Not Systemic Failure, But Failed System

By  |  8 / January / 2010

“Systemic failure” is how President Obama described the homeland security and intelligence lapses that led to the unsuccessful terrorist attack by a Nigerian Islamist on Dec. 25. The accuracy of this assessment was underscored by another intelligence failure that resulted in the death of seven CIA agents in Afghanistan on Dec. 30.

What is to be done?

Michael Chertoff, the head of the national security consulting agency Chertoff Group and former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), says buy and install more full-body scanners.

That may be part of the answer. But his public-private status—and the fact that under his tenure as DHS chief the department began buying scanners at an estimated $160,000 each from Rapiscan (a company Chertoff Group now represents)—is cause for skepticism. Rapiscan received $26.5 million through DHS contracts in 2008, and $41.4 million from all government departments.

It’s unlikely, however, that attempts to fix our homeland security and intelligence system with new communications and screening systems can do much to improve a system that is increasingly driven more by private than public interests.

As Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, told the Washington Post: “Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected this particular type of explosive.”

Chertoff is one in a stream of mid- and high-level national security officials who have left homeland security, intelligence, and defense positions to join national security corporations. Tom Ridge, Chertoff’s predecessor at DHS, formed a national security consulting agency called Ridge Global.

One of the most recent national security start-ups is Rice Hadley Group, founded by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Other new security companies formed by top Republican Party figures include Ashcroft Group founded by former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Guiliani Group, formed by former New York City Mayor and presidential candidate Rudolf Guiliani.

Chertoff Group is quickly becoming the most high-powered and deep-pocketed national security consulting firm.

Other principals at Chertoff Group are also former government heavies, including:

  • Former CIA Director (2005-2009) Michael Hayden, who directed the National Security Agency (NSA, 1999-2005);
  • DHS Deputy Paul Schneider, who prior to his position at DHS was head of acquisitions for NSA and the U.S. Navy;
  • Ret. Admiral Jay Cohen, who was DHS director of science and technology and previously the Navy’s technology chief; and
  • Charlie Allen, who was the intelligence chief at DHS and, according to Chertoff, “pretty much head of everything you could be for the CIA and head of national collections.”

Financial recognition of the influential position held by the Chertoff Group in homeland security policy and contracting came on Jan. 6. Blue Star Capital, a London investment company specializing in mergers and acquisitions within the homeland security sector, announced that it had entered into a “strategic relationship” with the Chertoff Group.

This new relationship also points to the increasing merger of the homeland security, defense, and intelligence sectors. As Blue Star explained:

“The Chertoff Group will work with Blue Star on due diligence for certain revenue-generating opportunities in the homeland security, defense, and intelligence markets, de-risking investments in this high-growth sector. The combined team brings together international experience including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency, plus UN security expertise, UK police, Scotland Yard counterterrorism expertise, Special Forces, security services, commercial defense companies, and global mergers and acquisitions investment banking experience.”
The system that so spectacularly failed on the two recent incidents is all about mergers and synergy, and very little about real national security.

Chertoff applauded the value of the merger: “I believe there are many areas of opportunity within the Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Defense sectors in the UK and mainland Europe where the synergies between Blue Star and the Chertoff Group will provide real value.”

The increasing merger of the homeland security, defense, and intelligence sectors is creating a new national security complex, where the leading defense contractors are now also the leading intelligence and homeland security contractors.

It is becoming clear that the merger of sectors and purported synergy between public and private interests have been good for business.But it is also becoming increasingly clear that this corporate-driven system is distorting national security priorities and putting us at risk. It’s time to clean house and create a new system of national security—one in which our vital homeland security, defense, and intelligence interests are not driven by the likes of Lockheed Martin, Blackwater, Halliburton, and the Chertoff Group.

Tom Barry, a senior policy analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington, directs the TransBorder Project of CIP’s Americas Program. He blogs at: http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com/.

To reprint this article, please contact americas@ciponline.org.

For More Information

New National Security Complex:u2028Bringing Together Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Defense

http://www.americas.org/archives/1870

Chertoff’s Challenge to Obama

http://www.americas.org/archives/2756

A Legal Storm Trooper: Chertoff No Friend of Immigrants

http://www.counterpunch.org/barry04012005.html