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What is Homeland Security?

By Jamey Perkins

Homeland Security is a generic term which is used to describe a unified, organized and concerted approach to protecting our nation from terrorist attack. This means that America’s vulnerability to terrorism will be reduced and in the event of such an attack, that damage would be minimized.

The Department of Homeland Security and What it Does

The Office of Homeland Security was created on October 8th 2001 by the Bush administration, as a direct result of the tragic events of 9/11. The President directed that its first job was to produce a National Strategy for Homeland Security. Eight months of intense consultation across the country led to the strategy finally being published in July 2002. This strategy describes four specific goals:

  1. To prevent and disrupt attacks from terrorist organizations and groups;
  2. To protect our people, our resources and our critical infrastructure;
  3. To respond to incidents and recover from them; and
  4. To continue to learn lessons and strengthen the foundation of Homeland Security and ensure our long-term success.

As our understanding and knowledge of terrorism increases and other disasters occur, such as Hurricane Katrina, then the intention will be to learn from them and improve our approach to defending and securing our nation.

The strategy lists six detailed critical mission areas. The first three (intelligence and warning, border and transportation security and domestic counterterrorism) focus on the prevention of terrorism, the fourth and fifth (protecting critical infrastructure, and defending against catastrophic terrorism) focus on reducing national vulnerabilities and the last one (emergency preparedness and response) focuses on minimizing damage in the event of an attack.

Intelligence and Warning

Surprise is the main weapon of the terrorist. If we can predict the actions of a terrorist then we stand an excellent chance of either averting an attack or, if the attack happens, minimizing the potential damage. The key is to develop a warning system that is capable of early detection and makes the maximum use of any and all intelligence gathered. The National Strategy proposed that the analytic capabilities of the FBI be enhanced and that a division called the Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Division be formed within the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security

Border and Transportation Security

Recent events have demonstrated that we have had an over-reliance on two major oceans and friendly neighbours to protect our borders. This confidence and over-reliance is surprising when you consider that the United States shares a 5,525 mile border with Canada and a 1,989 mile border with Mexico. The maritime border has 95,000 miles of shoreline and each year over 500 million people legally enter the country.

The strategy proposed that border security and transportation security be integrated by transferring the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S.Customs Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Transportation Security Agency to the new Department of Homeland Security.

It also proposed that the security of international shipping containers be increased (16 million containers arrive at our shores each year, representing 50 percent of the value of all U.S. imports) and that immigration services be reformed. It was proposed that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) service and enforcement functions be separated to enhance their capability and effectiveness.

Domestic Counterterrorism

A higher priority was assigned to the prevention of terrorism in the United States, including those involved in its support, funding and assistance. The FBI was restructured to enhance and emphasize the prevention of terrorist attacks and the financing of terrorism was targeted and deliberately attacked to cut off this essential lifeline of the terrorist. Where terrorists were identified, they were tracked and detained within the limits of the law and significant resources brought to bring them to justice.

Protecting Critical Infrastructure and Key Assets

Modern society depends heavily on a range of infrastructures, including those required for energy and transportation and also key communications networks such as computers and the internet. If a terrorist is able to disable one or more of these networks then widespread disruption and damage may result. The nation relies heavily on key networks functioning, particularly in an emergency such as a terrorist attack and it identified 13 critical infrastructure networks:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Food
  3. Water
  4. Public Health
  5. Emergency Services
  6. Government
  7. Defense Industrial Base
  8. Information and Telecommunications
  9. Energy
  10. Transportation
  11. Banking and Finance
  12. Chemical Industry
  13. Postal and Shipping

The National Strategy proposed that these critical infrastructures be protected and maintained from both external and internal threats by appropriate improvement and testing. The internal threat is real. For example in the food processing industry, the majority of incidents of food tampering have been the responsibility of disgruntled former employees. It is not difficult to understand what a terrorist might be able to do if they gained the same access.

Defending against Catastrophic Threats

In recent years we have seen a proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. This means that the terrorist has an increased opportunity to gain access to such weapons. Their use also means that the potential exists to cause massive disruption and loss of life. Our detection and response capabilities before 9/11 were limited and as such the National Strategy identified that better methods of detection and improved response capabilities were required to ensure that we have appropriate vaccines and antidotes to mitigate the effects of an attack.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

Despite our best efforts it is possible that we will have to minimize the damage and recover quickly and efficiently from any future terrorist attack. This means a high level of preparedness and ideally a national system that will co-ordinate all our response resources. Such a system will also require that plans and the right equipment and training are in place to be able to mobilize quickly and without warning.

Traditional systems have concentrated on a distinction between “crisis management” and “consequence management”. This distinction is somewhat artificial and the Department of Homeland Security intends to continue to build a national system for incident management. This will require federal, state and local government to work together to ensure that all resources have the appropriate equipment and training and that there is seamless communication between all responders to an attack.

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