What do you think of when you hear the term Homeland Security? Do you think of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001? Do you remember the shock and fear of the period following 9/11, when the Bush Administration created the Office of Homeland Security? The invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Al-Qaeda?
Most of us had never heard of Al-Qaeda before; we barely recalled the previous attempt on the World Trade Center. Maybe you remember the speedy passing of the PATRIOT Act; and the rumors that began circulating about the World War II Nazi Government having had a department called Homeland Security, in German. It seemed a spooky name then.
It still sounds a bit spooky today. Speak the name Department of Homeland Security and people get quiet. Ever see the expression on someone’s face when they are feeling a little superstitious and fearful? Ever see the expression on someone’s face when they are trying very hard to not look superstitious, suspicious, and fearful? Yeah that’s the look.
It’s a careful, neutral, kind of expression; the kind that says ‘great, now I have the willies; and I am wondering if you are going to report me to the American version of the Soviet era cold war KGB. Am I going to be dragged away for interrogation and torture? Must. Not. Look. Terrified.’ The subject politely gets changed quickly and smoothly.
When I changed majors for grad school, it was like I had confirmed everyone’s worst fears about me. ‘Yep. I knew it, first, she’s working for that security company, now she is studying this Homeland Security stuff; She’s a fascist. We’re all doomed, she knows too much about us and now, the FBI, the NSA, and the CIA are gonna come take us away.’
Of course nobody ever actually says anything like that; but most of my friends and family are nosy, inquisitive, people. When they don’t ask about something they know you are doing, it’s because either they aren’t interested (rare since most are nosy), or they have preconceived notions and are a little nervous or afraid of the answers.
The Department of Homeland Security was established by order of the Homeland Security Act of 2002; in part prompted by the 9/11 attacks, and also by the delivery of a biological agent (Anthrax) through the U.S. Postal Service. The name predates Nazi Germany and World War II by some 20-30 years.
It was used in U.S. military manuals to specify the domestic side of the term National Security, which refers to safeguarding U.S. territory, people, assets, and property both within the borders as well as outside of the borders of the United States. Prior to 9/11, two topics had come to the attention of the Clinton Administration:
- The vulnerability and interdependence of critical infrastructure within the United States including cyber infrastructure
The initial focus of the Department of Homeland Security was to defend the country and its people from another 9/11 level attack. Use of the Post Office for delivering biological agents to unsuspecting targets served to illustrate that not only are critical infrastructure and key resources vulnerable to attack, they can be used as routes of attack.
The Department of Homeland Security is basically an umbrella organization under which several other Federal agencies are organized and coordinated to work with state, county, city, municipality, or tribal counterparts in the effort to protect critical infrastructure. Over the years, the focus has moved away from specifically terrorism.
Now, DHS is tasked with assisting the public (government from the Federal to the municipality or tribal governments) sector and the private sector (Big Business) in protecting life and property from catastrophic losses regardless of whether it is a hazard or a threat: natural disaster related or man-made, accidental, or deliberate.
Why is this important? For starters, about 85% of CIKR are businesses in the private sector; they are privately owned. These businesses, much like non-CIKR businesses all contribute to the national economy; usually in the form of supplying citizens with jobs and paychecks which allow them to buy goods and services, feed families, live indoors.
Are you wondering what critical infrastructure is? The full term is critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR), and it is the network of public and private sector organizations that keep our civilizations functional and people alive. It is the systems that, should they fail by accident or design, for an indefinite period of time, people will die; lots of people.
This is the energy system and power grid; the food and agriculture system; the water system; healthcare and emergency services system; the economic and financial services system; the communications and IT system; the transportation and distribution system; the military and national defense system; all of which is connected like Dominoes.
If one system collapses it affects the functionality of other systems; some more than others, but generally speaking the longer the duration of the disruption, the greater the risk of wide scale loss of life. It can mean the death of thousands, the loss of whole communities, the end of cities, and the failure of entire nations.
It is the Department of Homeland Security’s job to talk sweetly and gently to your employers about safety and security, about vulnerability and risk, about contingency and continuity planning in the event of a major disaster. It is DHS’s job to make sure that the general public is kept informed, that education and training opportunities are available.
The Department of Homeland Security has many different agencies under its umbrella, but then again, so does the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the Intelligence Community. DHS is also indelibly shaped by the policies of each Presidential Administration, and dependent on Congress for funding.
Why is that important? Because we have a growing problem in this country with conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists hell-bent on turning the Federal Government into a Bogeyman. Something to frighten grown adults with, not just little children. Specifically, DHS; and the same people spinning the stories profit by them.
To be sure some of the agencies under DHS’s umbrella are caught between a rock and a hard place due to current Presidential Administration and Congressional policies and directives. That is also true of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and the Intelligence Community; but then isn’t that true for every Administration and Congress?
Homeland Security is part of National Security; but it is the part that keeps your power on, the water running, and safe to drink, the garbage getting picked up, the food getting distributed to the grocery stores, the roadways passable, the police, fire rescue, and EMS available to come save you 24/7, 365 days a year, and hospitals stocked and operational.
It is the part that keeps communities safe so you can go to work, get paid, pay bills and then go online to complain about it all. It does its best to keep this country running and not running rampant with warlords hell-bent on conscripting you into their criminal cartels, their warlord militias, or just raping and murdering you as a lesson to others.
The next time you read some internet meme or article that spouts anti-federal government “fake news” propaganda, and especially if it asks you to “like” and “share”, think about the following list. This is the list of Failed States as of 2017 with a score of 101.1 or above, according to the Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index:
Ethiopia (101.1), Zimbabwe (101.6), Nigeria (101.6), Guinea (102.4), Haiti (105.3), Iraq (105.4), Afghanistan (107.3), Chad (109.4), Democratic Republic of the Congo (110.0), Syria (110.6), Sudan (110.6), Yemen (111.1), Central African Republic (112.6), Somalia (113.4), and South Sudan (113.9).
With another 20 nations with scores between 90.5 and 99.5. People live in those countries; they try to go to school, to go to work, to run businesses, to get medical treatment, to eat, to drink clean water, to live without being threatened, assaulted, or killed. They don’t have the infrastructure we have; but then we don’t live in a war zone.
For perspective, the United States is ranked at 158 out of 178 countries, with an index of 35.6. Finland has the lowest index at 18.7 and thus is the most stable and sustainable nation in the world. We are incredibly lucky; and much of the credit goes to the men and women who work in that spooky bogeyman, the Department of Homeland Security.
Thanks for reading, and cheers!
Clarke, R. (2001, January 25). Presidential Policy Initiative/Review–The Al-Qida Network. Retrieved from https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB147/clarke%20memo.pdf
Department of Homeland Security (n.d.). Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved from https://www.dhs.gov/
Fund for Peace (2017). Fragile States Index. Retrieved from http://fundforpeace.org/fsi/
Logan, K.G. & Ramsey, J.D. (2012). Introduction to Homeland Security. Philadelphia, Westview Press.