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A nation must think before it acts.
On June 29, the Council on Foreign Relations issued a new report stating that the US is dangerously underfunding emergency response capabilities that will be needed after a future terrorist attack. According to task force chair Senator Warren Rudman, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, “If you talk to mayors, to governors, to police chiefs, they are just not ready, and we had better get ready.” As the author of the report that predicted that our nation would suffer a September 11 like-attack, Senator Rudman must know that the far more serious risk is our national failure to invest in effective security.
It is in fact a tragic shortcoming that we have underfunded our “first responders.” More tragic, and more dangerous, is our utter failure to protect our nation and its economy from the attacks themselves. By some estimates, the direct and indirect costs of September 11 have amounted to more than $1 trillion, and are still climbing. The critical issue we face goes beyond more ambulances, and more capable fire and police departments, though these are clearly necessary. A simple shift in the way we think about the terrorist threat, one that takes a clearheaded account of the goals and methods of our enemies, will also permit us to protect vital parts of our economy from their onslaught.
Far from being liberty-hating mass murderers who want to kill as many Americans as they can, al Qaeda seeks to evict us from Islamic lands by bringing about our economic defeat. Their method is to disrupt our economy and society; their success is measured by how effectively they undermine our ability to interfere with their plan to restructure Islam- from Morocco to Indonesia. As our forays into Afghanistan and Iraq illustrate, no nation or group can prevail against the US in a conventional military engagement. Al Qaeda’s preferred method for achieving its objectives is infrastructural warfare, aimed at bringing down our political and economic systems. Viewed through this lens, September 11, though devastating, was a strategic failure. But, as Senator Rudman has repeatedly warned, they will be back. Next time, we may not be as lucky.
Once we understand how al Qaeda is planning, we can provide real homeland security by defending against the most likely consequences of their attacks; by making intelligent choices to defend our energy supply and distribution systems, transportation systems, food/water supplies and healthcare systems. Our leaders, in both the public and private sectors, must set priorities for investments in security that make a real difference in our mutual economic survival. They must carefully assess not just the visible targets (because we know that we cannot protect everything at all times against all attacks), but more critically, the downstream consequences of attacks that may cripple our economy, or the global supply chain on which we have come to depend.
How does one set priorities? How do we evaluate one type of protection and its cost versus other measures? Our colleagues at the Foreign Policy Research Institute developed an evaluation software program for the US Department of Energy and for a major private-sector transnational energy company some years ago. The US General Accounting Office favorably reviewed this software in 1998, but it remains largely unused beyond its role in improving security at our nuclear laboratories. Despite its expressed recognition of the need to set national priorities, the Department of Homeland Security itself remains without any clear method or tool for doing so. We offer ours.
Building on our software tools and processes used by, among others, the Department of Energy, we have developed a method for uniformly assessing security alternatives that we term a “Security Impact Statement” (SIS). We believe that the SIS offers a quick and accurate way to target investments in protection against the terrorist threat. The SIS provides a comprehensive overview of our vulnerabilities in order for managers to make informed decisions about what to protect and how, using the best intelligence and law enforcement data. By fully exploring the value of each alternative security improvement, the SIS allows policy makers to identify the greatest risks we face. Precise and targeted investment may then follow, without the politically expedient, but futile “fair share” methods prevalent today, in which every political subdivision, including those devoid of targets or of significant strategic value, share the limited homeland security budget. Using the SIS procedure in both the public and private sectors will result in clarity of purpose and in improvements to our security.
We need to shift the focus of the homeland security debate from response to prevention, and from disaster relief to economic continuity. Anything less invites catastrophe. Our nation must invest in effective security measures that prevent an al Qaeda victory, in addition to making expenditures that improve cleanup after the next attack occurs.