Open Target: Where America Is Vulnerable to Attack Hardcover – May 2 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Appointed acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security in January 2003, Ervin left after 18 months when Congress refused to confirm him. The reason, he writes, is that he did his job too well, pointing out so much mismanagement and so many security lapses that the bureaucracy turned against him. Ervin sounds the alarm and attempts to settle scores in this book, a detailed warning that America remains frighteningly vulnerable to terrorism. Ervin explores the homeland's weaknesses, describes what the DHS should be doing and how it falls short. Ports, airlines, "soft targets" such as stadiums and critical infrastructure like the water supply must be further secured, as must mass transit (which receives a fraction the funding aviation does). Fragmented intelligence allowed the 9/11 plotters to succeed, but the DHS has not yet achieved coordination of intelligence. Finally, the massive DHS budget requires the establishment of strict accounting and antifraud policies. Though the author notes progress in some areas, he thinks the department has made woefully inadequate headway, is incompetently administered and starved for funds. Ervin's criticisms ring true, and they were well covered in the media, but readers may prefer an account less colored by personal feeling.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
<div><div><div><div><div>"[Ervin's] analysis is persuasive--from his sensible policy prescriptions to his infuriating description of how his teams passed through aviation screening with deadly weapons."</div><div>--The Washington Post</div><div> </div><div>"Almost five years after 9-11, we are still not safe. Clark Kent Ervin brings an inside perspective as to why and what needs to be done. A must-read for those interested in the security of our people in this age of terror."
--Tom Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission and former governor of New Jersey</div><div> </div><div><div><div>"A tell-all book filled with stories about sensitive political egos and government inefficiencies that left the nation vulnerable to terrorists."</div><div>--The Houston Chronicle
"Clark Kent Ervin's Open Target is a well-written, interesting, and devastating critique of the Department of Homeland Security--a critique that is made all the more timely in the wake of the department's incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina."
--Peter Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know, CNN terrorism analyst, and Fellow of the New America Foundation
"Open Target is a sobering perspective on what still must be done to secure the homeland against terrorists who remain determined to strike. You don't have to agree with everything in it to recognize what an important contribution it is to the national dialogue."
--John McLaughlin, former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence
"This is a critically important book. Clark Ervin knows better than anyone the challenges we face on homeland security. He describes clearly where the dangers are, what mistakes are being made, and how to fix things."
--Walter Isaacson, author of Ben Franklin: An American Life and president of the Aspen Institute</div></div></div></div></div></div></div> --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
However, Clark Kent Ervin's scathing book documents numerous failings within the newly created Department of Homeland Security itself. Under funded and disorganized, DHS issues propaganda intentionally designed to make the American people feel 'safe' as opposed to taking real measures which would actually protect the country against another terrorist attack.
As was being practiced while he served as Inspector General, homeland security largely is a ploy to play on people's emotions. Truly effective policies require substantially more money, resources, and time than what the government itself invested.
We kid ourselves believing America is any safer today. Ervin meticulously documented how the government did just enough to keep people complacent (the airport security) but selectively 'forgot' other public areas where large groups of people are vulnerable to attack.
He does have the insider perspective, but I am also wondering if some of the harsh accounts of incompetence contained inside this book partially stem from unresolved inter-office politics. Plus, other authors already suggested that DHS and affiliated agencies (ahem..FEMA!) were a political dumping ground for administration buddies as opposed to a source for bureaucratic expertise.
Still, this is an overall excellent account of the very important differences between the government assuring people that we are safe and actually being safe. It is required reading for any American because we need to know the truth about the 'effectiveness' of homeland security policies.
Dysfunctional organizational structure is a major issue - DHS' CFO lacked authority over component unit CFOs; similar situations existed in the purchasing, and information technology areas.
Another myths exploded by Ervin is the fact that most air cargo is not inspected - instead manifests are reviewed (screened). Similarly, with overseas container shipments - manifests are reviewed by U.S. staff (sometimes), with follow-up inspection conducted by LOCAL citizens (if at all, with questionable effectiveness).
Ervin also points out that less than one-fourth the required number of radiation detectors are available at U.S. ports - none in N.Y., and the ones in N.J. cannot tell the difference between natural radiation (eg. cat litter, ceramics) and enriched uranium.
Somewhere between $18 and 20 billion has been spent on incompletely securing aviation, but only $250 million for mass transit. Securing our food and water supplies, malls, sports arenas, etc. has merited even less attention.
Then there is the matter of visas and passports. Citizens from 27 nations with close relations to the U.S. can enter the U.S. without a visa. Yet, between 1/02 and 6/04, 56,943 passports were reported stolen - mostly from these nations. Instead of seizing stolen passports being used to attempt entry, we give them back so that the individual can return to wherever they came from. Congress specifically requested that DHS established specially trained Visa Security Officers (VSOs) to Saudi Arabia to better screen applicants - this took 9 months after the President's approval, and only one of the ten could speak Arabic. (Ridge belittled these findings.) Further, the VSOs spent most of their time entering data into DHS computers that already had been entered in State Dept. databases.
Those entering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico are "screened" only by running license plate checks (worthless). In 2004 there were 44,617 individuals caught on the Southwest border that were other than Mexican - many/most are released due to a lack of holding space.
"Open Target" is a great service to those interested in real security.
That is the devastating theme of Open Target in a nutshell: that the United States' efforts to stem the threat of a terror attack is based on creating certain impressions, demonstrating bravado about being proactive, and, most importantly, to help rationalize extreme steps taken elsewhere.
Mr. Ervin is not a gifted writer, but he does effectively sound the alarm about where risks lie, and he goes on at great length about how they can be stemmed. His suggestions are not high-tech or complicated plans but rather critical but common sense approaches that in many cases simply require the expense of a little shoe leather from agents in the field. He suggests, for example, checking all containers arriving to U.S. ports, securing soft targets like athletic stadiums and water supplies, cross referencing databases of suspected extremists, and encouraging coordination between territorial agencies like the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, local and state police, the Pentagon, and the Department of Homeland Security.
It's hard to read Open Target and not be appalled and frightened by how astonishingly vulnerable the U.S. seems to be, at least from Mr. Ervin's perspective.
I brush aside one criticism I've read of the book, which is that Mr. Ervin was simply providing potential extremists with a laundry list of targets on the susceptible American underbelly. I had that critique in mind when I started the book -- but as I worked my way through it I realized that the vulnerabilities Mr. Ervin points out are so obvious that while it's beyond belief that security forces haven't worked harder to limit the risk, it's also very unlikely that hostile forces hadn't thought of them long ago.
One critical appraisal that does give me pause is Mr. Ervin's own point of view. He finished his 18-month stint as the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general in 2004, when Congress would not confirm him. He says the reason was that he was too effective in pointing out mismanagement and security lapses that legislators preferred not to have so much attention called to those failures. I can't say whether Mr. Ervin's assessment is correct or not, but while reading Open Target it is each to imagine that part of the author's reason for writing the book may have been to settle the score with those who wouldn't let him do the job he wanted to do and appeared ready to do well. If that's true, it's easy to understand, but it also undermines the book by coloring every assertion with a brush dipped in personal resentment.
Those aren't the kinds of overtones I'd select for a book like this one, but I also wonder whether anyone with the knowledge to write a book like this could do so without being involved. Perhaps that involvement is a necessary weakness.
I must forewarn you, reading this book will make you angry, sad, appalled, dumbfounded, and scrambling to your favorite vice for relief. But it is time for us to really know what terrorists already know: American has a long way to protecting its people the best we can.
I highly recommend this disturbing and illuminating book.
PS I had the brilliant idea of sending a copy of "Open Target" to every Senator and Congressman to ensure they `get the message'. If I just knew they would (or could) all read it.
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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