Monday, October 22, 2007

Review: National Strategy for Homeland Security (Revised)

I've had a chance to review the new National Strategy for Homeland Security. In many respects, the document suggests that we will continue the present course. But there are a few surprises at the end.

As a strategic guide, it tends to vacillate between being overly specific and not specific enough. In some sections, such as those dealing with terrorism, it is often more specific than a strategic guide would typically be, in that it identifies specific tactical and operational aspects to the fight against terrorism (e.g., the Real ID Act, the US VISIT program, the Container Security Initiative, Megaports Initiative, and Secure Freight Initiative, etc).

But in other sections, such as those focusing on responding to natural disasters, it is less specific than it could have been. It outlines useful goals and objectives, but it tends to be less clear about how we will achieve them (e.g., "...we must better articulate how roles, responsibilities, and lines of authority for all response stakeholders are fulfilled across all levels of government and among the private and nonprofit sectors so that each understands how it supports the broader national response.").

It's as if, where the sense is that things are perceived to be working well (i.e., we haven't had a terrorist attack in 6+ years), we're being very clear about what we'll continue to do. But in areas where things haven't gone so well (i.e., Katrina), we acknowledge that changes need to be made, but we're less clear about what needs to happen now.

Further muddying things is the new "all-hazards" aspect of the new Strategy (or, rather, the "almost all-hazards" emphasis in the new Strategy). Let's go back to the 2002 Strategy, which we can see was clearly focused on terrorism:

The purpose of the Strategy is to mobilize and organize our Nation to secure the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks.
Compared to this, the 2007 Strategy seemingly adopts a more all-hazards approach:
Our National Strategy for Homeland Security recognizes that while we must continue to focus on the persistent and evolving terrorist threat, we also must address the full range of potential catastrophic events, including man-made and natural disasters, due to their implications for homeland security.

The purpose of our Strategy is to guide, organize, and unify our Nation’s homeland security efforts.
And yet ... in defining Homeland Security, the new Strategy copies - verbatim - the same terrorism-centric definition found in the 2002 version:
Homeland Security is a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.
It's odd, isn't it, that we define Homeland Security only in terms of terrorism, but then develop a homeland security strategy that addresses all hazards?

So we have a Strategy for Homeland Security (i.e., terrorism) that also addresses our vulnerability to natural hazards. Here's how the Strategy explains this:
Indeed, certain non-terrorist events that reach catastrophic levels can have significant implications for homeland security. The resulting national consequences and possible cascading effects from these events might present potential or perceived vulnerabilities that could be exploited, possibly eroding citizens’ confidence in our Nation’s government and ultimately increasing our vulnerability to attack.

This Strategy therefore recognizes that effective preparation for catastrophic natural disasters and man-made disasters, while not homeland security per se, can nevertheless increase the security of the Homeland.
Sooo ... the aspect of homeland security that is affected by natural disasters is that terrorists could take advantage of our increased vulnerability in the wake of a natural disaster to strike us. Do I have that right?

The assumption is that we have to be prepared for natural disasters because al Qaeda might decide to strike us in a moment of opportunity, following a catastrophic disaster. (?)

Question: What's the harm in including natural hazards in the definition of Homeland Security? Why do we have to link natural disasters to "homeland security" in this convoluted fashion?

Doing so seems especially odd, given that DHS is explicit in taking an all-hazards approach; the agency is responsible for preparedness and response for natural disasters. And there's no question at all that a major natural disaster can cause as much destruction - and more - than a catastrophic terrorist attack. If you replayed the three massive New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 in today's United States, you would see destruction on a scale we've never seen.

So, why muddy the waters? Why not simply be absolutely clear about whether Homeland Security includes natural and accidental disasters? Why not say that Homeland Security addresses all hazards?

Like I said, it muddies the waters. But on to the review. My intend here is just to quickly review the general outlines of the strategy without much additional analysis.

The first major emphasis of the Strategy is to "Prevent and Disrupt Terrorist Attacks." This involves:
  • A special emphasis on preventing terrorists from acquiring, transporting, and using WMD.
  • Impeding the ability of terrorists to enter the U.S. or to move weapons material into the U.S. This involves both border security and port security.
  • Disrupting the ability of terrorists to function in the U.S. This involves intelligence-gathering and information-sharing to gain "domain awareness" of the (local) environment, so that anomalous behaviors are easier to spot. (There is a special emphasis on Intelligence-Led Policing.) It also involves disrupting terrorist activities such as recruiting, fundraising, training, etc.
The next major emphasis of the Strategy is to "Prevent Violent Extremist Radicalization in the United States." This involves:
  • Engaging key communities - especially the U.S. Muslim community regarding violent jihadism.
  • Identifying the environments where radicalization is most likely (e.g., prisons)
  • Further study into the process of radicalization
Next, the Strategy points to the need to "Protect the American People, Critical Infrastructure, and Key Resources." This involves:
  • Altering terrorists' risk calculus by hardening targets
  • Mitigating the vulnerabilities and enhancing the resilience of critical infrastructure and key resources
  • Ensuring medical preparedness
  • Minimizing the consequences of disasters by ensuring adequate warning
The nation's ability to "Respond and Recover from Incidents" are covered next. This involves:
  • Clarifying roles among various agencies and levels of government in response and recovery
  • Strengthening the response doctrine (e.g., NIMS)
  • Quickly assessing the scale of a disaster
  • More efficiently coordinating the requests for support
  • Conducting immediate, short-term response and recovery actions
  • Effecting a smooth transition from response to recovery
Finally, the last section of the Strategy - and the most important, in my opinion - focuses on the long-term direction that our Homeland Security efforts will take. This is the most strategic part of the document as I see it. It involves:
  • Applying a risk-management framework to all homeland security activities
  • Creating a culture of preparedness
  • Establishing a Homeland Security Management System, which extends the National Preparedness Guidelines and involves four phases: Guidance, Planning, Execution, and Assessment and Evaluation:

  • Focusing on incident management, including applying it to prevention activities
  • Applying advances in science and technology to homeland security
  • Leveraging connections among public and private institutions, as well as between government agencies. This includes sharing information.
  • Streamlining the operations of Congress
I think the ideas in this last section are sound, though the Homeland Security Management System has the potential to be a boondoggle. The strongest strategic emphasis, I think, is in leveraging the connections among various homeland security professionals. This is admittedly a bias of mine - I tend to see the best problem-solving systems arising when people build, nurture, and employ interpersonal and societal structures.

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