Threats

Author: Gary Hart

A few years ago, I was honored to be appointed chair of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Threat Reduction Advisory Committee.  As the title suggests, there were two dozen of us—former senior military officers, cabinet officers, scientists, and office holders—tasked with identifying and remediating existing and future threats.

The organizing principle was to reduce the threat before it became unmanageable to proportions that could be dealt with expeditiously or prevented from happening altogether.

Needless to say, this survey ranged all the way from local wars to future terrorist attacks.

Among others, I repeatedly urged our scope to be broad enough to include non-military threats, including such things as climate threats and pandemics.

Military threats are traditionally dealt with by military, and sometimes diplomatic, means.  But how does the national security apparatus of the U.S., or any other country for that matter, deal with threats to security from natural occurrences or man’s mistreatment of nature.

Out of that and other studies by two or more successive government administrations, came some significant changes and reforms.  Systems were established internationally for scientists to exchange information on a real time basis, internationally agencies were created, and within our own government officials in the National Security Agency, Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies were designated.

As with so much else in the past three years or more, the Trump administration, largely led by former National Security Advisor whose principal preoccupation since the collapse of the Cold War was to find regional wars to fight to justify weapons procurement, dismantled much if not all of the apparatus meant to identify and organize to defeat threats such as pandemics.

Experts concerned with non-military threats, in his mind, were a distraction from “real” threats requiring ships, planes, and tanks.

Which, of course, brought us to last January and the pandemic waiting to happen.  We not only were not prepared, we were led by people who did not want to think about non-military threats.  As a result, seven times more Americans, already, have died as the result of Covid-19 than died on 9/11 and many more to follow.

This is a steep price to pay for willfully refusing to anticipate and prepare for the threats of tomorrow.  If carbon is not reduced very soon millions around the world, including in the U.S., will die from starvation and disease.  And there is nothing to prevent Covid-22, 23, and 24 from paying us a visit.

I was asked recently what I thought the greatest threat to our security was.  I said “ignorance”.  If America persists in electing and re-electing ignorant leaders, we will get what we deserve.

Footnote: on his way out the door, John Bolton managed to dissolve the Threat Reduction Advisory Committee in 2019.

21 Responses to “Threats”

  1. Neil McCarthy Says:

    No truer words have been spoken. Ignorance is our greatest threat. And it’s on display daily in Trump’s so-called press briefings. I couldn’t resist commenting on that sad fact about a week ago. For any who are interested, my frustrations are set forth in “Hiding Behind Ignorance” at https://neils3ds.blogspot.com.

    Question: some are defending the administration against claims that it disbanded the pandemic task force that was a part of the NSC by asserting that the function was simply folded into a different group dealing with bioterrorism. Does anyone know if that is accurate and if so whether the change was advisable?

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I’m not sure but maybe that’s where the guy in charge of testing is …

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I’m looking forward to reading the study or after-action report on the WHO response to this outbreak.

    I’m guessing there’ll be many lessons learned in the aftermath of this pandemic that will inform the next response. And, there may be recommendations for an independent World Health Organization that isn’t under the yolk of the United Nations. I’d like to see that if more independence means a more flexible organization that can act quickly based on science and not on the political whims of too many member states.

  4. Kathy Teti Says:

    Gary, many years ago (1992?) on a Yale educational cruise, Vince and I joined you and Lee at dinner. The subject of conversation was the security of this country. One of the remarks you repeated over and over was the need to rid ourselves of the notion that the buildup of traditional warfare weaponry would deem us secure. You were right then and you have continued to be so.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Kathy,

    More than enough proof has accumulated over time and across any number of sectors of society that the security of a nation cannot be measured solely or even primarily in terms of military might.

    The US has had a lot of time to recognize this and to act to change it. Why has there been so little real progress?

    Wasn’t it RFK who said that progress is a good word but, change is its motivator and change has its enemies.

    In America, I think progress is going to require a very special kind of national leadership capable of uniting the country and securing global solidarity. It’s going to take a bold vision and the requisite courage to carry out that vision, overcoming strong forces that have always lined up to prevent change in favour of the status quo.

    “America leads best when it leads by the power of its example rather than by the example of its power.” … Senator Joseph R. Robinette, Jr.

  6. Michael Says:

    Today, the President of the United States took to Twitter and incited violence against the duly-elected state governments of Virginia, Michigan and Minnesota because of the rules they imposed to protect the public health. It boggles the mind. We are indeed in uncharted territory.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Guess who is leading the G20, these days?

    https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/g20-health-ministers-virtual-meeting-saudi-arabia

    Sincere thanks go out to Saudi Arabia for donating US500 million to the WHO Global Response.

  8. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    “Is there anyone alive out there!?”

  9. Gary Hart Says:

    Yes, Elizabeth, most of us are still trying to stay alive. GH

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    🙂 🙂 🙂

  11. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Now, if only some of you could be a bit more chatty …

  12. Gary Hart Says:

    Elizabeth, and all on the line: I welcome any explanation as to how Trump & Co., especially former National Security Adviser Bolton, could dismantle a national security system for dealing with viral pandemics and laughingly escape responsibility and accountability for failure to respond in a timely manner to our present catastrophe. The serious media have reported and commented on this failure at length but Trump &. Co. skip right along blaming State Governors and anyone at hand for their own failure of leadership. This is just one aspect of 21st century politics I don’t understand. We have gone through the looking glass. GH

  13. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    As problems go, I’d say we got a big one here.

    Might a fear of reprisals and more general lack of courage have something to do with it?

    The Governors are too busy trying to keep people alive and procuring federal help to worry about presidential accountability.

    And, the WH press corps, more visible than ever, lately, is no match for Trump. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Day after day after day – ad particular nauseam – Trump eats them for dinner and then spits them out on national television.

    What about the responsibility of the electorate in holding the president accountable? We can dream. 🙂

  14. Michael Says:

    The media has become too fragmented and is too easily distracted by the next outrageous thing, (which Trump is savvy enough to steadily supply) to stay focused on what really matters. Institutions like the New York Times and Washington Post, whose stories could once rivet the nation don’t break through like they once did.

  15. Neil McCarthy Says:

    In answer to the Senator’s question in the above comment, they escaped responsibility in two ways. First, most didin’t notice when they dismantled the Obama-era system for dealing with viral pandemics. Second, when the pandemic came and they were called to account, the former head of the the unit into which pandemic response had been folded defended the move as an effcient consolidation and claimed that those asserting the pandemic response unit had been dismantled were misrepresenting the facts (his defense is here -https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/16/no-white-house-didnt-dissolve-its-pandemic-response-office/). In the very first comment to this most recent post, I asked whether that defense was valid. I would invite our host’s (and anyone else’s) analysis/answer.

  16. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michael,

    With regard to the media portion of the problem, I’ve been thinking that those WH reporters are just too lazy to come up with the right kinds of questions that Trump won’t be able to counter and will have to pass them on to the experts on the podium that day.

    But, I’m told the problem isn’t necessarily journalistic incompetence:

    “The trouble with questioning this president isn’t an individual reporter’s strategy, nor is it the president’s dislike of tough questions. it’s corporate control of the fourth estate that permits the de facto blacklisting of any organization whose employee dares to ask donald a question he doesn’t like. that builds a culture of fear among members of the press, and anyone who isn’t afraid is sent packing.” … a response to me at my other favourite blog

    If this is the case, then the solution is a bit more complicated. 🙁

    Not sure I buy it, though …

  17. Michael Says:

    Elizabeth,
    I don’t buy it either. While the W.H. press corps generally could do a better job, we have seen some reporters ask tough questions. The result is that Trump launches an angry attack against them and the news organizations they work for. His supporters love that and much of the general public doesn’t know what to believe because a key strategy of the Right in the era of fragmented media is to flood the ether with invented narratives so that the general public no longer knows what is fact and what is fiction. The resulted that they decide they hate politics and tune out.

  18. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michael,

    Sure, they have asked some tough-ish questions but they have asked them in a way that invites Trump’s antics.

    I would refrain completely from asking Trump/Pence ANY questions and only direct questions to the others on the podium. Preface the question with facts and try very hard to steer the answer away from anything to do with Trump.

    Never, never, ever under any circumstances start a question with “you said, Trump said …” because that will get you nowhere, fast.

    Preparing for a WH press briefing is hardly rocket science. Everyone here could ask more enlightened questions in a way that would ensure a reasonable answer or at least limit Trump’s dangerous antics than anyone in the WH press corps.

  19. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Neil,

    I read your blog when you posted it in this thread – it was a very compelling read.

    I missed this part from above somehow (I clicked on your blog and that was the end of it. 🙂 ):Question: some are defending the administration against claims that it disbanded the pandemic task force that was a part of the NSC by asserting that the function was simply folded into a different group dealing with bioterrorism. Does anyone know if that is accurate and if so whether the change was advisable?

    But, I do remember hearing someone – the guy who ran it? – on the TV say that. That it was moved into HHS or some other agency. And, that was the last I heard of it. I haven’t heard former President Obama or Senator Biden say anything about that. I hope it’s because they have and I just missed it.

  20. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    “Elizabeth, and all on the line: I welcome any explanation as to how Trump & Co., especially former National Security Adviser Bolton, could dismantle a national security system for dealing with viral pandemics and laughingly escape responsibility and accountability for failure to respond in a timely manner to our present catastrophe. The serious media have reported and commented on this failure at length but Trump &. Co. skip right along blaming State Governors and anyone at hand for their own failure of leadership. This is just one aspect of 21st century politics I don’t understand. We have gone through the looking glass. GH”
    And
    Elizabeth’s response . . “The US has had a lot of time to recognize this and to act to change it. Why has there been so little real progress?”

    One factor that all of you have chosen not to even approach is that a significant portion of citizens, especially registered voters who do vote, are too uneducated, dense, or outright ignorant to be capable of understanding the experts, who regularly speak about the whole fiasco that has transpired. The occupant of the white house uses simple phrases and terminology that even a fourth grader can understand and thus convinces his moronic mass of followers that he is right and is doing a great job, because he says so. I am not sure that even he understands some of the questions that articulate and enlightened reporters posit to him. When he doesn’t understand the question or a question that he doesn’t want to answer, he calls it a “fake question” or attacks the reporter as a “fake reporter” and goes to the next question that he can answer in a manner that puts himself, as he sees it, in a good light. Much of the problem can be placed squarely upon the shoulders of the current government, but some important portion of the blame lies upon the aforementioned moronic following of the main focus of this problem. Without their undying, up to this point, support, he would not survive. We seemingly have given up on attempting to solve the moronic problem.

  21. H Patrick Pritchard Says:

    Ignorance is a pervasive threat to any democracy. This was a major consideration debated by our forefathers during the creation of the Republic. In my mind the twin of ignorance is the complacency of an informed politic to participate in the governing process! It is a major threat as well!

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