Saturday, December 30, 2006

Homeland Defense: Realities and Government Responses

Writing in the November issue of Homeland Defense Journal, publisher Don Dickson takes a fast – but interesting – look at what he perceives to be four realities that affect the ability of our nation to effectively prepare for crises: [original emphasis]

  • “Congress has developed a penchant for photo-op legislation. Lots of excitement, dedication, and press conferences. But many initiatives are not funded or funding limitations are imposed and cripple the original intent or scope.”

This is driven home in a separate article (“Appropriations Winners and Losers”) in the same issue, which points out that FEMA is “the biggest loser” in the current appropriations battle: despite DHS’s total appropriation being increased by 8%, FEMA’s share of the pie was reduced by 15% (or $2.5 billion). These appropriations constraints are not restricted to disaster preparedness, of course – we all remember how “No Child Left Behind” was enacted with much ballyhoo… but no budget. There was also Rumsfeld’s quote about ‘going to war with the army you have’, instead of appropriating sufficient funding to provide armored Humvees, body armor, and other necessary equipment, not to mention enough troops to achieve “mission accomplished.”

The bush administration has provided funding for their pet projects: $1.2 billion for the infamous fence along the Mexican border and other border-security “improvements”… like a huge, open-ended contract with well-known fencing contractor Boeing Corp., an additional $4.3 billion for port, cargo, and container security (most of which will probably be wasted on “pie in the sky” programs as Schneier and others have pointed out), $4.7 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and $9.3 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These are the “sexy” issues upon which the administration is concentrating; the “bread and butter” programs – the ones that keep people alive – are once again receiving short shrift.

  • “Security is expensive. There are more needs than funds available. […] Ports, borders, critical infrastructure are all in need of assessment and response – but this will cost.”

That should come as no great surprise. As any number of writers has pointed out, we have many more priorities than we have funding to fulfill them. Unfortunately, most of the available funding is being dedicated to the high-profile projects, even if those projects have low return on investment (“Star Wars”, indiscriminate screening at airports, the border fence).

As Schneier has pointed out, it would make far more sense to perform a standard cost-benefit analysis on these competing priorities, and to devote scarce resources to those projects that have the highest return on investment.

  • “Apathy remains with us. Perhaps this is not all bad. We are a nation of positive people, who wish for the best and often fall into believing the best will happen. Outside of New York, Washington and a few other major cities, we cannot imagine our town a victim of horrific violence.”

This is quite disingenuous, when you stop to think about it. Our towns may not become victims of “horrific violence” perpetrated by outsiders, but they may certainly become victims of natural or man-made disasters… just ask the people of Apex, North Carolina, or Graniteville, where hazardous materials were released as the result of a fire and train derailment, respectively. The same general principles that would enable us to recover from a terrorist attack would also help us recover from a natural or man-made disaster. It’s disturbing that the publisher of Homeland Defense Journal would – like the bushies – focus on only the sexy terrorism issues, while overlooking the far more likely local problems.

  • “The bad people are over there. Foreign nations, foreign cultures, thousands of miles away give us a sense that it really isn’t going to happen here.”

Dickson concludes his piece by saying:

Unfortunately, these realities and many others will put a drag on our ability to aggressively address the threats in front of us. Unfortunately, the bad people have, can, and if you believe many of our informed experts, will come here. My personal hope is that Congress truly addresses these matters, we find the funds to protect our infrastructure, we as private and corporate citizens get involved in the dialogue and we are successful at preventing external or internal attacks.

Dickson is correct, as far as he goes; the problem is he doesn’t go far enough. He has apparently slipped from the “reality-based community” to the alternate reality created by the current administration, where only terrorist attacks are worthy of attention, planning, and resources.

Government Response and Its Repercussions

Another article, “Response to Terrorism Might Incite or Quell Further Terrorists’ Acts” by Gary LaFree, discusses how governmental response to terrorist acts might actually reinforce the very behaviors government is seeking to reduce. In examining a study conducted by Laura Dugan and Raven Korte, LaFree compares British anti-terrorist actions in Northern Ireland with the responses from the Irish.

LaFree establishes a nexus with the present circumstances by pointing out that Osama bin Laden wrote that he decided to support the 9-11 attacks, in part, “because he believed American retaliation would inevitably kill innocents, thereby demonstrating the extent of American hatred toward Muslims.” One question not raised, that I feel warrants further discussion, is whether bin Laden’s statement shows the depth of his devotion to his “holy cause”, or if it simply indicates a willingness to sacrifice innocents on the altar of his own power and stature within the fundamentalist/extremist Islamic community.

The study examines five British responses – three military and two criminal justice actions – to the violence in Northern Ireland. In three of the five responses, Irish extremists exhibited defiance of the British, showing the actions had not had the intended deterrent effects.

LaFree summarizes the implications of the study and the three circumstances that would tend to move a proposed government intervention toward deterrence or defiance:

  • The importance of the freedom being withdrawn. If the behavior being regulated is of relatively less importance to the actor, deterrence might occur. Conversely, if the freedom or act is of high importance to the actor, defiance is likely to result. Symbolism is also important, as we saw with the Mohammed cartoon brouhaha.
  • The strength of social bonds between the punished and the punisher. Stronger social bonds tend to result in deterrence. LaFree cites the upsurge in Pakistani attitudes toward America after substantial foreign after the Pakistani earthquakes.
  • The perceived fairness of a contemplated strategy. Interventions that are perceived as reasonable, equal, and fair are more likely to result in deterrence of the unwanted behavior.

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