Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 26, 2013

DHS Deputy Secretary confirmation fight exacerbates vacancies problem

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 26, 2013

In late June the President nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, current Director of USCIS, to be the next Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  This nomination was a critical first step in addressing the issue of DHS leadership vacancies that I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago, and which has attracted notable media attention since Secretary Napolitano announced her resignation two weeks ago.

Until a few days ago, I assumed that this nomination would move forward smoothly, given Mayorkas’ very good reputation and his performance leading USCIS for the last four years.   But as has been reported in the news this week, there’s been a bump in the road in his nomination process, related to a reported DHS Inspector General investigation into certain investments made via the Immigrant Investor Program (known as EB-5), and Mayorkas’ alleged involvement in key decisions related to this matter.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held its confirmation hearing for Mayorkas yesterday (July 25th), likely having scheduled this hearing before this news broke with the intent to try to get him confirmed before the August recess.  Senator Coburn and the other Republican members of the Committee boycotted the hearing, arguing that these  issues raised by the IG needed to be resolved before the nomination should move forward.

I’ve reviewed the transcript of yesterday’s hearing, all relevant news clippings on this EB-5 matter, and the relevant documents released by Senator Grassley yesterday.  This is definitely the kind of issue that Senate Committees need to look at and sort out as part of a confirmation process.  There’s still a lot of confusing and contradictory information in the public record on this matter, so I don’t feel confident to comment on the substance of the allegations.  But from a process standpoint, I would note that these allegations are being brought forward publicly by the IG (who is under his own investigative cloud) in a way that seems very unfair to Mayorkas – who was perplexed and blindsided by these allegations at the hearing, and appears to have had no opportunity to respond to them in the year that the IG’s investigation has been open.   The IG’s actions in relation to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also appear to be very strange – the Committee apparently only learned about this matter from the IG earlier this week, and Senator Carper indicated at the hearing that he found no relevant information on this matter in Mayorkas’ FBI background report.

And unfortunately, the net result of this matter is that it now seems unlikely that Mayorkas will be confirmed before Secretary Napolitano departs DHS on September 7th.  (The Senate will be on recess from August 3 to September 9, so will have no opportunity to confirm him after next Friday, August 3rd).  That will create a significant and troubling leadership gap at the top of DHS, just in time for the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and right in the middle of hurricane season.  The Department is also likely to have a full legislative agenda this fall (cyber security, border security, appropriations etc.) and on the policy front is charged with working on the second Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) and updating the National Infrastructure Protection Plan this fall.   These issues will all suffer if there is a prolonged senior leadership gap after Secretary Napolitano’s departure.

For these reasons, I hope that the Senate will find a way to resolve this issue and move forward soon on Mayorkas’s nomination.  And it is also imperative that the White House nominate someone as soon as possible to be the next Secretary of DHS, and also finally move forward on nominating and appointing individuals for other key vacant positions (CBP, I&A, ICE, IG, etc.) as soon as possible.

June 19, 2013

DHS’ Alan Cohn talks about the 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 19, 2013

I saw the following press release about the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review on the Center for Homeland Defense and Security website today.

A stronger risk-based approach and expanded stakeholder input will be included as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) undertakes the second Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) this summer, a top department official said June 6.

“The second review will also have the benefit of a consolidated DHS office that will guide the process,” said DHS Office of Policy Assistant Secretary for Strategy, Planning, Analysis and Risk (SPAR) Alan Cohn. DHS consolidated the functions of the Office of Risk Management and Analysis with the Office of Strategic Plans to form SPAR in March 2012, creating an integrated strategic planning, risk modeling and analysis function for the Department.

The QHSR is legislatively mandated to be conducted every four years under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as amended. The first review was completed in February 2010 and set forth a strategic framework for the nation’s homeland security. Five homeland security missions were identified during the first review and will remain the core of the strategic approach: 1) preventing terrorism and enhancing security; 2) securing and managing our borders; 3) enforcing and administering our immigration laws; 4) safeguarding and securing cyberspace; and 5) ensuring resilience to disasters.

The second QHSR will build on this foundation and focus on how DHS will build smarter, more dynamic, risk-based approaches to homeland security that engage the broadest possible range of partners. The key difference for the second review is that DHS and its partners will be able to engage continuously through the study and analysis phase of the review, according to Assistant Secretary Cohn. “We will look for areas where strategic shifts may be necessary to keep pace or get ahead of changes in strategic environment,” he said. DHS will complete the second QHSR review process by the end of 2013.

“The first QHSR spelled out the idea of homeland security, but also described the importance of thinking about homeland security as an enterprise responsibility,” Assistant Secretary Cohn said.

“Beyond being a federal responsibility, this is a national responsibility. There is an enterprise that goes far beyond the halls of DHS that is engaged in assuring the security of the homeland of the United States. For that reason, it’s vitally important for the Department to engage with that broader community of stakeholders in conducting a review of this type.”

DHS plans to connect with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, the private sector, and non-government entity stakeholders through an online community to be established through the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s First Responders Communities of Practice. DHS will use this and other venues to invite stakeholders to offer perspectives, comments and ideas.

Cohn urged academics and practitioners, including those associated with the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, to contribute.

“We encourage the broader homeland security community, including alumni of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security program, to fully and extensively participate in the process of building that community of practitioners,” Cohn said.

The first QHSR was crafted based on input from 42 DHS offices/components, 26 federal departments, and 118 stakeholder groups. The Department received 43 white papers as well as more than 3,000 public comments received during three “National Dialogues.”

August 8, 2011

“The Challenges of Developing a Homeland Security Discipline to Meet Future Threats to the Homeland”

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on August 8, 2011

This week Homeland Security Watch will focus on homeland security as a professional and academic discipline.

As noted a few days ago, we will start with Linda Kiltz’s recent Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management paper called “The Challenges of Developing a Homeland Security Discipline to Meet Future Threats to the Homeland.”

I will summarize the main points of the Dr. Kiltz’s article today. Our regular writers will contribute their thoughts during the rest of the week.  Readers are encouraged to contribute to the conversation.

My summary consists primarily of excerpts taken from the paper, occasionally rearranged, and lightly edited to synthesize portions of the argument for this post.  I have not included the citations.

Interested readers are encouraged to read the complete paper for a detailed explication of the argument summarized here.


The paper makes three central claims:

1. Homeland security education must continually adapt to future risks, threats and vulnerabilities. To do this, it will be necessary to consider homeland security thinking and practice from multiple perspectives and disciplines. Looking at the homeland security enterprise through a variety of perspectives can deepen understanding and shed additional light on the scope of the field or discipline.

2. Existing and future educational programs in homeland security should include the theories, practices and research methods of emergency management, despite the current cultural differences between emergency management and homeland security.

3. Homeland security education programs have to confront three challenges:

  • the development and implementation of a standardized curriculum with core functions and competencies that are inclusive of emergency management,
  • the evolution into a new academic discipline;
  • the adoption of multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.

Need for Collaboration Between Emergency Management and Homeland Security

Our ability to plan, respond to and recover from a broad range of disasters in the future will be determined in large part by the quality of our local, state and national emergency management systems and homeland security policies and programs.

There can no longer be stove pipes and divisions between emergency management and homeland security practitioners and scholars as we educate and train professionals in these fields in the years ahead. The success of the homeland security enterprise depends on our ability in higher education to work collaboratively across disciplines to design, develop and teach a curriculum that prepares professionals across the entire domain of homeland security (including emergency management), and to conduct research that serves to enhance our understanding of the complexity of the homeland security enterprise.

Vision and Missions of Homeland Security

In order to build educational programs for the homeland security enterprise it is important to have a clear understanding of how the Department of Homeland Security and the Obama administration envision homeland security.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report (QHSR) sets forth a shared vision of homeland security in order to achieve a unity of purpose. This vision of homeland security assumes the functions needed to achieve that unity will include both emergency management and homeland security, and will be seen under one overarching concept of the homeland security enterprise that recognizes the need for joint actions and efforts across previously discrete elements of government and society.

The traditional view of homeland security focused on terrorism. The current view encompasses an all-hazards approach that recognizes the value of emergency preparedness structures and processes.

The homeland security missions include: preventing terrorism and enhancing security, securing and managing our borders, enforcing and administering our immigration laws, safeguarding and securing cyberspace, and ensuring resilience to disasters through hazard mitigation, and effective emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts. Accomplishing these missions is the responsibility not only of DHS, but also of the hundreds of thousands of people across all levels of government, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations.

To be successful in accomplishing these missions, homeland security professionals in the public and private sector must have a clear sense of what it takes to achieve this overarching vision, as well as the knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve national, state and local homeland security goals. Our challenge as homeland security scholars is developing and implementing undergraduate and graduate curriculum that is grounded in a set of core competencies, and continually adapts to future threats, hazards, risks and vulnerabilities.

Current and Future Threats

It will be necessary to provide homeland security professionals with the knowledge and skills to perceive, analyze and respond to disasters and crises from multiple perspectives and paradigms. This will be challenging and critical given the on-going threats and hazards we face now and in the future.

The scope and magnitude of the disasters in 2010 provide us with a warning signal of increasingly catastrophic disasters to come. These 2010 disasters include:

  • 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti
  • 8.8. magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile
  • Twenty earthquakes at a magnitude of 7.0 or higher before the end of the year
  • Record heat and drought in Russia,
  • Typhoons in the Philippines and China, and
  • Mass flooding in Pakistan.

Climate change is expected to have a number of adverse socio-economic impacts within the global environment, including:

  • Shortfalls in water for drinking and irrigation, with concomitant risks of thirst and famine;
  • Changes and possible declines in agricultural productivity stemming from altered temperature, rainfall, or pest patterns;
  • Spikes in the rates and extended geographic scope of malaria and other diseases;
  • Associated shifts in economic output and trade patterns;
  • Changes and possibly large shifts in human migration patterns; and
  • Larger economic and human losses attributable to extreme weather events such as hurricanes.

Coastal populations in North America will be increasingly vulnerable to climate change—and nearly 50 percent of Americans live within fifty miles of the coast.  Impacts of climate change in the U.S. include:

  • An increased likelihood of flooding throughout the nation,
  • More intense hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico,
  • An increase in the number and duration of urban wildfires,
  • More severe and longer heat waves, cyclones and winter storms.

It is clear that a homeland security curriculum focused on all hazards, disaster research and the practice of emergency management should be a major part of future undergraduate or graduate programs in this field.

Given the link between climate change and natural hazards, future curriculum in emergency management and homeland security should include topics related to the adverse physical, social, and security impacts of climate change on the United States.  Future emergency managers and homeland security professionals will need to evaluate and better understand how climate change could affect the identification and selection of disaster mitigation strategies, the types of preparedness activities that jurisdictions undertake, the execution of response operations, and the implementation of long-term recovery strategies.

In addition to preparing for more frequent and devastating natural disasters, professionals should also be prepared for unpredictable man-made and technical disasters such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The threat of terrorism persists. Another low-probability, high cost terrorist event appears to be inevitable given the on-going threat of terrorism, particularly by “homegrown” jihadists. Developing and implementing antiterrorism and counter terrorism strategies to this rapidly changing enemy will require homeland security management professionals to have an advanced understanding of terrorist organizations and terrorism.

Challenges in Developing Homeland Security Programs

To provide well-educated professionals for the homeland security threats described above, it is critical that academic programs in homeland security:

  • Develop and implement a standardized curriculum with core functions and competencies that are inclusive of emergency management,
  • Evolve into new academic disciplines or stay grounded in a traditional academic discipline, and
  • Utilize multidisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.

Homeland Security degree programs were initially established with no standardized or consistent core curriculum. This is due, in part, to the lack of agreement about the definition of homeland security. Additionally few professional associations or government organizations provide program level student learning outcomes or guidance on model curriculum.

Emergency management has become more professionalized over the past three decades because of the increase in emergency management higher education programs.  Numerous workshop sessions at the FEMA Higher Education Conferences and scholarly articles have produced several lists for individual emergency management practitioners about competencies, and knowledge, skills and abilities for each level of education in emergency management and homeland security. For example, here is a list of graduate competencies generated in 2004.

The Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium has attempted to propose standardized educational outcomes at all degree levels in homeland security education. In 2010 a work group recommended core content areas to be included in homeland security graduate programs:

  • Current and emerging threats;
  • Context and organizations;
  • Policies, strategies and legal issues;
  • Processes and management; and
  • Practical applications.

The author synthesized a draft list of core functions and competencies for graduate programs in homeland security based on a review of her own research and related studies.

Comparing the list above with core competencies in emergency management suggest there are a number of areas of overlap that could be integrated into a comprehensive multi-disciplinary degree program. This will be difficult to do while there is no clearly defined set of standardized educational outcomes that is publicly available to guide program development in homeland security education across degree programs. If any level of integration is to be achieved between homeland security and emergency management programs, then the culture clashes between homeland security and emergency management scholars must be minimized.

To overcome some of these conflicts between these two fields, scholars in the fields of emergency management and/or homeland security would need to expand their vision and adjust their paradigms to be more inclusive of the concepts, theories, practices and methodologies used by the different disciplines in these fields. This can be very difficult because it requires conceptual competence-the ability to identify, interpret and apply appropriate tools from participating disciplines relevant to the problem at hand.

Another challenge in developing a homeland security program is identifying the academic discipline and department in which it should be situated within the university. This is necessary because homeland security is currently not an academic discipline. We need to ask ourselves a number of questions: Should homeland security be a subfield of public administration, political science, criminal justice, national security, or something else, or should it be developed into a new academic discipline?

For homeland security to become a discipline there must be consensus on the following topics commonly found within disciplines and reflecting core issues often found in accreditation:

  • Naming the field
  • Defining the field
  • Concepts: What are the key concepts and definitions? What is the core curriculum and does it serve both student and employer needs
  • History: What is the history of the field?
  • Theory: What are the theories, paradigms, and philosophies of the
  • field?
  • Methods: Which research methods should be taught to students?
  • Practice: What are the roles and relationships between educators and practitioners?
  • Student Outcomes Assessment: What are the demographic backgrounds of students? What types of recruitment and retention work best? What do graduates do with their new education? What are employer views of graduates?
  • Faculty Roles: What are the roles of faculty? How can faculty be evaluated?

To date, there is no agreed upon definition of homeland security, no grand theory explaining the phenomenon of homeland security, no standardized curriculum, little discussion of the history, paradigms and philosophies of the field, and ill defined faculty roles. Without these components of a discipline, it would be very difficult to create an interdisciplinary program despite the claims of some programs to have done this very thing.

An interdisciplinary program is one in which two or more disciplines are brought together preferably so that the disciplines interact with one another and have some effect on one another’s perspectives. Despite the benefits of interdisciplinary education, such an approach to homeland security is unrealistic at this time because the conditions necessary for such programs to succeed are too difficult to meet.

Homeland security education programs that are multidisciplinary are more realistic and easier to implement. Multidisciplinary is defined as “research, problem solving or teaching that mingles disciplines but maintains their distinctiveness.” It also refers to the involvement of several different professional areas, though not necessarily in an integrated manner. The advantages of multidisciplinary approaches are that they not only are much easier to develop, implement and evaluate, but also they still allow faculty and students to look at homeland security thinking and practice from multiple perspectives and disciplines.


Given even the challenges of implementing a multidisciplinary approach to homeland security education and its lack of disciplinary status, the best option may be to define homeland security as a subfield within a traditional discipline in the short term, while continuing moving toward becoming a discipline. In the meantime, there must be an on-going dialogue among homeland security scholars on whether homeland security is a discipline, a multidisciplinary endeavor, or a truly interdisciplinary field integrated into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite these challenges in developing homeland security education, homeland security has the potential to become an academic discipline if the academic community associated with it makes a concerted effort to develop a standardized curriculum with core functions and competencies, to shape the discipline in the future, and to construct the missing disciplinary components in partnership with scholars and practitioners in the field of emergency management. By working together we may some day be better able to answer the question, “What is homeland security?”


April 12, 2011

“There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness”

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on April 12, 2011

“There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretend order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.”

The harsh quote is from Jane Jacob’s 1961 masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I thought of the quote as I read Presidential Decision Directive 8, harshly titled — but in a different sense of harsh — National Preparedness.

Jacobs was not talking about homeland security as we know it now. She was writing about a different kind of government program focused on a different kind of homeland security:

… there is a housing project with a conspicuous rectangular lawn which became an object of hatred to the project tenants. [Government representatives were] astonished by how often the subject of the lawn came up, usually gratuitously… and how much the tenants despised it and urged that it be done away with. When [a goverment representative] asked why, the usual answer was, “What good is it?” or “Who wants it?” Finally one day a tenant more articulate than the others made this pronouncement: “Nobody cared what we wanted when we built this place. They threw our houses down and pushed us here and pushed our friends somewhere else. We don’t have a place around here to get a cup of coffee or a newspaper even, or borrow fifty cents. Nobody cared what we need. But the big men come and look at the grass and say, “Isn’t it wonderful! Now the poor have everything.”

I do not mean this as a criticism of PPD 8. I tend to agree with Palin’s analyses over the past few days. PPD 8 seems to be a modest evolution of HSPD 8, with more attention to a broader set of stakeholders, and with at least the hint of more flexibility about what preparedness means.

I also do not intend this to be a critique of the men and women who worked (I am told) even before the Obama Administration to author and socialize this evolution of homeland security doctrine. I agree with Teddy Roosevelt’s words, spoken more than 100 years ago:

It is not the critic who counts…. The credit belongs to the man [and woman] who is actually in the arena….

I translate his words to mean it is easier to comment on PPD 8 than it was to bring it to fruition.  Here are some initial reactions to PPD 8.


PPD 8, to me, is another example of “the dishonest mask of pretend order, achieved by ignoring … the real order that is struggling … to be served.” Such dishonest masks characterizes much contemporary rhetoric marking the struggle to make room for something other than a technicist worldview about governance.

It might be less pretentious to express more narrowly my view PPD 8 is a recent example of the struggle in homeland security between an effort to impose pretend order and the burgeoning emergence of real order.

I wrote about this dynamic in 2010 for an analysis of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.  It is a struggle — in bare metaphorical terms — between Newtonians and Darwinians.

Newtonians see homeland security as a machine whose parts need to be integrated into a cohesive whole, a whole – perhaps — governed by a National Preparedness Goal. Darwinians see homeland security as the emergent product of multiple complex adaptive systems.

Both approaches value order.  Newtonians achieve order through understanding how to use power. Darwinians achieve order by shaping — as they can —  variation, selection, and replication.   One approach is not troubled by pretend order.  The other approach avoids the artificial, not for esthetic reasons, but because of its waste.

When I compare PPD 8 with the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, I am encouraged to think the Darwinian forces are edging ahead in the struggle. But when I compare PPD 8 with HSPD 8, the questioning WTF? refrain comes to mind.

Was the squeeze that produced PPD 8 worth the juice?


PPD 8 supports an “all of Nation” approach.

The 2007 National Homeland Security Strategy’s vision was:

The United States, through a concerted national effort that galvanizes the strengths and capabilities of Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments; the private and non-profit sectors; and regions, communities, and individual citizens – along with our partners in the international community – will work to achieve a secure Homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.

So how is PPD 8 different? If anything HSPD 8 is more expansive with its “all of planet” approach.


PPD 8 supports “an integrated, all-of-Nation, capabilities-based approach to preparedness.”

Or, as several analysts have already noted, we now focus on capabilities, not scenarios.

As I understand it, rather than relying on a dozen or so major catastrophe scenarios, the new emphasis will be “maximum of maximums (MOM).” As best as I understand MOM, it means figuring out the worst of the worst things that can happen to a particular jurisdiction, and then working on figuring out what capabilities that situation would require.

How is this not switching from 15 really horrible scenarios to 1 outright ugly and horrible mega-monster scenario?

I know some Newtonians felt chained to the 15 scenarios (almost all of which ended up with the feds showing up to help).  I know Drawinians who treated working on the 15 scenarios as the price they had to pay to get the grants to develop capabilities they wanted.   Is the evolutionary advance that the Newtonians will now be chained to a different rule set?  The Darwinians are already strategizing about how to use PPD 8. Newtonians are waiting for implementation guidelines.

And maybe I’m missing something really significant here, but what is new about the emphasis on capabilities based planning?

Surely one recalls the HSPD 8 spawned Target Capabilities List (TCL):

The TCL describes the capabilities related to the four homeland security mission areas: Prevent, Protect, Respond and Recover. It defines and provides the basis for assessing preparedness. It also establishes national guidance for preparing the Nation for major all-hazards events, such as [my emphasis] those defined by the National Planning Scenarios.

HSPD 8 went from the 15 planning scenarios to 37 TCLs that would allow one to prepare for those scenarios. The TCLs were (are?) grouped according to common, prevent, protect, respond, and recover capabilities.

Does the PPD 8 focus on prevent, protect, mitigate [new?], respond, and recover mean a new set of “core” capabilities are needed? Or are the old ones still ok?

Can Jurisdiction X, whose MOM differs from Jurisdiction Y’s MOM choose to focus on capabilities that are different from Jurisdiction Y?  Does the homeland security ecosystem allow for different “scalable, flexible, and adaptable” capabilities in different parts of the enterprise, or does the homeland security machine demand “a unified system with common terminology and approach?” Or is the answer both?


And then comes the national preparedness goal (NPG). The PPD 8 version of the NPG is due in September 2011. I say “version,” because I thought we already had a national preparedness goal.

On March 31, 2005 (six years and a day before PPD 8 was signed), DHS issued its interim national preparedness goal:

[The] vision for the National Preparedness Goal is: To engage Federal, State, local, and tribal entities, their private and non-governmental partners, and the general public to achieve and sustain risk-based target levels of capability to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from major events in order to minimize the impact on lives, property, and the economy.

That reads like “whole of nation” and “preparedness capabilities” to me. The words may differ, but the semantics seem the same. Where is the evolutionary advance here?  Do we really need a new national preparedness goal?  If so, where is the demand coming from?


Then there is the matter of metrics in PPD 8:

… a comprehensive approach to assess national preparedness that uses consistent methodology to measure the operational readiness of national capabilities at the time of assessment, with clear, objective and quantifiable performance measures, against the target capability levels identified in the national preparedness goal.

Assessing preparedness — a code phrase that can be approximately translated into “what has all the money spent on homeland security bought the nation, and how do we know?” — has proven a hellish task.

Some people have suggested the way the Centers for Disease Control assess their capabilities of interest might be a model for the rest of homeland security.

I looked briefly at the CDC March 2011 report, “Public Health Preparedness Capabilities: National Standards for State and Local Planning.”

The 153 page, very well organized, document — based on lots of stakeholder input — describes 15 capabilities, further subdivided into functions, that are still further divided into tasks. (The report is structurally similar to several early DHS publications.)

The document deserves a closer reading than I gave it. It does include a number of measurable objectives (e.g., “Production of the approved Incident Action Plan before the start of the second operational period.”)  But I ran across the following phrase 43 times: “At present there are no CDC-defined performance measures for this function.” (For example: Provide methods for the public to contact the health department with questions and concerns through call centers, help desks, hotlines, social media, web chat or other communication platforms.)

Like the rest of homeland security, the public health community still has some work to do on the measurement issue.

As I wrote in this blog two Octobers ago, there have been at least 6 well-funded pilot efforts to figure out how to measure preparedness. They all proved fruitless for reasons that have more to do with the wickedness of the assessment problem than with the lack of talent, skills and intellect of the people who worked the problem.

Jay Rosen provided a good synopsis recently about the nature of wicked problems that speak to this dilemma. After summarizing the characteristics of wicked problems, he writes

… we would be better off if we knew when we were dealing with a wicked problem, as opposed to the regular kind. If we could designate some problems as wicked we might realize that “normal” approaches to problem-solving don’t work. We can’t define the problem, evaluate possible solutions, pick the best one, hire the experts and implement. No matter how much we may want to follow a routine like that, it won’t succeed. Institutions may require it, habit may favor it, the boss may order it, but wicked problems don’t care.

Rosen suggests a way to treat wicked problems that might be considered for the preparedness effort:

Wicked problems demand people who are creative, pragmatic, flexible and collaborative. They never invest too much in their ideas because they know they are going to have to alter them. They know there’s no right place to start so they simply start somewhere and see what happens. They accept the fact that they’re more likely to understand the problem after it’s “solved” than before. They don’t expect to get a good solution; they keep working until they’ve found something that’s good enough. They’re never convinced that they know enough to solve the problem, so they are constantly testing their ideas on different stakeholders.

Assigning such creative, pragmatic, flexible and collaborative people to the measurement issue might be an evolutionary advance. My guess is they would include many of the people who developed and staffed the PPD. (Many. Not all.)


I think there is a simple test for the success of PPD 8:

Within 1 year from the date of this directive, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit the first national preparedness report based on the national preparedness goal to me, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. [my emphasis]

In case that language sounds familiar to you, here is something similar from the December 2003, HSPD 8:

The Secretary shall provide to me through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security an annual status report of the Nation’s level of preparedness, including State capabilities, the readiness of Federal civil response assets, the utilization of mutual aid, and an assessment of how the Federal first responder preparedness assistance programs support the national preparedness goal. The first report will be provided within 1 year of establishment of the national preparedness goal. [my emphasis]

I don’t think this requirement to submit a national preparedness report was ever met.

The Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 also required an annual federal preparedness report. I think one such report was written, and completed a few days before the end of the Bush Administration.


PPD 8 is a 6 page page stone tossed into the water. Its impact on the homeland security enterprise is neither predictable nor knowable. This is one of those situations where we will see causes retrospectively.

But we can fairly accurately predict how stakeholders will respond. As one either cynical or experienced person (or both) noted in a comment to one of Palin’s posts:

Just what we need, More Frameworks, yay! Let the interagency flogging begin and let the state and local stakeholders stand-by to shift course again and relearn new Federal stuff for the 3rd or 4th time this decade.

It need not be that way. PPD 8 is very clear that stakeholder involvement is an important part of turning words into actions that increase the nation’s preparedness.

PPD 8 notes several times that the Secretary “shall coordinate this effort with other executive departments and agencies, and consult with State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, the private and nonprofit sectors, and the public.” [my emphasis]

I do not know what “coordinate” or “consult” means in a Newtonian world. But it is the sine qua non of a social world that values variation, selection, and replication as the path to order.

Watching the changes in the homeland security enterprise over the past decade leads me to believe there is a real order struggling to exist and to be served in homeland security.  The one word name for that order is federalism.  It is accompanied by messiness, inefficiency and other faults that drive Newtonians crazy.  But — like our republican democracy — pretend order is not one of federalism’s faults.

Let’s see how PPD 8 does without a mask.



October 12, 2010

Homeland security as a legacy concept

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 12, 2010

A few weeks ago a friend suggested that homeland security was a legacy concept.

Legacy is a polite word. It is used as a synonym for something no longer in fashion. It also refers to what’s left when somebody dies.

In the computer world, legacy means something that has been superseded but that is difficult to get rid of because it is still widely used.


“Homeland security’s outlived its usefulness,” my friend said.

To paraphrase the rest of his argument:

Most terrorism prevention is either law enforcement or military work; sometimes both. The concept of “homeland security” does not add much value to what the police or the defense department already do.

Emergency management takes care of things that can’t be prevented. Except for a few very well publicized events, the nation’s emergency management enterprise does a good job responding to disasters. Covering emergency management with a coat of homeland security paint doesn’t add much.

To many state and local agencies, homeland security means “what we have to do to get emergency management grants so we can prepare for the events we will actually experience.”

Public health may not have performed perfectly during the H1N1 season; but it’s not obvious how incorporating public health into the homeland security stew made anything better.

DHS component agencies — Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, TSA, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service — take care of their areas of responsibility. Why do they need to be connected to the same federal overhead agency?  And does anyone recall why we keep the Customs part of Customs and Border Protection separate from the Customs part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

What do any of the overhead management agencies in DHS actually contribute to making the nation more secure? Is there any evidence other than rhetoric about the value overhead agencies add?

Sure there is DHS rhetoric about value:

“We are a unified Department with a shared focus: strengthening our Nation – through a partnership with individual citizens, the private sector, state, local, and tribal governments, and our global partners. We must also coordinate across Federal agencies, while shaping homeland security policy and coordinating incident management.”

But that language comes from the DHS “One Team, One Mission, Securing Our Homeland” strategic plan. It was issued in 2008. By DHS Secretary Chertoff. It’s still featured on the DHS website, in spite of language on the same web page that says

“…it is important to acknowledge that this Strategic Plan is a living document and will be revised as needed to guide a dynamic Department and its ever-changing requirements.”

If the strategy has not been revised in two years, is that evidence of a legacy strategy and a moribund department?  Or should we look at the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review as the new living document?

There is little question “homeland security” as a concept has been replaced at the national level by “national security.” Last year the homeland security council staff dissolved into the national security staff.  The country no longer has a national homeland security strategy.  The 2007 National Homeland Security Strategy was replaced, with little fanfare, by the May 2010 National Security Strategy.

If homeland security is not already dead, it’s getting there.


I dismissed my friend’s argument out of hand — meaning I didn’t think much about it. Or rather I tried not to think about it.

But the thought would not go away.  What if he was right?

I asked colleagues what they thought of the idea.  Most agreed with my first reaction: the idea is wrong.   There are no unambiguous measures of whether we are better prepared to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and catastrophes today than we were a decade ago.  But the consensus of people I asked was agencies were better at sharing information and working together than they were in early 2001.  Is that improvement because something called “homeland security” served as an organizing and funding device? Possibly.  Probably.

No, I don’t think homeland security is a legacy concept.

But what if it were true? Or at least in the early days of being true? What kind of argument could be constructed to support the claim that the nation is moving beyond the concept of “homeland security?”

What if, like a soft green blanket, homeland security was what the nation needed to get past the trauma of the first years of this new century? How would we know when it was time to let go? When it was time to move on?

September 9, 2010

On our ninth 9/11 seeking a simple strategy

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 9, 2010

Saturday it will be nine years.   I was in Montgomery, Alabama assessing Air University’s ability to educate 21st century warriors.   One of the criteria was “strategic agility.”  Indeed.

Strategy is a mystery word. Other mystery words: love, resilience, courage, evil, goodness, truth, beauty and many more.  These are concepts predisposed to complicated explanation and vigorous disagreement.  Poets are more helpful than others in making sense of these words.

While Homer certainly did his bit, strategy does not attract many modern poets. Since 9/11 we have been offered mostly the prose of scholars, policy makers, wonks, and such.  Some examples:

National Homeland Security Strategy (2002)

Catastrophe: Risk and Response (2004)

The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation (2007)

Worst Case Scenarios (2007)

Terror and Consent (2008)

Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (2010)

National Security Strategy (2010)

Less exalted, I am the author and co-author of two more:

A Homeland Security Strategy for the New Administration (2008) The certificate for this website is out-of-date, but otherwise okay.

Resilience: The Grand Strategy (2010)

The HSPDs (2002-2009) featured here on Sunday and Monday are also intended as expressions of strategic thinking, although half the collection has been critiqued as non-strategic.

Before there was strategy there was the classical Greek stroma which became the Latin stratum.  This was something spread haphazardly or scattered, as in, “The sheep are scattered across the plain.”  English derives strewn from the same Greek root.

Then there was the classical Greek: agein or ago, meaning to drive, lead,  bring, or organize, as in, “The dog drives the sheep toward the enclosure.”

Strategos is the Greek compound of these two words.  We typically translate it as General.  But more literally the Strategos organizes what is spread or scattered. 

Strategy does not emerge from nothing. The ancient Strategos — and the modern strategist — begins with the landscape and assets scattered across it.   Given the nature of the threat as I know it; given the resources — both strong and weak – available; given the contours of the context; and given my purpose, how can I maximize my advantage and minimize my vulnerability?

Effective strategy is innately reductionist.  The benefit of strategy, if any, is almost always a matter of focus. In the midst of crisis and uncertainty an effective strategy informs half-made decisions and rash actions across the battlefield.  My tactical contribution is to hold this ground…  take that hill… wait until I see the signal and then move right.  My individual action or restraint has purpose to the extent I understand the strategy. Knowing the strategy I can see the broader consequences of my failure or success.

In the midst of battle, strategic purpose must be as simple as possible. When the battle goes badly, as it usually does,  strategy survives when it is well enough understood  to allow for adaptation on the run by dozens of independent actors.

We are long past the era of decisive battles, but simplicity — perhaps elegance – of strategy is still helpful.

None of the preceding homeland security strategies are — yet — sufficiently simple, this certainly includes my own drafts.  Like most great powers the very strength of the United States discourages focus and simplicity.  Our many responsiblities — and our significant capacities — encourage distraction and complication.

At Gaugamela Darius gathered 100,000 or more to battle Alexander’s 47,000.  The Persian King chose the battlefield and physically shaped it to his advantage.  Alexander’s basic strategy was the same as his father’s: infantry defends, cavalry attacks.  On this day the 25 year-old Macedonian conceived his cavalry as a wedge to overturn the King-of-King’s advantages.  The concept worked and he won an empire. (Alexander’s tactics at Gaugamela were not so simple, but that further demonstrates the value of a simple strategy.)

A retired Colonel comments, “A bad goal is better than no goal.”  He goes on to explain that in battle the aggressive pursuit of a strategic objective is — or should be — like a scientist’s hypothesis.  It organizes the probing and sensing of complexity.  The strategy facilitates tactical adaptation as the (null) hypothesis is proven. I don’t think the Colonel has encountered the Cynefin Framework, but he has applied it.

Osama is no Alexander, nor are his minions.  We have not, however, found and articulated a concise strategy that effectively matches  our assets to our landscape and our threat.  We are scattered.  We are strewn. We are in need of focus.

Strategy is nothing more than a few words — the fewer the better — mere thoughts given sound or scratched on a page.  But the right words capture the moment.  With well-chosen words an opportunity is perceived and claimed. With the same words resources are applied, a grave risk is repulsed, and purpose achieved.

Because the god has granted you great skill in the art of war,
you wish the same preeminence in counsel.
But you cannot claim all gifts to yourself.
To one the god has granted excellence in combat,
to one other to be a dancer, to another beauty with lyre and song,
and in the breast of another Zeus of the wide brows implants
wisdom — a lordly thing — and many profit beside him and many are saved,
one man’s comprehension can surpass all others.

Now I will tell you the way that seems best to my mind.

(Poulydamas to Hector, The Iliad by Homer 13.726-734)

Who is our Poulydamas? Where can we find him?  Or has he already spoken and we have failed to listen?

July 16, 2010

Bottom Up Review: Button Down and Focus

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on July 16, 2010

Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security released its “Bottom Up Review (BUR),” which is intended to “align the Department’s programmatic activities and organizational structure with the mission sets and goals identified in the” Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR).

The review, which began in November 2009, focuses on three questions, according the agency:

  • How can we strengthen the Department’s performance in each of the five mission areas?
  • How should we improve Departmental operations and management?
  • How can we increase accountability for the resources entrusted to DHS?

The BUR is envisioned to be the second phase of a three-phase process, sandwiched between the QHSR and the Fiscal Year 2012 budget request and the DHS FY 2012-2016 Future Years Homeland Security Program to Congress, to be submitted next year.  DHS has made it clear that BUR is neither a strategic plan (which is probably good since there are too many plans gathering dust on the shelves of DHS) nor a budget request.

In a press roundtable this morning, Assistant Secretary of Policy David Heyman and Deputy Assistant Secretary Alan Cohn answered questions and spoke of how the BUR plays into efforts to improve the Department’s  performance.   They noted that this is the first time the Department has done such an exercise and, looking to the future, they hope to sharpen the process and focus for conducting such reviews so that the steps more fluidly provide for improving the Department’s missions and priorities.

The BUR was described as one that addresses themes, that is, the goals and objectives of what the agency should focus on to build a strong homeland security enterprise. Assistant Secretary Heyman noted that there was “not a lot of descriptions of strategic realignments” in the BUR, though there was “some discussion of managing portfolios” better.  He suggested that the report was not intended to  suggest that areas are “ripe for realignment,” but rather that there is a need for reviewing different elements distributed across the Department to determine where areas of better coordination are needed.  (Translation:  The Department, even if it is pondering realignment, cannot say so now as it has not been vetted through the Office of Management and Budget process or with Congress).

If the QHSR was designed to provide a strategic framework for the Department’s missions and goals, the BUR is intended to help provide us a roadmap on where the agency will focus its efforts going into the next fiscal year.  In short, the review is intended to tell us how the Department plans to button down and focus its many disparate efforts.  In answering the three questions above, the BUR emphasized three areas:

  1. The Department needs to grow up and get stronger so it can run itself and account for all of its programs and resources.
  2. Homeland security is not just about DHS or the federal government so the agency needs to really focus on strengthening its partner capacity and capability.
  3. It is not just about the U.S. – DHS needs to do better on the international front if it is going to succeed in its efforts.

A 70 page document, the BUR provides a number of specific areas in which the Department is/intends to focus its efforts. Here are a few that stand out:

  • Coordinator for Counterterrorism.   Expect this recently-created position to gain more stature and resources in FY2012.  The position was created to give someone the ability to coordinate all counterterrorism efforts across the Department, its directorates, components, and offices.  During the roundtable, Assistant Secretary Heyman specifically mentioned the report’s “notion of strengthening counterterrorism” across the Department as an example of how to better management portfolio.  The BUR itself discusses the evolving nature of this coordination and the need to consult with Congress on the effort.  This suggests some potential future request for realignment and resources (?) to make sure all the parts of DHS are on the same page on this effort. The big question, however, is what is meant by counterterrorism?  How will that term be defined?  Also, how will any mission re-focus or realignment (if any happens) affect those areas where an all-hazards approach is being promoted?

  • Create an integrated Departmental information sharing architecture. The description provided in the BUR is rather self-explanatory:

DHS will create an information sharing architecture to consolidate and streamline access to intelligence, law enforcement, screening, and other information across the Department. That architecture will include the capability for automated recurrent screening and vetting for individuals to whom DHS has provided a license, privilege, or status (including immigration status) so that, as new information becomes available, DHS can assess whether the individual is no longer eligible for the benefit or presents a threat. It will also include the capability to conduct scenario-based automated targeting of individuals and other entities using intelligence-driven criteria.

  • Focus on the security and resilience of global trade and travel systems. In the past, DHS has come under criticism for not paying attention to ICE’s non-detention missions.  Interestingly, the pendulum appears to have swung away from that approach, with the BUR stating that DHS will prioritize on the security of global trade and travel systems, including developing an investigative portfolio that includes “human smuggling and trafficking, child sex tourism, counter proliferation, financial, intellectual property, weapons trafficking, and narcotics investigations.”  In addition, the report says that DHS will continue to invest in “trusted traveler and trusted shipper” programs.
  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform. DHS continues to promote its efforts on comprehensive immigration reform, though the three-legged stool (enforcement, future flow, and pathway to citizenship) appears to have been expanded into a five-legged stool that now includes:  (1) border security and interior enforcement; (2) mandated employment verification program; (3) clearing up family and employment visa backlogs; (4) recast legal migration provisions to meet the needs of the twenty-first century for both high-skill and low-skill workers; and (5) pathway to citizenship that is tough but fair in which those here illegally will register, record biometrics, pass a criminal background check, pay back taxes, pay a fine,  and learn English.
  • Increase the focus and integration of DHS’s operational cybersecurity and infrastructure resilience activities. The BUR makes clear that DHS sees it responsibilities in this area broadly and that it has the lead on Federal civilian and private sector networks and plans to continue to lead in that area.  Interestingly enough, DHS excludes “civilian national security systems” as being within its jurisdiction in several places in the report.  In light of the reports that the NSA is potentially classifying the smart grid and critical infrastructure systems as national security systems,  see Cybercitizen?, we will have to see which agency’s definition of “civilian national security systems” prevails, assuming that they are different.  Also, how does this effect the efforts of the National Communications System, located within DHS and coupled with its cybersecurity efforts, which traditionally has taken on the mission of assuring communications support to critical Government functions during emergencies, especially relating to national security efforts?
  • Explore opportunities with the private sector to “design-in” greater resilience for critical infrastructure. The BUR refocuses the DHS’s efforts on setting infrastructure design standards for critical infrastructure resilience, in an expansion of the authorities given to it under the 9/11 Recommendations Act of 2007. In addition, there is some reference of building these standards into programs like the Safety Act.   The BUR also implies that we haven’t seen the last of an expansion of standards, similar to what is in place for the chemical industry, to other critical infrastructures.  It does not explicitly state this, of course, but does say it will “examine the need to set security requirements at high-risk assets and in high-risk areas as appropriate, and to set standards for security practices in critical infrastructure sectors as necessary.”  Such effort would require a lot of cooperation from Congress. 
  • Seek restoration of the Secretary’s reorganization authority for DHS headquarters. DHS wants to be able to reorganize without Congress looking over its shoulder.  This ability was given to the Department under Section 872 of the Homeland Security Act but has been chipped away over time so that the Secretary has little authority to undertake any reorganization efforts.  The BUR states that that the Department will ask for this trend to be reversed.   In addition, DHS wants to look at how to realign its component regional configurations into a single DHS regional structure and strengthen cross-Departmental management functions by creating a Headquarters Services Division within the Management Directorate.  DHS will continue to focus on the seven initiatives that make up the core of its “One DHS” efforts, including:
    1. Enterprise Governance
    2. Balanced Workforce Strategy
    3. Transformation and Systems Consolidation
    4. St Elizabeth’s/Headquarters Consolidation
    5. Human Resources Information Technology
    6. Data Center Migration
    7. HSPD 12 Implementation

The Department will also continue to try to elevate the Assistant Secretary of Policy position to an Undersecretary position, despite significant opposition from key lawmakers on the Hill.

  • Congressional Oversight.  We haven’t heard a lot on this front for awhile, but the BUR notes the need to still streamline Congressional oversight.  The report notes that DHS has testified 200 times and provided more than 5,227 briefings in the 111th Congress.  The good news in these numbers – it seems like that DHS will have testified less this Congress than in the 110th, in which its officials appeared 370 times.  The bad news – Congress still needs to streamline its Congressional oversight efforts, both to hold the Department accountable and to help it mature further.

Again, this is just a snapshot into the BUR and the Department’s priorities. The real meat of both the QHSR and BUR that will separate this three-part effort from past strategic plans, outlines of priorities, and mission statements will come in the new year with the FY2012 budget request and the DHS FY 2012-2016 Future Years Homeland Security Program to Congress.

July 8, 2010

Holistic national security: Transforming belief into reality

In the opening days of his administration, President Obama wrote, “I believe that Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security — conceptually and functionally, they should be thought of together rather than separately.  Instead of separating these issues, we must create an integrated, effective, and efficient approach to enhance the national security of the United States.” (See: Presidential Study Directive 1)

I testified against this proposition before the House Homeland Security Committee.  I continue to have conceptual and functional reservations.  But today I will embrace the President’s belief and offer a prescription for improving integration, effectiveness, and efficiency.

For this purpose, greater energy and attention  should be given to a specific recommendation of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.  From page 71 of the QHSR:

Build a homeland security professional discipline: Develop the homeland security community of interest at all levels of government as part of a cadre of national security professionals. A well-documented need within the national security community is a professional development program that fosters a stable and diverse community of professionals with the proper balance of relevant skills, attributes, experiences, and comprehensive knowledge. Executive Order 13434, “National Security Professional Development,” initiated a program for developing interagency national security professionals through access to an integrated framework of training, education, and professional experience opportunities. We must work together with our national security partners in bringing that important idea to fruition. As part of that effort, we must take steps to create a homeland security community of interest across the enterprise. Three elements of professional development are education, training, and experience via developmental assignments. State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, DHS and other Federal agencies, and academic institutions have taken important steps to build programs to support these key areas and will continue to emphasize enterprise-wide approaches to enhancing homeland security professional development.

The National Security Professional Development (NSPD) program established under Executive Order 13434 (May 17, 2007) has, to date, been implemented with a bureaucratic minimalism that  has done nothing to enhance capability or capacity in either National Security or Homeland Security, much less for the Platonic form in which these security shadows become an indistinguishable whole.

Today (and for most of the last seventy years) there are various orders of a national security priesthood.  The combination of rigorous education, apprenticeship, mentoring, and field experience required for ordination is reminiscent of the Jesuits at high tide.   There is also competition — sometimes friendly, sometimes not — between the national security analogs of Jesuits, Benedictines, and Franciscans spanning the military, diplomacy, intelligence, and related.

Into this mix the so-called homeland security professions — law enforcement, fire, emergency management, public health, and more — arrive like so many fancy-dressed laity. We are Knights of Columbus who the priestly orders tolerate, encourage, or dismiss depending on personal taste or particular need.

EO 13434 and PSD-1 and the QHSR seem to say that priests and laity should learn together and collaborate toward the same purpose.   If the NSPD  program was undertaken earnestly and mindfully over the next thirty years then, perhaps, the President’s vision could be achieved.   Such is not the case today, to our detriment.

June 1, 2010

Playing basketball with the National Security Strategy

Filed under: Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on June 1, 2010

1. Sometimes I show a video about two groups of people playing basketball next to an elevator. One team has white shirts and the other team has black shirts. Both teams are bouncing basketballs. The task is to count the number of passes the white team makes. [If you have not seen the video, you might want to look at it first before you read further]

While the 30 second game is in progress, a person dressed in a gorilla suit walks through the scene. In my experience, 80% of the people watching the video do not see the gorilla.

As I was reading the 2010 National Security Strategy, I could not tell if I was watching people passing a basketball or watching someone in a gorilla suit walking through the world of homeland security.

2. I am reading a book by George Friedman called The Next 100 years: a Forecast for the 21st Century. Friedman believes the United States has five geopolitical goals that historically have directed its national strategy.

1) The complete domination of North America by the United States Navy.

2) The elimination of any threat to the United States by any power in the Western Hemisphere.

3) Complete control of the maritime approaches to the United States by the Navy in order to preclude any possibility of invasion.

4) Complete domination of the world’s oceans to further secure US physical safety and guarantee control over the international trading system.

5) The prevention of any other nation from challenging US global naval power.

When seen against the backdrop of our national history, any 100 year projection makes the 50+ page National Security Strategy seem insignificant. I am reminded of a man I used to work for who believed, “It all matters. But not very much.”

3. Last week I attended a four-day conference of state and local homeland security leaders. By leaders, I mean public safety officials with significant responsibility for the security of parts of the nation. No one I spoke with was  interested — even moderately interested – in the National Security Strategy that came out Thursday.

Maybe that’s ok. But it was disturbing

4. I watched part of a YouTube video of a White House question and answer forum about the National Security Strategy. It was one of those behind the scenes views that used to belong to radio, but now thanks to CSPAN it’s no longer unusual. It did not appear those folks were very excited by the National Strategy either.

Another video of the U.S. National Security Advisor talking about the Strategy also did not exude a lot of energy. Secretary of State Clinton was a bit more energized in her video. But I think it’s difficult to project excitement and read a somewhat dry speech at the same time.

The people I watched sounded like policy analysts briefing the results of study. It was not especially inspiring.

5. One columnist from the Financial Times doesn’t believe the document is even a strategy. Here are some quotes from the author, Clive Crook:

The worrying thing is that the US president and his team seem so deluded about what they have produced….

To judge the content of the statement [i.e., the Strategy], you have to overlook the way it is expressed, which is not easy. It was run through a management-speak machine. It emerged, repetitious and full of misprints, with added verbiage and reduced intellectual content. Then it was put through a second time.

Imagine 50 pages of this: “To prevent acts of terrorism on American soil, we must enlist all of our intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security capabilities. We will continue to integrate and leverage state and major urban area fusion centres that have the capability to share classified information….”

Previously, as you know, many people denied that homeland security capabilities should be used for homeland security. So much for that false doctrine. And notice how state and major urban area fusion centres will in future share information. Another bold departure. The previous approach to these strangely impaired fusion centres was different, entirely different. Thankfully, those days are over.”

I’m told what we call sarcasm, the British term irony.

6. “America’s greatness is not assured,” writes the president of the United States in his introduction to the National Security Strategy. “Each generation’s place in history is a question unanswered.”

Last week I participated in a discussion about the American narrative. The topic came up within the context of Al Qaeda’s narrative: that Islam is under attack all over the world. What is our narrative? Some people in the room asked why America even needs a narrative.

Another person — a scholar from Mexico — said the American narrative was about the future. America is where the world’s future emerges, created from the friction of multiple interests, battling factions, and conflicts about what to do next, all governed by a living Constitution.

Our strategic narrative welcomes those who can contribute answers to our never ending question.

7. Homeland security is mentioned directly almost 2 dozen times in the National Security Strategy. It is evident that under this administration, homeland security is an integral part of national security. Just as the president said in 2009 it was going to be.

Unsurprisingly, the language in the National Security Strategy echoes frequently the words of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (see pages 18 and 19, for example).  Resilience, all hazards, pandemics, information sharing — the usual suspects make their expected appearances.

According to GAO,

The statute mandating the National Security strategy [50 U.S.C. 404a] calls for the document to provide a comprehensive description and discussion of U.S. worldwide interests, goals, and objectives vital to national security; detail the foreign policy, worldwide commitments, and national defense capabilities necessary to deter aggression and implement the strategy; identify the proposed short- and long-term uses of national power to protect our interests and achieve our goals and objectives; and assess the adequacy of our capabilities to carry out the national strategy.”

As untold gallons of oil spew without restriction from the crust of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Security Strategy seems as out of place — or maybe as invisible — as someone in a gorilla suit walking through a basketball game.

I have a vague feeling I’m missing something.

May 28, 2010

Where is homeland security on the new national security map?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 28, 2010

Just in time for this weekend’s beach trip, the new National Security Strategy is ready for your reading pleasure!

Starting Tuesday, June 1, Homeland Security Watch will commit all next week to examining how and why (if?) homeland security is part of the long-awaited National Security Strategy.

To give this examination context, please scan the following collection of presumably related documents.

The National Security Strategy is available from several sources.  The way it is presented at the White House Homeland Security site is interesting… speaking of context.

Wednesday John Brennan previewed the NSS in a speech at CSIS.  Do you hear what John hears? Does that sound like homeland security to you?

How well is the NSS calibrated with the now venerable Quadrennial Homeland Security Review?

How about those ancient texts, still surfacing in caves and garbage dumps across the National Capital Region, called Homeland Security Presidential Directives?  Is yesterday’s new testament a radical rejection or an inspired fulfillment of the old canon?  Are new such epistles now to be expected?

For the full old testament experience be sure to review both the original and deutero-National Strategy for Homeland Security. (Personally I have always preferred the literary quality of  the revelation according to Richard Falkenrath.)

There are plenty of other sources worth referencing, but surely we have all memorized the report of the 9/11 Commision by now.  If you have other must-reads, please use the comment function to point us to them.

In any case, read-up, gird your loins, and show-up next week to join the discussion.

May 20, 2010

Homeland security enterprise: each of us, all of us, whether we know it or not

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 20, 2010

The homeland security enterprise seemed especially busy on Wednesday:

The natural, accidental, and intentional threats on which homeland security is focused are taking up a lot of bandwidth. Many more bullets could be listed.  It is important to note that while DHS and its component agencies are in the middle of all these issues and events, it is not just DHS nor is it only a federal undertaking.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review helpfully defined the “homeland security enterprise.”   In the report’s executive summary we read:

Homeland security describes the intersection of evolving threats and hazards with traditional governmental and civic responsibilities for civil defense, emergency response, law enforcement, customs, border control, and immigration. In combining these responsibilities under one overarching concept, homeland security breaks down longstanding stovepipes of activity that have been and could still be exploited by those seeking to harm America. Homeland security also creates a greater emphasis on the need for joint actions and efforts across previously discrete elements of government and society.

Homeland security is a widely distributed and diverse—but unmistakable—national enterprise. The term “enterprise” refers to the collective efforts and shared responsibilities of Federal, State, local, tribal, territorial, nongovernmental, and private-sector partners—as well as individuals, families, and communities—to maintain critical homeland security capabilities. The use of the term connotes a broad-based community with a common interest in the public safety and well-being of America and American society that is composed of multiple actors and stakeholders whose roles and responsibilities are distributed and shared…

When trouble breaks — or is about to break — it is the total enterprise that is needed on-deck and readyFor me the core value-add that homeland security offers is a sector-crossing, stovepipe busting, strategic integration of risk-awareness, risk mitigation, risk-readiness, and consciously cultivated resilience.  Homeland security — the enterprise — does not always achieve this potential, but the potential remains potent.

(I will be fully engaged until very late Wednesday and begin travel Thursday at O dark 30.  I probably won’t have time to update this post (queued up at 5:30 Wednesday night).   Just in case there is a breaking story overnight, I  do not want HLSwatch to seem purposely oblivious.    Best wishes for a peaceful and productive Thursday.)

April 22, 2010

No rush to judgment here

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2010

Late last week Secretary Napolitano was in the Boston area.  She announced a new grant for Logan airport, visited with the Boston police commissioner and Cambridge firefighters, officiated at the swearing-in of new citizens,  gave a speech at Harvard, and had a round-table discussion with nine college presidents.  (Do you occasionally worry our cabinet secretaries have been remade into little more than mouthpieces, kept busy doing testimony, media interviews, speeches, and announcements?)

In a read-out of the closed door session with higher education leaders DHS tells us, “During the meeting, Secretary Napolitano highlighted the Department’s strong partnerships with universities including support for training, coursework in homeland security-related fields and industries, and for research and development in science and technology, such as the DHS Centers of Excellence, which bring together multidisciplinary homeland security research and education assets of more than 200 institutions across the country.”

The Boston Globe reports, “she was in Cambridge meeting with college and university presidents to discuss new courses and majors aimed at preparing graduates to enter the field of cybersecurity.”  In remarks at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government the Secretary noted, “Combating the cyber threat is going to require a partnership among government, academia, and the private sector as ambitious and sustained as any our nation has seen before. And I should say to the bright students here that DHS wants the best minds coming out of our universities to come join us in this effort.”

I have a second-hand report (good enough for a blog?) that the session with university presidents was mostly about science and technology research grants, not about homeland security education or professional development.  This is not a surprise and says much more about the role of modern universities and their presidents, than about homeland security or the Secretary. (And suggests homeland security officials are not the only ones with a serious grants habit, see Dan O’Connor’s Tuesday post.)

On the same day the Secretary of Homeland Security was meeting with higher education leaders in Boston, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was in Atlanta.  According to Georgia Public Broadcasting, “Duncan paid a visit telling students that America has to educate itself to a better economy by improving science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects.”

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) released in February emphasizes, “Maturing and strengthening the homeland security enterprise includes enhancing shared awareness of risks and threats, building capable communities, fostering unity of effort, and fostering innovative approaches and solutions through leading-edge science and technology.”

Am I working too hard to connect some dots (smudges?) or might there be a pattern here?

Science and technology – like mom and apple pie – attract widespread  support.  Investments in research and development for these hard-subjects (“hard” as in practical and difficult) are measurable and meaningful… for me too.

But read the QHSR’s paragraph again. What is the role of science and technology in shared awareness of risk and threats?  We have lots of technology to gather, sort and display information on risks and threats.  What we don’t have is a shared understanding of what is meaningful to gather, what is helpful to sort, and how to interpret the results.  That’s a judgment call.

How about building capable communities?  Science and technology certainly have a role in infrastructure development.  But given the QHSR’s attention to psychological and community resilience, I perceive its definition of “capable” goes well beyond the boundaries of science and technology.  How do we build a capable community?  It depends on the context of the particular community, doesn’t it?  It depends on the purposes we seek to advance, doesn’t it?  Capable of what?  It’s a judgment call.

Scan the QHSR table of contents and there are plenty of opportunities for science and technology to support good judgment.  But mostly we are given complex, constantly changing contexts beyond the capacity of precise prediction.

Once upon a time, we presumed to teach good judgment.  This was always a dicey business.  Since the 1960s - after what many saw as a series of profoundly bad judgments - the notion of good judgment has been widely discredited as self-serving fiction.

In this we have neglected to understand how and why well-intentioned men (mostly) made tragically flawed judgments.  We are increasingly inclined to ex post facto assessments of every judgment.  If we like the results, the judgment is good.  If the result is not satisfactory, there can now be a compulsion to uncover deceit and deception.  And in any case, the culture insists that threat, vulnerability and consequence should be predictable.

In this confidence regarding predictability we are, I perceive, indulging the fatal flaw at the heart of the worst kind of  judgment.  In those ancient days when we earnestly endeavored to teach good judgment, we learned that hubris – trying to control what is beyond our control – is the tripwire for tragedy.  Toward the end of his life Robert McNamara wrote, “…it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend.  Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate.”  This is the beginning of wisdom.   McGeorge Bundy, another of the Sixties best and brightest, tells us, “There is no safety in unlimited technological hubris.”  Two of the tragedy’s main characters seemed to learned its lesson.  But those of us in the audience?

How do we choose well when we cannot – when no one can – be sure of the outcome?  How do we choose well when the risks of failure are real?  How do we choose well when threats are unpredictable, vulnerabilities are inherent to our liberty, and the consequences could be catastrophic?  It’s a judgment call.

Is it too late to retrieve – or create anew - the teaching and learning of good judgment?

For further consideration:

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

Aristotle’s Ethics by Richard Kraut (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The Aims of Education by Alfred North Whitehead

Justice: A Journey in Moral Reasoning by Michael J. Sandel (video)

April 6, 2010

Does the nation need a national level exercise program?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on April 6, 2010

Imagine a 7.8 Richter Scale earthquake near St. Louis, MO, on the New Madrid fault line.  Assume the earthquake causes extreme damage in 8 states along the Mississippi River.  This includes over 89,000 dead, nearly half a million people injured, more than 5 million people homeless, loss of numerous bridges crossing the Mississippi, as well as destruction of major oil, gasoline, and natural gas pipelines that serve much of the Eastern Seaboard.

One might think this high consequence (low probability or high probability — take your pick) event would make a natural subject for a national level homeland security exercise.

Maybe not.

Perhaps there are some extreme homeland security events — call them catastrophes –  where the value of exercising top officials is more symbolic than sensible.


The Vacation Lane Blog — written by William Cumming (a frequent writer in hlswatch) — began its internet life on Saturday with commentary about the postponement of the national level exercise program.

Cumming argues in “The Sinews of Preparedness,”

… this Administration, like all before it, fails to understand that the sinews of preparedness are built with exercises, from table tops to full scale exercises, and with the personnel including appointees that will actually be called on to run the civil domestic crisis management system or be in the chain of command for civil crisis events. Failure to be prepared only makes it more likely that military dominated organizations, which tend to ad hoc despite extraordinary funding, will drive the crisis response with huge implications for the civil sector and federalism.” [my emphasis]

On its face, the author’s recommendation seems sensible: training and exercises will make for a more effective response when something real happens.

Why should anyone believe that claim?

Aristotle said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

One need look no further for evidence about the correctness of this belief than the professional experiences of police, fire fighters, emergency medical professionals, emergency managers, and other responders.

The lessons from Aristotle, Mr. Cumming, and first responder experiences may be true for “normal” disasters — earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods, tornadoes, and so on.

I wonder if that truth about exercise has much value when it comes to getting “top officials” ready for catastrophes.


For FEMA/DHS, a catastrophe is any incident “that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions.”

Catastrophes, as a colleague has written “are the nightmare scenarios that can bring the nation to its knees.”

There do not appear to have been that many catastrophes in the past half century of our history.

The colleague I just mentioned recently completed a study of the federal part of the post 9/11 emergency planning and response system.  As a tangential part of his work, he noted there have been around 1900 presidential disaster declarations since 1953.  He found only four of the 1900 events were (definitional) catastrophes: Three Mile Island, and Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew and Katrina.

You might add a few more to his list — like 9/11/01 in New York City, Arlington, and Shanksville.  But the number of catastrophes remains small.

My colleague found that federal agencies played major “supporting” roles in all of those catastrophes. But governors — maybe a mayor or two — always retained control of what was going on in their jurisdictions.

It’s my understanding (aided by experiences with early versions of TOPOFF) that national level exercises have some play for state and local officials, but for the most part, the general intention of the exercises is to:

Support U.S. Government Officers’ preparation for managing national crises, and accountability of those who support them.

I have no idea what role training and exercising state, city, or federal officials — especially political officials — played in successful or unsuccessful catastrophic response.  I’ve looked for data that sheds light on the utility of exercising for catastrophes, but so far I’ve come up largely empty.  (There is the 2004 “Hurricane Pam” exercise example for New Orleans, of course.  But that mostly suggests preparedness requires something more than exercises.)

My understanding is the average tenure for a federal political appointee — a top official — is between 18 months and 2 years.   How does one train and exercise federal appointed and elected officials for an incident where  there are “over 89,000 dead, nearly half a million people injured, more than 5 million people homeless?”

Is there any evidence that justifies spending money on those officials for such training and exercises?

Since 2005, the federal government has spent more than 200 million dollars on national level exercises.  Have those expenditures come anywhere close to providing commensurate benefits?  If those data are not available, could the 200 million have been spent on some other homeland security-related activities, including local exercises, that might have increased the nation’s preparedness?

I suspect those are largely rhetorical questions, lost somewhere inside the conventional wisdom that worships any homeland security training and exercise as an unquestioningly good thing.


One of the homeland security goals described in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is to:

Foster Innovative Approaches and Solutions Through Leading-Edge Science and Technology: Ensure scientifically informed analysis and decisions are coupled to innovative and effective technological solutions.

I like the sound of that goal.  It says science matters.

I like the objectives of the goal even more:

  • Scientifically study threats and vulnerabilities: Pursue a rigorous scientific understanding of current and future threats to homeland security and the possible means to their prevention and mitigation.
  • Develop innovative approaches and effective solutions: Encourage and enable innovative approaches

Both objectives suggest we should look to science to validate our prevention and mitigation efforts, and to lead the nation toward new ways to think about what we do under the banner of homeland security.


The National Exercise Program is a process technology, intended to prepare mostly federal leaders for catastrophic events.   I wonder if there is any science undergirding that exercise program technology.

The national exercise program has been described recently as “unrealistic, costly, and overscripted productions … an ‘elaborate game’’ rather than opportunities for officials to work through problems.”

I have personal anecdotes from TOPOFF 1, 2 and 3 that support the accuracy of those views , at least for the early days of the exercise program.  I’ve also heard that — like many things in homeland security — they have become better over time.

I am not arguing against a national exercise program.  I do think, however, it makes sense to ask about the “science” (in whatever sense one wishes to use that term) that supports the benefit of national level exercises.

I think it is fair to ask whether there are better uses for the money allocated to national exercises.

My internet colleague William Cumming is worried that the

Failure to be prepared only makes it more likely that military dominated organizations, which tend to ad hoc despite extraordinary funding, will drive the crisis response with huge implications for the civil sector and federalism.

If true catastrophes are as rare as the data suggests, perhaps there is logic in purposively integrating the “military dominated organizations” into civilian catastrophic planning.

If a catastrophe is an event that can bring the nation to its knees, we might want to make sure the military is ready to help out.

It’s my understanding they are on the same side as the rest of us.


[The paragraph that starts this post is from slides developed by  Dr. Rick Bissell, Department of Emergency Health Services, University of Maryland, Baltimore County]


Usually the comments start in a different section of the blog.  Bill and I corresponded over the weekend about his “The Sinews of Preparedness,” post.  Here is the exchange we had:

Me to Bill: nice title.  i disagree with your claim and am writing something for homeland security watch about it now.  nice to see your own blog.


Bill to me: Hey disagreement is good. Of course no way I can remove the head of the messenger either.
Me to Bill: disagreement in a good way, of course.  i believe objectivity (and truth) do not reside in one person, but in the community of people who care about issues and who talk with each other about them.  i don’t think there is either science or experience to support the idea that national level exercises built on catastrophic scenarios are worth the money.  i think a catastrophe means all the rules change and people have to improvise around their existing relationships and expertise and experience.  i’d much rather have a no-notice national exercise (like Christine Wormuth and CSIS recommended – -among other people) than the security theater that TOPOFF turned into.  I can easily envision scenarios where the military will be our best option: e.g. –

Imagine a 7.8 Richter Scale earthquake near St. Louis, MO, on the New Madrid fault line.  Assume the earthquake causes extreme damage in 8 states along the Mississippi River.  This includes over 89,000 dead, nearly half a million people injured, more than 5 million people homeless, loss of numerous bridges crossing the Mississippi, as well as destruction of major oil, gasoline, and natural gas pipelines that serve much of the Eastern Seaboard.
Who is ever going to be “prepared” for that?  I think we need new rules that incorporates military — in support to civilian authority, maybe under national guard command — into the civilian apparatus.
I defer to your much more extensive experience with these issues than i have.  But I think science matters, and we only have claims about the value of national level exercises.  no real data (at least that i’m aware of)
Bill to me: Well certainly agree in the no-notice principal and that was statutorily mandated but never done for TOPOFF. Do hoping you post a substantially similar entry on the blog. Would be interested to see the comments. Since many exercises are classified or have classified elements probably difficult to be examined by outsiders. But the failure to have effective lessons learned systems and processes does largely waste the efforts.

Hey so you come down on the side of science and ad hockery! And here I thought science was built on reason and rationality. should have know we can just guess and by golly our way through catastrophes. It does seem to be the way DOD does things even though they want people to believe otherwise. Certain ad hoc solutions allow maximum political pressure to be asserted whatever with issues of equal protection, due process, or even just basic social justice.
Your argument speaks to the system as is and mine speaks to the system as I believe it should be.
Time will tell and render the verdict whatever.

March 9, 2010

Highlights of February’s Homeland Defense and Security Education Summit

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 9, 2010

The 4th Annual Homeland Defense and Security Education Summit took place on February 24-25, 2010 at Georgetown University.

The conference theme was “Homeland Security in Transition.”

The academic discipline of homeland security and defense continues to grow and mature. In light of the advances we are experiencing, and with the first post-9/11 administration one year in office, our focus is on validating homeland security and defense education.

Here are some highlight of the conference, prepared by Dr. Stan Supinski:


DHS Undersecretary for Management Elaine Duke discussed where the money in DHS is going and the needs of the workforce (more border work, especially in the north; the United States Coast Guard; and cyber were highlighted).  She also mentioned the emphases in the newly released Quadrennial Homeland Security Review – security, resiliency, and maintaining our ability to conduct cross border commerce.

Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff spoke about Homeland Security as a distinctive discipline because of the inclusion of national security and law enforcement.

He provided a list of the 8 most important things to include in an academic homeland security program.

  • Management skills, and in particular the acquisition process
  • Intelligence
  • Risk management concepts and application
  • Emergency management – with a huge emphasis on planning
  • Legal issues – a basic understanding of applicable laws and constitutional authorities
  • International relations
  • Cyber and technological issues
  • Social psychology – a focus on interagency relationship building and how to get the variety of players involved to cooperate.

Randy Larsen of the Institute for Homeland Security led a useful plenary session that focused primarily on the WMD threat.  He highlighted the need to balance our efforts towards high probability/low consequence events versus low probability/high consequence events, and noted we must keep our federal emphasis on the latter.

A plenary panel (with both DHS and NORTHCOM representatives) on critical infrastructure and the private sector discussed the need to emphasize both topics in our courses.  Barbara Yagerman of DHS said her office would support an effort to develop curriculum that could be shared across the community.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs Paul Stockton spoke in a plenary session about the needs of the DoD workforce and the current state of civilian-military relations. Secretary Stockton, and several of the other speakers, emphasized the need for academic homeland security programs to develop research, writing and planning skills.  Stockton also indicated that his office would support development of curricular components for planning courses

Nadav Morag conducted a well received presentation on Homeland Security in Israel.  Dr. Morag has developed an on-line self study course on the subject and it is available to conference attendees on the Center for Homeland Defense and Security website.

The Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium Association executive director provided an update on the organization, including inroads made with the Department of Education and the posting of required accreditation documentation to their website.  This generated lots of positive discussion, particularly regarding the fact that core competencies will be emphasized, not prescriptions toward specific courses.

The conference also included 32 Breakout sessions.

The conference reminded participants they are part of a growing and important community. Virtually every homeland security education program continues to grow.   For example, the University of Maryland program now has 550 majors; Tulane, which just recently had their masters approved, already has 227.

The Homeland Defense and Security Education Summit was sponsored by:

  • Homeland Security / Defense Education Consortium Association (HSDECA)
  • Georgetown University Center for Peace and Security Studies (CPASS)
  • Office of the Chief Learning Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS)

March 4, 2010

Death Announcement: The National Strategy for Homeland Security — 2002 to 2010.

Filed under: Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on March 4, 2010

In May, 1897, reporters gathered clues that suggested Mark Twain was dead.  But Twain lived another 13 years, time enough to write “[T]he report of my death was an exaggeration.”

In September, 1969, disc jockeys and other people collected (and manufactured) evidence proving Paul McCartney was dead.

Paul’s not dead, of course.  Apparently he’s still touring, and in fact is scheduled to appear in Phoenix, Arizona’s techno-euphonically named “Jobing.com Arena” on Sunday, March 28th.  Front row seating packages are available for $2,500 if you require absolute proof that Paul is not dead.

But I digress.

Following in the footsteps of those who tried to push Mark Twain and Paul McCartney to an early grave, I’d like to give six reasons for suggesting the National Strategy for Homeland Security is dead.

Clue number one: In her February 5, 2010 post titled “QHSR: We have a strategy, what now?”, Jessica wrote:

When Congress passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, it required the Department of Homeland Security to prepare a Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) to assess the status of our nation’s homeland security efforts and to “delineate and update, as appropriate, the national security strategy….”

One could reasonably infer  — as many people I’ve spoken with have done — that the QHSR is the ontological equivalent of a National Strategy.  The 3.0 upgrade — as it were –  of the two homeland security strategies that came before it.

But unlike the other two documents (the National Strategies of 2002 and of 2007), the QHSR does not refer to itself as a National Strategy for Homeland Security.  Instead, it describes itself as a “strategic document” and a “strategic framework.”

“A Strategic Framework for a Secure Homeland” says the cover of the QHSR.

Is there a difference that makes a difference between a national strategy and a strategic document or strategic framework?

I’m not sure.  But I do know that thinking about that question makes my brain hurt.

I will take the semantic uncertainty as one clue supporting the death hypothesis: the QHSR could have been called the new National Strategy for Homeland Security.  But it was not.

A second clue: I asked the DHS press office if the QHSR was basically the same as the national strategy.  I did not expect to get a response to that somewhat pedantic question from an office I know is probably understaffed and overworked.  My expectations were met.  And I get to create more “suggestive” support for the death hypothesis.

In keeping with the way rumors are created and spread, I heard from a friend in a position to know who was told by someone on the National Security Staff that for all intents, the QHSR is “the defacto national homeland security strategy.”

For my purposes, that’s even better than saying it is or is not the formal National Strategy.  Ambiguity is the fertilizer that gives life to rumor. And to a third clue.

Clue number 4: in Presidential Study Directive 1, the president writes

“I believe that Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security — conceptually and functionally, they should be thought of together rather than separately. Instead of separating these issues, we must create an integrated, effective, and efficient approach to enhance the national security of the United States.” [my emphasis]

That Study Directive led to the eventual integration of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council staffs into the National Security Staff (NSS). Could this be the institutional equivalent of the filial cannibalism practiced by wolf spiders?

(Probably not, but I had a bet with a colleague about being able to work cannibalism into a paragraph about homeland security.)

However, I do hear mixed reports about how that merger is going.  CQ Homeland Security (on February 3rd, subscription required), for example, reports some unknown person believes “the merger steers counterterrorism into ‘a mire of bureaucratic and administrative infighting.’”  Ah yes — bureaucratic and administrative infighting, unlike the good old days.  Sadly those rumors must be saved for another day.

But I digress again.  What else on the death hypothesis?

Well, there’s a February 23, 2010 memo descriptively titled “FEMA Administrator’s Intent for Building the FY 2012-2016 Future Year Homeland Security Program (FYHSP).”

That document is intriguing to me for several reasons.  For one, it redefines the QHSR’s barely one month old vision for homeland security.

The QHSR says:

“The vision of homeland security is to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

The FEMA memo says the homeland security vision is:

“A safe, secure, and resilient homeland where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

I think the FEMA variation is more memorable and more grammatically cohesive than the QHSR version.  But if something as basic as the homeland security vision statement is being changed (improved?) by a component agency, could that be Clue 5?

The most interesting part of the FEMA document with regard to the death hypothesis is in the Overview and Context part of the memo.  It is there one find these words:

The capstone document for FEMA’s planning efforts is the National Security Strategy.”

How come the capstone document for FEMA’s planning is not the National Homeland Security Strategy, or at least the QHSR?

The sound I think I’m hearing is Nail number 6.

Where is the new and improved National Security Strategy, the one that will integrate homeland security, counter-terrorism, national security and who knows what else?

The FEMA memo says the new national security strategy is in the drafting phase.  I was told it was due in November, but since the world has changed so often since November, the strategy keeps getting pulled back into the White House to be modified and sent back out into the interagency world for comment and coordination.

“I’m troubled by that,” says a friend who works with Congress.  “It suggests that events are directing strategy, rather than strategy directing events.”

Not that it matters, but the delay doesn’t bother me.  There are almost 50 national security/homeland security related strategies.  Integrating them will take awhile.

As Dan O’Connor wrote in Tuesday’s post, “paperwork and bureaucracy are not what stop bad people from doing bad things.”

I think strategic leadership — the people guiding the evolving construction that is homeland security — matters more than strategy — the paper.  But I acknowledge there are other views about this.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote “Only when a tree has fallen can you take the measure of it.”

I think the same thing can be said about the National Strategy for Homeland Security.

I liked the National Strategy for Homeland Security.  I will miss it.

But life consumes the dead.  Homeland security keeps evolving.

If the National Strategy for Homeland Security is dead,  long live the National Security Strategy.


Update: The original version of this post incorrectly stated the first National Homeland Security Strategy was published in 2003.  The date of course should have been July 2002.  The Strategy’s not even dead yet, and I can’t remember its birthday.  Thanks to the hypnomogiacally aware Bill Cumming for keeping me honest.

February 16, 2010

What is Homeland Security Now? (Part 2 of Grading the QHSR)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 16, 2010

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review was released on February 1, 2010, and is available at this link.


Here are two quotes from the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review:

“The effort to strengthen the homeland security enterprise must begin with an evolution in how we think about homeland security itself.” [my emphasis]

“The QHSR process … and resulting report were designed to serve as a catalyst to spur the continued evolution and maturation of our Nation’s homeland security enterprise—the diverse and distributed set of public and private actors from all corners of this Nation.” [also my emphasis]

Evolution or one of its derivatives appears almost two dozen times in the Review.

At one level, perhaps the authors used it as simply a synonym for change.

I prefer to see something potentially more profound.

The biological world — and we are a part of that world — has faced threats for over 3.5 billion years.  As Sagarin and Taylor write in “Natural Security,” biological organisms have developed millions of ways to respond to these threats.

Read in a particular way, the QHSR can be viewed as acknowledgement that there is room in homeland security for both design and emergence.

But unlike nature who shapes biological evolution with a blind weaver’s skill, homeland security offers an opportunity for conscious co-evolution.  The QHSR calls it “stewardship.”

“Looking forward, and as we consider the evolution of homeland security and this enterprise, we recognize that the enterprise itself requires active stewardship.” [my emphasis]

I understand stewardship to mean taking care of something one has been entrusted with.  It is a style of leading notably different — much of the time — from command and control.

If the Review is serious about augmenting the existing homeland security machinery with an explicit evolutionary strategy, it means creating an environment that encourages more variation and less standardization, that supports local and regional decisions about appropriate levels of preparedness and resilience, and that offers flexible grant programs to reproduce and grow smart ideas.

I think I see evidence of those strategic shifts in the QHSR.

On the other hand, I could again be reading way too much into what the authors intended.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review describes how the 21st century meaning of homeland security evolved from our history.

“…[H]omeland security traces its roots to concepts that originated with the founding of the Republic. Homeland security describes the intersection of new threats and evolving hazards with traditional governmental and civic responsibilities for civil defense, emergency response, customs, border control, law enforcement, and immigration. Homeland security draws on the rich history, proud traditions, and lessons learned from these historical functions to fulfill new responsibilities that require the engagement of the entire homeland security enterprise and multiple Federal departments and agencies.”

Figure 1 — from the Review — illustrates the evolution.


Biological evolution does not require a vision.  It tries a great many things, mostly keeps what is functional and ignores what fails to add some sort of value to the gene pool.

Unlike nature, the QHSR has a vision.

A vision statement typically outlines a future one desires, in this case, a homeland security future for the nation.

According to the QHSR, the purpose of a homeland security vision is to help achieve “unity of purpose.”

“Unity of purpose”  appears three times in the Review.  “Unity of effort” shows up twenty three times.   This suggests getting cohesion around the vision is a huge precondition to ensuring a unified effort in the homeland security enterprise

I use to ask people what the vision was of homeland security.  I was not looking for an exact restatement, but rather the sense of it.

I had to stop asking.  I rarely got even close to a response that matched the official vision.

Instead I almost always got a reformulation — in Vision Words — of what the person I asked was already doing under the homeland security penumbra.


Prior to 2003 — according to the first homeland security strategy — the United States “never had a comprehensive and shared vision of how best to achieve” the goal of protecting the homeland from future terrorist attack.

Characteristic of the “All Security, All the Time” days after September 11, 2001, the 2003 homeland security strategy sought to remedy the Vision Gap by identifying 10 of them.

The 2007 strategic recalibration included a single comprehensive vision:

The United States, through a concerted national effort that galvanizes the strengths and capabilities of Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments; the private and non-profit sectors; and regions, communities, and individual citizens – along with our partners in the international community – will work to achieve a secure Homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review reduced the number of words in the vision by half, and included safety and resilience as core ideas.

The new vision is “to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

I did not find much of a difference in the Review between the vision and the definition of homeland security.

The Review defines homeland security as “a concerted national effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

“A concerted national effort” is all that stands between the vision and the definition of homeland security.  I wonder if that “actionable clue”  was intentional.

As I mentioned in the initial QHSR post, the authors reinforce the definition/vision construction by highlighting what it connotes, as opposed to denotes:

“…[H]omeland security is meant to connote a concerted, shared effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

Semantically, I think the QHSR could have made clearer distinctions between the vision of homeland security and its definition.  But from the view on Mt. Connote, I think I get the point.


So, what is homeland security now?

As best I can tell from the Review, it is a concerted and shared effort to make sure the American homeland is safe, secure and resilient.

That’s the bumper sticker.

The Review summarizes where this effort should be directed:

“Ensuring a shared awareness and understanding of risks and threats, building capable communities, creating unity of effort, and enhancing the use of science and technology underpin our national efforts to prevent terrorism and enhance security, secure and manage our borders, enforce and administer our immigration laws, safeguard and secure cyberspace, and ensure resilience to disasters.”


I used to think “What is Homeland Security?” was a question that troubled only academics.  Practitioners were too busy doing homeland security to be overly concerned with how to define it.

I attended a conference last week where the question came up again.  Many of the practitioners in the room were concerned there is not a universally accepted definition of homeland security.

I think the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (especially Chapter III) does a more than adequate job clarifying the scope and depth of homeland security.   By doing that, the Review  contributes to the continued evolution of our understanding about homeland security.

But I do not believe it has much of a chance putting an end to the “What is Homeland Security” question.

I believe not having a precise definition is a good thing for homeland security.

We will know with increasing clarity what homeland security is only as we continue the co-evolutionary work of helping it emerge.

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