Enlist nation's finest minds to fight terror

September 22, 2002|By Harlan Ullman

WASHINGTON -- Before the United States establishes a Department of Homeland Security, our elected leaders must recognize that certain ingredients are missing.

For all of the post-Sept. 11 retrospection, the role of this new department is still unclear. No one has yet shown how the nation will be safer because of it. The legislation has not closed or addressed major organizational gaps, including those between intelligence and law enforcement duties.

Despite the legislation, national security still remains organized largely on Cold War assumptions and the 1947 National Security Act. That law established the National Security Council and the CIA, and integrated the War and Navy departments, along with the newly created Air Force, into a single agency that became the Defense Department in 1949.

The organization was "vertical," or "stovepiped," meaning each department was often sealed off from the others. In the more black-and-white world of the Cold War, intelligence could be kept separate and distinct from law enforcement.

Against the seemingly monolithic threat of the Soviet Union, this organization, with its separate military, diplomatic, intelligence and economic stovepipes, worked well. But terror and villains such as Osama bin Laden represent a cause, not a country, and are a "horizontal" danger that cuts across this otherwise vertical organization.

In that light, dissatisfaction with the performance and organization of the government because of its failure to anticipate Sept. 11 is better understood.

In its February 2001 report, the Commission on U.S. National Security Strategy concluded that the current security establishment was "dysfunctional." One reason was too many offices with overlapping jurisdiction and insufficient authority, responsibility and accountability to act decisively.

What to do?

In an ideal world, the 1947 law would be revised. But the threat of fundamentally disrupting the old system makes any revision extraordinarily tough. Therefore, the easier political step is to use the new Department of Homeland Security as a surrogate for real reform.

Of the department's four principal duties proposed in the White House version of the law, information analysis and infrastructure protection (IAIP) would most significantly contribute to the physical defense of the country. It is here that several of the missing ingredients can be added. History helps suggest how.

Bletchley Park and the Manhattan Project had a powerful influence on winning World War II. Set in an English country house, Bletchley brought together many of the finest minds to break Nazi codes. The Manhattan Project, under Gen. Leslie R. Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer, built the atom bomb. Without either, the war would have been a great deal bloodier and longer.

Both of them stand as the models for recruiting the best and the brightest, and modern versions of both are needed today. Without them, an IAIP division within the new homeland security agency will lack the tools it needs, and the organizational divides between intelligence and law enforcement will remain. But to work, these capabilities must be intimately interrelated and considerably broader in scope than their World War II predecessors.

A new Bletchley Park would assemble the finest minds of today from both the physical and social sciences to break the "codes" of terrorism in the widest sense -- how terrorists think and are motivated, where they are likely to attack and how they can be stopped or disrupted.

Armed with a fuller understanding of the vulnerabilities of American society and how terrorists operate, a new and multifaceted version of the Manhattan Project could draw on the full spectrum of physical and social sciences to deploy operational means and strategic solutions to safeguard the nation along a broad front.

This group of best minds would be the centerpiece for the IAIP division that would produce intellectual and then practical solutions to deal with the war on terror. No more than 100 people would be needed, and probably 30 to 50 people would be the optimum number divided roughly between information analysis and infrastructure protection. The academic, research and business worlds, including the media, would be the biggest source for these people. They would remain for the duration of the war.

With this capacity, the new department could focus and guide protective action at local, federal and even international levels. This would go a long way toward protecting the nation.

The better solution would be to revise the 1947 law. But, as the Navy Seabees promise, the difficult can be done quickly, the impossible takes a bit longer. And unless or until these missing ingredients are corrected, winning the war against terror is at risk.

Harlan Ullman is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the CNA Corporation, two Washington think tanks. His latest book is Unfinished Business: Afghanistan, the Middle East and Beyond -- Defusing the Dangers that Threaten America's Security (Kensington Books, 2002).

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