeland security role from your long-time role in national security.

You have considerable experience in the Department of Defense. It is entirely appropriate that the Pentagon and military services be primarily concerned with external threats.  Your Oxford Union address communicates this threat-focus quite effectively. Homeland security certainly needs to be aware of external threats, but this is not its primary domain.

There are also internal threats. I would argue these are primarily the object of local, state, tribal, and federal systems of justice.  Homeland security has a collaborative and constructive role to contribute here, but — once again — this is not its primary domain.

The differentiated role of homeland security is to systematically and thoughtfully engage our vulnerabilities. Just as Dr. King advocated, homeland security begins by analyzing self, as expressed in neighborhoods and networks spanning the nation. There are threats. There are enemies. But that is not where we should begin.

We best begin by acknowledging our failures, short-comings, and weakness. We begin by carefully examining our most important relationships.  We even take a critical look at our greatest strengths, considering how and where they might lead us astray. We begin by uplifting ourselves, especially our ability to love.

Because you are familiar with Dr. King’s rigorous definition of love more explanation is not needed. But clearly it is difficult for a speech, strategy, or testimony to give priority to love.  Too many will not take you seriously. Fortunately the wonk’s code-word for the kind of love advocated by Dr. King is resilience: much easier to reference than love (but just about as complicated).

At Oxford you mentioned the moral conundrum a career in national security had presented you.  I hope your time in homeland security may offer creative resolution… for all of us.

Yours in resilience,

Philip J. Palin

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 24, 2013 @ 2:39 am

Interesting letter! Perhaps questions to add!

Has DoD accomplished its mission and goals for its GWOT?

If so how, and if not why not? And did DHS help or hinder? And if so why and if not why not?

Comment by Dan O'Connor

October 24, 2013 @ 10:41 am

“We best begin by acknowledging our failures, short-comings, and weakness. We begin by carefully examining our most important relationships. We even take a critical look at our greatest strengths, considering how and where they might lead us astray. We begin by uplifting ourselves, especially our ability to love.”

Phil; really an outstanding letter. I quoted this section because I believe we have effectively lost our ability to view our strengths as potential weakness when pursuing what has been deemed evil. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. In the New Testament John 8:7 captures, I think, some of that conundrum. So what “sins” have been committed in our pursuit of evil? “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.

And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” — Friedrich Nietzsche.

Collateral damage outside this country has been relatively dismissed as just that; collateral. When did another life become more or less insignificant in the pursuit, if not reckless zeal of others who have been deemed evil? And to what end? We have little respect for those we kill and our effectiveness at it has exacerbated the lack of respect.

In my opinion this does have profound consequence on homeland security. If one defines security as a combination of safety, active risk management, knowledge application, and avoidance where is the tipping point? If the aforementioned are the ingredients for a homeostatic resilience, what activity taken by any number of actors disturbs that homeostasis to permanently alter the relationship? When citizens have become quasi enemies and all actions, perturbations, incursions, and diminishment of civil liberties and human rights are evacuated in the name of security what have we actually accomplished?

Rev King continues on about why we must love out enemies. He says hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. We often think of our enemies in a pejorative context because it somehow justifies our extended behavior. Later down the page King also asks the reader to consider what hate does to the person who hates. Hate corrodes the personality and destroys a sense of values and objectivity. Are we guilty of that charge? In our quest to rid the world of evil and in the name of both national and homeland security have we become so bellicose and so driven that we have sacrificed the ideals, virtue, and values we purport to uphold?

Love has many definitions and degrees of definition. If one was to define love as an unromantic commitment to their fellowman with no expectation of reward or acknowledgement would that be accurate? Is resilience in that context a commitment to one another without any expectation of reciprocation but merely the requirement of being human? The idea that a homeland security official or actor in that enterprise cannot be approached for fear of reprisal is not what I would deem “love”. If we are fearful of this enterprise that purports to do all it can to protect us than that enterprise is failing us. Are we slowly becoming the monster we pursue? I think it merits discussion.

I think you are correct within the context of not being able to be taken seriously if love is theme. On the one hand of course and on the other hand what a shame.

Great letter Phil.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 24, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

Agree with DAN and thanks DAN!

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