Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Homeland Security Quadrennial Review? (Updated)

Riding to the sound of the guns. Our defense and security
policy should be focused by comprehensive, periodic reviews.
(Grant Memorial, Washington D.C. Photo by Kris Alexander.)

I don't comment much about my "day" job. I work in the homeland security/emergency management business--a booming field these days. I've been in the business in both the pre- and post-Sept.. 11th world. Things have changed drastically--some things are better and others worse.

Recently, I came across this article on, and it made a lot of sense. The article calls for the establishment of a Homeland Security Quadrennial Review similar to the Department of Defense QDR--what the government uses to focus defense policy for the next four years. It is an ongoing assessment of the geopolitical situation and the threats to our country that are generated from it. We don't have anything like that for homeland security, and it reflects in our policy.

After Sept. 11th, we took a shotgun blast approach to building this concept that we now call "homeland security". We've created and (almost) discarded agencies, spend tons of money, and done some great work. But, we've never sat down and done a comprehensive review of what threats that we legitimately face. And we certainly haven't stopped to catch our breath and assess our progress. With Sept.. 11th almost four years behind us, where exactly do we stand?

Where is the homeland security azimuth check?
(Diagram by Kris Alexander)

We have spent a great deal of time focusing on UBL and AQ. But what are the other emerging threats both at home and abroad? Take for example a splinter group of Mormons, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints, who have set up shop near Eldorado TX. So far they haven't disturbed anyone, but recently they declared that the world was ending. We're all still here, but imagine if they had decided to speed things along with a little firepower. Remember the last group of fundamentalists that gathered on a compound in Texas?

I have taught some bio-terrorism planning classes, and I always asked the class if they can imagine what might have happened if the Branch Davidians had a member who was biochemist like the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. Before they committed the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, Aum Shinrikyo released anthrax in a failed biological attack. It can happen here--again.

What is the mechanism that we use to track and assess emerging groups like this? Or other crazies like the Republic of Texas? Or what happens if politics in this country take a radical change like they did in the sixties? What if violent groups like the Students for a Democratic Society or the Weather Underground emerge again? Up until Sept. 11th, the most casualty producing terrorist attack on U.S. soil was committed by Timothy McVay. Are we spending so much energy looking for the next Sept. 11th that we are going to miss the next Oklahoma City?

Also, what's going on in the rest of the world while we're focusing on Islamic Fundamentalism? What are the Narco-terrorists up to? What groups and movements are emerging while we are focusing on UBL? What is the next Al Qaeda? We're just a few generations away from Pancho Villa's raids on the border. What happens if the Mexicans create an answer to the Minuteman Project and things get violent on the border?

What are emerging terrorist tactics, techniques, and procedures? We've hardened our air transportation system so what are the bad guys going to hit next? We're doing the right things with DHS programs like the Buffer Zone Protection Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative. But what happens after we've hardened all the nuclear reactors and chemical plants? Won't the terrorists just hit something else? If so, what and how?

Terrorism doesn't live in a vacuum. It is a malignancy that adapts itself to whatever environment in which it lives. The bad guys learn and adjust. The styles of attacks that our soldiers are facing today in Iraq might be what our cops are facing in our cities five years from now. The attacks may even be committed by the same people.

But, at what point have we done enough and quit chasing down every bogeyman and his associated doomsday scenario? Homeland security is a pork binge for politicians, and nobody is willing to say that we've spent enough in a certain area. We currently don't have a tool with which to make that assessment so the gravy train will keep on rolling.

We can't harden every shopping mall in this country, and every industrial site can't be considered "critical" infrastructure. What we can do is make damn sure that the industrial areas containing the most dangerous materials are more secure than they were in the pre-Sept.. 11th world. After that, we can at least force the gravy train to move in new directions.

And of course any process that gets in the business of identifying domestic threats can be dangerous to our civil liberties. You don't violate a country's constitutional rights by declaring it a threat to our nation. But, its a slippery slope when you begin to place that identification on group of citizens who may never actually commit a crime.

These perils should not prevent us from taking action. We can use the excellent work of the Sept. 11th commission as an example and get to work. All we need is the right vision--something that this country never should lack.

More reading from the Heritage Foundation.

Update: Noah over at defensetech was kind enough to point out that some of what I demanded in my rant is already in the works. (here) He's right, and I was aware of this process. But, what I'd like to see is something more formal and periodic like the DOD QDR. That process isn't perfect, but its a good tool. I think the whole concept of "homeland security" is still very much in the maturing process. We've had a DOD in some incarnation since this country was born. Not so with domestic security. Or as we Texans like to say: "We've got a long row to hoe."


At April 29, 2005, Anonymous The Lazy Detective said...

Some interesting points. Especially regarding mythology. Simplifying war down to "they're evil-doers and they hate our freedom" is how you explain war to a 12 year old who can't understand war. Until this country can collectively reach way back into its memory, and start to analyze such events as the coup against Musadec that begot the Shah, which begot the ayatollahs which stir up Jihadists can we start to correct out course. Unfortuntaly we suffer from short attention spans whereas they don't. But even then, its not easy to see what course to take.
Maybe we could win this war by bombing the middle east with Nike tennis shoes and X-Boxes. I'm joking, well only partly. It would probably be more effective than our present course though. War is just failed diplomacy and a short-term answer to a long-term problem.

At April 29, 2005, Anonymous the lazy detective said...

oops, commented on the wrong post. nevermind me.


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