Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Changing Homeland Security: Twelve Questions from 2009

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Changing Homeland Security: Twelve Questions from 2009

Article excerpt

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. Marcus Aurelius (121-180)

Aviation bracketed both ends of 2009.

On January 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River. No one died. The captain was called a hero.

On December 25, 2009, Northwest Flight 253 landed in Detroit after a passenger tried to ignite a crotch bomb. No one died. The rapidly formed conventional wisdom claims the failure to prevent the passenger from boarding the plane means "the system" - presumably the homeland security system - failed.

It was that kind of year for homeland security: several close calls, some heartbreaking incidents, but no catastrophes.

After eight years, the homeland security enterprise remains unable to guarantee Americans will be safe from terrorism. Americans are not even safe within the protected confines of an army base. When seen through the ax-grinding lens of media, anything less than perfect security must be defined as failure. There is no time for nuance in the 24/7 news cycle.

After eight years, are we any closer to having a secure homeland - whatever you choose to mean by that - then we were on September 10, 2001?

I do not know anyone who believes we - as a nation - are less prepared now than we were eight years ago. And that includes being better prepared to prevent an attack.

I also do not know anyone who can provide objective evidence about how much better prepared we are now to prevent and respond to threats. We have anecdotes and intuitions. But we have nothing much more convincing than that.

Why we have not measured the benefits gained from the billions in spending remains a central puzzle in homeland security. I am using "puzzle" in the same way Thomas Kuhn used it to describe what generates progress - or at least evolution - in science. 1

What Kuhn called normal science - basically conventional ways of thinking and working - succeeds by further developing an already accepted body of knowledge. Normal science is good enough until a crisis occurs.

A crisis can take the form of a puzzle (or wicked problem) that cannot be resolved using standard ideas or methods. Something new is called for. That something can trigger a revolution in knowledge.

Crises stimulate progress in science. The same process might also help the continued evolution of homeland security as a professional discipline.

It remains a conceit to call homeland security a "discipline." It is overly generous to even call it a pre-paradigm discipline. Still, it is difficult to look at 2009 through homeland security eyes and not see "puzzles" that have been with us since 2001. Can any of these puzzles be solved, or at least more effectively framed? 2

How the 12 Questions Were Developed

For this "2009 Year in Review" essay, I examined homeland security-related news stories collected during 2009 by the Homeland Security Institute. 3 I identified and categorized approximately 400 stories. 4 The categories were initially derived from my subjective analysis of the stories. I modified the categories in September and December, after discussions with Naval Postgraduate School homeland security master's degree students.

The result is a largely personal list of twelve questions. In my view, they frame some of the important homeland security puzzles highlighted by events in 2009.

1. Why is it so difficult to make risk-based decisions in homeland security?

2. Why are we unable to measure the relationship between homeland security expenditures and preparedness?

3. Why is illegal immigration a homeland security issue?

4. Why is FEMA still a part of the Department of Homeland Security?

5. What can the nation realistically expect from its intelligence apparatus?

6. How does technology contribute to homeland security, and how does it make us more vulnerable? …

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