An Insider's Retrospective

Applying lessons of the past to protect America's future

This marks my final column as the Homeland Security Insider. Demands on my time have become so great that I need to pass this responsibility on to someone else. Over the past several years, we have witnessed many changes in how we secure our safety, freedoms and rights. Now is a good time to think about where we are and how we move forward.

In 1843, a young Abraham Lincoln said, “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”

This is still true today—but unfortunately it’s irrelevant. The world has changed. It no longer takes a superpower to threaten a superpower. In fact, America’s enemies no longer require military forces to threaten security at all. Small nations, terrorist organizations and even some criminal groups can threaten our homeland with weapons of incredibly destructive power. If we believe this, why are our state and local law enforcement officers still operating in a virtual intelligence vacuum? Why are we still unprepared for an attack with biological weapons that can seriously disrupt our lives and frighten our families?

These are only some of the security issues we face. We need to ask ourselves whether we really understand that unconventional threats demand a fundamental change in how we do business. Have we really changed to meet that threat? Our efforts must be guided by the principles of speed, sustainability and accountability. One-shot initiatives drain money and distract attention from necessary and fundamental systemic changes. Responsibility and authority must be granted with an eye toward maintaining the federated distribution of power across our nation.

Toward this end, I recommend six major areas for action.

Continue to improve first responders’ ability to respond. The Cold War ended nearly 20 years ago, but we are still driven by Cold War patterns and processes. We have not developed a new strategic perspective to match the new strategic landscape. New observables are available, but we are not yet using them to identify emerging threats. New weapons have arrived, but we are not using new capabilities to conduct our analysis. To our new enemies, culture, religion and history clearly matter, but experts in these areas are not fully informing our analysts. We face major problems in receiving, fusing, analyzing and distributing intelligence from multiple sources, levels and jurisdictions, and lack an existing system for information classification. We need to provide tactical solutions so our 750,000 law enforcement officials in the field can see immediate results.

Part of preparing first responders involves training. A number of valuable training programs exist, and funding should be expedited to reach the country’s thousands of first responders. Buying a new weapons system or piece of equipment without planning how to maintain it and to provide training over the long haul is a foolish waste of money.

Make trade security a global priority. If we are going to make securing our borders and fostering international trade a priority, then we need the ability to fix problems as they arise—not wait for solutions to work their way through the annual budget process. Provide authority; then, enforce accountability—that is the formula for rapidly addressing this problem.

Set critical infrastructure protection priorities. I am more concerned with anticipating and preventing cascading systemic collapse than in defending the more than 100,000 facilities considered by some to be critical infrastructure. Evaluate facilities against the threat and the potential impact if they fail—not just as independent, stand-alone targets. Setting priorities requires evaluation of the interaction of critical infrastructure, and this demands detailed simulations and exercises. Improve the public health system. Biological agents pose our most serious threat and includes small- and large-scale attacks on civilians and the food supply.

Research and development of new vaccines, antibiotics and antiviral drugs; new capabilities in forensic biology; expanded stockpiles and distribution mechanisms; and interoperable information systems capable of providing early notification all are critical to a comprehensive biodefense program. However, no single element in this program is more important than a longterm commitment to improve America’s public health infrastructure.

Too often, the term “first responders” is used to mean firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians. In facing the potential of continued threats from biological agents, our public health officials are the first responders, and they must receive appropriate funding.

Remove government obstacles to partnering. The majority of America’s critical infrastructure is privately owned and operated, making private-public partnerships essential. Full disclosure of problems and sharing of potential solutions is a show-stopper for many industry leaders. They simply cannot allow their investments to be targeted by terrorists or endangered by lawsuits.

Fund, train, equip and direct the National Guard. Time is the greatest constraint on soldiers who already are stretched thin preparing for and executing missions in support of U.S. military strategy. I doubt if it is strategically sound to continue to ask the same soldiers to respond to an increasingly broad range of duties, even as we predicate our military planning on their availability.

We may be asking too much. Let’s not abuse their patriotism. We must give the National Guard a more focused mission and then ensure that it is properly organized, trained and equipped for that mission.

Promote information-sharing. I am convinced that the single greatest need is education—and more specifically, executive education for leaders in both the private and public sectors. Too often I see well-meaning senior staff unable to properly frame a key question, much less organize an effective response across jurisdictional boundaries. Leaders do not know each other, their own authority or what lessons others have already learned. They don’t know what they don’t know.

In conclusion, the danger to the nation is real, and America is still not moving fast enough to meet it. All of us want what is best for America. But we do not have much time. We must get it right—or close to right—very soon.

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