Review: Open Target–Where America Is Vulnerable to Attack (Hardcover)

5 Star, Security (Including Immigration), Survival & Sustainment, Threats (Emerging & Perennial)

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Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Stovepiping and Failure to Share Informaiton THE Threat,

May 31, 2006
Clark Kent Ervin
I actually like the “Tedious and Flawed” review even though I do not fully agree with that characterization of this book. That review is useful as a counter-balance to blind acceptance of the author’s assertions as well as my own praise of this book.

However, as a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Government, and as the lead Amazon reviewer on national security matters, I have to give this book five stars and opine that on balance, this author is closer to the truth than the U.S. Government might wish us to believe.

The key assertion in the book, which most reviewers fail to note, is that stove-piping and a failure to share information is the key threat to our Nation. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) appears to understand this assertion, and the ONLY thing about the DNI that impresses me is the focus on information sharing standards and processes being devised by the DNI CIO. The author gives this information sharing blockage more weight when he discusses the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has ten different intelligence units out of the 22 agencies it manages, yet the Secretary of DHS (then Tom Ridge) refused to do what Congress asked him to do, which was to be the lead for coordinating and consolidating intelligence about threats to the homeland. Little wonder that years after 9-11 we still do not have a consolidated watchlist of suspected terrorists.

The author says on page 175 that DHS suffers from a clear failure to take intelligence matters as seriously as they should be, and he cites testimony to the effect that DHS gets a grade of 5-6 on a scale of 10. A memorable quote on page 11 sets the stage for the book: “Instead of connecting the dots, the Secretary of Homeland Security was passing the buck.” Exactly right, and Hurricane Katrina, which the author does discuss, proves the point. DHS is a charade, line the DNI, the Secretary of DHS is simply a figure-head, a placebo for public.

EDIT of 28 June 2007: I reread this book by accident while at the beach, having forgotten I went over it earlier, and this time one additional observation jumped out at me: the author, in the chapter on intelligence failure, documents how the lawyers working for the original Secretary of DHS refused to allow DHS to execute its mandate to be the sole authority in bringing together all the terrorist watchlists. The national counter-terrorism center is in my view unnecessary, counter-productive, overly obsessed with terrorism, and oh, by the way, five years later, they have a gift shop but they still do not have a consolidated terrorist watch list.

I happen to sympathize with the author, and there are no doubt many that will consider this book to be self-serving, but when the author says on page 15 that “doing your job can ruin your career,” he is speaking for many. Today the Washington Post tells us that the Supreme Court has ruled against government employees being entitled to freedom of speech, even when they are attempting to report criminal actions by their organizations or leaders. The U.S. Government has, in my view, become corrupt with respect to the integrity of the information and the transparency and accountability of all the Cabinet departments. Fraud, waste, and abuse are the rule, not the exception, and we are long overdue for a massive housecleaning. I have seen too many good people driven out of government through “fitness of duty physicals,” transfers to dark corners, and other punitive measures that should be illegal and punishable by prison or at least impeachment. The U.S. Governments shoots the messenger and plays politics with the truth, and that is a fact.

In that regard, the authors slams Senator Joe “never met a Republican I cannot love” Lieberman, and Senator Collins, for not being serious about their oversight roles, for being too intent with “going along” with what according to this author, the Inspector General charged with knowing such things, were not only fraud, waste, and abuse, but MISSION FAILURE.

I was impressed that the author established a separate IG unit to focus on information technology, and distressed that like the rest of the US Government, he does not seem to recognize the extraordinary value that the Government Accountability Office (GAO, an investigative arm of Congress) can offer as a partner in rooting out fraud, waste, abuse, and plain incompetence.

In the intelligence arena, my primary area of int3rest and my main reason for reading this book, the author has real credibility with me when he states that the U.S. Intelligence Community has NOT been fixed (as of 2006, five years after 9-11), and that DHS is a minor and abysmally incompetent player in the US IC–the “last to know” anything relevant to defending homeland security.

The book has excellent notes and an extremely poor index. I would normally reduce the score of this book to four stars for such a poor index, but the importance of this topic, and the authenticity of the author’s experience and shared knowledge, cause me to leave it at five stars. I recommend the book be read with Stephen Flynn’s America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism, which I have also reviewed, some time ago, very favorably.

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