Project: Homeland Security - Organizations "Wasting Money With Good Intentions Makes Us No More Secure"

Friday, July 1, 2005 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Col. Randall Larsen, USAF (Ret.), Founder & Director, The Institute for Homeland Security.

Editor: Col. Larsen, will you tell our readers something about your military career?

Larsen: I spent more than 30 years in uniform. During the first two decades of service I flew a wide variety of airplanes, including 400 combat missions in Vietnam. In my last flying assignment, I commanded America's VIP fleet at Andrews AFB, Maryland. I received a Masters Degree in National Security Studies in 1983, and in 1994 had a one-year research fellowship where I began my studies of homeland security. In 1998, I developed the nation's first graduate course in Homeland Security at the National War College, where I served as a department chairman.

Editor: And your current undertakings?

Larsen: When I retired from the Air Force in 2000, I joined a non-profit organization called ANSER, where I created the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security. This is now a federally funded research and development center for the Department of Homeland Security. After three years with ANSER, I left to set up a consulting company (Homeland Security Associates, LLC), but today I spend the majority of time with my not-for-profit institute. I am a frequent expert witness for the U.S. Congress and in March designed and led a two-day off-site for the House Homeland Security Committee. All of my work for the U.S. Government is pro bono - this allows me the complete freedom to "call 'em as I see 'em." My pro bono work with Congress and the Administration is subsidized, in effect, by my TV appearances and frequent speaking engagements (www.speakersconnection.com).

Editor: You are in the process of completing a monograph to be published by the National Legal Center for the Public Interest. What is the major premise of the monograph?

Larsen: In February 2004, I was asked to do an analysis by the House Government Reform Committee concerning our government's strategy to defend the homeland. After reviewing everything the Administration has published since 9/11, I concluded that we have plans - some of them quite good - but no strategy. A proper strategy, which I present, will then allow us to identify our spending priorities. I discuss the top four:

(a) Preventing a nuclear attack must be our number one priority. Unfortunately, we are wasting enormous sums of money on a strategy and technologies that make us no more secure. In fact, they make us less secure because they waste valuable resources. We continue to install radiological detectors in our seaports that do a far better job detecting kitty litter than highly enriched uranium. Furthermore, with 7,500 miles of mostly unguarded land borders and 95,000 miles of shoreline, terrorists are highly unlikely to bring a weapon through a seaport. The best way to prevent a nuclear attack is to focus our efforts overseas. We must not let the terrorists get their hands on nuclear materials.

(b) Biological attack. As a consequence of the biotechnical revolution, we will not be able to prevent a biological attack on this country. To demonstrate this, I once handed Vice President Cheney a test tube filled with weaponized bacillus globigii. It was made with equipment purchased on the Internet. We must therefore focus our spending on rapid detection, response and recovery from a biological attack. Investment in biodefense pays a dual benefit by also making us better prepared to respond to naturally occurring diseases such as SARS and avian flu.

(c) Education. One of our finest traditions is to invest in education when the security of our country is being threatened. The land grant school system (which included ROTC) and the National Defense Education Program (following Sputnik) not only provided America with great value in terms of national security, both also fueled economic growth. We need a similar program today to prepare America for 21st century security challenges.

(d) Information. The weapon that terrorists fear most is information. The 9/11 Commission report agrees. Access to information through adoption of a national identity card system - something that entails much more information than that conveyed by a passport - is one of the principal ways in which we can track those who mean us harm. In light of the role that personal privacy plays in our culture, this is not an easy step to take. I believe this will eventually become a reality, but in the meantime a voluntary program of privately-issued, government recognized travelers ID cards might serve as a first step. (See op-ed in USA Today, June 8, 2005.)

Above all, I would say that wasting money with good intentions makes us no more secure.

Editor: What is the role of corporate America in the challenges we face?

Larsen: Corporate America must protect its business processes and its employees. We cannot make these changes overnight, but when designing new facilities and new processes, security issues must be considered in the same manner as safety and efficiency are today. Additionally, corporate leaders must understand that when the next attack occurs, the overreaction by government will likely cause more of a threat to corporations than the attack. Corporations should not focus their efforts on buying more gates, guns and guards; rather they need to develop contingency plans for response to an attack, and just as importantly, the potential for disruptive over-response by the government. Corporations can also play an important role in providing voluntary services to their local communities.

Editor: Please tell our readers how they can obtain a copy of your monograph.

Our Own Worst Enemy: Why Our Misguided Responses To 9-11 Might Be America's Greatest Threat will be released on September 11, 2005. They will be able to obtain a copy from the Institute web site: www.tihls.org.