After the Sept. 11, 2001, the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to keep the American people safe from future terrorist attacks. According to Clark Kent Ervin, the U.S. has failed to take measures to protect vital and vulnerable areas, industries, and locations from terrorist attacks. In his new book, Open Target, Mr. Ervin looks at the mismanagement and security flaws at DHS and identifies the numerous ways that the U.S. still remains open to terrorist attacks through airlines, ports, mass transit, and our infrastructure such as our water supply. He also discusses the agency's fragmented intelligence capabilities and outlines the steps that the U.S. should be taking to prepare and defend ourselves.
Clark Kent Ervin
Clark Kent Ervin, Director of the Homeland Security Initiative, Aspen Institute; Terrorism Analyst for CNN; former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2003-2004); former Inspector General of the State Department under Secretary Powell; and former Assistant Secretary of the State of Texas under President George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas.
Kent Ervin's arguements come off a little vague. The term "classified" information is used mutliple times in the context of security results. While it may be truly classified information, and he may not be able to reveal it at the risk of his personal security and the security of the nation as a whole, still, why does he bring up "classified" info if he cannot discuss it. I am somewhat skeptical over how underfunded the DHS Homeland security department is. I do agree wholeheartedly that the department is mismanaged. The money in most sectors of our government is misallocated and needs to be managed better.
Thank you very much Fred and thanks to each and every one of you. Profuse and extravagantapologies to each of you for my tardiness, if you knew me well you would know that I regardtardiness as a cardinal sin. I'm one of these people, in fact I write about it in the book, whoshowed up at airports two hours early before terrorists forced the rest of the country to do so,so i apologize again to you, thank you very much for staying. I always thought that the length ofany speaker remarks should be commiserate with his or her stature, and as you see I'm a veryshort fellow so I'll keep my formal remarks fairly short so as to leave maximum times forquestions. Thank you very much for having me here. As you just heard I was the InspectorGeneral of the State Department at the very beginning of the Bush administration, so that is howI found myself on the bright sunny morning of Friday, September 7, 2001 in the ornate eighthfloor of the Ben Franklin room of the State Department. Secretary Powell presided a swearingin ceremony for me and my friends. Of course four days later terrorists struck the homeland andour country and I think its fair to say the world, was never the same again. As I watched theevents of September 11 unfold that day and subsequent developments in the country, I did notknow, know of course, that I would ultimately and in not too long a fashion be called uponmyself to play some role with regard to counter terrorism efforts. As efforts began in theCongress to consider the question of whether there ought to be one department focused if notexclusively than primarily on counter terrorism efforts, I must say I was of two minds about thewhole idea. On the one hand it seemed to me logical to think that putting all of the players withregard to homeland security in one department, might make them more likely to play together asone team as opposed to playing against each other, which we all know now was part of theproblem before 9/11. On the other hand i wondered whether, paradoxically, attempting even tocreate a new bureaucracy might wind up making the whole problem of homeland security evenworse. Be that as it may, it was not my decision to make as whether there would be a duedepartment, ultimately of course the decision was made to create such a department and Ifound myself in the fall of 2002 in my office in the State Department receiving a call from theWhite House personnel office asking me to consider being the first Inspector General of thesoon to be created department of Homeland Security. I was very conflicted about whether toaccept that challenge. On the one hand, of course I wanted to pally a role with regard tocounter terrorism events, but I essentially just started at the State Department. Ultimately Idecided to answer the call, so that's how I began my job as the nation's first Inspector General,as you heard, of the Department of Homeland Security on January 24, 2003. Serving in thatcapacity for nearly two years, exiting in December 2004. During the course of my nearly twoyears of the Department of Homeland Security as Inspector General, it was my job to checkmy politics at the door and objectively evaluate the degree to which, in my judgment and that ofmy team of inspectors and auditors and investigators, the leaders of Homeland Security wereliving up to the promise of the name of the Department of Homeland Security. I'm now on theoutside of the Department of Homeland Security looking in, but i still do the same thing,evaluating the performance of the department with regard to what I considered to be thenumber one priority in this country today, protecting us against the, I think, near certainty ofanother attempted attack. I'm often asked, as I travel around the country and talk about mybook Open Target, whether I think America is safer today than we were on 9/11, the oldRonald Regan question as it were from the 1989 campaign. And my answer to that question,surprisingly perhaps, is yes. Certainly in the area of aviation somethings have been done. We'vespent somewhere between 18 to 20 billion dollars since 9/11 to secure the aviation sector andwe have something to show for it as we all know. Cockpit doors are hardened, some pilots arearmed, the number of air marshals was minuscule on 9/11, the number is classified but itssignificantly higher than it was nearly five years ago. And for all the problems with screeners,they're far better trained today than they were then and they are far more sensitized to thecritical role that they play as the last line of defense before another set of what would beterrorists board airplanes. But the question of whether we're safer today than we were thenseems to me is not the only question. And indeed, in the scheme of things, it seems to me, its notthe most important question. The most important questions are, are we as safe as we can be?Are we as safe as we need to be? Are we as safe as we think we are? And sadly for thecountry, I think that the answer to all those questions is no. Let me return to aviation security fora second. Even in the aviation sector, where I purposely began, where I said we've done morethan any other sector, we remain still far more vulnerable to a terrorist attack than we should beall these many years after 9/11. A couple of quick examples, immediately after the terrorattacks, the President, to his credit, asked the Inspector General of the TransportationDepartment, in whose jurisdiction aviation security lay at the time, to undertake a series ofundercover investigations at airports around the country to test the ability of screeners after 9/11to spot deadly weapons concealed on passenger's bodies and in their luggage. The very firstthing that I did when I became the Inspector General of the Homeland Security in January of'03 was to meet with the transportation inspector general to learn the results of his study a fewyears earlier. The results are still classified all these many years later, but to suffice it to say, thatit was far easier than it should have been immediately after the attacks for governmentinvestigators to sneak those weapons through. And my fear of course was, was if it was easyfor government investigators to do that with all due regard for government investigators, it waseasier than it should have been for al-Qaeda to do so too. So the first subsequent project that Itasked my team of inspectors to do once I became the inspector general after that meeting wasto send the very same teams of investigators out to the very same airports two years later in2003 after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, after the transfer of the newlycreated transportation security administration from the Department of Transportation to theDepartment of Homeland Security and after the federalization of the then privatized screenerworkforce to see if any of those changes had made any difference in screener ability to spotthese deadly weapons. The results came in at the end of '03, beginning of '04, they're stillclassified too these many years later, but suffice it to say that when the results came in they wereexactly the same to the decimal point, as were those obtained two years earlier. The very lastthing that I did during my aborted tenure inspector general at the beginning of '04, knowing thatmy tenure was about to end, was to send the same team of investigators back out to the verysame airport two years later to see whether the recommendations that my team and I had madeto make aviation security more secure had in fact been implemented. The results came in after Ileft the department, they came in in April 2005, I happened to be in Manhattan, the city mostaffected by 9/11 in April of 2005 when I noticed a blinking light on my Blackberry, lookeddown to read the message and the message was the latest breaking news story from APreporting that the Inspectors General's office was reporting that the results obtained in the latestundercover investigation of aviation security were exactly the same as those in '03, which ofcourse were exactly the same as those in '01. So no change whatsoever in four years. Can Ireport to you today in June of 2006 that we are safer than we were in April of 2005? Theanswer to that sadly is no. You'll recall last fall TSA relaxed the rules on carrying small knifesand small scissors onto airplanes. The rationale was twofold for that. On the one hand therationale was that well, particularly after the heroism of the passengers in flight United 93 theaverage passenger is not gonna let a couple people with small knifes and small scissors bringdown an aircraft anymore. That was part of the rationale. The second part of the rationale wasthat we can't focus on everything and so giving screener fewer things to worry about mightmake them more likely to focus o n things that are most worthy of attention, namely explosivestoday. In yet, just three weeks ago Congressional investigators working for the GEO reportedthat they were able to sneak bomb parts, bomb components through 21 airports in our countryundetected even though on occasion they went out of their way to attract attention of thescreener workforce. So giving screeners fewer things to worry about does not make themlikelier to focus on what we all agree now is the biggest threat in the air, namely explosives.Which very nicely leads to the second and final point I want to make about aviation security.You know, I'm 47 years old, I grew up in rather working class circumstances in Houston so forme I think its fair to say for a lot of people in the early sixties, air travel was something of aluxury, it wasn't until I was thirteen years old that I took my first plane ride. Well now days, ofcourse, the nature of air travel is such that every American, probably on a weekly, monthlybasis takes a commercial airplane for one purpose or another. So what that means isunbeknownst to most of them, I would wager, at one time or another, every American has beenon a passenger aircraft in the cargo hold of which is some cargo, not luggage, but cargo. About20% of the cargo that travels by air in our country, travels on passenger aircraft, unlike luggagewhich after 9/11 is at least supposed to be inspected 100% of the time and usually is, but that'sa story in itself. Cargo is almost never inspected beforehand. What's supposed to happen is ifthere is specific intelligence indicating that a particular cargo container should be open thatcontainer is supposedly open and there is supposed to be random inspections. But whetherthat's actually done, we don't know because believe it or not, your government in the person ofthe TSA does not do the inspections. Any inspections that are done are done by airlines eventhough the whole point of creating TSA after 9/11 was the recognition that before 9/11, left totheir own devices the airlines would put profit in speed at the expense of security. Now quicklylet me talk briefly about port security. I watched, like all of you political cognoscenti like I the2004 presidential campaign intensely. You'll recall that President Bush and Senator Kerrydisagreed about every single thing except one. And that is the number one threat facing thiscountry is nuclear terrorism, a nuc in a box. And all the experts, from the Brookings Institute onthe left or the Heritage Foundation on the right all agree that the likeliest way for terrorists tosneak a weapon of mass destruction into our country would be through 1 of the 26,000 cargocontainers that come through our 361 seaports in this country. In yet, were inspecting only 6%of those incoming cargo containers. Which means of course that we have no idea of thecontents of the 94%. The targeting system that the Customs Bureau uses to determine what sixpercent to inspect is dangerously flawed according to investigation after investigation. Its largelybased on information about the root that the cargo container takes and the contents of the cargoeven though, of course, its very easy to lie about the contents of the cargo and indeed, believe itor not, the cargo manifest can be amended for up to sixty days after cargo arrives in the UnitedStates. Those who say that cargo cannot be, that we can't do 100% inspection of cargo in thiscountry before the number one threat radiation nuclear weapons who say that we can't do it, itstechnologically infeasible, its economically impractical don't know what they're talking aboutbecause as we sit here tonight it is being done in the world's largest port in the port of HongKong and its not undoing, slowing commerce there and indeed its economically feasible.Experts estimate that for a fee of only $20 per container, which i consider to be ratherreasonable, a program of 100% cargo inspection for radiation could be funded throughout ourcountry and indeed throughout the world. A quick world about mass transit security. We havehad two wake up calls in this country since 9/11 as to the vulnerability of our own mass transitsystems to a terror attack. The Madrid bombings in spring of 2004 of course and the Londonbombings last summer. The good news is that after each of those incidences, our government,the Department of Homeland Security has done all the right things, increased police presence,more bomb sniffing dogs, greater use of bomb and radiation sensors, surveillance cameras andin New York, New Jersey and Salt Lake City for some reason, also random bag searches. Theproblem is all of those measures were either ratcheted back or done away with all together assoon as those events faded from the headlines without recognizing that terrorists could simplyand will simply wait until these measures are no longer in force before they actually begin tolaunch in the attack of our master system. A word about intelligence which Fred mentioned. Ifyou find yourself having difficulty sleeping one night, then I suggest that you turn to theHomeland Security Act and read it. If you do that you will see, I think, that there were twotasks that were intelligence related. That the drafters of the Homeland Security Act intended forthe Department of Homeland Security to perform. One was to serve as the central clearinghouse in the federal government for all information collected from all of our fifteen or sixteenintelligence agencies concerning threats against the homeland because we know now after 9/11that part of the problem was that we really had too much information. A number of agencieshad information pointing to a terrorist attack, but there was no agency whose responsibility itwas to put it all together and see the big picture. The second task was to serve as theconsolidator of the dozen different terrorist watch lists that different government agenciesmaintained before 9/11. That too was a problem, we now know, for example, that the CIA hastwo of the hijackers under scrutiny, in yet they didn't share that information with the StateDepartment in a timely fashion. Had they done so, presumably, hopefully the State Departmentwould have denied those particular hijackers visas to get into the country. Had that informationbeen shared with the FBI after those terrorists had come into the country, perhaps the FBIcould have tracked them down and found them and foiled the plot before it unfolded. That's theimportance of consolidating the information, but however, inexplicably just months after theDepartment of Homeland Security was created, the administration created the Terrorist ThreatIntegration Center now called the National Counter Terrorism Center led by the CIA to serveas the central clearing house for the central clearing house for intelligence information by passingthe departments intelligence unit and then subsequently created the terrorists screening centerled by the FBI to consolidate the terrorists watch lists. So the upshot is the two agencies that bydefault were supposedly in charge of these two key Homeland Security related intelligencetasks before 9/11 the CIA and the FBI were made in charge of those tasks today and theDepartment of Homeland Securities intelligence apparatus is on the outside looking in with itsnose pressed against the glass. So as I say an open target, the next time there are indications inour government of a pending terrorists attack, and incidentally there are those indications today,that are apart of Homeland Security will probably be the last government agency to know aboutit even though it is the agency that is charged with detecting it and then god forbid if it happens,doing everything possible to help us recover from is as quickly as possible. Finally, before theconclusion, a word about emergency preparedness. The only question after 9/11 was when thenext catastrophe would happen. When it would happen, whether it would be man made ornatural and exactly where it would occur. Of course all of those questions were answered lastfall with Katrina, the problem with Katrina is that after all, given the near mathematical precisionwith which meteorologist and seismologists and other practitioners of whether prognosticationsdo their craft given that mathematical precision, we know with near certainty when pendingnatural disasters are going to happen. So Katrina was not just foreseeable, it was foreseen. Inyet, obviously, we were manifestly unprepared for it. If we were unprepared for what wasforeseeable and foreseen, how prepared could we possibly be for a terror attack when there isnever any precise warning as to exactly when and exactly where and exactly how. If terroristshad targets those levies in New Orleans rather than mother nature the result would have beenthe same. Thousands of people without food, water, shelter, medical supplies, no evacuationplan, no clear chain of command, no interpretable conditions and indeed those conditionscontinue to exist to this day. Now a final word, in conclusion, to sum it all up. Why is it that theState of Homeland Security is where it is today all these many years after 9/11? Its as if itseems to me the administration thinks that all it takes to secure the homeland is a Department ofHomeland Security and as I say in the book, a false and dangerous syllogism is about and youwill often hear this explicitly stated by the administration and its defenders on this issue ofhomeland security- we have not been attacked in nearly five years and there is a Department ofHomeland Security, therefore the Department of Homeland Security has prevented an attack. Itis a false syllogism because as I think I've demonstrated just briefly in this talk and as I describein considerable detail in the book that the Department of Homeland Security has had little towith making our country more secure in the last five years. Its a dangerous syllogism because tothink that we're more prepared than we are leads us to under prepare and leads us tounderestimate the threat that we are under. If you follow national news developments as I knowall of you do, just yesterday in fact CBS news and the Baltimore Sun both had reports to theeffect that a terror attack is coming. That was the common theme of both of those reports. Nowthe reports differed in details, one set of details said that the next attack is going to be a largescale one dwarfing 9/11 the other report's experts said that the next attack is going to be a smallone just soft targets. My bet is that both sets of experts are right. They're gonna have a largescale attack and a small scale attack, but the point is all the experts agree that the signs arecoming in yet we are manifestly unprepared for it. Why? And I'll close with this and leave timefor questions. Three things: money. I began by saying that I'm a Republican, I'm a conservative,I want to underscore that here because you don't typically, I think its fair to say, hearconservatives and Republicans calling for greater government spending, but part of the problemwith the Department of Homeland Security is that it has been underfunded from the start. Andthere are some things, arguably, you can do on the cheap. But homeland security, indisputably,is not one of them. I said in a hearing last year that was otherwise uneventful until experts fromthe left and right were both arguing for more money for the Department of Homeland Securitywhereupon a senator, who shall remain nameless out of decorum, stopped them to say, we'renot gonna give significantly more money to the Department of Homeland Security because ifwe're not careful we're gonna wind up spending more money on this than we are the defense ofthe nation. And when he said that it was as if a light bulb went over my head and I said, "ah ha,that's it in a nutshell, that's why we're in this state we're in." There is this bifurcation, thisdisconnect on the part of the thinking on one end of Pennsylvania and the other end ofPennsylvania avenue that there is a difference between homeland security and national securitywhere as to my mind, homeland security should be like charity, beginning at home andspreading abroad. We are in a lot of peril, needless to say,in Iraq and increasingly inAfghanistan as well, but at least, for all the difficulty there, We've got the mightiest war machinein the history of warfare defending our interests. By way of contrast, here at home we are farmore vulnerable to attack than we are there. The second point, leadership. After Katrina,Secretary Chertoff said one of the lessons that we need to take away from that is we needexpert leaders at FEMA. We need people leading at FEMA that know what they're doing.Exactly. But not just at FEMA, Mr. Secretary, but at the top of the department, the middle ofthe department and all throughout the department all 22 components and part of the problem isfrom the beginning the department has lacked the kind of leadership that has experience andexpertise with as I say, the most serious issue facing this country, counter terrorism, and not justthat but the largest and most complex bureaucratic organization of our government in ourhistory. The third and final point, culture. There is a sand, a head in the sand culture in theDepartment of Homeland Security. A refusal to acknowledge the peril that we're in and unlessand until these problems are acknowledged we can not be about the work of solving them. Onequick anecdote to illustrate that point and I'll close. I began by talking about the results of whatwe call the "penetration testing", when we went to those airports, sneaked the guns and knivesand explosives through. When I went to the then head of the TSA, Jim Loy, who ultimately, bythe way, was promoted to become the Deputy Secretary of the Department of HomelandSecurity went to him in '03 to report my findings as to how easy it was to penetrate airportdefenses and I said hypothetically, without getting into classified details, at airport X we found afailure rate of 40%. He stopped me at that point to say,"Clark why are you calling that a failurerate of 40% at that airport? Why not call it a success rate of 60%?" And then I said Jim itdoesn't matter if screener are catching weapons six times out of ten if they're failing to catchthem four times out of ten. In the age of terror when one mistake can mean catastrophe, fourtimes out of ten is four times too many. So as I say in the book, rather than making bad resultsbetter the leaders of the Department of Homeland Security were focused on making bad resultssound better. And as long as that kind of mindset prevails and pervades the Department ofHomeland Security as it does,as I document in the book, to this day America will remain anopen target for another terror attack. Thank you very much and I look forward to your questions.