Mr. Giuliani recently wrote an essay for The City Journal that outlines his position on Homeland Security. Although I don’t entirely disagree with everything in the essay, for the most part I found myself shaking my head at what I believe to be extremely poor judgment. Since this is a pretty important topic, however, I felt that a thorough analysis of his writing was in order. I’ll go through the essay rather thoroughly, starting at the beginning.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the United States has confronted both the deadliest attack and one of the most destructive natural disasters in the nation’s history.
This is of course arguable based upon how you define both “attack” and “destructive”. Mr. Giuliani will spend the rest of the essay interweaving the ideas of disaster *response* and terrorist *prevention* as two intertwining, equally important duties of the Department of Homeland Security. While I agree with many of his statements regarding disaster response, I believe that terrorist activity is (at best) a marginal threat to the United States when compared to the fiscal and human cost of natural disasters, and focusing on disaster response is far and away a better return for our tax dollars.
I do not mean to disparage the victims of the three individual terrorist events of 9/11, but I don’t believe that this is an accurate characterization of the day. It is likely that more Americans were killed at the Battle of Antietam than on 9/11 (between 3,600 and 6,500, depending upon which estimate you choose). If you define “attack” as “battle”, then the Battle of Meuse-Argonne (26,277 killed, same source) is an order of magnitude more deadly than 9/11. Over 150,000 people were killed in the American assault on Okinawa, on both sides. The terrorist attack of 9/11 was certainly the single most horrific assault in the United States on civilians by a foreign entity, but we’ve been known to do a pretty good job of that ourselves.
Hurricane Katrina ranks at the top of the list for hurricanes in total damages ($81,000,000,000), far and away the most expensive single natural disaster due to the impact on energy production. Galveston was significantly more deadly (in fact, heat waves hold more of the tops spots as killers than hurricanes). Of the top 10 most expensive hurricanes, 6 have occurred since 2000, totaling $147,460,000,000 in hurricane-related damages alone. The direct economic impact of 9/11, far and away the most successful terrorist event in the domestic history of the United States, was $27,200,000,000. Admittedly, this is a very cursory analysis. Full examination of the sources would be required to determine how greatly the secondary and tertiary effects correlate, and the full economic impact of events of this scale is difficult to accurately measure. However, given that $10,000,000,000+ hurricanes are common (an average of 1 per year since 2,000) and we as yet lack the technology to prevent hurricanes, it seems reasonable to assume that mitigating hurricane damage alone (let alone wildfires, earthquakes, etc) will yield a better return in terms of lives and money saved than spending dollar one directly on terrorist prevention.
The term “homeland security” wasn’t part of the national debate during the 2000 election. Now, after September 11 and Hurricane Katrina, every American understands that homeland security is at the heart of a president’s responsibility.
The term “homeland security” was not part of the national debate prior to 9/11, this is definitely true. And I believe it is also true that every American *expects* that the sitting President will lead during times of crisis. However, I don’t believe that 9/11 or Katrina have caused this to be the case. Americans have always expected their President to lead in times of crisis.
There have been no fewer than 14 attempted domestic terrorist attacks and nine international plots against American citizens and interests since 9/11, according to reports in the public record. There have been plots to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and airplanes crossing the Atlantic. Terrorists have conspired to murder American soldiers at Fort Dix and planned to ignite the fuel lines beneath John F. Kennedy International Airport.
While technically true, this statement constitutes very incomplete evidence. There is no evaluation here of the credibility of these plots, no estimate of the efficacy of the plans of the plotters, and nothing resembling a reasoned evaluation of the actual threat involved. There is a great amount of debate on whether or not most of these reported events constituted a serious threat to the country. Admittedly “we the people” only know what details have been released regarding these events, but if a Presidential candidate is going to ask the public to evaluate the credibility of his overall plan for the country, he needs to to a very thorough job of presenting his evidence, and this does not qualify.
Not a single post-9/11 plot on U.S. soil has succeeded to date. That is no accident; it is a measure of our increased vigilance as a nation.
I hear this a lot. The incredulous response is usually something along the lines of, “I have a Tiger Repellent. You should use it. See, I’ve been using it for 10 years and I’ve never been attacked by a tiger!” The more measured response is, between 1993 and 2001, a period of 8 years, there were no successful terrorist attacks inside the borders of the U.S. Between 2001 and 2007, there have been no successful terrorist attacks inside the borders of the U.S. All this means is that our current “increased vigilance” can only *so far* be evaluated as “equally as effective as our pre-9/11 countermeasures”, by that standard. The 9/11 commission report was rather critical of our intelligence systems prior to 9/11. If our “horrible vigilance” between 1993 and 2001 resulted in exactly zero successful terrorist attacks, it seems like we can state with reasonable clarity that terrorist attacks are very hard to plan and carry off on the face of it, and are very unlikely regardless of our level of “vigilance”.
The fight against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups will be America’s central challenge for years to come.
This is, in fact, my central problem with Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. As I pointed out above, I truly do not believe that terrorism is in any way a significant threat to this country. Anyone who regards terrorism *as* the central challenge to the country is going to arrange the priorities of the federal government accordingly. Solid, responsible fiscal policy, a domestic agenda that supports opportunity, meaningful foreign policy, trade deficits, a science policy that is based upon scientific evaluation instead of public opinion or economic interests, coherent energy policy, the burden on the economy of the baby boomer mass retirement, all of these are issues that have a much greater impact on the country than terrorism.
We will achieve victory in what I call the Terrorists’ War on Us only by staying on offense: defeating terrorist organizations and hunting down their leaders, wherever they are; helping Afghanistan and Iraq establish stable and representative governments; aiding the spread of good governance throughout the Muslim world; and defeating militant Islam in the war of ideas.
Although I have a number of problems with this paragraph, on the whole this isn’t an unjustifiable position. Rather than argue the points of what constitutes “victory”, whether or not we actually need to have this victory in order to regard terrorist as little more than annoyance, and most importantly why it completely ignores terrorism from non-Islamic sources, I’ll just concede the point for now that this can stand on its own as a collection of decent ideas. Too bad he immediately follows with this:
Such international efforts are essential to winning this war, but not sufficient.
This requires a very real analysis of “sufficiency”. Mr. Giuliani, you just said in the previous paragraph that these efforts were the only way to win. Presumably, then, you are now talking about the costs of achieving victory, and marginalizing the effects of this war, yes?
We must also protect our people and economy, secure our borders, and prevent terrorist attacks here at home.
How do we protect our economy? What do you mean by “secure our borders”, and how does this mitigate the threat of domestic terrorism? What do you mean by “prevent terrorist attacks”? You say these are necessary, but there is no mention of what steps it is that you want to take, and what the consequences of those steps are. Without full disclosure, I cannot agree that we “must” do these things.
These responsibilities are the domestic dimension of the larger struggle, and they require a focus on more than terrorism. As Stephen Flynn points out in his book The Edge of Disaster, “Nearly 90 percent of Americans are currently living in locations that place them at moderate to high risks of earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, or high-wind damage.” Preparing for terrorist attacks and for natural disasters are complementary goals: when cities and states prepare for natural disaster, they also strengthen our response to potential terrorism.
This I agree with completely, except the emphasis is reversed. Preparing for natural disasters is complementary to preparing for terrorist attacks; the reverse is not necessarily the case. Training people in emergency response helps in both situations. Reducing response times for first responders helps in both situations. Teaching first responders that it is a good idea to blow up abandoned backpacks because they *might* be terrorist attacks does not help in disaster response.
The next administration’s approach to homeland security should be based on three core principles: prevention, preparedness, and resilience.
Again, I agree, but you need to reverse this.
Preventing terrorist attacks before they happen must be our primary goal. Of course, America must stay on offense internationally when it comes to WMDs, using determined diplomacy and economic measures to discourage states from trading in dangerous materials that threaten Americans. Nations that continue in the trade must face the seizure of shipments— or worse.
Given that Russia is supplying nuclear material to Iran, this hard-line stance might sound good to people overly frightened by the idea of an Islamic state having access to nuclear weapons, but I doubt that this is more than political theater. Or has Mr. Giuliani forgotten that there already exists an Islamic state (one with an active al Qaida presence, no less) with nuclear weapons? One that appears to be offering protection to a man who has actively engaged in spreading nuclear weapon technology?
Here at home and at ports overseas, we must deploy state-of-the-art radiation detection technology to shield against nuclear fissile material, dirty bombs, and other radiological weapons, and we must proceed with the development and stockpiling of vaccines as a defense against bioterror. We also need to be ready for other forms of attack, such as cyberterrorism—a weapon of mass disruption. Digital technologies drive our nation’s economy and control much of our critical infrastructure. America cannot afford to wait for a digital Pearl Harbor before we begin taking the cyberterrorism threat seriously.
Radiation detection technology is totally ineffective due to the false positive rate. This is a complete and utter boondoggle, the sort of expenditure that any rational security expert would consider completely ineffective, unjustified, and a colossal waste of money. Spending a billion dollars on stockpiling anthrax vaccine does nothing to defend the country from any of the other chemical or biological warfare agents that exist, and this is a biological terrorism attack that has already occurred, with a net loss of a grand total of 5 lives (this, from an unknown perpetrator who had access to weapons-grade anthrax). Certainly, cybersecurity is a major outstanding problem in the United States (I’m not going to even bother to try and link references for this one, there are just too many examples of bad security to list), but the theoretical risk of “cyberterrorism” pales in comparison to the risk of cybercrime.
But these steps, as important as they are, will not solve the now widely recognized problem of getting our federal intelligence and law enforcement officers to share information so that they can “connect the dots” to uncover terrorist attacks before they happen. Some people theorize, based on the 9/11 Commission report, that the attacks of September 11 might have been prevented if the CIA and FBI had overcome the institutional barriers between and within the agencies and shared information. To take just one well-known example, the CIA knew in early 2000 that one suspected al-Qaida terrorist had acquired a U.S. visa and that another had flown to California. But Langley didn’t tell the FBI or register the men with the State Department’s watch list. As a result, two future 9/11 hijackers slipped into the U.S. Whether communication would or would not have been enough to lead to actions to prevent the attacks, it certainly is prudent to make sure this gap is closed in the future.
Yes, communication between intelligence services and law enforcement agencies is an ongoing problem. The severity of this problem needs to be thoroughly evaluated.
Several kinds of barriers hampered us in the 1990s. Some reflected the cultural differences between prosecution-oriented law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community’s preference for information collection. Others were legally required, such as the restrictions on sharing information derived through grand juries and criminal wiretaps. Still others were self-imposed, such as the infamous “wall” erected by the Clinton justice department in 1995, which complicated collaboration between the FBI’s foreign counterintelligence agents and its criminal investigators.
What Mr. Giuliani neglects to assess, here, is the value of the barriers. For example, law enforcement agencies need to remain prosecution-oriented. Intelligence communities need to remain focused on gathering information. In order for these organizations to be effective, they must pursue their goals. What is needed is an independent entity that can balance the goals in context; someone who is “in the know” on both sides of the fence, and can say to the intelligence community, “The importance of capturing and prosecuting this person outweigh the informational value of keeping him under surveillance and out of custody,” or to the law enforcement agency, “Yes, we have enough to arrest this guy and prosecute him, but he is our only link to this flow of information that we need to keep open.” I don’t know how “infamous” the wall erected by the Clinton justice department really is; Bill Clinton was President from 1993 until 2001, and during the time of his Presidency there was precisely one foreign terrorist attack within the domestic borders of the United States, in the first World Trade Center bombing, prior to the creation of this infamous wall. Reading the 9/11 Commission Report, particularly section on the run up to the day of September 11th (pp. 254-266, for reference) shows that there was no dearth of intelligence, only a lack of action. In fact, it can be definitely said that one of the problems with our system of national intelligence is that it failed to separate good information from the bad; this is information overload, which is actually a problem that is *increased* when information is “de-stovepiped”.
Such “stovepiping” of information must not continue. We need to build on the Bush administration’s efforts, such as the USA Patriot Act, to break down the barriers among federal agencies and between foreign and domestic intelligence.
What needs to be broken down are not the barriers of information flow, but the barriers of cooperation.
The Patriot Act removed barriers to information sharing between the intelligence community and law enforcement, but there is still more to do.
The Patriot Act also accomplished a great number of other things.
We must guard against the danger that the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence will become just another layer of bureaucracy that impedes the information flow rather than facilitates it.
Agreed, but again this danger is less about information flow and more about impeding action.
And we need to pay close attention to unsettling lower-court decisions that raise the specter of the wall’s reemergence, and to the weakening of the Patriot Act by judicial fiat.
I’m not sure what Mr. Giuliani is arguing for here, unless it is an overthrow of our current three-branch system of government. If the Patriot Act does not pass Constitutional muster, weakening it by judicial fiat is simply the proper process of our system of checks and balances preventing one branch of government from over-reaching itself.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enacted in 1978 to exclude eavesdropping on foreign communications from judicial oversight, must be modernized and expanded to encompass not just phones, as the current law does, but also newer technologies, such as the fax machine and the Internet.
Actually, Mr. Giuliani, FISA was enacted to do the exact opposite; to allow eavesdropping on foreign communications under judicial oversight.
Antiquated laws—enacted when such technologies weren’t part of everyday life—cannot be allowed to hamstring our federal law enforcement and foreign intelligence services.
Antiquated laws can’t be allowed to hamstring our federal law enforcement or foreign intelligence services? Like, say, Miranda vs. Arizona? The First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution?
Some members of Congress want to throw as many legal obstacles as possible in front of FBI agents and intelligence officers as they try to intercept communications between known al-Qaida leaders and U.S.-based operatives who will carry out attacks. This is the last thing we should do.
I highly doubt that a single member of Congress, regardless of political party, is interested in preventing communications between known al-Qaida leaders and U.S.-based operatives. I do know that some members of Congress are interested in preventing the FBI and intelligence officers from intercepting all domestic communications on the offhand chance that some communications might be between al-Qaida leaders and U.S.-based operatives.
Getting and keeping federal agencies communicating with one another isn’t enough. An effective homeland security plan also has to establish links to, and make use of, the valuable information collected by the country’s 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers. We should view these officers as counterterrorism resources—“first preventers,” as the Manhattan Institute’s R. P. Eddy calls them.
Certainly, this makes some sense. However, again, remember the problem of information overload -> just establishing information channels and throwing data through them does not provide a net result of a more effective intelligence service.
Even beyond uniformed services, people such as DMV clerks, and even everyday citizens, may notice clues that would help law enforcement identify would-be terrorists. It was a clerk at Circuit City, after all, who provided the key tip that enabled federal authorities to stop the Fort Dix plot.
(We should also reform liability laws so that individuals who act in good faith, such as those who report suspicious behavior on airplanes, will not get sued for trying to help their fellow citizens. Fortunately, a law authored by Representative Peter King was recently passed to protect Americans who do just that.)
I like Good Samaritan Laws, which protect doctors and EMTs and firefighters from being sued for trying to help. I’m not so keen on laws that tell every paranoid idiot that there are no repercussions to calling the police because you live in fear of a statistically insignificant event.
To gather and analyze such useful information, first preventers can be assisted by the widespread implementation of a “Terrorstat” program, an idea proposed by former NYPD commissioner William Bratton and criminologist George Kelling. Terrorstat would build on the proven principles of Compstat, the computerized crimemapping system developed by the New York Police Department in the 1990s and now used by police departments nationwide. By bringing all crime and arrest data together by category and by neighborhood, Compstat revolutionized policing, enabling officers to focus their efforts in problem areas, armed with up-to-the-minute, accurate intelligence, rapid deployment of resources, individual accountability, and relentless follow-up. Terrorstat would do the same for counterterrorism.
Terrorstat would not only capture information about terrorism-related arrests and distribute it to law enforcement officials; it would also fuse that information with data on arrests for crimes that on the surface seem unrelated to terrorism but may prove to be precursors to an attack. The investigation of the ordinary can help prevent the extraordinary.
I admit I don’t know enough of the details of “Compstat” to really critique this, but this seems like building a second system with reduced functionality. I can’t see what would be included in “Terrorstat” that wouldn’t already exist in “Compstat”, I’d love to hear what sort of activity would fall under the umbrella of “terrorism-related arrests” and “crimes that seem unrelated to terrorism” that wouldn’t already fall under the category, “all crime and arrest data by category”. Any ideas, anyone?
Terrorists prepare for their activities with preattack surveillance and finance them with ordinary criminal actions. Consider a 2005 plot in which a jihadist cell aimed to unleash a wave of violence in Southern California. One of the conspirators made the mistake of dropping his cell phone during what appeared to be a straightforward gas-station robbery in Torrance, California. Local police drew information from the phone that set off an FBI-led investigation that eventually unraveled the plot. Or consider the case of Dhiren Barot, a now-imprisoned al-Qaida operative who developed detailed pre-attack surveillance reports before 9/11 on major financial buildings in Washington, D.C., New York, and New Jersey. None of the security guards at any of the facilities that he cased, including the World Bank, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Prudential building in Newark, detected him. He was captured only after the CIA raided a terrorist safe house in Pakistan in 2004 and found Barot’s casing reports on a computer.
I’m considering them. They seem to be unrelated examples. In one, basic criminal activity led to a terrorist; in the other, activity that would be difficult to classify as criminal led to a terrorist going by undetected.
The Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with state homeland security offices, should train public and private security personnel around the nation to recognize and report terrorist pre-attack activity. Terrorstat would provide a simple, structured, and consistent way for security personnel to report information to a larger intelligence network, including the National Counterterrorism Center—leading to investigations that can disrupt terrorist plots before they result in deadly attacks.
Ah, now I see. So the difference between Terrorstat and Compstat is that Terrorstat is a system that public and private security personnel can use, and can enter data into. So, now instead of having a government created and maintained No-Fly list or Terrorist Watch list, we’ll have a system that everyone who qualifies as “security personnel” can manipulate. Given the incredible failure of the Terrorist Watch list due to inaccurate data (spoiler, Mr. Giuliani brings this up later, so I won’t find a reference to support that here), creating a new system that accepts a huge amount of input from largely untrained personnel seems like a horrendously bad idea. Mouth off to a security guard? Better not run a red light with a gas can in the back of your truck, you might be tagged as a potential firebomber.
Homeland security and border security are inseparable in the twenty-first century. The story of Ra’ed al-Banna is a chilling reminder of why. On June 14, 2003, al-Banna was denied entry into the U.S. at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport by Customs and Border Protection inspectors, who questioned him after their Automated Targeting System identified him as warranting further scrutiny. On February 28, 2005, al-Banna blew up himself and at least 125 others outside a health clinic in Hilla, Iraq. It was one of the deadliest suicide bombings committed by al-Qaida in Iraq. We’ll never know if al-Banna was coming to the U.S. to inflict similar harm, but strong border security prevented him from having the opportunity.
This is actually a perfect example of a security *failure*, not a security success, and there are at least 125 people who would attest to that fact if they weren’t already dead. If our security apparatus is good enough to tag someone as “warranting further scrutiny”, but not good enough to provide evidence that leads to their arrest and detainment, the subject is free to walk away and plan a new attack. al-Banna could just as easily flown to Ontario, where he would not be subject to ATS screening, and driven across the Canadian border and blown himself up in Chicago. This illustrates not that “more border security” == “better homeland security”, it instead illustrates that keeping terrorists out of the country is more a matter of luck than border security. More on that later.
Still, a recent National Intelligence Estimate concluded that al-Qaida is intensifying its efforts to place operatives within the United States. Security must improve at official ports of entry like O’Hare, as well as along our porous land borders.
This is another example of Mr. Giuliani considering something as necessary without discussing costs and benefits. If we improve security at official ports of entry and along our land borders, it may indeed make it more difficult for al-Qaida to get operatives inside the country. However, perfect border security is an impossibility. Therefore, we must regard “securing our border” as a matter of how much it costs for each measure we deploy to help our border security, and how much additional border securiy we get with each of these measures. Does “building a fence” increase border security? Certainly, but how much? If the average cost per mile is $2.9 million dollars, and the total linear length of the border is 7,521.25 miles, this costs $21,811,625,000. How big of a barrier is it? Is that $21 billion dollars really going to help keep that many people out of the country? I highly doubt it.
Ending illegal immigration and identifying every noncitizen in the nation are crucial to preventing terror.
Non sequitur. Ending illegal immigration would not have stopped Ted Kaczynski, or Timothy McVeigh, both of whom were US citizens. Ergo, terrorism will exist with or without illegal immigration. Identifying non-citizens provides zero benefit to security unless we already have them correlated to terrorist activity.
We need a tamperproof biometric ID card for all noncitizens and a single national database of noncitizens in our country that would include information about when they are required to leave. And if noncitizens commit crimes, they should be deported after serving their time.
Regardless of whether or not we need them, tamper proof biometric ID cards do not and never will exist. No one in the security world even uses the term “tamper proof” (“tamper resistant” and “tamper evident” being the terms used by knowledgeable security wonks). Moreover, they provide no benefit whatsoever when the process of handing them out can be suborned.
To bring real order to the border, we should establish a “Borderstat” program, also based on Compstat principles.
I’ll digress temporarily from thoughtful commentary at this point and say, “Lockbox”.
Borderstat would use technology to monitor illegal border crossings and compare them with captures. It would enable us to hold field commanders—including border patrol sector chiefs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents in charge—accountable for what goes on in their areas.
Oh, the metrics, how we love them. It’s nice to have a method to hold field commanders accountable. Knowing the scale of the task of guarding our land borders (8,893 kilometers on the Canadian border and 3,141 kilometers on the Mexican border), however, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the primary output from Borderstat would be to tell us that we simply don’t have the resources to secure this much linear distance.
The successful completion of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), ongoing since 2006—which promises to help us gain control of the borders through the construction of both physical and virtual technological fences—will be an essential step in this effort. Through the installation of sophisticated monitoring technology, we will finally be able to determine with certainty where the holes in our border defenses are and target the resources to fill them.
Even before the completion of SBI, however, we can use Borderstat to monitor incidents better along the border—shootings, petty crimes, and garbage dumping—that indicate illegal crossings and deploy border law enforcement resources to where they can have the most impact. Borderstat will apply a version of the Broken Windows policing theory to our borders.
Whether or not illegal immigration specifically leads to a higher crime rate is a matter of debate. I’m uncertain how shootings, petty crimes, and garbage dumping correlates with illegal crossings statistically and would love to see Mr. Giuliani’s sources here.
Though we must make America more secure, we must also show our friends around the world that America is a country open for business, not a closed-door fortress. The best and the brightest should come to America—to study here, to work here, and in some cases to become American citizens.
One of the rare instances in this piece that I find myself in accordance with Mr. Giuliani’s views, and wish he focused more on this than the bogeyman of terrorists.
It is only through this process that we will deepen the connections between America and the Islamic world that will prove essential in prevailing over radical Islamic extremism.
I disagree. It is not enough for us to encourage the best and brightest of the Muslim word to leave their countries and come and study and work here. This merely means that the best and brightest and most cosmopolitan Muslims will be leaving the ones with least opportunity and most resentment to the West back home, and coming here. Culture exchange is a two-way street.
I’m about halfway through this analysis, and I’ll have to break this down into manageable parts. Part II coming…