Homeland Security: Framing the Problem

Kevin O'Prey, Vice President
DFI International

February 21, 2001

This briefing frames the problem of homeland security, but does not provide easy answers. After Khobar Towers, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said that the United States was vulnerable to asymmetric attacks by weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on the battlefield or in the homeland. This issue has been addressed by a number of official commissions: the Gilmore Commission, the National Defense Panel (NDP) and the Hart-Rudman Commission. The Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) 2001 will also address this issue. DFI has developed a framework for how to think about homeland defense and security and the role of the Department of Defense in homeland defense. DFI's approach was not threat-based but used a red team-blue team concept of operations to examine vulnerabilities, assess requirements and explore the likely division of labor between the Department of Defense (DOD) and other federal agencies.

There is little agreement on how "homeland defense" is defined. The White House has defined the term broadly to include national missile defense, counterintelligence, domestic preparedness, and critical infrastructure protection. Secretary Cohen and Deputy Defense Secretary Hamre have limited "homeland defense" to only military support for civilian authorities. In the absence of high-level guidance the services have come out with their own definitions that support their existing missions. The general consensus is that homeland security includes national missile defense, counterterrorism, WMD preparedness, consequence management of WMD events and protection against cyber attacks.

A general proposition is that the threat is alarming but not validated. While potential consequences are unacceptable, the likelihood of a WMD attack on the United States is highly uncertain. In addition, the potential responses are numerous and expensive. However, uncertainty and cost are not excuses for inaction.

Homeland security, like national security, is the responsibility of the White House and broad range of agencies. Homeland defense is DOD's component of homeland security. Within DOD, the principal issue is lack of guidance. As a result, there are shortfalls and redundancies in DOD's efforts to address threats to the homeland. The priority for homeland defense should be comparable to or greater than that for major theater wars. DOD should view homeland defense broadly, considering not just consequence management but also deterrence, engagement and interdiction. The emphasis now is on reaction.

The DFI definition is that homeland defense is the protection of US territory, population and infrastructure through deterrence of and defense against direct attacks as well as the management of the consequences of such attacks. Under this definition, arms smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal immigration are not part of DOD's homeland defense mission.

DOD is already well-organized for the homeland defense mission. There is no need for a homeland defense command, just improved guidance. Thus, an office should be established under the Secretary of Defense, perhaps at the Assistant Secretary of Defense level, to develop guidance and oversee the translation of guidance into strategy and coherent programs. In particular, DOD needs to devote greater attention to shortfalls in preparations for biological warfare defense, border, coastal and maritime surveillance, managing the consequences of a domestic WMD event, and protecting DOD's electronic infrastructure.

DFI also identified requirements beyond DOD to enhance homeland security. A principal issue is prioritization by, and attention from, the White House. A comprehensive national intelligence estimate (NIE) is essential to provide better guidance for investing in homeland defense programs. An interagency restructuring may be necessary but the creation of an interagency working group (IWG) is a good start. The coordination of intelligence, diplomatic and military assets to perform preventive tasks will be more difficult. Within Congress, a select committee will probably not be effective so the formation of an observer group or caucus would be more practical.

Among the spectrum of threats to homeland security there are several problem areas. The threat posed by manned and unmanned aircraft and smuggled nuclear weapons is worth further investments. The START follow-on treaty will require new verification technology that could be used to develop warhead detection systems that could be placed in ports. Larger problems are posed by foreign special operations forces, maritime vessels, cruise missiles, biological weapons, and electronic attacks. The cruise missile threat requires solving surveillance and cuing problems. The problem posed by electronic attacks requires further research as well as a clearer understanding of DOD's responsibilities and vulnerabilities.

Biological weapons pose a very worrisome threat to the United States. Biological warfare is a classic offense-dominant form of warfare; it is easier to deploy biological agents and develop new ones than to develop new vaccines. It is also easier to disseminate these weapons than to detect them. Currently, the United States has the capability to detect biological agents fifteen minutes after an aerosol cloud has passed by requiring everyone in the affected area to go to a hospital for treatment. A detect-to-warn system is required to alert personnel so that they can take countermeasures. DOD's vaccine program is a long-term response only since new vaccines won't be available until 2006-2008. In addition, DOD's medical capability for dealing with an attack with a contagious agent is minimal.

The way ahead requires that the National Security Council (NSC) provide clear definitions of homeland security and homeland defense, and promulgate coherent guidance and prioritization for all agencies. The NSC should also be given the authority to redirect resources and provide earmarked resources to agencies implementing the NSC guidance. Without White House guidance, DOD should proceed on its own, preferably through an office under the Secretary of Defense, to develop, assess and implement new guidance. A comprehensive NIE for the threat to the homeland is also required.

Rapporteur: Gregory Koblentz

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