11 Ways to Fix U.S. National Security

The United States must take action to ensure the safety of our national security interests and economic competitiveness.

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Smoke rises from the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center after hijacked planes crashed into the towers on September 11, 2001 in New York City.

Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Too many of our national security policies, practices, and decisions operate to encourage and embolden our sworn enemies, rather than deter or discourage them.

For example: Our responses to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the attack on Khobar Towers in 1996, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 all demonstrated a lack of resolve to terrorist organizations and their state sponsors. Why? Because we regarded these attacks primarily as criminal matters, rather than requiring strategic responses.

This tendency continues as we struggle to deal with the lethal attack on our consulate in Libya—a well-orchestrated "coincidence" with 9/11. For political reasons, the administration is reluctant to concede that it was yet another terror attack—suggesting to terrorist sponsors that we will look the other way if we can. Calling it a "crime scene," for example, perpetuates this fiction.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the turmoil in the Middle East.]

Our reaction to 9/11—a wide scale strategic (i.e., political, military, and economic) attack on the United States, killing nearly 3,000—was not near the bold stroke it should have been: Osama bin Laden and his "leadership" should have been dead on 9/12 and the so-called "ungoverned regions" of Afghanistan and Pakistan should have ceased to exist. No one could have legitimately questioned the scale of such a response as the Twin Towers smoldered and the Pentagon burned (recall that the 9/11 Commission assumed the White House or the Capital Building were the likely targets for the fourth airplane). Accordingly, we literally had "license" to do whatever was necessary to eliminate the threat. We didn't—instead we invaded Iraq.

The war in Iraq—especially post-Saddam, and after the WMD issue was settled—was a grueling and painful expenditure of precious human capital. Not to mention the longer-term damage to our economy: This hugely expensive war was paid for with mostly borrowed money. 

[See Photos 11 Years Later: Remembering the 9/11 Victims.]

So, how do we stop our free fall into the "great power emeritus" category? Here are some very basic things that should be done:

  • Rewrite our strategic policies and targeting doctrines to address terrorist threats and attacks, and establish guidelines for the attribution thereof.
  • A high-level and "blank sheet of paper" review of the "roles and missions" of our military services—on the scale of that done after WW II.
  • Similar review and critique of the operation and effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security, together with recommendations for substantive statutory and regulatory revisions.The department, created over the objection of the president and primarily as a cash cow by Congress, must begin to demonstrate competency in its core responsibilities—so far it has not.
  • Similar review of all intelligence roles and missions, including the creation of a fully integrated and capable CIA-DOD command for overseas operations.
  • New laws and executive orders relating to cybersecurity—patterned after the oversight structures we have for intelligence activities. The new regulatory and statutory environment would give responsibility for "stress-testing" the security of our "critical information infrastructure" primarily to the National Security Agency, pursuant to the attorney general's privacy guidelines and regular oversight reporting to the national security committees of Congress. DHS is simply not up to the task of protecting our cyber vitals.
  • New privacy laws and regulations concerning the commercial collection, storage, and sharing of personal data and information, including attorney general oversight and congressional reporting.
  • Total revision of our national counterintelligence structure, including creation of a new, fully empowered and independent counterintelligence agency with emphasis on the protection of our new technology and intellectual property.
  • Major public and private investments in alternatively produced fuels, especially for diesel and aviation use—e.g., algae—together with comparative studies of the energy policies and practices of major world energy consumers like China.
  • Creation of a new agency with both the legal authority and technical means to produce and distribute international media and material of political and strategic enhancement to the United States and revision of laws, regulations, and oversight policies that pertain to this activity. We allow other nations to influence our public opinion—like Russia's RT—and we should be active in overseas markets and areas as a basic condition for access to ours.
  • A major refocus of United Nations—and related multilateral diplomacy to key bilateral relationships like India and Brazil.
  • Revitalization of NATO, other regional security arrangements and "like-minded nations" like Russia—with special emphasis on joint actions to neutralize violent non-state organizations, radical factions, and their leaderships.
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    This "bucket list" list should keep Washington busy. However, if we don't, can't, or won't do it, we will see an accelerated decline in our ability to influence our vital national security interests and basic economic competitiveness. Worst of all, it will continue to be "open season" on America for terror attacks.

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