Changing Homeland Security: What is Homeland Security?

ABSTRACT: There are at least seven defensible definitions of homeland security, based on claims about what homeland security emphasizes or ought to emphasize. The definitions focus on (1) terrorism, (2) all hazards, (3) terrorism and catastrophe, (4) jurisdictional hazards, (5) meta hazards, (6) national security, and (7) government efforts to curtail civil liberties. In a metaphorical sense, each definition represents a set of interests that seeks a niche in the homeland security ecosystem. As in a biological system, these semantic entities struggle for resources that give advantage for organizational or political survival and growth. The resources include space on the public policy agenda, money, semantic dominance, and doctrinal preeminence. The argument has been made that a single definition would be desirable and beneficial for reasons having to do with efficiency and effectiveness. But there is no one authority that can command everyone to use language the same way. Other important and often used terms — like terrorism, justice, disaster, or emergency management — also do not have single definitions. Yet we make progress in understanding and using each of those ideas. The absence of agreement can be seen as grist for the continued evolution of homeland security as a practice and as an idea. Even if people did agree to define homeland security with a single voice, there would still be the matter of behavior. What people, organizations, and jurisdictions do under the homeland security banner is as instructive as how they define the term.

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Suggested Citation

Bellavita, Christopher. “Changing Homeland Security: What is Homeland Security?” Homeland Security Affairs 4, Article 1 (June 2008).

The United States, through a concerted national effort that galvanizes the strengths and capabilities of Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments; the private and non-profit sectors; and regions, communities, and individual citizens — along with our partners in the international community — will work to achieve a secure Homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.

— Homeland Security Vision, 2007 National Strategy 1

The vision announced six years after the September 11, 2001 attacks is another effort to clarify why the nation engages in the activity called homeland security. It draws a picture of everyone working together to ensure the United States remains a free, wealthy, and friendly nation. The vision suggests both the nobility of our hopes and the innocence of an America untainted by globalism’s realpolitik.

One still hears the question asked, “What is homeland security?” Is it a program, an objective, a discipline, an agency, an administrative activity, another word for emergency management? Is it about terrorism? All hazards? Something completely different? 2

Even though there is no explicit agreement about the definition, this does not prevent people from having long and occasionally contentious conversations about the details of homeland security. It is as if we (the people who care about homeland security) carry around a preferred definition in whatever part of the brain holds definitions. We talk about homeland security and only rarely mention what that word means. If words do matter, if we are ever to reach the state envisioned in the Strategy, do we need to know what homeland security is?

There are at least seven defensible definitions of homeland security. 3 These definitions — and there may be more than seven — are “ideal types” (as that phrase was used by Max Weber) 4 and are based on assertions about what homeland security emphasizes or ought to emphasize. In a metaphorical sense, each definition represents a set of interests that claims a niche in the homeland security ecosystem. As in a biological system, these semantic entities struggle for resources to sustain themselves, to grow, and to reproduce their point of view within the rest of the ecosystem. As the homeland security ecosystem continues to evolve and interact with its environment, one can expect variation on particular aspects of the definitions, selection by others of the pieces of the definition that confer the most survival value, and reproduction elsewhere in the ecosystem of particular homeland security definitions. 5

The definitions discussed in this paper draw attention to:

  1. Terrorism. Homeland security is a concerted national effort by federal, state and local governments, by the private sector, and by individuals to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.
  2. All Hazards. Homeland security is a concerted national effort to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks, protect against man-made and natural hazards, and respond to and recover from incidents that do occur.
  3. Terrorism and Catastrophes. Homeland security is what the Department of Homeland Security — supported by other federal agencies — does to prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorist and catastrophic events that affect the security of the United States.
  4. Jurisdictional Hazards. Homeland security means something different in each jurisdiction. It is a locally-directed effort to prevent and prepare for incidents most likely to threaten the safety and security of its citizens.
  5. Meta Hazards. Homeland security is a national effort to prevent or mitigate any social trend or threat that can disrupt the long-term stability of the American way of life.
  6. National Security. Homeland security is an element of national security that works with the other instruments of national power to protect the sovereignty, territory, domestic population, and critical infrastructure of the United States against threats and aggression.
  7. Security Über Alles. Homeland security is a symbol used to justify government efforts to curtail civil liberties.

Why so many definitions? If we had the focus provided by a common definition, we could determine what had to be done to make the homeland secure, provide resources for the appropriate programs, measure our progress, and improve things where needed.

In that construction, homeland security is a type of machine. It consists of parts combined in a particular way to accomplish a function. A common definition of homeland security would guide the behaviors of people who want to make the machine work effectively and efficiently.

Is agreeing on one definition the only way to promote this unity of effort?

One argument says “yes.” This is the “If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?” theory. Absent a clear vision, goal or objective — for our purposes, different ways of saying the same thing — we will not have an effective way to know whether tax money spent in the name of homeland security is doing any good.

A contrary view claims, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up someplace interesting.” In the days following September 11, 2001, the nation stumbled along the edge of chaos. The magnitude of the terrorist threat was unclear. Vulnerable targets were everywhere. The potential consequences of more attacks were unthinkable.

In response, the nation acted. Money was spent for policies, equipment, services, and facilities that had little apparent relationship to any carefully crafted definition of homeland security. 6

The strategy in the early days was “ready, fire, aim.” Aiming happens after one tries a lot of things: Build on what works. Get rid of what does not. The process may not be elegant, but it is an acceptable way to discover what to do in an uncertain and complex environment. 7

Seven years later — almost — is the homeland security environment any less uncertain? Are we any clearer than we were on September 12, 2001 about what homeland security is? Why is there still disagreement, even if only semantic, about what homeland security means?

Homeland Security Is About Terrorism

From a correspondence view of truth, the last question could be rephrased as “What objective reality does the term homeland security refer to?” This view asks if there is (or there ought to be) something concrete in the world that accurately corresponds to “homeland security.” The question asks about the ontology of homeland security.

The events of September 11, 2001 provide a visceral answer to that question. Four planes were hijacked. Three were flown into buildings. One was flown into the earth. Thousands of people died.

No one disputes that homeland security as a national focus resulted directly from that attack. 8 A foundational truth of homeland security is to make sure such an attack does not happen again. That commitment is enshrined both in the original National Strategy For Homeland Security definition and repeated in the Strategy’s October 2007 update:

Homeland security is a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur. 9

The definition is straightforward. It can be adjusted by making it clear that “national effort” includes federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, international partners, and individuals. However, at its core, homeland security is about preventing terrorism and responding appropriately when we are attacked. If we are attacked again in a significant way, discussions about alternative definitions of homeland security will vanish. At least for a while.

Homeland Security Is About All Hazards

There are practical difficulties with the Terrorism definition of homeland security. It does not fully correspond to the behavior taking place under the name of homeland security. There just is not that much terrorism in the United States to warrant spending the billions of dollars we have spent. 10 Many of the same state and local public safety professionals who are expected to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks have other work to do. As one police chief of a major American city said at a 2007 conference, “I had 169 murders in my city last year; Osama bin Laden did not commit one of them.”

Attention given to terrorism issues can be attention taken away from other work — like gangs, drugs, earthquake preparedness, public health services, and getting ready for wildfire or hurricane season.

Another form of this position maintains that the skills, equipment, and knowledge needed to respond to most emergencies (often symbolized by the phrase “all hazards”) will also come into play when people are needed to respond to a terrorist attack. States and communities do not have the resources to focus attention solely on terrorism.

Hurricane Katrina fed the narrative that the attention to terrorism since September 11, 2001 undermined the U.S. emergency preparedness system. 11 Empirically, disasters in their various natural and human-caused guises are much more prevalent than terrorist attacks. 12 If we focus on the actual threats, and on the skills needed to prepare for those threats, homeland security ought to be about all hazards.

One popular textbook echoes this view. “The U.S. government defines homeland security as the domestic effort…to defend America from terrorists. In practice, homeland security efforts have also come to comprise general preparedness under the all-hazards doctrine….” 13

The national government contemplated changing the definition of homeland security for its updated National Strategy. A September 2007 “pre-decisional slide” 14 offered language that captured the all hazards perspective:

Homeland security is a concerted national effort to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks, protect against man-made and natural hazards, and respond to and recover from incidents that do occur. [Emphasis in original]

A DHS employee told me this was the definition the Homeland Security Council wanted, but there were a “few minor bureaucratic and legislative” issues that had to be ironed out first. I was told, in September of 2007, that it would be straightened out within a few weeks. That does not seem to have happened yet.

Authorized or not, a definition of homeland security that includes “all hazards” is probably the de facto definition for many people.

All Hazards Is Not All Hazards

If one looks more closely at the concept of “all hazards” it does not include every imaginable hazard.

All hazards does not literally mean being prepared for any and all hazards that might manifest themselves in a particular community, state or nation. What it does mean is that there are things that commonly occur in many kinds of disasters, such as the need for emergency warning or mass evacuation, that can be addressed in a general plan and that that plan can provide the basis for responding to unexpected events. 15 [Emphasis added]

Therefore, “building capacity to deal with the most probable events will increase capacity to deal with less probable events.” 16

Some advocates of the all hazards view of homeland security maintain that terrorism fits appropriately within the conceptual frames of emergency management. 18 The same tactic is commonly used in Iraq. 19 The Department of Homeland Security grant guidance for 2008, perhaps anticipating a probable future, emphasizes planning for improvised explosive devices in the United States. 20 Terrorists are intelligently adaptive in a way other hazards are not. 21

Mutual aid is a core element in state and city all hazards response plans. One can easily envision mayors and governors not releasing certain emergency assets in the event of widespread and coordinated terrorist attacks on schools, malls, or other targets.

Perhaps more perniciously, a dominant focus on all hazards runs the risk of unintentionally neglecting prevention efforts. Already it is not unusual in discussions of prevention to hear “no one knows what prevention is, anyway; let alone how to measure it.” Or “we’re not going to be able to stop everything.” 22 If we get comfortable saying we cannot stop everything, then assuredly we will be right.

The sensibly intentioned focus on high frequency events (wildfires, floods, and so on) erodes over time the initial motivation for even having something called homeland security. Attention to terrorism risks becoming just another annex in a comprehensive emergency management plan. We can easily return to the days when “we lacked a unifying vision, a cohesive strategic approach, and the necessary institutions within government to secure the Homeland against terrorism.” 23

If the nation is not attacked again in any significant way, “all hazards” is likely to dominate the homeland security ecosystem.

Homeland Security Is About Terrorism and Catastrophes

The National Strategy that defines homeland security as primarily an effort to prevent terrorist attacks also acknowledges that:

Certain non-terrorist events that reach catastrophic levels can have significant implications for homeland security. The resulting national consequences and possible cascading effects from these events might present potential or perceived vulnerabilities that could be exploited, possibly eroding citizens’ confidence in our Nation’s government and ultimately increasing our vulnerability to attack. This Strategy therefore recognizes that effective preparation for catastrophic natural disasters and man-made disasters, while not homeland security per se, can nevertheless increase the security of the Homeland. 24 [Emphasis added]

With one hand, the federal government removes catastrophes from the official definition of homeland security. With the other hand, catastrophes are added back in as a friendly amendment to an informal definition. This action draws attention to homeland security as something that is largely an activity of the federal government. It fits a philosophy that sees the federal government having the primary responsibility to “insure domestic Tranquility and provide for the common defence.” 25

If formalized, such a definition might read as follows: Homeland security is what the Department of Homeland Security — supported by other federal agencies — does to prevent, respond to and recover from terrorist and catastrophic events that affect the security of the United States.

Homeland security is not the same thing as the Department of Homeland Security. 26 Occasionally this has to be mentioned. Even in 2008 it is not unusual to be at a conference of state, local, and federal officials involved in homeland security and have the phrase “homeland security” quickly morph into a synonym for “DHS.” If public safety officials think that way, what must the American people believe?

Allegedly, Secretary Chertoff has to remind people sometimes that he is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Secretary of homeland security. In public presentations, he has cautioned against a “‘Soviet-style’ management, where there’s that heavy hand of government on everything” related to homeland security; some matters, he has said, ought to be state and local concerns. 27

But the earlier discussion about homeland security as All Hazards and the infrequency of domestic terrorism, suggests local governments eventually may be less willing to carry their end of the Homeland Security as Terrorism banner, leaving the bulk of the work to the federal government. This is not because homeland security is unimportant, but because other priorities require more attention and resources.

With some waning exceptions, state and local governments complain that the federal government is paying more attention to terrorism than to other domestic security matters. 28 As one police chief said, “I have a healthy respect for the federal government and the importance of keeping this nation safe…. But I also live every day as a police chief in an American city where violence every day is not foreign and is not anonymous but is right out there in the neighborhoods.” 29 Emergency management specialists have made similar arguments about the dangers to emergency preparedness of attending too much to terrorism. 30

It is not difficult to envision that as more time passes without a terrorist attack, and as other issues make claims on public budgets, homeland security for most locales will be understood, in fact, as what the federal government does.

DHS seems positioned to accept, very reluctantly, this perspective. After reiterating the importance of sharing homeland security responsibilities among levels of government and the private sector, Secretary Chertoff noted,

There are some matters that are national [i.e., federal] responsibilities…. [In] the area of national priorities, we [DHS] actually have to be operators, and we have to focus and make sure we can do those operational incidents…. [This] includes securing our borders…. It includes looking at high-consequence terrorists attacks that could have a national or at least a regional impact…. It involves really catastrophic responses that overwhelm local and state government; and that’s why we’re doing planning with the National Guard and the military for the first time in a way we’ve never done before, so that in that kind of emergency, we really could step in and play a national role. 31

A 2007 report of an exercise simulating a nuclear explosion in an American city made a similar, if not more direct, observation:

The federal government should stop pretending that state and local officials will be able to control the situation on the Day After [a nuclear explosion]. The pretense persists in Washington planning for the Day After that its role is to “support” governors and mayors, who will retain authority and responsibility in the affected area. While this is a reasonable application of our federal system to small and medium-sized emergencies, it is not appropriate for large disasters like a nuclear detonation. As the fiasco after Hurricane Katrina suggests, most cities and states will quickly be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the humanitarian, law and order, and logistical challenges of responding to a nuclear detonation. Yet this fiction persists stubbornly in the nation’s preparedness bureaucracies at all levels: state and local governments guard their supposed “authorities” under the federal system, and Washington seeks to evade responsibility. The result is a failure to plan realistically. Instead, the federal government should plan on the basis that in the event of a nuclear detonation, it will shoulder principal responsibility for all aspects of response. On the first day after the event, of course, federal assets will not yet have made it to the scene. But shortly thereafter they should plan to outnumber and supercede the state and local responders. 32

In some grim but plausible future, the federal government may become the only player on the homeland security stage.

Homeland Security Is About Jurisdictional Hazards

C. Wright Mills wrote, “Let every man be his own methodologist.” 33 The jurisdiction-based view of homeland security analogously argues, “Let everyone come up with his or her own definition.”

Jurisdictions do not all face the same threats or risks. Florida has hurricanes. Montana has wildfires. Ohio has floods. Arkansas has tornadoes. The northwest has earthquakes. The Great Lake states have severe winter storms. New York City, Washington D.C, and other major urban areas risk more terrorist attacks. Each county in the United States has unique experiences with particular hazards.

If we suspend the need for a single national definition, homeland security can be different things to different jurisdictions. This construction can justify using resources provided under the homeland security umbrella for local preparedness priorities. “When we get an announcement about a homeland security grant,” one state emergency management official told me, “we look at what we need across the state for our emergency management priorities. Then we look at what the grant guidelines say we need to do. We try to write the grant so it satisfies the guidelines, but still lets us do what’s important to us, whether or not DHS would agree it’s homeland security. We call that dual use.” 34 In this view, “homeland security” is whatever it needs to be to justify receiving grants.

The “it all depends” perspective may be the most accurate description of how jurisdictions treat — as opposed to define — homeland security. Homeland security thus refers to how jurisdictions actually behave rather than how a policy or strategy says they should behave. It is the homeland security equivalent of “theory in use.” 35

From a public choice perspective, one would expect that officials and citizens in local jurisdictions have the greatest incentive to prepare for incidents that have frequently happened to them and are likely to happen again, whether terrorism, natural or man-made disaster. 36 Homeland security derives its foundation from local experience, not federal decree. A definition that expresses this view might read: Homeland security means something different in each jurisdiction. It is a locally directed effort to prevent and prepare for incidents most likely to threaten the safety and security of its citizens.

This perspective seems also to mirror emergency management. One author describes the importance of tailoring emergency planning to the uniqueness of each jurisdiction:

Emergency planning normally begins with the identification of the disasters that have occurred in a community in the recent past. These are the known and, generally, the most probable hazards. Planners may then focus on the disasters that have occurred in the distant past by going through newspaper archives, history books, and other documents and by interviewing long-time residents. 37

What are the likely incidents that threaten the safety and security of local jurisdictions? One illustrative way to answer the question is to look at major incidents that have occurred in states. A Federal Emergency Management Agency database categorizes four types of disasters. 38 Figure 1 and Table 1 show the types of disasters FEMA recorded between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2007.

Figure 1. Types of Disasters Recorded by FEMA from
September 11, 2001 through December 31, 2007.

Wildfire 336
Severe Storms 224
Flooding 202
Hurricane 105
Winter Storm 102
Fire 85
Tornado 78
Mudslide/Landslide 39
Typhoon 13
Technological Events 6
Earthquake 5
Terrorism 4
Coastal Storm 3
Drought 1
Extreme Temperature 1
Industry Hardship 1
Chem-Bio 0
Dam/Levee Break 0
Nuclear 0
Tsunami 0
Virus 0
Volcano 0

Table 1. Frequency of Disaster Types: September 11, 2001 through December 31, 2007

The disasters listed seem clearly within the purview of emergency management — “the discipline dealing with risk and risk avoidance,” according to one definition. 40 Terrorism appears but once in the previously referenced FEMA data: on September 11, 2001. If homeland security is a part of a doctrine that plans for the most probable incidents, most of the country can safely ignore terrorism as a threat.

The Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute aids efforts to look at jurisdiction-specific vulnerabilities in the United States by identifying county differences in “social vulnerability.” Their work examines “where there is uneven capacity for preparedness and response and where resources might be used most effectively to reduce the pre-existing vulnerability.” 41 The Institute also offers a database (called SHIELDUS) that allows one to identify county-level hazards for eighteen types of incidents that occurred from 1960 through 2005. 42

“Security” is derived from Latin. Its lexical roots describe a condition “without care.” Homeland security, however it is defined, seeks to create conditions so citizens can live without having to care about certain hazards. Figure 2 illustrates how a localized view of homeland security — the representative hazard displayed here is terrorism — can provide an experienced-based, jurisdiction specific homeland security definition. 43

Figure 2. Terrorist Incidents and Clusters

At one level, discussed earlier, “all hazards” means planning for what all emergencies have in common. That focus draws attention to the possibility, if not desirability, of doctrine. At another level, all hazards means planning for the emergencies each community has actually experienced or is likely to experience. This focus draws attention to the uniqueness of disasters to individual communities. All disasters may have some things in common. But for the citizens who go through a disaster, each disaster is unique. In that respect, the security of their most specific and significant homeland — their community — will also be unique.

Homeland Security Is About Meta Hazards

Ecosystems have outliers, entities struggling to find a niche and survive. Tailoring the definition of homeland security for an individual jurisdiction is one end of a continuum. At the other end is a definition that focuses on hazards that affect everyone in the nation.

As noted, “all hazards” does not literally mean all. Some significant perils are neglected. Patrick Massey has written about what he calls generational hazards — hazards “created by present generations … [that] take many decades to metastasize before finally reaching a disastrous end-state that impacts future generations.” 44 Others have written about “slowly moving disasters,” such as famine and droughts. 45 Massey contrasts events “done to us” — terrorism, wildfire, storms, etc. — with what we as a nation do to ourselves. His threat list includes the impact on future generations of:

  1. Growing federal fiscal debt
  2. Global warming
  3. Inferior math, science, and engineering education
  4. Decaying physical infrastructure
  5. The privatization of government services
  6. Dependence on foreign energy
  7. Aging population

To this could be added concerns about inadequate health care, drug-resistant disease, food security, open borders, mass immigration, cyber security, pandemics, foreign ownership of U.S. debt, or other trends that threaten the nation’s long-term survival — including obesity. 46

A definition from this perspective says homeland security could be about practically anything. One might respond, “If homeland security is about everything, it is about nothing.” The nation has finite resources that can effectively be used only to address the most probable and most immediate threats.

But can we risk ignoring generational, slow moving, or very low probability non-terrorist hazards because they are not already in an organization’s portfolio, or they do not occur within an election cycle?

What is the worst that could happen to our national security if the planet actually is warming, if nondiscretionary parts of the federal budget continue to increase, if infrastructure continues to deteriorate, it energy costs continue to rise? What happens to the nation’s security if a disease like SARS “attacks the public health infrastructure and the people who take care of the sick.” 47 Who is responsible for preventing or mitigating hazards like these?

If one extends the National Strategy’s definition of homeland security beyond terrorism to include “all hazards” — as has been proposed — why not keep going and include every important hazard that threatens the nation’s physical, social, and political security? Homeland security is a national effort to prevent or mitigate any social trend or threat that can disrupt the long-term stability of the American way of life.

This definition would position “routine disasters” (such as emergencies, disasters, and perhaps even many catastrophes) 48 as emergency management issues, domestic terrorism primarily as a law enforcement concern, health threats as public health and medical care issues, and so on. Homeland security as a national activity, and the Department of Homeland Security as the central coordinating element for all potential hazards, would transform itself into an endeavor that addresses the significant “meta issues” that fall in the cracks and that otherwise are the responsibility of no single level of government or organization. 49

It is unreasonable to expect homeland security or the Department of Homeland Security to make a shift like this anytime soon. But environments change. One could envision FEMA leaving DHS and regaining its status as a “cabinet-level agency.” 50 Preventing domestic terrorist incidents could return to being primarily a law enforcement responsibility. 51 Airport security might revert back to the private sector, supported by new smart technology. Immigration, border and port security could be integrated into other organizations. In theory, the nation could see a once behemoth DHS outlive its initial purpose. A fanciful idea, doubtlessly; but what if? Can the nation’s understanding of homeland security transcend a comparatively short-term focus on terrorism and disasters?

Homeland Security Is About National Security

The term “national security,” as it is currently understood, reportedly was rarely used before the late 1940s. When President Truman asked Congress in 1945 to establish what initially was called a “national defense council,” the term “defense” was soon replaced by the word “security.” “Defense” seemed too narrow an idea. Security was selected “to emphasize the need for a broad and comprehensive front” to protect the nation. Truman’s effort subsequently led to the creation of the National Security Act and the National Security Council. 52

Sixty years after the National Security Act we again have a distinction between defense and security. Some people believe the divide creates problems. They suggest it is “a distinction without a difference” to differentiate homeland security (protecting against internal threats) and homeland defense (protecting against external threats), one that “impedes the unity of effort between” the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. 53

Sixty years after the National Security Act, why maintain a separation between defense and security? Why not combine homeland security and homeland defense and call the entire project “national security?” If that were done, a homeland security definition might look something like this: Homeland security is an element of national security that works with the other instruments of national power to protect the sovereignty, territory, domestic population, and critical infrastructure of the United States against threats and aggression.

Fusing security and defense has deep roots in U.S. history. Rader describes homeland defense before the Revolution.

[Early] settlers of the Thirteen colonies faced a variety of threats including Indians, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Hollanders and pirates. Lacking the resources to support fulltime soldiers, they met their defense needs with less costly militia. Twelve of thirteen colonies passed legislation requiring each adult male from 16 to 60 “…to own a modern weapon, train regularly with his neighbors, and stand ready to repel any attack on his colony.” 54

Garamone describes how defending the American homeland from external and internal threats has been the first priority of the military since the Republic began. “When George Washington became president in 1789, ‘common defense’ primarily meant two things: defeating a foreign invasion and defending against Indians.” 55

Lowenberg reviews the evolution of these early efforts to protect the homeland from perceived threats. He describes “how the right of the states to raise, maintain and employ their own military forces (known since 1824 as the ‘National Guard’) is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and by the constitutions and statutes of the several states and territories.” 56

One could argue that from an historical perspective, homeland security and homeland defense have, until this century, been essentially the same activity. Larsen and David, writing presciently in October 2000, argue “In the 21st century, the term ‘homeland defense’ is nearly synonymous with how we used the term ‘national security’ in the latter half of the 20th century.” 57 It does not seem strained to incorporate homeland security in their observation.

William Safire, author of what stands as the best description of the origins and uses of the term homeland security, suggests why the formal split between homeland defense and homeland security happened.

[In 1997], the U.S. government got into the homeland act. In the Quadrennial Defense Review mandated by Congress, a defense panel was set up to rethink military strategy up to 2020. The panel foresaw a need to counter potential terrorism and other ”transnational threats to the sovereign territory of the nation.” Its recommendation of an ”increased emphasis on homeland defense” did not get much attention.

Almost one month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the U.S., the Bush administration established an Office of Homeland Security. Why was security substituted for defense? A rationale was set forward that security was the umbrella term, incorporating local and national public-health preparedness for attack, the defense of the nation offered by the armed services, plus the intelligence and internal security activities of the C.I.A., F.B.I. and local police. (In fact, I’m told by secret nomenclature sources, security was chosen because the Defense Department did not want any jurisdictional confusion with the new White House organization.) 58

Potential jurisdictional confusion is one explanation. Another reason is to avoid pressure to share some of the Department of Defense budget (an estimated 500 billion dollars in 2008) with the Department of Homeland Security (whose 2008 budget was less than one-tenth the DoD budget). 59

For some purposes, the Department of Homeland Security is already part of the national security structure. The National Security Act of 1947 (designed primarily to reform the post World War II military and intelligence apparatus) notes that “it is the intent of Congress to provide a comprehensive program for the future security of the United States.60 [Emphasis added] Homeland security arguably is part of a comprehensive program. In SEC.3. (50 U.S.C. 401a), the National Security Act directs that “the term ‘intelligence community’ includes…(J) the elements of the Department of Homeland Security concerned with the analyses of foreign intelligence information.” [Emphasis added]

It is a stretch to say this means Congress wants homeland defense and security to be merged. But it does present a picture of the camel’s nose under the tent.

There is more.

The National Security Act says the National Security Council should advise the president about the “integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security.” 61 Some observers have suggested combining the Homeland Security Council “with the National Security Council to form a single, integrated advisory body” would improve the integration contemplated by the Act. 62

Viewing homeland security as part of the national security apparatus does not imply eliminating state and local public safety involvement, at least for the less-than-catastrophic concerns. But after Hurricane Katrina some elected officials argued that the military should play a much more aggressive role in homeland security, particularly in response activities. 63 Others counseled caution. 64

The Department of Defense however seems unambiguous about the strategic role it wants to assume in homeland security. According to its homeland security doctrine, there is a clear difference between homeland defense and homeland security:

To preserve the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, the Nation must have a homeland that is secure from threats and violence, including terrorism. Homeland security (HS) is the Nation’s first priority, and it requires a national effort. The Department of Defense (DOD) has a key role in that effort. … Critical to understanding the overall relationship is an understanding of the distinction between the role that DOD plays with respect to securing the Nation and HS, and the policy in the NSHS [National Homeland Security Strategy], which has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as the lead. HS at the national level has a specific focus on terrorist threats. The DOD focus in supporting HS is broader. 65 [Emphasis in original document]

Attempts to alter this doctrine will likely meet resistance from defense interests. But future attacks inside the United States or other catastrophes like Katrina may give more impetus to efforts to formally integrate homeland security and defense.

One might claim that in a time of need, homeland security and defense already are integrated. The same military doctrine that separates the two activities allows also for the military to assume a domestic homeland security role:

DOD recognizes that threats planned or inspired by “external” actors may materialize internally. The reference to “external threats” does not limit where or how attacks could be planned and executed. DOD is prepared to conduct homeland defense missions whenever the President, exercising his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief, authorizes military actions. 66

From the perspective sketched in this section, homeland security means preventing and responding to anything that threatens national security. The president of the United States gets to say what that is.

Homeland Security Über Alles

Shortly after 5:00 a.m., a man and woman were awakened by a banging noise downstairs. In a few moments, police surrounded them. The man was arrested, taken to a facility, held for five days, questioned nonstop without access to an attorney, and then released without any action taken against him. 67

This incident happened over twenty years ago, in Northern Ireland. One might have briefly thought this happened in the United States. Some people believe this describes what homeland security could be. For other people, this is homeland security. 68

William Crowe, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “The real danger lies not with what the terrorists can do to us, but what we can do to ourselves when we are spooked.” 69 There is a view that homeland security is a dangerously dysfunctional reaction to being spooked by September 11, 2001. Some people believe homeland security may be a greater threat to the country than terrorism.

For this part of the ecosystem: Homeland security is a symbol used to justify government efforts to curtail civil liberties.

Homeland security in this construction has the status of a meme — “a replicator in human culture that acts in ways similar to the way a gene acts under evolutionary biology principles.” 71 The significance of a meme is not whether the idea it covers is true, but whether the idea is replicated in the culture. 72

Homeland security as a meme stands for more than what DHS or related agencies do programmatically. Homeland Security represents instead an admixture of facts, interpretations, half-truths, emotions, misunderstandings, rumors, and lies about what government does to protect the nation. For example:

Thousands of Arabs in the United States disappeared after 9/11/01. People can be detained indefinitely and incommunicado whether they are American citizens or not. Air travelers — including babies and frail old men in wheelchairs — have to remove parts of their clothing to prove to the government they are not terrorists. Border agents persecute economic refugees. Corporations freely open their customer files to government agents. Secret watch lists are filled with errors that cannot or will not be corrected. Immigration officials separate hard-working parents from their children because the adults do not have the correct “papers.” Racial profiling is increasingly more acceptable. The homeland security alert levels are used only when they have political value. 73 Americans who have done nothing wrong have their telephone calls, e-mail, Internet activity and other communications monitored by secret government agencies. Animal rights and environmental activists are considered terrorists. Video cameras are everywhere. The government is aiming for total awareness of all information. Although he may be twenty years delayed, Big Brother has arrived. 74

The amalgam of fact, anecdote, and myth supports a narrative that “the government” and its corporate masters — one definition of fascism — ignore the Constitution’s guarantee of fundamental liberties to serve specific political and economic interests. And it is all justified in the name of a more secure America.

Corroborating arguments for this view come not just from websites that proclaim the U.S. government covers up the truth about the September 11th attacks. 75 The Constitution is Not A Suicide Pact, proclaims the title of a book written by an intellectually renowned federal judge. Civil liberties and putative inalienable rights can be adjusted to serve public safety needs. 76

“Be careful what you say. Be careful what you do,” the United States Attorney General cautions Americans after September 11, 2001. 77 The Senate majority leader warns “When you’re in this type of conflict, when you’re at war, civil liberties are treated differently.” 78 The opposition leader of the House adds his thoughts: “We’re not going to have all the openness and freedom we have had. We need to find a new balance between freedom and security.” 79 The president vows “we must not let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty, itself. Foreign terrorists and agents must never again be allowed to use our freedoms against us.” 80 Citizens agree. A poll taken shortly after September 11, 2001 found that two thirds of Americans would be willing to give up “some civil liberties” to fight terrorism. 81

Factoids like these are used to support a claim that government-induced fear increasingly rules the nation, and homeland security is its agent.

Judith K. Boyd used memetics to describe the post 9/11 homeland security zeitgeist. She writes how fear has emerged in popular culture as one of four dominant themes surrounding homeland security.

Immediately after the attacks on September 11, 2001, President Bush gave notice to the American public that they were no longer safe: “The American people need to know that we’re facing a different enemy than we have ever faced. This enemy hides in shadows, and has no regard for human life.  This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, runs for cover.” This sense of an enemy lurking in the shadows or living amongst American neighborhoods as part of a sleeper cell waiting to be activated resonated through television, books, and images…. But there is also a sense of fear regarding our own government — what is it doing in secret places with secret things. When the government is not forthcoming about its methodology…the result is that people go to the darkest places of their minds and imagine what could be going on. The result is an image of Homeland Security as an Orwellian Big Brother with the motto “See All, Know All,” taking innocent people “down the rabbit hole as a suspected terrorist,” perhaps even to torture them. 82

The world has seen this strategy of fear and secrecy used before. One author, describing Germany in the 1930s, writes:

What happened…was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it. 83

Fast-forward eight decades to a February 2008 exchange between a magazine writer and an FBI agent:

“The public is never going to see the evidence we have,” [the FBI agent] says. “We don’t want to reveal our hand or tip our sources. You cannot judge the nature of the terrorist threat to the United States based on the public record.”

“But with such strictures,” I ask, “how does a citizen become informed about the threat?”

“I have access to the information,” [the FBI agent] says. “I have a lot of faith in the judgment of the common citizen. A lot of people understand the nature of the threat.” 84

Contemporary writers talk about how the country is Trapped in the War on Terror, and describe how the threat is Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them. 85 They describe how, because of Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, 86 and the Terror Presidency, 87 the nation is Less Safe; Less Free. 88 The Lucifer Effect 89 explains how manipulating situational and group forces can make good people act like Americans did at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Another writer describes how the fear generated by terrorism and other catastrophes gives rise to “disaster capitalism,” and new markets for the private sector. 90

As happened to Germany in the 1930s, government is becoming the people’s master rather than their servant:

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter. 91

One author warns about the potential for “The End of America.” 92 She identifies ten steps required to transform an open society into a dictatorship; the steps are based, she argues, on how this has been done in the past:

  1. Invoke an external and internal threat
  2. Establish secret prisons
  3. Develop a paramilitary force
  4. Surveil ordinary citizens
  5. Infiltrate citizens’ groups
  6. Arbitrarily detain and release citizens
  7. Target key individuals
  8. Restrict the press
  9. Cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason”
  10. Subvert the rule of law

The author believes each of the steps has already been initiated, helped directly by homeland security. At present, she says, “only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us…. Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to Internet shopping and American Idol.” Her concern is not confined to one president’s administration.

What if … there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered [whomever the president is] — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise. 93

The Ecological Battlefield of Homeland Security

In ancient Rome, major wars were often fought simultaneously on many smaller battlefields. Generals fighting in the middle of a battle frequently operated in the blind because there was “great confusion…rumors and misinformation pouring in on both sides from many directions.” Commanders who were able to gain the high ground could see what was going on in the fight and shape their strategic moves. 94 Seeing homeland security from another dimension — in this case observing an ecosystem — might also confer strategic advantage to scholars and practitioners who want to help homeland security evolve.

The intent of this essay was to look for plausible answers to the question, “What is homeland security.” I proposed seven potential definitions, some more tenable than others. I argued that metaphorically, the definitions help describe a homeland security ecosystem. 95 The definitions represent interests seeking to claim resources that give advantage for organizational or political survival and growth. The resources include space on the public policy agenda, money, semantic dominance, and doctrinal preeminence.

Figure 3: What is Homeland Security: Seven Definitions

The argument has been made that a single definition would be desirable and beneficial for a number of reasons, mostly having to do with efficiency and effectiveness criteria. But there is no one authority that can command everyone to use language the same way. Other important and often used terms — like terrorism, justice, disaster, or emergency management — also do not have single definitions. Yet we make progress in understanding and using each of those ideas. The absence of agreement can be seen as grist for the continued evolution of homeland security as a practice and as an idea.

Even if people did agree to define homeland security with a single voice, there would still be the matter of behavior. What people, organizations, and jurisdictions do is as instructive as what they say.

I am unaware of research that comprehensively describes what jurisdictions do behaviorally under the homeland security rubric. But in my experience, the emergency management “community of interest” and the fire services tend to constellate around the All Hazards definition, law enforcement tends to cohere around Homeland Security as Preventing Terrorism, people who work for a federal agency tend toward Terrorism and Major Catastrophes, and the Department of Defense sees homeland security as what civilians do. 96 No doubt there are exceptions to these generalizations.

I have found comparatively few proponents of the Meta, Jurisdictional, or fear-based Security-Over-Everything views. The community that sees Homeland Security as National Security is also small, but in my view it is growing.

Independently of the work done for this paper, a colleague gathered information from fifty homeland security practitioners who were graduates of the Naval Postgraduate School’s homeland security master’s degree program. 97 One question asked was “What does homeland security mean to you?” As shown in Figure 4, almost 40 percent — the largest group — gave a definition that either blended elements of the definitions discussed here, or did not define the term. All Hazards, Terrorism and National Security were the next most frequently mentioned.


Figure 4. What is homeland security? Definitions from 50 Practitioners

So what is the “truth” about all of this? What is homeland security?

A pragmatic view of truth can be represented by something a fire chief told me. “There are lots of definitions, and they will be activated at different times and we each have different roles to play in different scenarios.” 98 A productive research task would be to identify the different times, the different roles, and the different scenarios that trigger the variety of definitions.

One could also derive a correspondence view of the truth — the “objective reality” — by discovering what it is people actually do when they claim to be doing homeland security. That research may have already been done. I am unaware of it.

From a coherence perspective, truth is defined not so much by its correspondence to an objective reality, but rather by how well it adheres to the beliefs and practices of particular communities of interest. 99 Most of the definitions discussed in this paper are based on a coherence view of truth.

Richard Rorty reportedly said, “Truth is what your colleagues let you get away with.” 100 And if your colleagues believe homeland security is about terrorism, about all hazards, or other potential definitions, then that is the truth.

In an ecosystem shaped by Rorty’s image of truth, homeland security is a continuously evolving social construction, a reality shaped by social processes. 101 Those processes can be constrained by semantic stovepipes that insist on one worldview. Expanding one’s network of colleagues who talk and write about these issues can help dissolve stovepipes. Such conversations will contribute to the continued evolution of the homeland security ecosystem.

Christopher Bellavita teaches in the master’s degree program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. An instructor with twenty years experience in security planning and operations, he serves as the director of academic programs for the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Bellavita can be reached at

  1. Homeland Security Council, National Strategy for Homeland Security (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, October 2007), 13.
  2. The July 2002 version of the National Strategy for Homeland Security defines homeland security as “a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.” Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security (Washington, DC: Office of Homeland Security, 2002), 2. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 does not define homeland security. Section 101(b)(1) of the Act, however, takes the National Strategy’s definition of homeland security and makes it the primary mission of the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Defense, in its Joint Publication 1-02 (as Amended Through 04 March 2008), also known as “Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,” defines homeland security a slightly different way: “A concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, major disasters, and other emergencies; and minimize the damage and recover from attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies that occur”(243). The idea of homeland security as a program, an objective, a discipline, an agency, an administrative activity, comes from “Homeland Security – The States’ Focused Efforts for Victory in the War on Terror;” Policy Options Document for the National Governors Association, edited by Glen Woodbury (Unpublished Draft, December 24, 2004), 3. Available from the author.
  3. Defensible in this context means a plausible, if not sometimes compelling case can be made that homeland security is or ought to be considered in a particular way. The “is” case is based on behaviors that are going on under the name homeland security. The “ought” case is based on a desire on the part of some stakeholders to shape how other people view homeland security.
  4. Weberian ideal types are not meant to represent what is normatively “the best,” nor every element that could be included in the definition sets presented in this paper. They are intended to characterize the central features of a particular type. Gerth and Mills in their introduction to Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946) explain ideal types this way: “The term ‘ideal’ has nothing to do with evaluations of any sort. For analytical purposes, one may construct ideal types of prostitution as well as religious leaders. The term does not mean that either prophets or harlots are exemplary or should be imitated as representatives of an ideal way of life.” (59)
  5. For an extended treatment of the application of the Darwinian model to security, see Raphael D. Sagarin and Terence Taylor, eds., Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). For an evolutionary approach to organizations and systems, see P.R. Lawrence and N. Nohria, Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, Warren Bennis signature series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002).
  6. For examples with respect to one homeland security domain, aviation security, see “Airport security technology under scrutiny,” CNET,; “Let Computers Screen Air Baggage,”,; “TSA puts security technology to the test,”, “Airport Security Technology Stuck In the Pipeline,”, “Can someone explain why there are so many different lines to a checkpoint?” Evolution of Security, The argument about the relationship to desired outcome and behavior persists: “TSA will receive $7.1 billion this year, most of which it will spend on screeners at all U.S. airports. However, the probability of attacks in the style of 9/11 dropped close to zero in the few months after the attacks when airlines installed—at relatively low cost—simple cockpit barricades. In theory then, another 9/11 type of attack cannot happen. Since September 2001, however, screening every bag of every airline passenger to prevent another 9/11 type of attack will cost taxpayers over $34 billion by the end of FY2009. Furthermore, screening checked bags does not necessarily reduce the probability of the destruction of airplanes since screeners do not systematically check carry-on bags, air freight, or people for explosives.” Veronique De Rugy, “Facts and Figures about Seven Years of Homeland Security Spending” (Mercatus Center, George Mason University,Working paper No. 08-02, March 2008), 7,,cfilter.0/pub_detail.asp (Internal citations in the quoted material are omitted.)
  7. Larsen argues that this approach — which he terms Ready! Shoot! Aim! — “is a common error in the practice of homeland security” because people have not “taken the time to understand the fundamentals.” R.J. Larsen, Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family and America (New York: Warner Books, 2007), 136. Others have argued that in times of chaos and complexity, doing something — anything — can be a valid method of discovering the right something to do. See, for example, David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review (November 2007).
  8. There was some attention to homeland security prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, but the concept had little public visibility. As noted in the 2007 National Strategy  “Homeland security before September 11 existed as a patchwork of efforts undertaken by disparate departments and agencies across all levels of government.” (3)  The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (known as the Hart-Rudman Commission) detailed much of those pre- September 11, 2001 patchwork efforts. For example, see The United States Commission on National Security/21st Century, Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change (February 15, 2001), 10-29. See also Note 58, below, for information about the origin of the phrase “homeland security.”
  9. Homeland Security Council, National Strategy for Homeland Security (October 2007), 3. United States, Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security (July 2002), 2.
  10. De Rugy, “Facts and Figures,” 2.
  11. See for examples, Eric Holdeman, “Destroying FEMA,” August 30, 2005,; Department of Homeland Security, “A Performance Review of FEMA’s Disaster Management Activities in Response to Hurricane Katrina” (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, March 2006), 2-3. Eric Klinenberg and Thomas Frank, “Looting Homeland Security,” Rolling Stone, December 15, 2005, G. Haddow, J. Bullock, and D.P. Coppola, Introduction to Emergency Management, 3rd Ed. (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007), 1.
  12. For data on this point, see (for terrorist incident information), and (for significant disasters). Wikipedia has a list of terrorist incidents in the United States covering the 1830s to 2008, available at I have not verified the accuracy of that list.
  13. Mark A. Sauter and James Jay Carafano, Homeland Security: A Complete Guide to Understanding, Preventing, and Surviving Terrorism (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), xiv.
  14. See Slide 6 in Anon., “Revising the National Strategy for Homeland Security,” Draft/Pre-Decisional Information, September 2007. (Available from author)
  15. William Waugh, “Terrorism and the All-Hazards Model” revised version of paper presented on the IDS Emergency Management On-Line Conference (June 28-July 16, 2004), 1, The author also indicates “All-hazards planning… is based upon the most likely disasters and the most ‘popular.’” Using all hazards to mean focusing on likely and popular disasters and not all disasters is confusing to someone outside the emergency management community. It is perhaps as confusing as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8’s definition of prevention is to someone outside the homeland security community: “activities undertaken … during the early stages of an incident to reduce the likelihood … of … terrorist attacks.” [Emphasis added]
  16. Waugh, “Terrorism and the All-Hazards Model,” 2.
  17. Bullock, et al, Introduction to Emergency Management, 1st Ed., 91. See also Carol Cwiak, Emergency Management Program Faculty, North Dakota State University “Commentary on Year in Review article” in February 1, 2008 FEMA Emergency Management Higher Education Program Report. (Available from author.)
  18. “2 Bomb Blasts Rock Abortion Clinic at Atlanta; 6 Are Injured,” New York Times, June 14, 2008, “In Latest Atlanta Bombing, 5 Are Injured at a Gay Bar,” New York Times, February 23, 1997,
  19. AOL Video, “Secondary IED detonates near VBIED aftermath,”, On the likelihood of simultaneous attacks, even in the event of a nuclear attack, see Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard, “The Day After: Action in the 24 Hours Following a Nuclear Blast in an American City,” 14-15,
  20. “States Chafing at U.S. Focus on Terrorism,”, May 26, 2008,
  21. Waugh notes, “Terrorism is not like natural or even other man-made hazards. But, then again, a tornado is not like a hurricane and certainly not like an earthquake.” Bullock, et al. (2005) observe that “No hurricane or earthquake has ever advanced a human agenda,” 92. The view expressed in the “all hazards” section of my paper is that an attack by an intelligent enemy places terrorist events in a category substantially different from non-terrorist incidents. It remains an open question, as Waugh writes, “whether terrorism is so different from other threats that the “all-hazards” approach is inappropriate or ineffective,” 1-2. The details in the after-action descriptions of the response to the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Arlington, Virginia — combined with the rarity of such attacks — suggests terrorism is different. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004), 285, 314-315; and Arlington County After-Action Report On The Response To The September 11 Terrorist Attack On The Pentagon (Annex D, no date).
  22. For example, the National Strategy for Homeland Security defines prevention as the nation’s primary homeland security strategic objective. Wayne Blanchard et al., “Principles of Emergency Management,”, write “Emergency management must give greater attention to prevention and mitigation activities.” Elsewhere in the Principles, prevention is defined as a subset of mitigation. Obviously the emergency management community thinks preventing terrorism is important. But it could be argued that incorporating prevention within mitigation is starting out on a path metaphorically analogous to the preeminence FEMA lost when it became a subset of the Department of Homeland Security.
  23. National Homeland Security Strategy (2007), 3.
  24. Ibid.
  25. The words are from the Preamble to the United States Constitution. However, Bullock et al. (2005) argue “The Constitution entrusts the states with responsibility for public health and safety … and assigns the federal government to a secondary role,” 2.
  26. De Rugy points out that the Department of Homeland Security accounts for only slightly more than 50 percent of total federal spending for homeland security.
  27. DHS, “Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to the National Congress for Secure Communities,” December 17, 20007,
  28. “States Chafing at U.S. Focus on Terrorism,”, May 26, 2008,
  29. Ibid.
  30. Holdeman, “Destroying FEMA.” For a pre-Katrina example, see George Haddow, “The Challenges of Emergency Management Planning in 2005,” Disaster Resource, and William M. Arkin, “Natural Disasters Perfunctory Concerns – Early Warning,”, September 15, 2005,
  31. DHS, “Michael Chertoff to National Congress.”
  32. Belfer Center, “The Day After,” 10.
  33. C.W. Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), 224.
  34. May 2008 personal conversation with a senior state emergency management official who wished, for obvious reasons, to remain anonymous. His comment is supported by De Rugy: “Unfortunately, many studies have shown that the government is using a substantial portion of new homeland security spending for politically motivated items that are unlikely to have any effect on terrorism.” DeRugy, “Facts and Figures,” 7.
  35. Chris Argyris, “Teaching Smart People How To Learn,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 1991); Reprinted in Harvard Business Review, Business Classics: Fifteen Key Concepts for Managerial Success (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review, 1991), 152.
  36. For a discussion of the role public choice theory can play in homeland security, see Samuel H. Clovis, Jr., “Federalism, Homeland Security and National Preparedness: A Case Study in the Development of Public Policy,” Homeland Security Affairs II, no. 3 (October 2006),
  37. Waugh, “Terrorism and the All-Hazards Model.” He also adds, “Other hazards may be added to the list if it is determined that there may be some probability of them causing risk to life and/or property or to the environment…. The media, political leaders, influential residents, or influential participants in the planning process or the larger community may encourage attention to hazards of very low probability or even of no discernible possibility…. The point is that these less probable or even improbable hazards may be included in the planning. That’s politics and the planning process is, after all, political as well as technical. It is also human nature. If the community is lucky, the planners give greatest attention to the biggest risks. All-hazards planning, then, is based upon the most likely disasters and the most ‘popular.’” 1.
  38. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The four types of disasters included major disaster declarations, emergency declarations, fire management assistance declarations, and fire suppression authorizations.
  39. Bullock, et al, “Introduction to Emergency Management,” 1st ed., 1. Like “homeland security,” there are different definitions of emergency management. Blanchard, et al., “Principles of Emergency Management” define it as “the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.” Brenda Phillips, in a 2003 paper (available from the author) reviews a number of emergency management definitions and synthesizes what she finds as “the management of risk in order to protect life and property through a comprehensive effort that involves non-linear activities tied to mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.” Brenda D. Phillips, “Disasters by Discipline: necessary dialogue for emergency management education” (October 2003), 8-9. I would like to thanks Carol Cwiak for making me aware of the Phillips’ paper.
  40. Blanchard, et al., “Principles of Emergency Management.”
  41. See “Generally defined, vulnerability is the potential for loss of life or property due to hazards. The hazards-of-place model combines the biophysical vulnerability (physical characteristics of hazards and environment) and social vulnerability to determine an overall place vulnerability. Social vulnerability is represented as the social, economic, demographic, and housing characteristics that influence a community’s ability to respond to, cope with, recover from, and adapt to environmental hazards.”
  43. From Susan L. Cutter, “The Social Vulnerability Index: A County-Level Assessment of Communities and Implications for Preparedness Planning,” presented at First Annual DHS University Network Summit on Research and Education Summit on Research and Education, March 15-16, 2007, (Chart used by permission.) For an interesting discussion of some of the difficulties and potentially negative consequences of localizing too much, see Patrick Roberts “Toward a National Hazards Risk Assessment,” Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management 4, no. 3 (2007): Article 9,
  44. Patrick J. Massey,“Generational Hazards,” Homeland Security Affairs III, no. 3 (September 2007),, 2.
  45. Worldwatch Institute, “Disasters and Peacemaking: Helping Communities Heal,” (n.d.),
  46. Science Blog, “Too Fat to Fight: Obesity Becomes National Security Issue,” J. Enriquez, The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future (Crown: 2005). On “food security” as opposed to “food safety,” see
  47. The SARS quote is from a personal correspondence with Mary Jones, Deputy Director, Iowa Department of Public Health, May 2008. For a comprehensive review of other domestic and global trends that could affect the nation’s security see Project on National Security Reform, “Vision Working Group Primer,” Draft, February 25, 2008. (Available from the author).
  48. For definitions of the three terms, see E.L. Quarantelli, “Emergencies, Disasters and Catastrophes Are Different Phenomena” (2000),
  49. “Meta” is used in this construction to mean something outside the normal conceptual boundaries. In this case it refers to issues that are not typically perceived as threats to the nation’s security, but arguments could be — and have been — developed to identify the issues as potential threats.
  50. There is some question whether FEMA was ever an official cabinet agency, as opposed to a more informal designation as a “cabinet-level” agency. A knowledgeable emergency management colleague sent me the following information on this point: “The President may include anyone in Cabinet meetings as he/she chooses and that is how they did it with FEMA in the Clinton Administration. No legislation or executive order, so it was pro forma.”
  51. Mike German, Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent, 1st ed (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2007). “U.S. Cites Big Gains Against Al Qaeda,”, May 29, 2008, For another argument about the possible decline of Al Qaeda, see Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
  52. Mark Neocleous, “From Social to National Security: On the Fabrication of Economic Order,” Security Dialogue 37 (2006): 363-364.
  53. Paul N. Stockton and Patrick S. Roberts. “Findings from the Forum on ‘Homeland Security After the Bush Administration: Next Steps in Building Unity of Effort,’” Homeland Security Affairs IV, no. 2 (June 2008): 11, For a different perspective, and a comment on the flexibility of definitions, see “An Interview With Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Homeland Defense,” Joint Forces Quarterly (January 2006): 10-11. “Although those [official] definitions [of homeland defense and homeland security] are helpful, at the end of the day, Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld is the warfighter, and Secretary [Michael] Chertoff is one of our nation’s senior law enforcement officials, and, in combination, these two cabinet officers use their authorities to achieve the common purpose of protecting the American people.”
  54. Neil E. Rader, “Homeland Defense: The Evolution, The Threat, and the Air Force Role,” USAWC Strategic Research Project (U.S. Army War College, March 11, 2002), 1-2.
  55. Jim Garamone, “A Short History of Homeland Defense,” (Armed Forces Press Service, October 25, 2001),
  56. Timothy J. Lowenberg, “The Future Role of the National Guard in National Defense and Homeland Security,” Chapter VI in Woodbury, Policy Options Document, 14.
  57. Randall J. Larsen, USAF and Ruth A. David, “Homeland Defense: Assumptions First, Strategy Second,” Strategic Review (Fall 2000),, 2.
  58. William Safire, “The Way We Live Now: On Language; Homeland” New York Times, January 20, 2002.
  59. De Rugy notes that DHS does not spend its entire budget for homeland security. She shows only $35 billion of the DHS’ 2009 budget of $50.5 billion goes directly to homeland security-related activities. Her analysis appears to rely primarily on the “homeland security as terrorism” definition. De Rugy, “Facts and Figures,” 2.
  60. The National Security Act of 1947 (as amended) SEC. 2. [50 U.S.C. 401].
  61. National Security Act, Sec. 101. [U.S.C. 402] (a)
  62. Stockton and Roberts, “CISAC Forum,” 11. The authors also note, “Other participants argued that homeland security issues would inevitably be given short shrift in any such unified arrangement.” For an analysis of the Homeland Security Council, see also Harold C. Relyea, “Organizing for Homeland Security: The Homeland Security Council Reconsidered” (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, March 19, 2008), especially pages 5-6.
  63. See, for example, recommendations from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which included such suggestions as, “The federal government should allow for greater military involvement in the immediate response to such overwhelming disasters, at the very least during the first days and weeks of response and when requested by local or state governments. Cities need a mechanism to request direct assistance in [the] form of military assets during a major natural disaster or terrorist attack. It is too cumbersome for cities to have to go through the state apparatus. The federal government should identify a lead military agency to work directly with local governments on the deployment of federal resources needed immediately prior to and after a disaster.” Ed Somers, “O’Neill Presides at First Chertoff/USCM Meeting, New Homeland Security Action Plan Released,” October 31, 2005,
  64. Thomas Goss, “‘Who’s in Charge?’ New Challenges in Homeland Defense and Homeland Security,” Homeland Security Affairs II, no. 1 (April 2006),
  65. Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Joint Publication 3-26 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, August 2, 2005), v.
  66. Ibid, vi.
  67. P. Hillyard, Suspect Community: People’s Experience of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain (London: Pluto Press in association with Liberty, 1993). 1.
  68. For example, a review of Eric Lichtblau’s Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice (2008) reports the story of an Oregon attorney who was suspected of being involved with the Madrid train bombings. “You feel the growing apprehension, then fear, as [Brandon] Mayfield, his wife and children detect that someone has been secretly breaking into their house for many weeks. One day one of the children is at home as the door handle jiggles. He scurries to the attic, terrified. This is Cujo, not homeland security. Mayfield was detained and, according to his lawyers, threatened with the death penalty. Only the Spaniards’ eventual arrest of the fingerprint’s real owner, an Algerian, saved him. What if it hadn’t?” Eric Lichtblau, “Bush’s Law,” Review,, June 6, 2008,
  69. Cited in Stephen Flynn, The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation (New York: Random House, 2007), 93.
  70. The poster images are from M.I. Wright, You Back the Attack! We’ll Bomb Who We Want!: Remixed War Propaganda (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003), 25, 49, 57, and 65. Related images are at
  71. Judith K. Boyd, “Introducing The Future Now: Using Memetics And Popular Culture To Identify The Post 9/11 Homeland Security Zeitgeist” (master’s thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2008), 27. Boyd notes the concept of a meme originated with Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).
  72. Boyd, “Introducing the Future Now,” 29, citing Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 205.
  73. Tim Dickinson, “Truth or Terrorism? The Real Story Behind Five Years of High Alerts,” Rolling Stone, February 7, 2008,
  74. For some video examples of the point made in this paragraph, see “9-11 The Greatest Lie Ever Sold,”; “The Big Brother State” (about the trend as it applies to the western liberal democracies),; “Be Careful What You Say 2,”; “Get Naked ! For a Safe and Secure America” Satires of the point can be seen at and
  75. and “The Empire Of “The City” (World Superstate), Part 1,” (Primarily the first thirty minutes.)
  76. R.A. Posner, Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency (Oxford University Press, USA, 2006).
  77. Olivia Crawford, “War in the Locker Room – God, Iraq Split Americans,” Pacific News Service, March 31, 2003,
  78. Richard Lacayo, “Terrorizing Ourselves,” TIME, September 24, 2001, from,9171,1000878,00.html.
  79. Cited by Janis Besler Heaphy, “Commencement Address,” Common Dreams, December 17, 2001,
  80. White House, “President Says U.S. Attorneys on Front Line in War,” November 2001,
  81. Cited in “The coming loss of liberties. On its way to the USA,” Issues & Views, September 17, 2001,
  82. Boyd, “Introducing the Future Now,” 127. The quote from President Bush is from U.S. Executive Office of the President, “Remarks by President Bush at Photo Op,” September 12, 2001,
  83. M. Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45, 2nd ed. (University Of Chicago Press, 1966). Quoted selection available at
  84. Guy Lawson, “The Fear Factory,” Rolling Stone, February 7, 2008,
  85. Ian Lustick, Trapped in the War on Terror (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); John E. Mueller, Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them (New York: Free Press, 2006).
  86. Eric Lichtblau, Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, 1st ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2008).
  87. Jack L. Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007).
  88. David Cole, Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror (New York: New Press, 2007).
  89. Philip G. Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008).
  90. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 1st ed. (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2007), Part V.
  91. Mayer, They Thought They Were Free.
  92. Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (White River Junction, Vt. Chelsea Green Publications, 2007). A summary of her argument can be found at Naomi Wolf, “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps,” The Guardian, 24 April 2008,
  93. Wolf, “Fascist America.”
  94. M. Kaku, Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (New York: Anchor Books, 1995), 13.
  95. Elizabeth M. Prescott, “Corporations and Bureaucracies Under a Biological Lens,” in Sagarin and Taylor, Natural Security, 80. The author thanks Lindsay Estes for creating Figure 3.
  96. For a May 2008 view of law enforcement’s perspective on homeland security, see Major Cities Chiefs Association, Twelve Tenets To Prevent Crime And Terrorism: A White Paper by the Homeland Security Committee” (May 2008),
  97. Professor Joseph Ryan, Pace University, is conducting the study. I thank him for sharing his data.
  98. Author’s personal communication with William H Austin Fire Chief West Hartford Fire Department, May 2008.
  99. P. Thagard, Coherence in Thought and Action (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 20.
  100. W. Desmond, Art, Origins, Otherness: Between Philosophy and Art (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003), 280.
  101. P.L. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor, 1967).

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Copyright © 2008 by the author(s). Homeland Security Affairs is an academic journal available free of charge to individuals and institutions. Because the purpose of this publication is the widest possible dissemination of knowledge, copies of this journal and the articles contained herein may be printed or downloaded and redistributed for personal, research or educational purposes free of charge and without permission. Any commercial use of Homeland Security Affairs or the articles published herein is expressly prohibited without the written consent of the copyright holder. The copyright of all articles published in Homeland Security Affairs rests with the author(s) of the article. Homeland Security Affairs is the online journal of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS).

1 thought on “Changing Homeland Security: What is Homeland Security?”

  1. Impressive article. Good coverage of a variety of paradigms for “Homeland Security.” Watching the line drawing between “Homeland Security”, “Law Enforcement”, “Homeland Defense”, and “Emergency Management” is enough to make the analysis of how many angels can stand on the head of a pin seem simple. Interesting to note how the term “Prevention” predominates over the word “Mitigation” in Homeland Security discussion. Clearly not equivalent terms but interesting to see how this relates to the overall playing out historically and bureacratically “in futuro.” Again a significant contribution to the literature post 9/11. Congratulations to the author.

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