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Was the Department of Homeland Security a Mistake?

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The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brought about immediate questions of reasoning and efficacy.  The mission of DHS is to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards including managing our borders, administering immigration laws, securing cyberspace, and ensuring disaster resilience.  There are over 20 different federal departments and agencies shoved into one giant government redundancy. It is a microcosm of an already giant, bloated government intelligence apparatus now amassed into one agency.

Specifically, there are approximately 17 government intelligence agencies that do Intelligence work. In addition, various cooperative agencies including FEMA and the Red Cross, have ancillary missions creating multiple government overlaps and redundancies in nearly every entity. And yet further combining these similar agencies into one is the quintessential definitions of redundancy and confusion. DHS is the Frankenstein monster created from the missions of all these other agencies combined into this ‘Rube Goldberg’ solution. DHS is trying to do the job of all the other agencies that appeared to be failing on their own. Why would this Frankenstein work any better?

It is a microcosm of an already giant, bloated government intelligence apparatus now amassed into one agency.

Obviously, the terrible galvanizing failure of ‘9/11’ was the catalyst to DHS’s creation. In addition, there also existed a history of mission failure in the Intelligence Community (IC) to further promote the decision. Examples like the supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq are just one of the more notable. Assuming enough IC failures amounted to warrant change, then why not make changes individual to each agency rather than duplicating and combining departments to further amass more unnecessary government overlap.

Since the missions were the same, maybe the DHS acquired better personnel? Although an absurd notion, even if that had been the idea, then why not replace the other agencies with these better personnel? Or in conjunction, why not start pairing down some of the senior leadership that was in charge at the time of these disasters? Subsequently, it could be inferred that big government cannot actually solve problems, but can only make more, big government and thus more problems.

The government starting downsizing in the 90’s to reduce both civilian government and military personnel with subsequent military facility and base closings. For the military, a program was created specifically focused on rank reduction, excluding generals/admirals with nearly all civilians in the rank of GS-13 and below reduced. Senior leadership was the most protected. In the case of the closings, it can be argued that the money saved on government closings was eclipsed by repairing selected facilities and creating new ones. One of these being the Veterans Administration (VA), which has been as disaster for over half a century. The deputy director said on a radio program recently that the loud clamor to burn the agency to the ground misses the point of all the ancillary medical advances and claims of success. In a cancer magazine that was decrying the poor success of the VA, one of the doctors quoted a fairly common mantra of those that have to attempt getting service from the VA when he stated, ‘’At its best it is adversarial, and at its worse, it is waiting for us to die.”  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was cited for its lack of impartiality when there were claims that it was unfairly targeting the Tea Party.  The two agencies alone have created a large amount of distrust for many of our government.

…it could be inferred that big government cannot actually solve problems, but can only make more, big government and thus more problems.

Attempting to resolve some of DHS’s criticism, the new director admits there are issues with the agency including a lack of morale. His solution was to get input from 3,000 of the 226,000 DHS personnel and the previous directors to change the mission statement to fifteen words. “With honor and integrity, we safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values” replacing the previously seventy-one-word mission. The new director intended this new statement to unify all DHS employees. He obviously believed a new streamlined mission statement would actually accomplish something.  The act reflects the same ineffectual notion as the DHS itself.

Of course, in any discussion regarding why DHS should exist there must also be an accompanying one regarding the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).  If the debate about DHS is about lack of competence, then the debate about DNI is lack of cooperation. It was believed that all the intelligence pieces existed to apprehend or thwart the perpetrators of ‘9/11.’The issue remained that the intelligence community has had a history of treating intelligence information as proprietary, and a natural reluctance to share as part of its culture. Many in the IC are briefed on Secret Compartmented Information (SCI).  Colloquially, this concept is referred to as ‘a need to know.’  Thus, keeping information safe by not needlessly disseminating it to those that do not have a reason to view it. While the concept has its merits, the logic keeps those that do research from some information that could be useful to their task at hand. How far should this be taken? When border security does not share with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) there is often times needless mistakes and self-defeating labor. ‘9/11’ was the quintessential example, and with this we cannot know all of the other missed chances for potential intelligence community successes.

Lack of cooperation furthers the issue when the IC community exists in a culture promoting the notion to guard or keep what is one’s own. Clearly, this is not a good idea where the goal is to protect our country.  This lack of cooperation has plagued the IC for decades. The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) reticence to share was demonstrated in many ways. There was an actual CIA office at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for the purpose of allowing appropriate personnel ability to sign and read, not copy or release, CIA material. This concept seemed so detrimental to the job of protecting the U.S. that supervisors of the DIA task force during Desert Storm passed CIA material anyway, or anything that would help the war cause, to be disseminated throughout the task force.

At what point then do we declare failure with the big government concept, knowing that it is systematically and culturally impossible to achieve IC cooperation…

During this time the community was trying to chip away at this culture by implementing a reciprocal ‘community badge.’ Ironically, DIA would accept CIA, but the CIA would not accept DIA’s regardless of the DIA personnel frustration. Although not broadcasted, the DIA would send out ‘taskers’ to its personnel to verify if you had any evidence that CIA was working on DIA’s missions. This was done usually before September or October for budgetary wars with congress. This lack of cooperation continued through ‘9/11.’

The creation of DNI and DHS was from the same logic, to circumvent the IC’s lack of cooperation. DNI replaced the DCI to do the same thing: channel final intelligence findings to brief the president. The bottom line is that this dichotomous coupling of both DHS and DNI was created yet still the government could not get the IC to cooperate and do their job effectively. At what point then do we declare failure with the big government concept, knowing that it is systematically and culturally impossible to achieve IC cooperation to the extent desired, and that additional layers of bureaucracy only slow the mission of all entities involved that we so desperately need them to accomplish?

By Joe Boatwright

Joe Boatwright is an OpsLens Contributor and a retired Military Intelligence officer with experience as a senior analyst throughout the intelligence community, to include the CIA, DIA, the State Department, National Counterterrorism Center, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and National Reconnaissance Office.

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