Risky Business

Partial disclosure:  the author has a quarter-century of experience in the oxymoronic domain of law enforcement intelligence.  Which, together with about sixty bucks, will get you a five pound bag of Yauco Selecto.   He specializes in the exformation side of the business.

Dean at Travels with Shiloh has issued a call for commentary on Charles Bellavista’s “Changing Homeland Security:  Twelve Questions From 2009.”   February is the designated month for discussion of Bellavista’s first question:  “Why is it so difficult to make risk-based decisions in homeland security?

Happy to oblige.  First, here’s my reductionist gloss of Bellavista’s thesis on this topic:

The basic risk assessment formula (Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Consequences) is well-known.
BUT. . . .
“The data to make the risk equation work … are practically never available.”
THEREFORE. . . .
Risk assessment performs a symbolic rather than an instrumental role in homsec (pronounced ‘homesick’) resource allocation decisions.

In my view, this is an exceedingly charitable –but ultimately misguided– analysis of the homsec environment.  Instead, it seems clear to me that risk assessment is in fact an integral part of homsec resource allocation decision-making –it’s just not the kind of risk assessment that Bellavista has in mind.  That’s because the risk being assessed by homsec functionaries is not (solely) the risk of harm to the homeland, but rather (primarily?) the risk to their own careers and reputations.   In this domain, data concerning threat, vulnerability and consequences –if not exactly plentiful– are entirely sufficient for the purposes at hand.  For example:

Threat:    Something catastrophic (or merely bad) could randomly happen on my watch.

VulnerabilitiesI could be the fallguy for someone else’s screw-up (like my boss).

ConsequencesI’d be the focus of scorn, ridicule, opprobrium and vituperation in the media, blogosphere and on Capitol Hill.  Stick a fork in me.

These are the realities of life in the pressure-cooker netherworld of homeland security, where you’re only as good as the last failed terror attempt your agency can claim credit for thwarting.  We might all wish it were otherwise, but CYA is the order of the day in homsec.  It’s the motto inscribed on the reverse side of the DHS seal.

Have a nice day!

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One Response to “Risky Business”

  1. More on Risk-based decision making in homeland security « Travels with Shiloh Says:

    […] over at Waking the Dragon takes yet another view of such decisions.  He raises the point that  “the risk being assessed by homsec […]

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