When the terrorists struck on September 11, 2001 it fell to the Bush Administration to take the nation to war. This is a war fought on many fronts and in distant lands from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen and Indonesia. Most significant was the addition of a new front, the U.S. homeland. For the first time in more than half a century, the threat was not only distant, posing dangers to America’s allies and overseas interests; it had come to this country’s shores.
As was the case the previous times the homeland was attacked, the United States was ill prepared for war. There had been a number of studies, some commissioned by the federal government, that warned of the possibility of major terrorist attacks on the United States and proposed plans to prevent or mitigate such dangers. A few tentative steps had been taken to develop policies and procedures relevant to terrorism and homeland security. However, there was no national strategy for homeland security, no dedicated agency or department and no priority assigned to the terrorism threat by law enforcement or the Intelligence Community.
The Bush Administration can claim an impressive list of accomplishments over the past two years. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in a unique partnership with private industry, deployed tens of thousands of screeners and hundreds of screening machines to more than 440 airports nationwide in less than a year. A new Cabinet department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was created, merging some 22 agencies and offices into a single organization dedicated to securing the homeland. The Patriot Act permitted domestic and foreign intelligence information to be more readily shared. The Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) was established as a clearinghouse for intelligence. A new combatant command, Northern Command (NORTHCOM), oversees the protection of the North American continent and ensures adequate military support to civil authorities in the event of a terrorist attack. Billions of dollars have been invested in improving the nation’s biodefenses, in the security of ports
and waterways and in enhancing the capabilities of first responders. These are all important first steps. Some major vulnerabilities have been addressed. If we are to express judgment of the administration’s performance with a grade, it is clear that they warrant an overall grade of “A-.” An explanation of the grading system used can be found in the section of the main report that addresses assessment methodology.
Assessing how well the Bush Administration has positioned itself for the longterm task of securing the homeland against the full range of potential threats is more problematic. Many of the steps taken by the administration, while significant, have been obvious responses to the most flagrant problems and to previously identified gaps. In some instances, such as the effort to improve emergency response capabilities, the administration has simply thrown money at the problem. Appropriate in the short term, these techniques will not work in the long term.
Two years removed from the fear that energized and spurred the government’s actions, it is necessary to take stock. Complete security is impossible to achieve. Resources are finite. Hard choices need to be made and the administration requires a strategy to make those choices. However, no clearly defined long-term strategy has been put forth to replace this approach. Its title notwithstanding, the National Strategy for Homeland Security contains no strategy. It sets no priorities. It defines no useful measures of performance by which to judge progress.
It is difficult to determine whether the myriad long-term initiatives to secure the borders, counter bioterrorism or protect critical infrastructure will truly make the nation safer. Money and resources are being spent, but without a strategy and a good set of metrics or performance measures, it is not hard to draw the erroneous conclusion that the only way of enhancing homeland security is to spend and do more in every area and against all possible threats.
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, it is not the administration alone that bears the onus of formulating a strategy. There is a need to resolve the issue of which areas of homeland security fall under the responsibility of the government to implement and pay for and which fall under the responsibility of the private sector. Absent a strategy, clear metrics and resolution of the public-private issue, it is clear that the administration has a long way to go in taking on the hard tasks of long-term homeland security. Great vulnerabilities remain in areas such as airport security, border security and particularly in our emergency response and consequence management abilities.
On a sector-by-sector basis, this study’s assessment of the long-term prospects for the security of the homeland is not entirely negative. Measures to enhance intelligence collection and information sharing, the physical security of ports and waterways, critical infrastructure protection, cyber security and military support to civil authorities, if continued, should yield significant improvements to the nation’s security situation. After what must be judged a good initial response to September 11, the Bush Administration merits no better than a “C+” for its efforts to develop a long-term strategy and program for the enhancement of homeland security. It remains to be seen whether the nation is going to invest the sustained effort necessary to deal with the real and possibly growing threat of terrorism or whether the nation is going to treat September 11 as a “one-shot” deal, and remain content with improved, but not comprehensive, homeland security.
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