Last Friday I finished about four years of work. I won’t identify the specific work, but it is homeland security-related.
Mostly I failed.
Yes, progress was made:
- We have a much better understanding of the problem; among other things we recognize a problem that previously was not widely recognized.
- We have identified most of the key players who are needed to effectively engage the problem.
- We have established some meaningful relationships among several of the key players.
But the actual problem is as threatening and complicated as it was four years ago. Maybe more threatening.
After four years of serious, ongoing, and mostly well-received work, I failed to practically advance our security.
I advocate for a distinction between national security and homeland security. But as a wannabe classicist, I embrace “security” derived from the Latin se-curus, se: free from, cura: care. If anything, today we are less-carefree than four years ago.
Greater knowledge has, if anything, increased our concern:
- We now recognize there are substantive differences between catastrophic and non-catastrophic. Enhanced effectiveness dealing with the non-catastrophic has in some cases increased our catastrophic risk.
- We now recognize the larger an impact area the more likely a catastrophe, even if the “first impact” is less than catastrophic.
- We now recognize the more interdependencies (power, transport, fuel, supplies, etc.) the more likely a catastrophe
- We now recognize that self-made vulnerabilities are at least as important — often more important — than external threats.
These aspects of the strategic landscape may seem obvious to you, but four years ago they were anything but. Even today these findings are taken by some as fightin’ words.
While we now have a much better view of reality, we have not substantively reduced vulnerabilities. An analogy: The thick flat jungle of Mexico’s Yucatan is periodically punctuated by a rise. Most of these exclamation marks are the overgrown ruins of ancient Mayan structures. As the vines and trees are cleared from the stonework the threat of erosion — and trampling by tourists — actually increase the likelihood of collapse.
In clearing our problem’s landscape we have also experienced the cultural differences that complicate potential collaboration between the private and public sectors.
In this particular problem-set the private sector tended to recognize the risk earlier than the public sector. So unlike some homeland security problems, the private and public sectors are in rough strategic alignment.
But to actually do anything together to mitigate risk has been problematic. A forensic analysis of the multiple problems is not appropriate for a blog. But at the highest level I think it is fair to say there has been a persistent disconnect between private and public regarding the fundamentals of time and space.
The dimensions of space important to the private sector are usually determined by markets that extend for hundreds, even thousands of miles in every direction. One private sector participant said, “For our daily operations states are legal fictions.” Yet on very bad days those fictional creatures become very real… with both good and bad consequences.
Dimensions of time can be even more complicated. Everyone is busy. Everyone is mostly focused on meeting the calendar for some specific deliverable or set of deliverables. Private sector success or failure is measured at least once a day and the measures arrive from multiple players (dozens to tens-of-thousands) across diverse markets. The public sector calendar tends to be more extended even while the measures-that-matter emerge from a much smaller set of observers/consumers/commanders.
As the private sector experience of time encounters the public sector experience of time reality can be contorted in weird ways.
Over the last four years I failed to practically accommodate these differences of space and time. I am sure private and public share the same reality. I am sure they depend on one another. But as I finish this work they remain trapped at different points on a very Newtonian plane.
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Albert Einstein, Letter to Robert S. Marcus, February 12, 1950