The DomPrep Journal’s Aaron Sean Poynton recently spoke to Paul McHale, the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs (2003-2009), and former U.S. Congressman (1993-1999) serving on the House Armed Services Committee, about the Pentagon’s role in securing the homeland.
Aaron Sean Poynton: Mr. Secretary, the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs is relatively new within the Department of Defense [DOD], created by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 in response to the 9/11 attacks. What are the primary roles and responsibilities of this office? What is the difference between Homeland Defense and Homeland Security?
Paul McHale: When Congress created the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, the responsibilities were envisioned in two categories: homeland defense and defense support of civil authorities (DSCA), often referred to as “civil support.” Homeland defense is the war fighting defense of the U.S. homeland. By contrast, civil support describes the role DOD plays when assisting civilian authorities, most often during a response to a catastrophic event within U.S. borders, either a terrorist attack or a catastrophic natural disaster.
The legal authorities and responsibilities related to homeland defense are derived from the Constitution under Article II, specifically the powers of the president in his role as commander in chief. In that regard, the constitutional basis for homeland defense is essentially the same constitutional authority that empowers, when necessary, war-fighting activities anywhere in the world.
Defense support of civil authorities, or civil support, is statutorily based. The legal authority to use DOD resources, both people and equipment, in support of civilian authorities is derived principally from the Stafford Act (1988), the Economy Act (1933), and other statutory provisions relating to emergency response activities. When a catastrophic event occurs in the United States, under the Homeland Security Act (2002), the lead federal agency for response is normally DHS [Department of Homeland Security], acting through FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]. However, DOD’s resources can be used to provide substantial assistance to FEMA. DOD has conducted such activities in a civil support role for many decades – for example, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and in response to many other natural disasters when civilian authorities have been overwhelmed.
Homeland defense is the war-fighting protection of the United States (DOD), whereas homeland security (DHS) is principally related to civilian law enforcement. Their common purpose is to achieve security and public safety for the American people; but rather than relying on the war-fighting capabilities of DOD, homeland security relies upon law enforcement authorities to identify, interdict, arrest, and defeat those who wish to harm our nation. Bottom line, DOD conducts homeland defense activities, while DHS and interagency partners conduct homeland security and related law enforcement activities.
Poynton: You co-founded the National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, which advocates the interests of reservists and guardsmen worldwide. Several after-action reviews of the Hurricane Katrina response cited the integration between Title 10 [federally controlled] forces within the United States alongside the non-federalized Title 32 [State Active Duty National Guard] forces as an area that needed improvement. What has DOD done since then to ensure a more coordinated military response?
McHale: Just a few days after Katrina made landfall in August 2005, I discussed with the secretary of defense my concerns regarding deficiencies in our nation’s response. Although the military mission in response to Katrina was effective, I felt there were discrepancies in need of correction. Specifically, we recognized the need for closer coordination between the Title 10 active duty members (NORTHCOM) and co-located Title 32 National Guard forces.
Since Katrina, there has been a lot of corrective action. We now have close coordination between the National Guard Bureau and NORTHCOM with regard to interoperability of communications equipment, unit training, and carefully coordinated DSCA deployment planning. It is extremely significant that Congress subsequently made the decision that the chief of the National Guard Bureau would become a 4-star officer – and more recently become a full voting member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And again by statute, Congress mandated that a deputy commander at NORTHCOM must be drawn from the Reserve component, specifically the National Guard. Today the deputy commander at NORTHCOM is a National Guard general officer, LTG Mike Dubie, the former Adjutant General of Vermont.
After Katrina, we also had full and thoughtful discussions with Secretary Rumsfeld on the use of dual status commanders – National Guard officers with concurrent authority over both Title 10 and Title 32 military forces. The secretary first authorized the so-called “dual status command” for the 2004 G-8 Summit at Sea Island, Georgia. BG Terry Nesbitt, a National Guard officer from Georgia was the first officer, at least in terms of modern authorities, placed in dual status command of all military forces that were deployed to enhance security at the G-8 Summit. The dual status commanders’ training and certification that is now conducted ensures that National Guard officers – when placed in dual status – will be fully prepared for their duties.
Those kinds of institutional changes were put in place to ensure much closer coordination between the National Guard and Title 10 forces. The National Guard has done an extraordinary job over the past ten years in modernizing its forces. In terms of both doctrine and operational capacity, the National Guard has been at the forefront of military transformation in the realm of homeland defense and civil support – the CSTs [Civil Support Teams], the CERFPs [CBRNE enhanced response force packages], the Homeland Response Forces (HRFs), the improved coordination with NORTHCOM, and the EMAC [Emergency Management Assistance Compact] agreements between the governors – all ensure a more rapid and effective response in times of catastrophic disasters.
Poynton: You just noted the transformational activities of the National Guard in this area. What is your level of confidence with regard to active component preparedness for disaster response?
McHale: Although the National Guard has shown extraordinary vision in adapting to the new security environment of the 21st century, I am deeply concerned that federal capacity and planning are not where they need to be. Indeed, some changes made in recent years have actually diminished our ability to rapidly respond during and following a domestic disaster – for example, moving away from scenario-based planning (HSPD 8, Annex 1) to capability-based planning (PPD 8) was a mistake. Complex catastrophes require detailed plans and rigorous exercises. You cannot deploy thousands of personnel and tons of equipment on the fly – you had better have an executable base plan in place before the catastrophic event. Otherwise, your response will be too slow.
Unfortunately, the detailed operational plans needed to ensure a rapid, coordinated, and effective catastrophic disaster response have yet to be written. Necessary planning should employ the full capacity of the federal government in close coordination with state and local capabilities, as well as the private sector. A system of capabilities-based planning simply offers an inventory of available assets, but assembling those assets to respond to a specific scenario – once it occurs – takes too much time to be effective. Delay costs lives. Additionally, the Department of the Army recently terminated its homeland defense and civil support planning cell, reassigning members of that cell to other units within the Department. That was an error.
There has also been a degradation of federal operational capacity. The 2010 QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review] terminated two-thirds of NORTHCOM’s proposed operational capability. NORTHCOM was intended to have approximately 15,000 assigned forces to be used to assist DHS during and following any domestic disaster. However, the 2010 QDR cancelled two of NORTHCOM’s proposed CBRNE consequence management response forces. There are also tentative plans to terminate the Marine Corps’ CBIRF [Chemical Biological Incident Response Force] – a core NORTHCOM capability – no later than 2017. Hopefully, the Marine Corps will reconsider that decision.
As a result, the president currently has relatively few capabilities that are well trained and immediately available to NORTHCOM following a catastrophic event. By contrast, I believe the governors are well prepared and the National Guard has served the nation well in terms of developing innovative CBRNE response capabilities. Transformational changes within the National Guard ensure that governors have at their disposal substantial midrange CBRNE response capability. However, to work effectively with the National Guard, the men of women of NORTHCOM deserve better resourcing than they are now getting, including more assigned personnel, better training, and better equipment.
I believe the president is not well served by the current level of interagency planning and he does not have the capacity to rapidly and effectively respond to a domestic catastrophic event. Recent decisions have tended to diminish the commitment to and operational capacity for civil support missions. These choices – made in a constrained fiscal environment – have created unwarranted risk for the security of the American people. When taken in the aggregate, they significantly diminish our ability to execute homeland defense and civil support missions.
Poynton: You once recalled that, during your early days as a Marine, you gave your situation reports by radio transmission. In contrast, today’s defense communications are sent electronically through a complex and vast cyber network. As a new critical infrastructure sector, such technologies increase efficiencies and create a number of other benefits, but also present vulnerabilities that are susceptible to terrorist attack. With a lack of comprehensive cyber security legislation – such as the recently defeated Cybersecurity Act of 2012 – how is DOD preparing for a potentially crippling cyber attack?
McHale: I was deeply disappointed that Congress did not enact comprehensive cybersecurity legislation during the past session. As the end of the current Congress approaches, it looks very likely that the Lieberman Cybersecurity Bill and other cyber legislative initiatives will soon die, allowing very significant cyber vulnerabilities to remain unaddressed. I know this feeling of deep concern is shared by other members of the Aspen Homeland Security Group – a bipartisan group of foreign policy, homeland security, and counterterrorism experts under the leadership of my former House colleague Jane Harman and former secretary of DHS, Michael Chertoff. Members of the Aspen Group recently signed a letter to Congress expressing their concern that comprehensive cybersecurity legislation needs to be passed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that expression of concern appears to have had little effect.
I should note that DOD has shown considerable initiative in developing cyberdefense capabilities. Most prominently, the creation of the U.S. Cyber Command in 2009 has been the focal point of DOD’s actions in his area. In my opinion, the cyber defense of the “.mil” domain is significantly stronger than parallel defensive capabilities within the “.com” world. Cyber Command draws upon many years of DOD experience in cyber communications and data transfer, as well as the experience of the National Security Agency. Although DOD seems to have taken appropriate steps to ensure the cybersecurity of the military domain, congressional authority will be required to effectively protect critical nodes of vulnerability within the civilian cyber infrastructure. To date, that kind of comprehensive approach to ensure the resilience of the civilian cyber infrastructure has not occurred. I hope the Congress returns to this issue with a renewed sense of urgency when the members of Congress resume their business in January.
Poynton: It is a strategic assumption that transnational terrorists will attempt to gain surreptitious entry into the United States in order to launch an attack on the homeland. Despite thwarting some such attacks, there appears to be an increasing threat of domestic terrorism. A report last year by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs called the Ft. Hood, Texas, shooting by U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan “the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.” Do you view this tragic shooting as an act of terrorism or an isolated criminal act? How has this event and other attempts of domestic terrorism affected DOD’s strategy for homeland defense?
McHale: An event like this is both an act of terror and a crime. The terms are not mutually exclusive, which is particularly clear in the case of Ft. Hood. The brutality of that attack should be seen as a terrorist attack and a violation of criminal law. That said, it would be a dangerous mistake to view such actions primarily from the standpoint of their criminal character.
Defending the American people here at home is, and should be, a duty primarily assigned to civilian law enforcement, but DOD is empowered by various statutes to provide support to civilian law enforcement agencies under very specific circumstances and the department must be prepared to do so when requested by those agencies and authorized by a relevant statute. It is only under extraordinary circumstances that military forces should be used on the ground to protect citizens on U.S. soil and, when that necessity arises, the military capacity employed should ordinarily be the National Guard. When such a crime occurs on U.S. soil, a prosecution should follow – but when justified by the facts, the isolated criminal event must be understood in the larger context of global terrorism. Domestic security cannot be achieved in the courtroom alone. It requires global vigilance.
Under almost all circumstances, however, the lead operational activity in providing security for the American people on the ground is properly entrusted to civilian law enforcement agencies.
The full version of this interview is available in the December 2012 issue of the DomPrep Journal.
Paul McHale is the president of Civil Support International LLC, a consulting firm offering advisory services to government agencies and private contractors related to military sales, homeland defense, disaster preparedness, and crisis response. From 2003 to 2009, he served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, where he supervised all homeland defense activities for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Prior to his appointment at DoD, he represented the 15th Congressional district of Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1992 to 1998. Throughout that period, he was an active member of the House Armed Services Committee, which has oversight responsibility for all U.S. military operations and training. Additionally, he co-founded the National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, served five terms in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and is a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. with highest honors from Lehigh University.
Aaron Sean Poynton
Aaron Sean Poynton is the director of global safety and security business at Thermo Fisher Scientific. He has served in various leadership positions with companies in the defense and homeland security markets over the past 10 years. Before his civilian career, he served in U.S. Army Special Operations and as a CBRN Officer. He is currently enrolled at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Global Executive MBA program. He’s a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Army ROTC program and holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland UMBC, a master’s degree from the George Washington University, and a doctorate in public administration from the University of Baltimore.