Words of Power #5: Failed Leadership Invites Disaster
“The Bush administration has missed dozens of deadlines set by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks for developing ways to protect airplanes, ships, and railways from terrorists. A plan to defend ships and ports from attack is six months overdue. Rules to protect air cargo from infiltration by terrorists are two months late. A study on the cost of antiterrorism training for federal law enforcement officers who fly commercially was supposed to be done more than three years ago…” (Leslie Miller, Associated Press, 10-31-05)
“When the hurricane struck the Gulf and the floodwaters rose and tore through New Orleans, plunging its remaining population into a carnival of misery, it did not turn the region into a Third World country - as it has been disparagingly implied in the media - it revealed one…But the storm not only revealed the poverty of those most vulnerable, those left behind. It revealed the poverty of skewed priorities that put the shoulder of technology to the wheel of death rather than life, creating killing machines that are now called ‘smart’ and surveillance systems that, in the words of the great Guyanese poet Martin Carter, ‘are watching you sleep and aiming at your dreams.’ Mother Nature revealed the poverty of a mindset that narrowly views security as a military issue. That is blind to the role of culture in sustaining the mental health and social wellness of people, which is also the basis for economic productivity. Blind to the role of culture in education, through which we are prepared for our responsibilities in a democracy, and hostile to the role of culture in the search for truth. Hurricane Katrina revealed, more than anything else, a poverty of imagination.” (Danny Glover, Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit 9-17-05)
Political philosophy can have a direct impact on how governments and corporations approach the security of their operations and the safety of their people. It shouldn’t, but it sometimes does. Of course, most of us try to pretend otherwise.
When someone brings up the failures of current U.S. political leadership during a business meeting or a working lunch, the others present will usually cast their eyes downward, hold their breath and say nothing. They are afraid of missing out on big contracts, or facing unpleasant facts about their clients, or being marginalized within their organization, or even losing their job.
That’s the influence of a pervasive and dysfunctional corporate culture, which now dominates the atmosphere, stifling dissent and discouraging critical thinking, in both government agencies and the private sector. As Noam Chomsky once remarked, if you want to study totalitarianism, you shouldn’t waste your time reading the history of the Soviet Union, you should study the modern corporation, it is there that the totalitarian system has been perfected.
Recently, I dusted off the two cover stories I wrote immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, The Road to Kabul Has Been Under Construction For A Long Time (Computer Security Alert, October 2001) and The Road Beyond Kabul (Computer Security Alert, November 2001). As I re-read them, I was struck by their poignancy and relevancy to my life, even now, four years later. Although “conventional wisdom” was wrong (as usual) in suggesting that “the world changed on 9/11,” those savage attacks did accelerate a change already underway—at least, in my thinking. In the late 1990s, it became apparent to me that it was no longer possible to look at cyber security in isolation from physical and personnel security or vice versa. I had begun to see that only a holistic approach to security could be effective. The problems related to terrorism, cyber attacks, geopolitical tensions, economic espionage, organized crime, globalization, etc. had to be analyzed in relationship to one another, and real-world security programs would have to integrate proactive responses to a broad spectrum of evolving threats in both the physical and digital worlds, i.e., we needed “Global Security Intelligence.”
Less than a year later, I moved from a highly public role grounded in journalism and research to an operational role developing just such a security program for a global enterprise, continuing to speak and write but only for internal consumption.
As I developed the concept of “Global Security Intelligence,” I began to spend as much time on Al Qaeda style terrorism as on cyber crime, and soon realized that I should be spending as much time on global warming and climate change as on terrorism or cyber crime. Over the course of three years, I traveled in twenty-five countries, spoke to thousands of people, shaped a comprehensive global security strategy and delivered a global crisis management capability, a global travel security program and a global awareness and education program. But the most vital element, whether in government or business, is organizational will—without it the security and intelligence professional is wasting time and energy.
Now I have returned to the public arena because there is so much to do and so little time left. There is certainly too much to do to pretend that politics does not play a central role in security. There is certainly too little time to pretend that security can be addressed in isolation from the issues of sustainability and spirit. Thus, I have expanded GSI into GS(3) Intelligence.
The Bitterest Lessons of 9/11 and Katrina
It is important to remember the bitter lessons of 9/11 and Katrina. And the bitterest of these lessons are not what “conventional wisdom” suggests.
The bitterest lesson of 9/11 is not about intelligence failures, it is about the political leadership’s failure to act upon the intelligence it was given. There was plenty of pre-9/11 intelligence, but what happened to it? The nation’s political leadership was uninterested. Unlike the outgoing Clinton-Gore national security team, the incoming Bush national security team did not consider crushing Osama Bin Laden their most immediate priority. They were preoccupied with rationales for missile defense systems and opportunities for oil pipelines.
The bitterest lesson of Katrina is not that the U.S. government failed the people of New Orleans, but that a warped philosophy of government led directly to that failure. In the 1990s, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) excelled under the stewardship of James Lee Witt (a recognized expert in the field of emergency services). But then the Bush administration placed FEMA first into the hands of Joe Allbaugh, a Bush campaign financier, and then into the hands of Michael Brown, a former official of the International Arabian Horse Association. These two individuals, utterly lacking in emergency services experience, applied the Bush political philosophy to the agency; one best described by right-wing operative Grover Norquist, who boasts of wanting to “starve government” to the point where it was small enough to “drown in the bathtub.”
Recently, former vice president Al Gore delivered a remarkable speech accepting the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. Gore drew a powerful analogy between the warnings that went unheeded prior to both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina:
“As we meet this evening another category 5 hurricane is making its way, perhaps, from the Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico. It's not a mystery any longer why there has been a significant increase in category 4 and 5 hurricanes. They're fed by warmer water. The oceans are warming because the gaseous pollution of industrial civilization has changed the relationship between the earth and the sun. We're trapping more of the outgoing infrared radiation that would otherwise naturally escape from the earth and keep our relationship to the rest of the universe in balance…When we exceed the boundaries that creation has placed around our place in creation we run the risk of consequences…Hurricane Katrina convinced many Americans that we have now entered a period of consequences. The images of Americans starving, in extremis, abandoned, helpless, fearful, nowhere to go, no salvation in sight, labeled as refugees in one of our great cities was a startling realization that we have entered a period of consequences. More than 200 American cities set all time records for high temperatures this year. One of them was New Orleans. And the waters around New Orleans also set an all time record. When Katrina hit the southern tip of Florida it was a category 1 hurricane, but then it crossed over the Gulf, and the extraordinarily warm waters of the Gulf, warmed beyond the boundaries of previous human experience, fed the energy of that hurricane and it grew to a category 5. And it collected much more water than hurricanes have in the past and it drowned one of our greatest and most elegant cities. There were warnings, but they went unheeded. The chief meteorologist in Louisiana working for the Federal government was beside himself trying to get attention for the clear scientific consequences of what he saw developing. We will see conditions, he said, that are unprecedented in modern times. They predicted exactly which sections of this great city would be drowned when the levees broke. But the warnings, as I said, went unheeded and a lot of people died unnecessarily and America was shamed before the world…Four years ago, in August, during another time that is often described as the dog days, there was a warning that, and I quote, that ‘Osama Bin Laden is determined to strike in the United States of America.’ And that warning was not heeded either. If it had been, if a meeting had been called, and if the head of the FBI and the CIA had been asked to collect the available intelligence from their field offices they would have found the full names of 80 percent of the hijackers who later flew the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. They would have found the plot, they would have found the training on how to fly planes received by people who were not curious about how to land the planes, they would have found enough evidence to prevent that tragedy. But my purpose in drawing a comparison between the warnings unheeded in New Orleans and the warnings unheeded prior to 9/11 is to point toward other warnings that are right now being given to us and that are also being unheeded. The scientists who follow the rule of reason and respect the principle of the best evidence, now tell us that we are creating an imbalance in the relationship between civilization and the earth and that the most prominent manifestation of this dysfunction is global warming…” (Al Gore, Harvard Medical School, 10-21-05, http://yubanet.com/artman/publish/article_26982.shtml)
It Is A Strange Bird That Fouls Its Own Nest
Despite the Bush administration’s botched, bungled and mislabeled “war on terrorism,” with its tragic, unnecessary and ill-conceived detour into Iraq, which has seriously damaged U.S. prestige throughout the world, stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin and swelled the ranks of recruits to Al Qaeda style terrorism, global warming will still, barring the use of WMDs, result in more deaths (probably hundreds of thousands) in the decades ahead. And yet, there is no national will to confront or even acknowledge this unprecedented planetary challenge.
In a recent speech to the Society of Environmental Journalists, Bill Moyers, preeminent journalist and public commentator explained:
“Rather than leading the world in finding solutions to the global environmental crises, the United States is a recalcitrant naysayer and backslider…President Bush has turned the agencies charged with environmental protection over to people who don't believe in it. To run the Interior Department he chose a long-time defender of polluters who has opposed laws to safeguard wildlife, habitat, and public lands. To run the Forest Service he chose a timber industry lobbyist. To oversee our public lands he named a mining industry lobbyist who believes public lands are unconstitutional. To run the Superfund he chose a woman who made a living advising corporate polluters how to evade the Superfund. And in the White House office of environmental policy the President placed a lobbyist from the American Petroleum Institute whose mission was to make sure the government's scientific reports on global warming didn't contradict the party line and the interest of oil companies. Everywhere you look, the foxes own the chicken coop…Once the leader in cutting edge environmental policies and technologies and awareness, America is now eclipsed. As the scientific evidence grows, pointing to a crisis, our country has become an impediment to action, not a leader. Earlier this year the White House even conducted an extraordinary secret campaign to scupper the British government's attempt to tackle global warming - and then to undermine the UN's effort to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. George W. Bush is the Herbert Hoover of the environment. His failure to lead on global warming means that even if we were dramatically to decrease greenhouse gases overnight we have already condemned ourselves and generations to come to a warming planet…In July of this year, ABC News reported that 66% of the people in a new survey said they don't think global warming will affect their lives…They say denial is not a river in Egypt. It is, however, the governing philosophy in Washington. The President's contempt for science - for evidence that mounts everyday - is mind boggling. Here is a man who was quick to launch a 'preventative war' against Iraq on faulty intelligence and premature judgment but who refuses to take preventive action against a truly global menace about which the scientific evidence is overwhelming…Here's an important statistic to ponder: 45 percent of Americans hold a creational view of the world, discounting Darwin's theory of evolution. I don't think it is a coincidence then that in a nation where nearly half our people believe in creationism, much of the populace also doubts the certainty of climate change science. Contrast that to other industrial nations where climate change science is overwhelmingly accepted as truth; in Britain, for example, where 8l% of the populace wants the government to implement the Kyoto Treat. What's going on here? Simply that millions of American Christians accept the literal story of Genesis, and they either dismiss or distrust a lot of science - not only evolution, but paleontology, archeology, geology, genetics, even biology and botany…The Gilded Age has returned with a vengeance. Washington again is a spectacle of corruption. The promise of America has been subverted to crony capitalism, sleazy lobbyists, and an arrogance of power matched only by an arrogance of the present that acts as if there is no tomorrow…The powers-that-be would have us merely cover the news; our challenge is to uncover the news that they would keep hidden. A lot is riding on what we do. You may be the last group of journalists who make the effort to try to inform the rest of us about the most complex of issues involving the survival of life on earth.” (Bill Moyers Keynote Speech to the Society of Environmental Journalists Convention, 10-1-05, http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1007-21.htm)
Organizations that want to protect their reputations, operations, and assets, take the lives of their people seriously and value the environment that sustains us all must come to grips with a the full spectrum of threats, including global warming, terrorism, cyber crime, natural disasters, health emergencies, organized crime, etc. Your organization does not have to be the target of a terrorist attack to suffer the loss of your corporate headquarters and sustain massive casualties; you just have to be in the same building as the target. Do you know where your offices are in relationship to likely terrorist targets? Have you made appropriate business continuity and crisis management plans?
The security implications of Global Warming (i.e. radical climate change) will be sweeping, and they will fall upon your societies in surprising ways sooner than later. Have you done any study at all of how these radical climate changes will impact your organization or your personal life? They are already underway, and they are happening at a faster pace than had hitherto been projected.
All organizations, and all individuals, must take responsibility, e.g., perform their own risk analysis, implement their own security precautions and develop their own preparedness plans. Organizations can be of great help, not only by fulfilling their obligations to stockholders, customers, tax-payers, citizens, partners, allies, etc., but by enlightening and empowering their own people about how to cope with such threats, particularly global warming, in their personal lives.
Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and www.wordsofpower.net. His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc.
You can reach Richard Power via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, go to www.wordsofpower.net.