Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 5, 2014

More struggles with the meaning of homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on February 5, 2014

Brian Michael Jenkins has a piece at Slate on “The Real Homeland Security Issues for 2014.” Let me end the suspense now — every “issue” is terrorism related.  Not one mention of natural, technological, or other non-terrorism issues.

I can’t blame Jenkins.  At least not entirely.  He is an expert on terrorism.  As they say in baseball, he’s not just a guy but a GUY. Perhaps THE GUY.  You’ve heard the phrase that terrorists want “a lot of people watching but not a lot of people dead?”  That’s him in Congressional testimony from the 1970s.  So it is to be expected that he concentrates on the terrorist threat.

What concerned me, I suppose, is that years after Katrina and not so long after Sandy he still frames homeland security issues solely  in the language of counter-terrorism.  What I can’t figure out, what we’ll possibly never know (unless one of you know him), is why he chose to frame his essay in the language of homeland security.

He could have chosen to reference counter-terrorism or national security or just simply security.  Instead, he made a point of highlighting homeland security:

As Congress sets its agenda for hearings and legislation relating to homeland security, we can anticipate some of the issues it will address. Expect discussion about whether al-Qaida is on the run or on the rebound, new legislative initiatives on how to deal with the continuing threat in cyberspace, beefing up security on the border, and the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata, to name just of few. These should be matters of great public interest, and they are. According to recent public opinion polls, 75 percent of Americans see terrorist attacks in the United States as a continuing threat, although they are close to evenly divided on whether the government can do more to stop them. But as legislators work their way through these matters, here are some fundamental issues of threat, risk, public expectation, and the protection of liberty and privacy that merit debate.

To give credit where credit is due, he does ask some good questions/brings up some good points. If you’re only concerned about terrorism. His outline:

What is the terrorist threat?

Ensuring homeland security in an era of budget constraints.

Homegrown terrorism and domestic intelligence. 

Does the need for collective security threaten individual liberties?

But what about everything else? At this point, should a basic understanding of what should be included in homeland security still elude any serious analyst? National security is still an amorphous topic, but the basics are not in much dispute. Jenkins doesn’t pretend that a national security discussion should only include the topic of terrorism. Is it too much to think that if you use the term “homeland security” you are at least entertaining the possibility that something non-terrorism is included?

Or is this a symptom of a wider problem? Are constituencies still talking past each other? Absent a recent natural disaster, does the federal government, and those who primarily serve federal agencies, default to the terrorist threat when considering the issue? Is it simply sexier than worrying about the intrinsic messiness that comes with natural events?

The following cartoon hits this nail on the head.  (Hat tip to Bill for pointing it out in the comments of a previous post.)



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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 5, 2014 @ 4:52 am

Great post Arnold because it raises the question does HLS have a different agenda than NATIONAL SECURITY! General Clapper’s testimony on NS threats did not focus much on terrorism except cyber terrorism in last week’s post.

And perhaps oddly the Defense Science Board in its report on CLIMATE talked most about water resources and wonder if even one Climatologist on board at DHS or FEMA?

This is a long file but quite interesting with amazing graphics.


Comment by William R. Cumming

February 5, 2014 @ 4:57 am

And CRS on the energy-water nexus:

Energy-Water Nexus: The Water Sector’s Energy Use, January 3, 2014

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 5, 2014 @ 5:12 am

Any good open source discussion of the nexus between TERRORISM and the ENVIRONMENT? GREENPEACE, e.g., was at one time considered a terrorist organization or at least an ENVIRONMENTAL TERRORIST organization [is there a difference?] and may still be by some Nation-State’s calculation?

And note that like a terrorist group hiding in the shadow the West Virginia culprit has declared bankruptcy?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 5, 2014 @ 5:30 am


While Mr. Jenkins’ intentions are beyond my ability to know, I perceive a certain pragmatism in his defining of homeland security as only counter-terrorism.

Terrorism continues to compel our attention in a way other risks evidently do not. Coverage of the Sochi Olympics has taken on a surreal (at least to me) anticipation of attack. It is almost as if Chechnyan pyrotechnics — and bloody mayhem — have joined figure skating and downhill as official events.

Terrorism is at least as complex and often as random as other threat vectors, but because it involves human intention we persist in believing we can command it. It has become our Great White Whale.

Comment by John Comiskey

February 5, 2014 @ 6:07 am

Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief Policing 101 ….and HLS 101 too

Police Officers struggle with a similar professional paradox: What do police officers do?

Ask some and the answer lies in catching bad guys. There might be something sexy about kicking down doors and keeping society safe.

Ask others and the answer lies in the social worker aspect of the job. There is, however, less sexiness in making referrals, directing traffic, and giving people directions.

This blogger was told long ago in a police academy gym that people dial 911 when bad things happen. They expect police officers to stop the bad things or at least make them better. Police officers assume multiple roles that include doctoring, lawyering, and providing the services of a sagacious Indian Chief.

HLS born of the 9/11 attacks, and later positioned in an all-hazards enterprise of sorts, favors the more sexy terrorism. Terrorists are after all bad guys.
All-hazards mitigation and recovery might be comparable to the less sexy social aspects of policing.

In both policing and HLS the GUY that catches the bad guy is more likely to be recognized for his or her sexiness. Sex after all sells.

Comment by Quin

February 5, 2014 @ 8:00 am


You stole my post! The tools and means to fight terror are far more interesting (sexier) than those to fight natural disasters (although the stuff to deal with technological disasters can be pretty cool). Put another way, there is no way my FEMA windbreaker is ever going to compete with the Marine Corps Dress Uniform gathering dust in my attic. There’s just no comparison, and those perceptions bleed into everything. You can talk until you are blue in the face how people are far more likely to be killed or suffer signifcant losses from a flood or hurricane or earthquake (or snow storm), than from two guys with pressure cookers.

Here’s a better example. Atlanta. From what we are learning, it was a failure of coordination and planning. Fractured government and failure to communicate. The answer is probably to create some kind of metro area government structure where shared decisionmaking can occur and people can deconflict problems before they start. People, time and a little bit of taxes will probably fix the problem. Now sell that to voters. Instead, we’ll end up buying a few more M1A2s nobody wants, but look really cool. Who knows, maybe we can rent them out to Michael Bay for his next Transformers movie and get a few dollars of value back.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 5, 2014 @ 8:29 am

John and Quin:

Interesting that both of you would focus on terrorism as titillating, a source of teasing temptation. While I focused on its potential to prompt obsessive compulsion. Call and respond?

None of us — and certainly not Brian Jenkins — are suggesting terrorism is not real. But at least the three of us are implying that the lenses we may use can cause us to mis-perceive it.

And unlike Mr. Jenkins the three of us seem to agree there are other aspects of homeland security that have at least equal — or perhaps much greater — consequence. But for reasons embedded deep in the human brain, these other issues are not nearly as compelling or attractive.

If I am following this (admittedly early-morning, just-a-blog) logic, terrorism receives priority not due to its inherent risk but because of its superficial, pseudo-sexual (sadomasochistic?) appeal.

Comment by Quin

February 5, 2014 @ 9:35 am


I don’t think the ideas are mutually exclusive. The way we sense, leading to our perceptions, is hard wired to a bias that responds much more violently to acts of terrorism than other “less threatening” events. A compulsion, which to me is a form of bias, is a direct result IMO of our orientation to what exicites us. And this makes sense, but the problem of course, is that our evolutionary hardwiring for past threats isn’t necessarily the best thing for us in the world we live in now. “We”, as in the the general orientation of the nation expressed through political means, still reacts to these issue more like James T. Kirk than Spock. I’m not saying we should reduce everything to a giant game of Moneyball, but we’d sure as heck save a lot of money and maybe lives.

Comment by John Comiskey

February 5, 2014 @ 9:58 am


The misperception (deception) lies in any macro-HLS risk management matrix.

Natural disaster threats trump terrorism in scale.

Terrorism is, theoretically, preventable. Civil society expects government to prevent or at least minimize the terrorist threat.

Less so for natural disasters that are at best mitigated.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 5, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

Okay you adrenaline junkies who need terrorism for excitement let’s look at the real threats capstoned and tracked through the Olympic lens!

1. Munich 1972 with 11 Israeli athletes killed by Black September or FRG police.

2. Moscow games summer 1980 Carter prohibits American participation.

3. LA 1984 Summer Games: In a cascade of events the efforts of FEMA to coordinate state and local LE leads to NSDD-188 and an end to the Directorship of Louis O. Guiffrida as head of FEMA! DoJ has a totally new concept written into the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1984 specifically a LAW ENFORCEMENT EMERGENCY implemented by regulations at 28 CFR Part 65!

4. Runup to 1996 Atlanta Summer Games! Senator from Georgia Sam Nunn who had some insight into FEMA from oversight of the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 [Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress] through his Chairmanship of Senate Armed Services Committee had seen the almost total repeal of that statute in 1994 by Public Law 93-337!

5. Nunn’s personal staff invites various Executive Branch agencies to brief him personally on exactly how the DoD and Executive Branch would resond to a Munich style conventional attack. Simultaneously he is involved in drafting the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act that is enacted as Title VI of the 1994/95 DoD Authorization Act.

6. The Executive Branch officials sent to brief NUNN on the Olympic threat and WMD threats and response and recovery totally fail to give accurate briefings and reassure Nunn’s staff. Nunn then decides to hold an open hearing. Again the witnesses
fail to even be coherent. He decides to assign DoD a new mission with the possibility of transfer elsewhere in the Executive Branch after 3 years. This
reassignment provision an accidental intervention by a FEMA staffer trying to follow through on PD-39. {Later having her career ended in FEMA for trying to follow federal law on Native Americans and now an Executive with a private corporation!

7. DoD assigns the mission to the Natioanl Guard that forms so-called RAID TEAMS.

8. In 1999 DoD wants to transfer the NUNN assignment of State and local WMD training and terrorism largely under PD-39 [1995] to some other entity. FEMA is their first choice. DoJ wants the role. When Director Witt opposes the transfer to FEMA on the basis of no funding or staffing for the mission (not accurate] it goes to DoJ with the NSC staff having an important role on State and Local issues under Lisa Gordon-Haggerty.

9. Then of course DoJ Office of Domestic Preparedness takes on the role until incorporated into DHS on March 1,2003!

10. In the meantime Russia has labeled insurgencies in the Caucus as terrorism. US FP establishment refuses to accept the Russian label.

11. Even with specific warnings to FBI and CIA Boston Bombers attack at Boston Marathon.

12. Sochi Olympics next up next?

Comment by John Comiskey

February 5, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

Bravo to HLS/Terrorism-Olympic Lens

Captures interagency & inter-jurisdictional challenges of HLS to include international jurisdictions and geopolitics.

I sense that HLS is suppose to minimize the challenges AND celebrate the diverse nature of federalism.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 5, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

Does anyone have a sense of DHS scope of ops overseas and staffing and funding?

Comment by Django

February 5, 2014 @ 11:09 pm

Quin –

Were you being ironic when you said “The answer is probably to create some kind of metro area government structure where shared decisionmaking can occur and people can deconflict problems before they start”?

Those places already exist at the city, county, and stale level…welcome to the Emergency Coordination Center.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 11:00 am

Django! Is an ECC the same or different from an EOC?

I do know that Jay Carney WH press spokesman is neither and tragedy sure to result from that fact sooner or later!

Comment by Donald Quixote

February 6, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

Homeland security is what is titillating or the last significant incident that is stored in our short term memory, driving discourse, funding and priorities. The impact of conventional terrorism may pale in comparison to other threats, but it wins in the hearts, minds and fears. Terrorism also produces some really cool movies and grant programs…

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

IMO Sam Nunn is deserving of a Medal of Freedom for his NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE! Perhaps a NOBEL! Like James Baker IMO would have been an interesting President.
His career, like Lincoln’s, stumbled when he opposed OPERATION DESERT STORM!

Comment by JD

February 7, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

@ Django, I believe the reference is to a regional collaborative governance structure, like the Council of Governments that exists in the DC metro region. This differs from EOC(s), in the sense that it becomes a forum for the political leadership of each independent jurisdiction at the local level to determine their governance structures and plans for such an event. As I understand, the Atlanta region is Balkanized between numerous jurisdictions (like the DC area), and lacks such a forum for the various mayors and government officials to coordinate: there is an Atlanta Regional Commission that doesn’t appear to have had much of a role in emergency planning, so perhaps this would become the forum. A similar evolution did occur in the DC area with its Council of Governments after the Air Florida plane crash in 1982.

An EOC is only the place to executive regional coordination if the plans for such collaboration have previously been put in place.

It would be interesting to see if they still have the same model as during the Atlanta Olympics, when I presume there was some sort of regional coordination for emergencies.

@ the CT/HS/EM discussion, it seems that we have two camps that are well-entrenched since 9/11, the “HS is CT” camp, and the “HS is All-Hazards” camp. I think the system has been evolving towards the latter, especially among those within the HS enterprise; but there are many holdouts in the “HS is CT” camp, and this seems to be the position of many of the National Security-centric thinkers.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 9, 2014 @ 4:41 am

Lincoln opposed the War with Mexico!

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