The White House Office of Homeland Security has been criticized in recent months
for being “just another government bureaucracy,” inflexible and
lacking innovation. But that is not the case. The Office of Homeland Security
may be a “bureaucracy” in the strictest sense, but it is quite atypical.
One classic problem in government is resistance to change—the inability
to recognize new circumstances and to react. Under the leadership of Tom Ridge,
however, the OHS has shown openness to novel approaches, as it attempts to develop
a strategy for homeland security.
But there are many questions that have yet to be answered.
For example, how does one best organize and coordinate the various agencies
that play a role in homeland defense? What about state and local government?
How can the private sector help? Will Ridge have meaningful executive decision-making
authority? Or will his office do little more than issue hollow policy recommendations?
There are also a host of technical and logistical questions regarding authority,
coordination, cooperation, differentiation and implementation, among others.
Ridge must have the support of the president and the authority to make decisions
on his behalf—as well as the budget and staff to back it up. And he does.
Ridge’s current staff, of about 20, will increase to 100 in the near future.
The OHS currently has a $38 million budget.
Many federal agencies have a role in counter-terrorism. From the Department
of Defense and the CIA to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of
Energy, coordinating and organizing these agencies—and their distinct
bureaucratic methodologies—is a challenge. Establishing an agency’s
domestic security role without threatening turf, power and budgets may seem
insurmountable. The fact that the number of federal entities considered to have
a part in counter-terrorism remains vague reflects the essence of this challenge.
Some argue that 40 federal agencies deserve a seat at the domestic security/counter-terrorism
table. Others say the number is 46. Oddly, if Ridge had only 46 agencies to
coordinate, his task might be easy. In reality, however, the number of entities
involved in homeland security is far greater. State and local government emergency
agencies, as well as scores of private sector counterparts, increase the roster.
The FBI and the CIA both play important counter-terrorism roles. But how each
agency will complement the other under this new rubric is not clear. Should
the CIA focus on intelligence and the FBI on enforcement? This dilemma is further
complicated by a new slate of legislation that extends law enforcement powers
into uncharted areas. The ability to use “roving wiretaps” without
additional court orders is one example.
Further, Ridge must foster cooperation. With the CIA and the FBI, this can
be difficult. Historically, the CIA and the FBI have been at odds over information
sharing, intelligence gathering and threat mitigation. After the 1998 bombings
of the U.S. embassies in Africa, for example, then-Attorney General Janet Reno
worried that crucial FBI information had not been shared with the appropriate
CIA officials. Reno’s worries echoed those of a former CIA officer who
stated, “For a very long time, the CIA and FBI had found ways to talk
past each other and refuse to cooperate with one another. We had built cities
on separate hills, and that wasn’t very smart.” Though colla-boration
has increased markedly, old habits die hard. It is incumbent upon Ridge to prevent
tensions from resurrecting.
Carefully defined roles and responsibilities vis-á-vis domestic security
will ensure that cooperation and coordination continue. Ridge’s proximity
to the president (his office is in the West Wing of the White House) let him
leverage the authority of the president to encourage teamwork and quickly resolve
conflicts at the highest executive level. This is certainly not a holy grail,
but it is a part of a larger solution. Arguably, this larger solution rests
with the agency personnel and their ability to overcome personal and professional
turf battles and power plays.
Domestic, Security Issues
Ridge’s location in the White House raises other questions, especially
with regard to differentiation. In essence, how will the OHS differ from the
National Security Council? In many respects, the missions are the same: protect
and defend the security of the United States. A key distinction has to do with
focus. The NSC’s principal concern resides with foreign national security
issues. The OHS concentrates on domestic issues, though they may be of a foreign
The executive order creating the OHS clarifies this distinction: “The
functions of [OHS] shall be to coordinate the executive branch’s efforts
to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from
terrorist attacks within the United States.”
But this does not mean that the two offices do not work in concert. As National
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stated, “Tom [Ridge] and I will work
very closely together to ensure that America’s security is truly seamless.”
Richard Clarke is the president’s special advisor for cyber security,
and Wayne Downing is the national director and deputy national security advisor
for combating terrorism. Both Ridge and Rice supported the president regarding
Critics who argue that the OHS conflicts with or replicates the National Security
Council fail to realize that the challenge of security is sufficiently deep
and wide to justify the existence of both organizations. While some redundancy
inevitably will exist, it might well be a good thing, insofar as it forces new
approaches to gain the president’s ear and move from theory to practice.
Implementing a broad strategic plan to safeguard America requires input not
only from the government sector but also from the private sector. Many threats
to domestic security are found at aquifers, oil refineries, power plants and
computer hubs. These entities are—with few exceptions—owned, operated,
maintained and managed by private industry. Securing these enticing targets
cannot be done by the government alone.
In most cases, Ridge does not have the authority to impose or assume security
responsibilities unilaterally. Doing so would be quasi-nationalistic, as well
as impracticable from a cost, personnel and public relations standpoint. Even
functions, which do lend themselves to government control—such as airport
security—generally rely upon explicit congressional or presidential authority.
This, too, comes with detractors and political challenges. Even in the midst
of an aviation security nightmare, where lax security was the proximate cause
of the September 11 tragedy, Republicans and Democrats squabbled over aviation
security. Thus, even when the government nationalizes responsibilities through
the legislative process, it is not a fast, easy, or welcome process.
Additionally, there are simply too many potential terrorist targets for the
government to manage alone. Physical structures that might be terrorist targets
number in the tens of thousands. As the Washington Post suggested, “Ridge
is supposed to keep us all safe ... in a nation of more than 2,800 power plants,
190,000 miles of natural gas pipelines, nearly 600,000 bridges, 463 skyscrapers,
20,000 miles of border, and 285 million people.” Most of these items can
be found in every, city, rural county and small town. Though Ridge is responsible
for them technically, he cannot ensure their security practically. The OHS can
and must provide guidance and assistance, but Ridge has little choice, but to
rely on the owners and operators of high-value targets to take steps that ensure
Further, the government is not an infinite or the only repository of information,
talent, or expertise. Some of the best minds exist in academia, think-tanks,
non-profits and corporations. Ridge and the OHS must leverage the specialization
of these non-government actors to propose solutions, recommendations and approaches.
In this sense, Ridge must outsource.
Consider, for example, biological terrorism. The U.S. Army Medical Research
Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) is a bio-warfare leader. Located
at Fort Detrick, Md., USAMRIID formulates strategies, information, procedures,
and training programs for medical defense against biological threats.”
The OHS values this organization for its policy recommendations, as well as
for its technical skill.
This does not imply that other biotech firms, scientists or companies might
not prove equally or more helpful in defeating bio-terrorism. Many of the world’s
foremost experts on the subject do not work for government. Consider Ken Alibek,
president of the Virginia-based company, Advanced Biosystems. Alibek is also
a Russian defector who worked for the Soviet biological weapons program, and
has since served as a consultant to numerous U.S. agencies dealing with medical
microbiology, biological weapons defense, and biological weapons nonproliferation.
Scientists such as Alibek provide new and fresh insights. More importantly,
he retains intimate knowledge of the former Soviet biological weapons program—the
remnants of which sit, poorly-guarded, in aging Russian military installations.
The possibility that these weapons of mass destruction—or the knowledge
and equipment needed to make them—might one day fall into terrorist hands
makes Alibek a valuable source of intelligence. The OHS must see him and those
like him, not as former enemies, but as helpful resources.
Ridge also will have to address the OHS relationships with state and local
governments, which are the first responders when an attack occurs. On September
11, it was the Arlington County Police Department and Arlington County Fire
Department who rescued the trapped, treated the injured and secured the massive
Pentagon crime scene. The same was true at Ground Zero in New York City. Only
later, when the fire and smoke began to clear, did the FBI, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency and others go to work.
As the former governor of Pennsylvania (a populous state with its own array
of potentially inviting terrorist targets), Ridge understands the role of state
and local police, fire and health departments. Ridge realizes that they need
better training, more equipment and lucid guidance from Washington. He continues
to make strides toward this end.
Ridge’s task to increase homeland security through the creation and implementation
of a national strategy, among other things, is well underway. Five major areas
underpin these efforts:
Steven Roberts is an information assurance and critical infrastructure protection
analyst at SRA International, Inc. He has authored several articles on infrastructure
protection, information assurance, and domestic security.