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
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
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