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Revisiting Homeland Security—Again

February 2010
By Kent R. Schneider

No, the title is not a redundancy. Given all the recent events in homeland security, it appears the whole process will undergo yet another round of reviews. I don’t think any of us would question that security is better today than in 2001. But is it good enough? Probably not.

This next set of reviews will bring about many questions. For example, do the gaps we have seen result strictly from communication and collaboration failures, or are there process shortfalls as well? How do we address each of these problems? Can technology improvements help?

Is industry being drawn enough into the planning? Is there adequate interface and are there clear enough rules between government and industry—such as airlines, private security, energy providers and communications infrastructure providers? If not, how do we fix what is broken or not good enough?

Are the new policies and programs being put in place sufficiently proactive, or are they simply reacting to the latest discovered threat? Are they comprehensive enough to address emerging threats? Again, can industry help more? Is there enough international coordination and cooperation to support these efforts?

How can the intelligence community, law enforcement and the rest of the homeland security structure be better integrated? How can the information flow among these players be more effective?

I would argue that every AFCEA member should be engaged in this debate and in recommending changes and solutions. It does not matter in what part of the world you reside or the role you play. This problem is global and affects the entire global security community. The primary mission of AFCEA remains to promote an ethical dialogue among government, industry and academia on critical issues related to global security. Perhaps the reason past policy and execution have not been broad enough or comprehensive enough is that not enough voices are being heard.

Those in government, industry and academia each have unique perspectives that can be brought to bear on policy formulation and on process and solution development. All of us can help craft public messages as well. In every country I know, when policy comes only from the government without public endorsement, the populace will harbor some concern that the balance between public interest/individual rights and control will tilt in favor of control.

There is no area where these concerns are more profound than in security. Internationally, I have seen many opportunities to do real good that were lost because the value proposition was muddled in public communication and the public turned against the concept.

A good example was the effort to create a national identification card in the United Kingdom. The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair did not do a good job explaining the value proposition, which should have embraced both national entitlements management and security. The media jumped on the perceived negative aspects of implementation—cost and control—and the public lost interest. The enabling legislation, the National Identity Repository Act, was passed by Parliament in 2006, but implementation never followed. Pieces of the original concept eventually may be implemented, but the best opportunity for a comprehensive solution was lost.

It would be unfortunate if similar opportunities to promote comprehensive policy and solutions for international security issues such as transportation and energy were lost because not all the key players were part of the effort and because of poor communication. I believe AFCEA is uniquely positioned to facilitate this dialogue because it has the participation and the global reach to bring a much more comprehensive set of perspectives to the discussion than any other organization I know.

Here are a few ways all members can participate in this dialogue. First, AFCEA International has a Homeland Security Committee. The scope of this committee is broad, and government and industry participation is good. However, there is room for more international participation and by anyone passionate about global security. One of the forums sponsored by the Homeland Security Committee is the Homeland Security Conference, February 24-25, 2010, at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, Washington, D.C. This conference will bring together many of the key government decision makers and industry contributors in this critical security arena. This is a real opportunity for discussion on the key issues of the day.

Many AFCEA chapters worldwide are engaged in homeland/internal security issues at the international/regional/national level as well. These chapter initiatives provide members another opportunity to participate. For example, the Portugal Chapter is hosting a conference this summer in Lisbon addressing security and defense. It will examine the framework for each and the interfaces between the security and defense communities. This provides an opportunity for a comprehensive look at external and internal security, the gaps between these disciplines and the efforts to address these gaps.

No set of issues is more important to our lives today. Do not fail to act. If you have a substantive contribution to make, get it on the table. AFCEA can help that contribution gain visibility with decision makers. We all have too much to lose by failing to stand up now.