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Immediately after September 11, the Brookings Institution began a comprehensive, multidisciplinary project focused on the key policy challenge of these dangerous times —assessing and improving homeland defense. That intense effort produced Protecting the American Homeland, and it continues in this important new book.
In Protecting the Homeland 2006/2007, Brookings foreign policy experts analyze current homeland security concerns and the adequacy (or inadequacy) of current policies designed to address them. The authors present both the big picture and the smaller components of homeland security policy that make up the whole. They make specific recommendations on intelligence reform, science and technology policy and the protection of critical infrastructure within the United States. They also look ahead to consider what dangers we should anticipate and plan for, recommending policies that will work to that end.
One of the strands running through Protecting the Homeland 2006/2007 is the need to "stitch the seams" in our homeland security blanket through greater integration and coordination. The authors emphasize that the U.S. federal government must work together with key partners who have been insufficiently integrated into American homeland security activities to date. These actors include foreign governments, state and local government, and the private sector, and the coordination must occur in several different areas (e.g. border protection, finance, technology, intelligence). The U.S. government should not —indeed, it cannot —do it alone. By its very nature, homeland security is a problem that defies the usual bureaucratic boundaries. Effective homeland security policy demands intense collaboration on new issues and between organizations that have not traditionally needed each other.
This book is of interest and importance to journalists, analysts, policymakers, scholars, and citizens concerned with protecting their homeland against terrorism and related dangers.
Michael O'Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro
How good have America's defenses against terrorism become in the years since September 11, 2001? The absence of any further attacks on American soil suggests that the country's security has improved. That fact is likely due to a combination of offensive military and law enforcement operations that have left al Qaeda and associated jihadist groups at least temporarily unable to attempt major strikes in the United States, and perhaps to some extent good luck as well. The subject of homeland security is so new that it is difficult to assess progress at the analytical level. And in Washington, it has also become a politically charged question in a country that is increasingly polarized along partisan lines.
Four years into the war on terrorism, homeland security is becoming not just an issue of immediate urgency but one of enduring importance. With that in mind, the authors of this book review the progress made in defending the U.S. homeland in the last four years, assess the country's remaining vulnerabilities, and introduce some new policy initiatives to improve U.S. security.
It is difficult to offer any firmjudgment about the net effect of U.S. efforts to date. On one level, an extraordinary amount has been done. A multitude of specific initiatives, to protect everything from cargo to infrastructure, have gone from being mere ideas to being operational programs-at, by bureaucratic standards, astonishing speed. At the same time, entire new bureaucracies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration, have emerged into large functioning organizations. Even in the face of tragedies like September 11, governments are rarely capable of reacting so rapidly and so radically to newly perceived challenges.
But clearly much remains to be done. The quiescence of the last four years cannot obscure the fact that determined and ruthless enemies, inspired by the ideology of al Qaeda and the example of September 11, remain intent on carrying out major strikes against American targets. Moreover, for all of the federal government's activity, there remain pockets of puzzling inactivity and many glaring deficiencies in the efforts undertaken to date. State and local governments, widely acknowledged to be critical to both prevention of attacks and management of the consequences, have not been sufficiently integrated into federal efforts. Similarly, the private sector has only begun to contribute to homeland security. As a result, targets that ultimately need to be protected at the local level-skyscrapers and chemical plants, for example-have inconsistent protection or none. Terrorists continue to slip across international borders because no permanent regime has been created for gathering and sharing information, even with some of America's closest allies.
Even within the federal government, obvious problems remain. The Department of Homeland Security was created in large part to address a key pre-9/11 government failure-the so-called "connect-the-dots" problem. That image is meant to imply, of course, that the information necessary to prevent terrorist attacks often exists in pieces throughout the government but is never integrated in a way that reveals its significance. However, creating the Department of Homeland Security has proven a more daunting task than initially imagined. Although its accomplishments to date have actually been reasonable by normal standards of institution building, they leave much to be desired and much to be done. Hurricane Katrina, for example, revealed that whatever else the creation of DHS might have done, it certainly did not improve the Federal Emergency Management Agency's near-term response capacity for disasters, despite a budget increase.
The key challenge at this juncture is clearly not just to eliminate remaining vulnerabilities but also to establish priorities. This book attempts to do that. It is written in the form of individual chapters by different authors; taken together, the chapters compose not so much an alternative strategy as an agenda for change in terms of a number of specific proposals.
Where We Are Today
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, a good deal has been done to improve the safety of Americans. Much of that improvement has come from offensive operations abroad-the military overthrow of the Taliban and associated attacks against al Qaeda, as well as the intelligence and covert operations conducted by the United States in conjunction with key allies such as Pakistan. These steps have reduced the threat of the kind of attacks the country suffered so tragically more than four years ago.
Homeland security efforts have improved too. Now aware of the harm that terrorists that can inflict, Americans are more alert, providing a first, crucial line of defense. Air travel is much safer, following measures such as screening all passenger luggage, installing hardened cockpit doors on all large American commercial aircraft, employing thousands of air marshals, and arming some pilots on commercial and cargo flights.
Intelligence sharing has improved, especially concerning information about specific individuals suspected of terrorist ties, through increased integration of databases and greater collaboration between the FBI and the intelligence community-the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), and so forth. These initial efforts have now been reinforced by the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Such database linkages can enable offensive operations abroad; they can also assist greatly in the more defensive, but equally critical, domain of homeland security operations.
The share of FBI resources devoted to counterterrorism has doubled, and the combined total of CIA and FBI personnel working on terrorist financing alone has increased from less than a dozen to more than 300 since September 2001. International cooperation in sharing information on suspected terrorists has improved, extending beyond countries that have been helpful over many years, such as France and Britain, to include many other states, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that now take the threat more seriously.
Additional efforts have also been initiated, a number in response to the 2001 anthrax attacks and others in response to information gained in prisoner interrogations and other intelligence efforts. Suspicious ships entering U.S. waters are now screened more frequently. The country's exposure to biological attacks has been lessened by stockpiling of hundreds of millions of doses of antibiotics and enough smallpox vaccine for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Oversight rules have been tightened on labs working with biological materials, though actual implementation of those rules, including completion of background checks on lab employees, has lagged. Terrorism insurance is now backstopped by a new federal program. Certain types of major infrastructure, such as well-known bridges and tunnels, are protected by police and National Guard forces during terrorism alerts. Nuclear reactors have better protection than before. Federal agencies are required to have security programs for their information technology networks, and many private firms have backed up their headquarters and their databanks so that operations could continue after the catastrophic loss of a main site.
The United States has prepared fairly well to fight the last war-that is, to stop the kinds of attacks that it has already experienced. However, much less has been done to thwart other kinds of plausible strikes. It made sense to move quickly to prevent al Qaeda, with its long-standing interest in airplanes, from easily repeating the 9/11 attacks. But it is time to do a more comprehensive and forward-looking job of protecting the American people.
Al Qaeda may not be as capable as before of "spectacular" attacks in coming years. But it is certainly still capable of using explosives and small arms, with considerable lethality. It may be able to use surface-to-air missiles and other methods of attack as well. There have not been more attacks on the American homeland since 9/11, but according to an October 2005 speech by President Bush, the United States has disrupted three attempted al Qaeda strikes inside the United States and intercepted at least five more terrorist efforts to case targets or infiltrate the country. Moreover, the years 2002, 2003, and 2004 have been among the most lethal in the history of global terrorism, with attacks afflicting a wide swath of countries, from Spain to Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Indonesia-and, of course, Iraq. The pattern continued in 2005, and the July 7 attacks in London that year reminded Americans of their continued vulnerability and demonstrated to America's enemies the potentially dramatic effects of even small-scale attacks.
A UN study in early 2005 argued that al Qaeda continues to have easy access to financial resources and bomb-making materials. There were serious worries that al Qaeda would use truck bombs to destroy key financial institutions in New York, Newark, and Washington in 2004. The "shoe bomber," Richard Reid, attempted to destroy an airplane headed to the United States in 2002. U.S. intelligence reports in early 2005 suggested the possibility of attacks using private aircraft or helicopters. Al Qaeda prisoner interviewers and confiscated documents suggested other possible attacks, ranging from blowing up gas stations to poisoning water supplies, using crop dusters to spread biological weapons, and detonating radioactive "dirty bombs." And according to Richard Falkenrath, former homeland security deputy adviser, the country's chemical industry, as well as much of its ground transportation infrastructure, remains quite vulnerable.
Although al Qaeda has been weakened at the top, it remains extremely dangerous. It is now less a vertical organization and more a symbol of an ideology uniting loosely affiliated local groups that share similar goals-and that, like terrorist groups in general, watch and learn from each other. Former CIA director George Tenet put it succinctly in 2004: "Successive blows to al Qaeda's central leadership have transformed the organization into a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously." There are benefits from this dispersal of al Qaeda; for example, the near-term risk of sophisticated catastrophic attacks has probably declined as a result. But the risk of smaller and sometimes quite deadly strikes clearly has not-and the possibility of further catastrophic attacks may well increase in the future.
The benefits gained by depriving al Qaeda of its sanctuary in Afghanistan may not be permanent. Over the years, al Qaeda has shown enormous adaptability. It may ultimately learn to reconstitute itself with a less formal and more virtual, horizontal network. It may also learn how to avoid terrorist watch lists with some effectiveness by using new recruits-possibly including women, non-Arabs, and European passport holders-to conduct future attacks against Western countries. The United States is fortunate not to have, as far as it can determine, many al Qaeda cells presently on its soil, as several European countries do. It will be challenging, however, to keep things that way.
In response to a question about whether he was surprised that there had not been another attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, Tom Ridge, then the secretary of homeland security said, "I'm grateful. That's a better way to put it ... many things have been done that have altered their [the terrorists'] environment. ... But maybe they just weren't ready. They are strategic thinkers. Even if we've altered their environment and our environment here, they aren't going to go away. They're just going to think of another way to go at the same target or look for another target." CIA director Porter Goss told Congress in February 2005: "It may be only a matter of time before al Qaeda or another group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons." DHS has conducted "red cell" exercises involving a diverse range of creative outside thinkers to contemplate new ways that al Qaeda might attack, but policy responses to such possibilities have typically been limited in scope and scale.
The Iraq war, whatever its merits, appears not to have alleviated the global terrorism problem. In fact, it is quite possible that it has made it worse by aiding al Qaeda's recruiting efforts and providing an opportunity for a core of hardened terrorists to hone their skills and tighten their organizational networks. To quote Goss again, "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists. These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism." The National Intelligence Council reached a similar conclusion in its 2004 report.
It is simply not possible to defend a large, open, advanced society from all possible types of terrorism. The United States contains more than a half-million bridges, 500 skyscrapers, nearly 200,000 miles of natural gas pipelines, more than 2,800 power plants-the list of critical infrastructure alone is far too long to protect everything, to say nothing of subways, restaurants, movie theaters, schools, and malls. Certain special measures, such as providing tight security and even electronic jamming (against the possibility of global positioning system-guided munitions attack) around the nation's 104 nuclear power plants, clearly cannot, at reasonable cost, be extended to all possible targets.
But to say that the nation cannot do everything is not to argue for inaction. There is a strong case for taking additional steps to reduce the risk of catastrophic attack. Al Qaeda's leadership seems to prefer such attacks for their symbolic effect and potential political consequences; it is also such tragedies that most jeopardize the country's overall well-being.
Catastrophic attacks include, of course, those that cause large numbers of direct casualties. They also include strikes causing few casualties but serious ripple effects, especially in the economic domain. If a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile took down an airplane, casualties might be modest-depending on the plane, only a few dozen people might be killed-but the effects on the nation's air travel could be devastating and longer lasting than those of September 11, 2001. Similarly, the use in an urban area of a weapon that uses a conventional explosive to disperse radioactive material would be unlikely to kill many people, but it could cause mass panic and would probably require a very costly and time-consuming cleanup and spur the adoption of disruptive security measures throughout the country.
Even in areas where homeland security has improved, deficiencies often remain. For example, while antibiotic stocks for addressing an anthrax attack are now fairly robust, means of quickly delivering the antibiotics appear still to be lacking. In the domain of air travel, passengers are not generally screened for explosives, cargo carried on commercial jets is generally not inspected, and private aircraft face minimal security scrutiny. Perhaps most of all, whatever the security improvements made by U.S. carriers, fewer have been made by many foreign carriers that transport large numbers of Americans to and from the United States. Moreover, longer-term worries about biological attacks remain acute, since there could be many types of infectious agents for which antidotes and vaccines would prove unavailable (or nonexistent) when they were most needed. And as noted, the private sector has, for the most part, done very little to protect itself.
It would be a mistake to assume that the creation of the Department of Homeland Security will automatically lead to better protection against such threats. Such institutional reorganizations can distract attention from efforts to identify remaining key U.S. vulnerabilities and mitigate them. These problems were, of course, witnessed during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, despite the substantial increase in resources that FEMA received after 9/11.
Excerpted from Protecting the Homeland 2006/2007 by Michael d'Arcy Michael O'Hanlon Peter Orszag Jeremy Shapiro James Steinberg Copyright © 2006 by Brookings Institution Press . Excerpted by permission.
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