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To Protect and Defend the Homeland

November 2003
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Military refines its role in national security efforts.

The U.S. Defense Department is bringing its expertise on the battlefield to the home front. Under the direction of an organization that was chartered less than eight months ago, the department is taking aim at those who would do the nation harm, assisting law enforcement and federal agencies with technical capabilities and proficiency in tactics, techniques and procedures. Although this is not a new mission for the military, it is an indication of the department’s resolve to win the war against terrorism.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the department has restructured some of its infrastructure. The U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) was established as the unified combatant command for homeland defense, with U.S. Pacific Command adding that duty to its list of responsibilities for Hawaii. Other combatant commands have been combined or assigned new tasks to address the urgency of homeland defense. Military assets are monitoring the nation’s seas and skies.

After thoroughly assessing requirements and tasks, the Defense Department re-examined its role in national defense and last March created the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense–Homeland Defense. The office focuses the department’s homeland defense work in three areas: coordinating traditional military missions such as air patrols; cooperating with civilian authorities during emergency situations, including natural disasters; and providing department support at special events such as the Olympics.

Peter F. Verga, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, explains that the overarching national-level homeland security strategy is to prevent terrorist attacks, to reduce the United States’ vulnerability to acts of terrorism, and to handle response and recovery efforts. The Defense Department contributes to this effort in two traditional ways. It defends the United States, its people and territories, and it makes available its special capabilities to civilian authorities when needed.

Verga emphasizes that homeland defense and homeland security are not interchangeable. Although the working name of the office included the designation “homeland security,” once the duties were clarified, the name was changed because “security” connotes law enforcement. After the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was established, it became apparent that it would enforce the law in civil arenas. “That’s not what the Department of Defense does. Historically and traditionally, the role of the United States military has been very circumscribed in the civilian arena,” he explains.

In the United States, the distinction between civilian authority and Defense Department responsibilities during emergencies such as a terrorist attack is rather unique, Verga states. In other countries, the military is primarily in charge. The United States, however, has consistently empowered states and the federal government to handle law enforcement, while the military remains in charge of national defense and protection.

Although the duties are delineated, interaction, synchronization and cooperation are clearly required, he notes. In terms of prevention, for example, because the threat is global, military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are part of the first homeland security mission of preventing acts of terrorism.

On the international front, the department also must ensure that intelligence applicable to homeland security gathered from overseas reaches the appropriate U.S. authorities. If the military disrupts terrorist activities in other countries, for example, homeland security agencies must be notified. In addition, if a weapon of mass destruction shipment is identified, the military may be called upon to handle the situation before a ship reaches U.S. shores.

Within the United States, Verga’s office will work with state and local authorities in several ways. If an attack occurs, the Defense Department will become involved incrementally. Initially, local authorities will respond, calling for state or regional support if needed. In the event that federal resources are required, the Homeland Security Department will assess the problem, determine what is needed then turn to federal agencies for assistance. Some of the required capabilities may reside in the Defense Department, Verga says.

The department will support local efforts in other ways such as developing technology and moving applicable capabilities to civilian first responders. This type of assistance is not new, Verga points out. For instance, the military developed thermal imaging and night-vision devices that have been adopted by the civilian community.

In Verga’s vision of homeland security, civilian agencies will continue to function as they have in the past. Capabilities will be built up at the local government level so federal resources are not always required. Although the department cannot finance equipment for local agencies, it can conduct the research and development to bring the costs down so they are more affordable, he says.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2003 requires that an individual be designated to ensure that this type of technology transfer transpires in an organized manner. This process will take place in cooperation with the Homeland Security Department, Verga says. “The analogy I like to use is that we’ll do it at the wholesale level, but they’ll do it at the retail level because they’re the ones that will have the direct connection with the state and local response networks,” he explains. At times, industry may have to reconfigure military equipment so that it meets civilian needs and is affordable to local jurisdictions, he adds.

Verga notes that the Defense Department has a variety of resources that assist both homeland defense and homeland security. Imaging and mapping, research and development, and logistics all play critical roles in defense and security, and the department will make these available to the Homeland Security Department. Additionally, the military will share its expertise in program management, planning and communications.

While supporting activities outside of the department, Verga’s office will continue to fulfill its responsibilities within the armed forces. Cooperation and collaboration between the Defense Department’s homeland defense office and NORTHCOM are constant, Verga states. The two organizations participate in each other’s daily briefings where current situations as well as long-range plans are discussed. The office also is the resource advocate within the Office of the Secretary of Defense for homeland defense and civil support needs. “As NORTHCOM determines a particular set of assets they might need or particular capabilities or forces, we work with them to make it happen. Those are the longer range items,” he explains.

Verga believes the new office embodies Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of transformation as it deals with issues from a capabilities-based perspective. “The Defense Department has a lot of capability that can be brought to bear on a whole variety of problems. And that’s better than having a whole bunch of specific programs or weapon systems or ‘things’ that can only be used in limited circumstances. That’s the way we’re approaching our homeland security, homeland defense and civil support missions,” he says. “What we expect other agencies to do is to come to the Defense Department with a problem, not with a request for a particular piece of equipment.”

One example of this approach occurred last fall during the sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area. A government agency asked the department to fly a specific type of unmanned aerial vehicle to conduct surveillance. “What they really wanted was the ability to provide long-range, long-dwell, day/night observation of a particular area. That’s what we then provided for them, and it turned out that it wasn’t an unmanned vehicle. It was an aircraft that they could put people into who could operate the sensor equipment, and we just provided the platform for them,” he shares. Verga explains that his office must help solve specific problems while keeping in mind its responsibilities around the world.

From a defense perspective, one of the biggest challenges the department faces is bringing the same level of awareness to the maritime domain that currently exists in the air and space arenas. A maritime defense-in-depth strategy is required so threats can be dealt with before ships reach port. “We did some amazing things during the Cold War to track the adversaries’ submarines and surface ships, and we need to do the same kind of thing with potential carriers of weapons of mass destruction. That has a technological component to it; it has an operational component to it; it has a planning component; and it all needs to be coordinated because the information needed for defense in depth comes from a variety of sources. That’s probably the biggest challenge in that area,” Verga says.

For civil support, interoperability is still a challenge, he says, and it is more than just a technical problem. “The technical solution is relatively simple. You roll up to a problem; you have a box of radios; you pass one out to everyone, and everybody can talk to each other. But it’s planning; it’s processes and procedures; it’s all those sorts of factors that make a system work. It’s tactics, techniques and procedures—as we call it in the military—and that gets solved by exercising, by working together. You don’t want to start out a response to an incident by exchanging business cards with people you’ve never seen before,” he says.

The commercial sector can support the office’s missions by developing advanced capabilities in a number of areas. Verga believes that remote sensing technologies that could help identify weapons of mass destruction in the maritime domain would offer one of the biggest payoffs in security and defense. From a communications technology perspective, information sharing, multilevel security and common formats for displaying disparate data are all important. These capabilities must be plentiful and affordable so local jurisdictions can purchase them, he says.

“As a country, one of our huge advantages in any conflict or any war is our industrial base and our technological advantage, and we need to exploit that to the greatest degree possible,” Verga says. He encourages companies to get involved in advanced concept technology demonstrations (ACTDs). A homeland security command and control ACTD program is underway to evaluate technologies, and one demonstration that linked civilian and U.S. Navy systems in Virginia to communications systems in Louisiana has already taken place, he shares. Another ACTD in this venue is scheduled for spring 2004.

Another way for firms to make their solutions known to the Defense Department is through the Technical Support Working Group process in which companies submit descriptions of their offerings to the group. These are evaluated and, in some cases, prototyping funds are awarded.

“We think that it’s important for people to understand the Defense Department’s role in homeland security. The country made a choice after the attacks on September 11th. We could have said, ‘We’re going to put the military in charge,’ like you find in other countries overseas. Or we can do it the way we decided to do it, which was having a civilian organization in charge, and that’s the choice we made. The Defense Department has a very distinct role to play, and the Homeland Security Department has a very distinct lead role to play in the internal security issues. We’re comfortable with the way that’s going,” Verga says.