Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions about Security to Protect You, Your Family and America

Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions about Security to Protect You, Your Family and America

by Randall Larsen


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OUR OWN WORST ENEMY provides a solid, practical, logical approach to personal security for all Americans and explains why the government is not prepared to help us in a time of crisis (Katrina, 9/11, etc.). Leading homeland security expert Randall J. Larsen details what we must do as citizens to protect ourselves, our families and our assets. The key, Larsen argues, is finally asking the right questions about homeland security, such as:
-"How do we prevent a terrorist organization from becoming a nuclear power?" The media frequently poses the question: "What can we do to ensure that al Qaeda does not smuggle a nuclear weapon into the U.S. through one of our ports?" But the right question should focus on prevention — and the answer is far different from the discussion that dominates the debate and the spending priorities of the Bush Administration and Congress.
-"Who should be in charge of logistics during a major disaster?" Larsen says that it's not the military. The fact is, no one is better at logistics than American businesses such as FedEx, UPS, and Target. OUR OWN WORST ENEMY states that the government should encourage citizens and businesses to be active and learn to "posse up" while looking to the private sector to provide food, water, shelter, and transportation during a natural or man-made crisis.
Larsen offers a strong combination of practical advice (Did you know a $1 mask can save your life in the event of a dirty bomb?) and wise examination of such key issues as the economy, borders and immigration, national health care, personal security, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446580434
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 07/28/2010
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Randall J. Larsen is a leading advisor to the White House, the military and Fortune 500 companies on homeland security as well as the CBS News resident expert on matters relating to disaster, terrorism, and our national preparedness. He is the Director of the Institute for Homeland Security, a nonprofit/nonpartisan research group. He previously served as chairman of the Department of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College. For more information, you can visit www.tihls.org. He has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and USA TODAY.

Read an Excerpt

Our Own Worst Enemy

Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America
By Randall J. Larsen

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2007 Randall Larsen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-446-58043-4

Chapter One


Wrong Questions Produce Wrong Answers

JUST NINE DAYS AFTER THE 9/11 ATTACKS, TWO MEN AND A WOMAN CROSSED Pennsylvania Avenue and approached the northwest entrance to the White House. All three carried briefcases. Security was incredibly tight, and it took them nearly fifteen minutes to clear the metal, explosives, and radiological detectors, and a physical search of their bags. These were not regular times at the White House, and these were not regular guests.

Everything appeared normal, but a uniformed Secret Service agent asked one of the men why he had a surgical mask in his briefcase. The man replied, "Just for demonstration. You saw Mayor Rudy Giuliani wear one at Ground Zero, right?" The three were permitted to enter. They walked down two corridors and up two flights of stairs. After waiting for several minutes in a small room, Vice President Dick Cheney and several of his senior staff members walked into the room. In the same briefcase that contained the surgical mask, not more than ten feet fromwhere the vice president was seated, was a test tube filled with weaponized Bacillus globigii. None of the security devices had detected it.

During that meeting, Vice President Cheney asked the question: "What does a biological weapon look like?"

I pulled the test tube from my briefcase and said, "Sir, it looks like this, and by the way, I did just carry this into your office." I went on to explain that Bacillus globigii is harmless, but physically and even genetically it is nearly identical to Bacillus anthracis-the bacterium that causes anthrax. If you can make the former, you will have no difficulty making the latter.

Two weeks later, Dr. Tara O'Toole, the director of the Center for Biosecurity-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and I walked into CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to meet with the chief of indications and warning. While going through the security checkpoint, I noted the presence of a guard in full battledress uniform and armed with a machine gun (something not often seen at CIA Headquarters). After making eye contact with him, I took the test tube from one pocket, looked at it for a moment to make sure he could see it, and gently placed it in the other. The guard said nothing. Once again, a test tube of weaponized Bacillus globigii was carried into one of the most secure buildings in America.

Three weeks later, the office of Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader, received an envelope filled with a far smaller quantity of weaponized and dangerous Bacillus anthracis. The young intern running the automatic letter-opening machine saw a fine mist of powder emerge from the envelope, and the Capitol Police were summoned. Later that day, all members of Congress and their staffs were evacuated from the Capitol Building and the six congressional office buildings. The Senate Hart Office Building, home to Tom Daschle and his staff, would remain closed for ninety days. It was contaminated with anthrax.

It would be easy to place the responsibility for the two earlier security lapses on the men and women entrusted with guarding the White House and CIA Headquarters. After all, if they can't protect their own house, how can we expect them to protect ours? But centering the blame on these individuals is both unjust and inaccurate. The failure was not one of execution, but of education. This lack of education and understanding of homeland security is the root of our problems. The Secret Service agent saw the test tube in my briefcase, but he asked about the surgical mask. He asked the wrong question. He is not alone.

Since 9/11, the business of homeland security has experienced unprecedented growth, creating a boom market for disciplines such as nuclear, chemical, and biological science, security and intelligence services, and information technology. While American taxpayers continue to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the homeland security machine, media reports inundate us with daily proof of our failures despite our most valiant efforts. My admittance into two highly secure government buildings with a test tube of Bacillus globigii was just one small (fortunately benign) and unreported example. Throughout history, America has proven to be a resilient and formidable world force capable of meeting any challenge head-on and emerging triumphant. So what, if anything, has changed? Why are we struggling with this so-called War on Terror? Certainly it can be argued that the world stage has changed dramatically over the past several decades, due to the end of the Cold War, the emerging threat from previously nonnuclear players, and the advent of state-sponsored terrorism. But in examining the trends and reactions of Congress, the administration, and the homeland security community over the past several years, it has become abundantly clear where America's problem lies. The most formidable military force in the history of mankind, the most brilliant scientists employing the most sophisticated technology available today, the most dedicated civil servants and the most committed, united citizens in the world cannot provide the answers to our problems so long as we continue to ask the wrong questions.

The number one problem of homeland security is that the majority of leaders in the public and private sectors, academics, self-appointed experts, and pundits rush to provide answers before they have properly constructed the questions. This is because they assume the questions have not changed. They are wrong. The questions have changed. The reason for these changes is not al Qaeda or 9/11; the reason is technology. Weapons formerly restricted to the arsenals of large industrialized nation-states are now within reach of small states and some nonstate actors.

In the twenty-first century, biotechnology will change our lives even more than nuclear technology did in the twentieth century. Thirty years ago we didn't have to struggle with the ethical dilemmas of stem cell research and cloning or the threat of genetically engineered bioweapons. But change has not been limited to new types of weapons; it is the entire international environment that has changed.

When I use the term al Qaeda in this book, I am not limiting it to the terrorist group commanded by Osama bin Laden. I use it to describe a loose affiliation of fanatical Islamic terrorists. They go by many names: Jemaah Islamiyah (Indonesia), Islamic Jihad (West Bank and Gaza), Al-Gama al-Islamiyya (Egypt), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami (Pakistan), and the Armed Islamic Group (Algeria). The State Department identifies two dozen Islamic terrorist organizations. Some operations are under the strict command and control of bin Laden, such as the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the USS Cole, and 9/11. Other operations, such as the attacks in Bali, Spain, and London, were planned and executed by al Qaeda affiliates. These affiliates endorse al Qaeda religious guidance that allows for the killing of innocents during a holy war. Their theory is that "true innocents" will go directly to heaven when killed in a jihad. (According to bin Laden, Americans can never be true innocents since our tax dollars pay for the war against al Qaeda.) Some of these affiliates receive training and even limited funding from al Qaeda, while others operate independently except for moral support and religious guidance.

The struggle against al Qaeda is just one aspect of homeland security. If we killed or captured every member, we could declare victory in the war against al Qaeda, but we would continue to face threats to our homeland due to twenty-first-century technology and hatred that is driven by territorial disputes, economic inequalities, oil, water, politics, and religion.

Once we have covered the fundamentals in the first five chapters, the remainder of the book will synthesize the many aspects of homeland security into discussions of:

this new security environment, and the resulting need for new thinking, new rules, and new organizations

the responsibilities of corporate America

preparing your local community

preparing your family

We must change the way we think about security, and this means learning to ask the right questions. Unfortunately, just like that Secret Service agent at the White House, many of our leaders in government and industry, and citizens in our local communities, continue to ask the wrong questions, to the detriment of our national security. Let me provide a few examples.

Since 9/11, many in Congress and the administration have asked the question: "What can we do to ensure that al Qaeda does not smuggle a nuclear weapon into the U.S. through one of our ports?"

Wrong Question

It is highly improbable that a terrorist organization would attempt to deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. in a shipping container, and even if it did, it is highly unlikely that we would detect it-no matter how much we spend on radiological scanning devices. Furthermore, even if we did detect it in a U.S. or foreign port, the terrorists would still have achieved success. Once al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization demonstrates the capability to acquire nuclear weapons, the entire international security equation changes. Life will never be the same for you, your children, or your grandchildren. Even if terrorists explode a device on a ship in mid-ocean, they will have made their point. The explosion will be followed shortly thereafter by the message: "Do what we say or the next three nuclear explosions will be in U.S. cities."

The correct question then is not how we can prevent a nuclear weapon from being smuggled into one of our ports, or how we can prevent a mushroom cloud over an American city. The correct question becomes, "How do we prevent a terrorist organization from becoming a nuclear power?" The answer to that question is far different from the answers that dominate the debate and the spending priorities of the Bush administration and Congress.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is another prime example of asking the wrong questions. We all look to the federal government in times of disaster, and hope it will do a far better job than its response to Katrina. But the federal government should not shoulder all the blame; state and local government failed as well. According to Rich Cooper, the former business liaison director at the Department of Homeland Security, sixteen months before Katrina, the federal government gave $7 million (of your tax dollars) to New Orleans to build an emergency operations center (EOC). Government auditors and reporters haven't been able to find where the money was spent, but it was not used to build an emergency operations center. Had the operations center existed, officials at the federal, state, and local levels would have had a far better picture of what was going on in the hours and days immediately following the hurricane's landfall. This is called situational awareness, and without it, there is no way for leaders to make the right decisions.

During the congressional investigation into the poor response to Katrina by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this lack of situational awareness at the local, state, and federal levels became painfully clear. When the chief of the Homeland Security Operations Center, a retired Marine general, was asked why he didn't sound the alarm within the federal government that the levees had failed and New Orleans was flooding, he said, "I based my decision on what I assessed to be the most reliable information available." As it turns out, this information came from two sources: an Army Corps of Engineer colonel, new to the New Orleans area, who was in an underground bunker miles away from the critical levees; and a cable news TV report showing tipsy residents standing on a completely dry Bourbon Street (the highest area in New Orleans), smiling and saying, "We dodged a bullet."

Apparently, the Homeland Security command center was watching the wrong cable news network. One of America's top homeland security reporters, CNN's Jeanne Meserve, who arrived in New Orleans thirty-six hours before Katrina made landfall, left her makeshift shelter (a parking garage) near the Superdome after the most severe weather subsided. She didn't go to Bourbon Street. Jeanne went with city officials directly to the low ground, the Ninth Ward, and reported massive flooding. Live on the air, she told anchor Wolf Blitzer, "This is Armageddon." Courageous and memorable reporting by Meserve, but situational awareness for federal, state, and local governments should not depend on which news network they are watching in their command centers.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the egregious response to Katrina, but a major share must rest with the state and local governments that failed to properly prepare. On the other hand, we must also expect that key federal leaders be properly prepared for their jobs. Can you imagine a president appointing an attorney general who is not a lawyer, a surgeon general who is not a doctor, or a chairman of the Joint Chiefs who is not a general or an admiral? Emergency management is a profession, and many schools offer graduate programs to prepare those individuals who are interested in making it their career. There are numerous people working at all levels of government with decades of experience in emergency management, and America deserved someone better qualified than Michael Brown. We must expect more from government.

The most frequently asked question about the failed response to Katrina is, "Who is to blame?" I won't qualify this as a wrong question, but I will say that looking for an answer is a wasted effort that quickly gets bogged down in partisan politics, cable news hysteria, and finger pointing among federal, state, and local officials. The answer is so simple that it deserves little attention. Leaders at all levels were not properly prepared. The most important question that citizens and taxpayers should be asking is, "What can we do to avoid such a disaster in the future?" The answer to that question is education at all levels-executive, graduate, undergraduate, high school, elementary school, and for ordinary citizens. (Reading this book is part of the solution.)

Several members of the national media, such as Pam Fessler from National Public Radio, who have studied homeland security and reported on it for several years do a great job of asking the right questions. Unfortunately, too many journalists and reporters cover homeland security as a part-time job, and their work clearly demonstrates their lack of knowledge. While writing this book I have had several calls from both print and broadcast reporters asking me to go on record discussing the fact that most cities are poorly prepared for a mass evacuation. They, and many elected officials ask, "Why aren't we better prepared for such a contingency?"

Wrong Question

When I get this question, I ask them to name a reason why we would have to conduct a mass evacuation, other than for an approaching hurricane. In that particular example, we would have several days to coordinate and execute the evacuation, and our focus should be on how we would evacuate those who require assistance. The American Red Cross estimates this figure to be around 20 percent in most communities. (FYI: The New Orleans Hurricane Plan estimated that one percent of the residents would require assistance, while the American Red Cross estimated the number to be slightly more than the national average-in this case, closer to 24 percent.) For the remainder of scenarios, whether we're talking about dirty bombs, suicide bombers, chemical attacks, pandemics, or another 9/11, rarely, if ever, is a mass evacuation the right solution. The correct questions should focus on creating plans for sheltering-in-place and ensuring that all families have appropriate transportation plans, communication plans, and readiness kits at work and at home.


Excerpted from Our Own Worst Enemy by Randall J. Larsen Copyright © 2007 by Randall Larsen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword     ix
Introduction: Wrong Questions Produce Wrong Answers     1
Perceptions: Wrong Questions Spring from Wrong Perspectives     18
Dangers: Understanding the Weapons of Terrorism     37
Strategy: The Long View     78
Priorities: Where Do We Focus the Spending?     92
Key Issues: New Thinking, New Rules, and New Organizations     136
Corporate America: Their Responsibilities     189
Local Communities: 911 Is a Local Call     226
Your Family: Be Prepared     246
Conclusions: For the Oval Office, the Front Office, and Your Family     269
Family Preparedness List     281
List of Acronyms     283
Bibliography     285
Acknowledgments     289
Index     293

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Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions about Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Aaaahhhh...not my best subject...lol