PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


Prepare for a Period of Consequences

Authors: Stephen E. Flynn, and Frank G. Hoffman
June 13, 2002


On September 1999, then-Governor George W. Bush made a speech at The Citadel asserting that major course corrections were required to our approach to national security. He warned that we are moving into a “period of consequences.” The tragic events of last fall have confirmed both the President’s prediction and the importance of embracing his prescription.

The catastrophic terrorist genie has been let out of the bottle. Americans must accept the sobering reality that what we witnessed on September 11 is how warfare will be fought in the 21st century. Since it would be a fool’s game for our adversaries go toe-to-toe with the U.S. armed forces, those who are unhappy with the world’s sole superpower are having to become more inventive. The United States is the Goliath and its current and future adversaries must find a David-like strategy to confront it—and the U.S. homeland is a target-rich environment.

President Bush’s first official step towards confronting the vulnerability of the U.S. homeland was to enlist Governor Tom Ridge into coordinating an unwieldy federal law enforcement and regulatory apparatus so that their collective energies could be marshaled into identifying and intercepting would-be terrorists. It was a good start in pursuit of an essential mission. But, on June 6th, the President quite properly announced that the future security of the nation would require a more aggressive effort at government reorganization.

The administration’s proposal for a Department of Homeland Security is a significant step to redress many, but not all, of the gaps and seams that make future attacks on U.S. soil almost inevitable. This proposal builds upon and improves a model laid out by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (Hart-Rudman Commission), developed over several years by a bipartisan panel of prominent Americans supported by an professional staff of national security experts.

The administration’s plan realigns dozens of disparate bureaus and agencies that deal with border security, emergency and disaster response, and critical infrastructure protection. Nothing short of such a comprehensive design can mitigate the risk of a similar strike or will prepare the nation for the horrors of a “Sum of All Fears” attack involving weapons of mass destruction. Just as important, this design addresses wasteful redundancies and burgeoning security costs of the present stovepiped architecture. The Department of Defense (DoD) along with the rest of the nation can ill-afford wasteful homeland security spending that is bankrolled by raids on the Pentagon’s budget.

While the President’s proposal will generate lots of turf hand-wringing inside the beltway, it is timely and essential. Mr. Bush has compared the imperative for his plan to the one that confronted President Harry S. Truman. Mr. Truman was resolved to put the country’s intelligence and military houses in order and asked Congress to embrace his plan to overhaul the national security apparatus. But even in the immediate aftermath of the epic struggle of World War II and at the start of the Cold War, bureaucratic maneuvering and short sightedness diluted that plan. Many of the shortfalls of the National Security Act of 1947 were later rectified by amendments such as those of 1953, 1958 and 1986, but only after costly and avoidable disasters. Mr. Bush’s Augean challenge is to keep the proposed legislation from getting watered down because such a result could fuel a serious erosion in public confidence when the government is once again found wanting in the wake of the next catastrophic terrorist attack.

Many ask how this proposal improves our ability to get Osama Bin Laden, or how it would have prevented the 11 September attacks? Others focus on the CIA-FBI coordination problem. But these questions distract us from the sobering reality that there will be future attacks on U.S. soil and the government must be better organized to deal with that inevitability.

The President’s reorganization plan will not fix the intelligence gap, but it will help to improve the collection and analysis of unclassified information that can support the intelligence process. Too, the proposed Department of Homeland Security addresses the need for effective border controls, enhanced security within transportation networks, and more capable response elements here at home. Satisfying these needs does not represent the entirety of the homeland security challenge, but getting them right is a necessary stepping off point.

Under one roof, front-line agencies which to date have been largely orphans of their parent departments, can contribute to defending, protecting, and mitigating the terrorist threat within the United States without distracting DOD from its core mission of fighting and winning the nation’s wars. In so doing, the President is redressing the most glaring flaw in our current security structure—that it is designed to work only from the waters edge out. As Operation Enduring Freedom has again demonstrated, our armed forces know how to win “away games.” What is new is that we now clearly need the capacity to handle an adversary who decides to ignore our Cold War playbook and instead bring their battle to our home front.

To be sure, the administration’s proposal warrants close scrutiny by Congress. There are many issues to be resolved. How can we integrate the flood of open source information and traditional intelligence that we collect across the federal government? How can we share this information better within and among agencies, and with state and local officials? How does the new department interface with DOD, CIA, and FBI? How do we ensure that our friends and neighbors are part of the solution, not contributors to the danger? And how do we avoid falling in the trap of seeing our borders, ports, and airports as protective shields instead of as secure but permeable membranes that link us with the wider world where U.S. interests clearly lie?

Stand by for the critics and carpers, and defenders of the status quo who will describe all reorganization schemes as only so much “rearranging of furniture.” Beware of the bureaucrats who are more wary of invasions on their turf than they are invasions by determined terrorists on U.S. soil. Be wary of claims that the nation’s security is best ensured by making changes only at the margins. Do not take at face value assertions that today’s alphabet soup of agencies are cooperative paragons of efficiency and effectiveness that only need more resources. Ignore the critics of a mythical “Super Agency”—the proposed Department of Homeland Security has only 5% of DOD’s end strength and 10% of its budget. In short, keep a sharp lookout for the sort of inertia, complacency, lack of imagination, and political hyperbole that left America so exposed on September 11.

There are many reasons to support the President, at least 3,000—the victims of last fall’s attacks. But the real reason is to prepare for a period of consequences, for the worst could still be before us.

Marine Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Hoffman served with the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century and authored “Homeland Security: Impossible?” for the November 2001 Proceedings. Retired Coast Guard Commander Flynn, a senior fellow with the Council of Foreign Relations, assisted the Hart-Rudman Commission in developing their homeland security recommendations and authored “Homeland Security Is a Coast Guard Mission” for the September 2001 Proceedings.

More on This Topic


Get Ready for a Pandemic

Authors: Stephen E. Flynn and Irwin Redlener
Anderson Cooper 360

Stephen E. Flynn and Irwin Redlener argue that the United States would fail a pandemic preparedness stress test.