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.)