Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 3, 2015

Parking lot fears

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 3, 2015

DHS Secretary Johnson went to the Woodrow Wilson Center last week to talk about how DHS is doing, what’s working and what needs to work better.

You can see a video of the one hour session here, read the speech for yourself here, or (if you are one of those kinds of people) download his powerpoint slides here.


 

Something bothered me about the speech.

It had nothing to do with the recited lists of successes and challenges, promises or goals.  A leader is expected to say these kinds of things periodically.

What troubled me was a blind surrender to an assumed deep reality about “the way things have to be.”

Here’s what I mean.


 

The Secretary began his speech with a story:

Good afternoon. I want to start with a family photograph.

Jeh Johnson 1966 outside Capitol

Though you won’t believe this, this is me and my kid sister in 1966. I was 8 years old, standing next to my Dad’s 1966 Buick convertible. The most striking thing about the photograph is that as recently as 1966, a private, everyday family of tourists like ours could drive our car onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and park it, with no inspection or prior notice, just a few feet from the building.

This is the same spot, today.

Jeh Johnson same spot today

The public parking lot is gone, replaced by a few black Suburbans, police vehicles, and heavily-armed members of the Capitol Police. Sadly, there are threats to our homeland security today that did not exist in 1966….


 

Fifty eight slides later, the Secretary ended his talk with words that seemed contrary to his opening image:


 

Jeh johnson conclusion

I will end with the very last two words I ended last year’s speech with. Last year, I said that, in the name of homeland security, we should not sacrifice our values as a Nation of people who cherish privacy and freedom, celebrate diversity, and are not afraid. Fear is corrosive.

In the final analysis, courage and resolve in the face of challenge are the greatest strengths of any nation. Terrorism cannot advance if we refuse to be terrorized. Whether in response to a terrorist threat, a natural disaster, a deadly virus, or in the pursuit of a more perfect union, courage and resolve will always prevail.

Thank you for listening.


 

I’m not sure anyone is listening.  I think we have sacrificed those values.  Closing down parking lots does not illustrate courage and resolve.

I don’t know anyone who believes we can ever go back to the days when, as Johnson said,  “a private, everyday family of tourists like ours could drive our car onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and park it, with no inspection or prior notice, just a few feet from the building.”  

But why not?  What stops us – not from going back to the past, but from going into a future where fear does not dominate the national psyche?

It’s not just about parking near the Capitol.  But that’s a good symbol for what corrosive fear has done to privacy and freedom.

The Secretary says the people of our Nation “are not afraid.”  He says “courage and resolve” are our greatest strengths.  He says “terrorism cannot advance if we refuse to be terrorized.” He says “courage and resolve will always prevail.”

Those are excellent sentiments. What national behaviors support those ideals?

There was nothing in the Secretary’s speech about how to create a 21st Century version of his 1966 security reality, how to recreate a nation “of people who cherish privacy and freedom, celebrate diversity, and are not afraid.”

I don’t think that’s even part our national strategic vision (if there is one), let alone a homeland security objective.

For a start, how about letting “everyday families of tourists” park near the Capitol again?  As Justin Schumacher suggested in December, maybe that’s not as unreasonable as it sounds.

And if not that, then how about something else? How do we demonstrate, before the 21st century gets much older,  the nation’s homeland security leaders and institutions and policies are not stuck on fear?

Fear is also corrosive to a nation.

 

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7 Comments »

Comment by Citizen Joe

February 3, 2015 @ 8:05 am

Abraham Lincoln said it best in 1838:

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

Unfortunately, in this 2015 year, it is necessary to protect our valued assets against the many who do seek our demise….

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 3, 2015 @ 8:11 am

IMO time to relocate the SEAT OF GOVERNMENT to more defensible territory!

DRONES AND SLBM NEED TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 3, 2015 @ 8:16 am

Meeting Dr. Edward Teller, PhD., in the 8th floor hall of FEMA HQs in the early 80’s [he was a member of the FEMA advisory board] I asked him where human societies would be 200 years in the future?

He answered with one word: UNDERGROUND!

Comment by Curt Roberts

February 3, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

CS Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the demons [devil/evil]. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

That same can be said about terrorist and terrorism. To disbelieve they exist leads to a lack of prevention/preparation/resilience. However to feel an excessive and unhealthy belief in their existence and powers leads to the diversion of resources and distraction of attention from other equally important or even emergent threats to hls.

In today’s HLSWatch post you note, Sec. Johnson’s comments about the way things “need to be or are,” vs. how they can/could/should be. I think this might be a result of one of the errors Lewis discusses.

Such an excessive focus can come in handy when creating budgets or setting agendas.

As Herman Goerhing described to Gustauve Gilbert on April 18, 1946:

“The common people can always be manipulated [by fear] into supporting [giving up freedoms and liberties] and fighting wars by their political leaders:

We got around to the subject of war again and I [Gilbert] said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

So as we sit today and wait to see if a budget will be passed that funds DHS, we see all the dynamics described above coming into play.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 3, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

Does it count as irony that we arguably faced a greater, perhaps even existential, threat in 1966 than today?

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 4, 2015 @ 7:09 am

Why 1966?

Comment by Dan O'Connor

February 4, 2015 @ 8:45 am

My initial response was BS. It does not have to be this way. We are afraid; of everything. We fear terrorists. We fear government. We fear inoculations. We fear law enforcement. We fear the economy failing. We fear our kids walking home. We fear Americans. We fear everything and for the most part it has been orchestrated.

In December, 2012 I posted this;

http://www.hlswatch.com/2012/12/11/why-are-americans-so-scared/

And Phil Palin’s initial comment provided to him by a mentor was; “The unrealistic expectations that others have of America are a great burden and our best hope.” So what is our expectation? We are conditioned to be afraid?

Let me expound. We have let a small group of people dictate everything we do to be bathed in fear. There is no doubt what happened going on 14 years ago…yes, 14 years was horrific. Terrorism is effective and communicative. It is however, not lasting.

In that same time period (roughly 14 years) two generations ago our nation was in the grips of a depression and World War 2. Not too sure we experienced the same paralysis.

Currently, much the machinations and contrived activity, threats, and spending for our security and safety are tantamount to theatre.

Has our government deemed its citizens a threat? Our movements are tracked, illegally for our protection. Our conversations, online activity, purchases, and relationships are monitored ubiquitously for our safety. Our data, meta data, and patterns of behavior are gathered, sold, and scrutinized by security contractors and in the guise of protection.

If that’s protection and safety than what’s the threat?

Our citizens have been led to believe that law enforcement is neither their friend nor enemy, but something to be wary of. It has a chicken and egg feeling. Are our cops merely conditioned to be aggressive, bellicose, and militaristic or has society left them to defend themselves and the law? Are they dismissive and insensitive to their constituencies? I suppose it depends on the audience, news station, and/or newspaper.

This is the contrast we see today; cops getting assassinated and also drawing their weapons on kids having a snowball fight; the no win situation. We ask law enforcement to enforce the law and when they do enforce the law we get agitated about it. Has the histrionics of accountability become such that Law Enforcement can no longer exercise judgment?

Is there any irony observed with regard to revenue and LE performance?

http://nypost.com/2015/01/12/slowdown-has-cost-city-over-46m-in-lost-revenue/

So is that what protection and safety is really about?

And speaking of law…we continuously add more and more laws to the books to further regulate our citizens’ lives. What used to be entrepreneurial is now criminal, whether it’s shoveling snow, cutting grass, or selling lemonade…now we need a permit. When feeding homeless people or the indigent is criminal we are hosed.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/04/justice/florida-feeding-homeless-charges/

We are convinced that there are creeps, pedophiles, and criminals around every corner stalking our children. The data clearly indicates this is not the case.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/maryland-couple-want-free-range-kids-but-not-all-do/2015/01/14/d406c0be-9c0f-11e4-bcfb-059ec7a93ddc_story.html

Since 1993, the number of children 14 and under who were murdered is down by 36 percent. For children 14 to 17, murders are down 60 percent. Only one-hundreth of 1 percent of missing children are abducted by strangers or even slight acquaintances, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Statistically, our children’s biggest enemies are the people they know…and getting into an automobile.

http://www.bbc.com/news/education-30578830

What does any of this have to do with Homeland Security? Everything. We are generally speaking, afraid.

Our exposure to danger has not increased. Our perception of danger has increased. According to Gallop, there has been a sharp decline in the United States’ violent crime rate since the mid-1990s, but the majority of Americans continue to believe the nation’s crime problem is getting worse. Who thrives and benefits on that perception? Who benefits are the people, politicians, and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears.

Those who also benefit are the advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases and politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime, drug use, and terrorism. I’d daresay we were in far more danger post WWII than we are today. It’s a racket.

So what has this fear malaise really caused? The inability to challenge. If the President is unaccountable, and the Senate accountable, and the Congress unaccountable, and the Justice Department is unaccountable, and the Internal Revenue Service is unaccountable, and the Department of Defense unaccountable, than who is?

Clearly an over generalization for effect or is it?

Going to and staying in war is now quite easy. An argument can be made, if one chooses to make it
that the United States has been in some perpetual conflict since the invasion of Panama in 1989. If you want to get technical, the National Security act of 1947 (amended in ’52) created the opportunity to demonstrate and exercise violence on behalf of the state.

But now war and security have been privatized and the citizen soldier is replaced by an “all-volunteer” force. It makes going to war a lot easier if the Army is all volunteers. No one seems too perturbed about where they’re fighting…but we sure love our troops. Except of course if they’re in the VA health care system.

Post-9/11, the citizenry was urged to pay as much attention as possible; but what are they paying attention to? What is the threat? What makes us unsafe?

What are we willing to give up having for our perception of security to be mollified?

Criminalization of the right to assemble, limitations on free speech, inability to protest, and whistle blow on criminal activity has been taking place in a variety of forms. The privileges afforded by the Constitution appear to be legislatively thwarted. That legislation has been met with a docility of a disempowered populace.

Maybe this is the unintended consequence on the focus on self. At an even more basic level, what may be gone is the very idea of the active citizen, not to speak of the democracy that went with such a conception of citizenship. I suppose billion dollar elections and PR firms have a lot to do with that too. It’s a bizarre narrative.

We are a scared nation. We buy gold and prep for the apocalypse and are afraid to let our kids go out and play. We no longer trust our elected officials. We are incapable of resilience because there is a necessary discomfort in preparation. We experience a lifestyle and affluence for in the world knows and we accrue trillions in debt…a number so big that mathematicians don’t even use it. If all we have to fear is fear itself than we all better look in the mirror and realize we have been conditioned to be afraid of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I want to support our elected officials. It is a hard job. I don’t want to be pandered to and handled. We cannot define resilience much less security, much less homeland security. Once we do that, than maybe a discussion can be had.

“We have met the enemy and they are ours” Oliver Hazard Perry

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