Wednesday, July 18, 2012


As one commentator put it, 9/11 provided a “visceral answer” to the question, “what objective reality does the term homeland security refer to?” (Bellavita, 2008, p. 3). Prior to that event, the topic of terrorism had no special status in security discourse and procedures (Mabee, 2007). But “9/11 not only became crucial in a securitization process concerning terrorism, it also solidified the idea of a new environment of threat, that would need unprecedented kinds of action [and] the development of new security institutions”(Mabee, 2007, p. 390).

The event also provoked a new focus on transnational actors as security threats (that is, as potential terrorist threats)--a shift that would come to deeply affect immigration policy and enforcement, directly and indirectly (Mabee, 2007).

At the same time, beyond the visceral sense, the attacks brought little clarity or consensus on the analytical definition of homeland security (Bellavita, 2008). And, accordingly, if a new homeland security institution was to be created, it was unclear whether its mandate should also include natural disasters and other hazards (limited or not by state and local jurisdictions), or even traditional national security functions served by pre-existing agencies. On the one hand, “there just is not that much terrorism in the United States to warrant spending the billions of dollars” the United States would come to spend on homeland security concerns (Bellavita, 2008, p. 3). On the other hand, too large a concept or institution of homeland security would seem to make bitter turf wars with well-established organizations (such as the Defense Department or the FBI) unavoidable.

In any case, focusing on terrorism, even before 9/11, several commissions had concluded that the federal government “sorely lacked the organizational capacity for meaningful counterterrorism” (Haynes, 2004, p. 374). Shortly after the attacks, it became clear to all that this kind of organizational capacity would have to be built to address failures in at least three specific areas: inter-agency cooperation or coordination; airport security; and immigration services and enforcement.

Regarding inter-agency relations, the White House and members of Congress were quick to point to the failure of cooperation or coordination between different agencies of the national intelligence community in explaining the government’s failure to prevent the attacks (Cohen, Cuellar and Weingast, 2006; Haynes, 2004). The FBI and the CIA had “known about Al Qaeda’s travel and passport practices for years, but apparently did not share this information with consular, immigration, or customs officials” (Kerwin, 2005, p. 752). As a result, when President Bush issued Executive Order 13228 establishing the White House Office of Homeland Security, it specified that “the functions of the Office shall be to coordinate the executive branch’s efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.” Hence, the mission of the Office would be limited to addressing terrorism--specifically, it would have to “develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks.”

Thus, initially, the White House opted for a narrower definition of homeland security, emphasizing “coordination [from the White House] rather than centralization” (Perrow, 2006, p. 5). But, sometimes, even rivalry over functions seems more tolerable than coordination efforts (see Wilson, 2000, p. 66-68). The Office soon proved ineffective at obtaining cooperation from other, older agencies; it seems it would have needed considerable backing from the President to succeed--which backing many argue it never received (Cohen et al., 2006; Perrow, 2006).

As a result, those in Congress who had already been calling for a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security found their “policy window” (Brook and King, 2007). The ensuing bargain between the White House and Congress--on questions of agency control, oversight and flexibility--led to the birth of a larger, more centralized institution: the Department of Homeland Security.

Bellavita, C. (2008). Changing Homeland Security: What Is Homeland Security? Homeland Security Affairs, 4(2), 1-30.

Brook, D.A., & King, C.L. (2007). Civil Service Reform as National Security: The Homeland Security Act of 2002. Public Administration Review, 67(3), 399-407.

Cohen, D.K., Cuellar, M.-F., & Weingast, B. R. (2006). Crisis Bureau: Homeland and the Political Design of Legal Mandates. Stanford Law Review, 59(3), 673-759.

Haynes, W. (2004). Seeing around Corners: Crafting the New Department of Homeland Security. Review of Policy Research, 21(3), 369-395.

Kerwin, D. (2005). The Use and Misuse of ‘National Security’ Rationale in Crafting U.S. Refugee and Immigration Policies. International Journal of Refugee Law, 17(4), 749-763.

Mabee, B. (2007). Re-imagining the Borders of US Security after 9/11: Securitization, Risk, and the Creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Globalizations, 4(3), 385–397.

Perrow, C. (2006). The Disaster after 9/11: The Department of Homeland Security and the Intelligence Reorganization. Homeland Security Affairs, 4(2), 1-32.

Wilson, J. Q. (2000). Bureaucracy. USA: Basic Books.

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