• United States



The Homeland Brand

Aug 29, 20025 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

If the next few weeks proceed as expected, baseball will hang itself, weather rhetoric will drift from stifling to comfortable, the propane-filling business will enjoy a good couple of days, and in the U.S. Senate, legislation nearly as significant and ambitious as the New Deal will wend its way through the approval process.

Eventually, the Homeland Security Act will pass. And then it will land on the desk of President Bush, who will attach to it both his signature and a good bit of his presidential legacy.

Meanwhile, the security industry has attached itself to Homeland Security like barnacles to a whale. Even before there’s a homeland law, there’s the homeland brand. Less than a year after Sept. 11, the Homeland Security moniker has been pasted on to a think tanks name and a policy journal. It’s the name of an online knowledge base and also the brand for a “Special Collections” database of GAO reports. There’s the Homeland Security Directory, essentially a $500 phone book of relevant Washington players. Ithaca Gun has come out with a Homeland Security Model rifle. A company out there somewhere is sellingno jokeHomeland Security doormats.

IT executives should expect nothing less than full exploitation by technology vendors. Oracle’s call for national ID cards was only a prologue. Hewlett-Packard has a Homeland Security web page. CSC has a vice president of homeland security, who, according to his PR rep, can tell us who in the IT market has what it takes to support homeland security. (I’m going out on a limb here and guessing CSC). Sun and a small wireless company called Aether Systems have mobilize[d] Homeland Security, according to a brochure theyve produced, by using Java on Aether’s software. Aether started a Homeland Security Initiative. This is not some altruistic government-industry cooperative. This, as far as one can tell, is a sales initiative, targeted at emergency first response teams, investigators, terrorist prevention agencies, and homeland defense infrastructures. Likewise, IBM joined geographic information systems vendor ESRI to put out a six-page brochure on a cost-effective and timely homeland security strategy. To show off ESRI’s mapping capabilities, the brochure offers maps of lower Manhattan.

Siebel, though, takes the prize. A map of Manhattan is found in its brochure as well, but Siebel actually calls its product Siebel Homeland Security. Whats more, Siebel deigns to make case studies out of the actual events of September 11 and the anthrax attacks, demonstrating how its software could have prevented the events of 9/11 from happening. Under the heading: Prevention: August 2001-September 2001 the brochure reads (bear with me):

With Siebel Homeland Security, the FBI agent tracking Atta could have automatically received an alert from the FBIs Minnesota office when Moussaoui was arrested, based on similarities between Moussaoui and the other suspects the agent had been tracking. The agent would have been able to access additional investigative details from colleagues in Minnesota. At that point, the FBI agent would have likely surmised the true reason Atta and his associates were taking flight lessons. Using the automated workflow capabilities of the Siebel solution, the agent could have swiftly alerted other agencies and law enforcement authorities to take appropriate actions.

Ignore for the moment that this deus ex machina scenario makes breathtakingly ridiculous leaps of logic (if information is available, then it will be used properly, and only the correct judgment will be made based on this data, and when others are alerted, they, too, would use the data properly and take only the appropriate actions). And, after you stop shuddering, heed some advice youll never get from the vendors brochures:

  1. Much the way security vendors invoke military credentials for marketing purposes, technology vendors will be boasting to you about their Homeland Security ties for years to come. They will conjure up billowing flags and national pride, and you will not be able to avoid this, so learn right now to endure it and take it for what it is: a brand used as a sales tool.
  2. The objectives of software in a homeland security setting (whatever that is) are not the objectives of software in a corporate enterprise. Saying, Our biometrics are used by Homeland Security, so you can trust them to work for you, is like saying, These jet fighters patrol our skies so you can use them to fly your employees between offices.
  3. It doesn’t make you unpatriotic to forego using a product that ingratiates itself to the homeland brand. Make decisions in spite of the vendors marketing, not because of it.

    The irony of vendors coming up with homeland security solutions so soon and with such facility, and already packaged into glossy brochures in breezy marketese, is that real Homeland Security is massively complex. It will call for 22 agencies, 170,000 employees, millions of computers, terabytes of data, dozens of cultures, and hundreds of public service missions to merge into one. The Coast Guard and Customs will have the same boss as NIPC and CIAO. There’s a hackneyed phrase about organizational change being like trying to turn an oil tanker around. This will be like trying to hold the oil tanker still while you turn the earth around.

    It will take many years and tens of billions of dollars to see Homeland Security through. If you had a dollar for every time youll hear a vendor invoke Homeland Security to sell you something over the next few months, you might be able to cover the costs.