• United States



by CSO Contributor


Apr 01, 20058 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

On any given day, we CSOs come to work facing a multitude of security risks. They range from a sophisticated hacker breaching the network to a common thug picking a lock on the loading dock and making off with company property. Each of these scenarios has a probability of occurring and a payout (in this case, a cost to the company) should it actually occur. To guard against these risks, we have a finite budget of resources in the way of time, personnel, money and equipment

poker chips, if you will.

If we’re good gamblers, we put those chips where there is the highest probability of winning a high payout. In other words, we guard against risks that are most likely to occur and that, if they do occur, will cost the company the most money. We could always be better, but as CSOs, I think we’re getting pretty good at this process. So lately I’ve been wonderingas I watch spending on national security continue to skyrocket, with diminishing marginal returnswhy we as a nation can’t apply this same logic to national security spending. If we did this, the war on terrorism would look a lot different. In fact, it might even be over.

Let’s assume, first of all, that the ultimate goal of security is to prevent the loss of lives. In this risk management approach, then, the first thing to look at is the leading causes of death in the United States. The total number of deaths from all attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was approximately 2,988, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The top 10 causes of other deaths in the United States in 2001 were the following.

1. Heart disease: 700,142

2. Cancer: 553,768

3. Stroke: 163,538

4. Chronic lower respiratory disease: 123,013

5. Accidents: 101,537

6. Diabetes: 71,372

7. Pneumonia/flu: 62,034

8. Alzheimer’s disease: 53,852

9. Kidney disease: 39,480

10. Suicide: 30,622

The 9/11 deaths were classified within a category called assaults/homicides, which was the 13th leading cause of death at 20,308.

The next thing to look at is spending. As I write this article, the president has just released his proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2006. The projected budget for the Department of Defense is $419.3 billion, and the projected budget for the Department of Homeland Security is $34.2 billion. Since 2001, defense spending has risen by more than 40 percent, and the Department of Homeland Security budget has roughly tripled. But even those billions of dollars fail to tell the whole story. Other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, also spend money in pursuit of homeland security. The Department of Energy spends money on nuclear weapons’ activities. And since 2001, Congress has approved billions of dollars for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan that are not included as part of the Defense budget.

To be sure, there has not been another terrorist attack in the United States since 2001, so presumably all that additional money has prevented other lives from being taken because of terrorism. But what about the other leading causes of death? Could the money spent on additional defense and homeland security have saved more lives if it had been applied in other areas?

For example, eight of the top 10 causes of death are health-related. If one classifies suicide as a mental health problem, then nine of the top 10 causes of death are health-related. Could those billions of dollars have saved more lives if they had been spent on health research or on making health care available to a larger percentage of the population?

Or what about the other top 10 cause of death: accidents? Consisting primarily of automobile accidents and work-related deaths, accidents amounted to more than 100,000 deaths in 2001. In fact, more people were killed in motor vehicle accidents each month in the year 2001 (and still are) than were killed in the 9/11 attacks. Could more lives have been saved if those billions of dollars had been spent increasing automobile and traffic safety?

Probably. But, you might ask, what about the costs of another successful terrorist attack? Another terrorist attack using say, a nuclear device, could result in hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of deathsnot to mention having a catastrophic effect on the nation’s economy and environment. That’s true. But ask yourself this question: Have the billions of dollars spent on additional security since 9/11 made this kind of attack impossible? We inspect less than 3 percent of the cargo containers coming into this country. It would be catastrophic if just one of the 97 percent that aren’t checked made it through with a nuclear device. Or what about the possibility of a terrorist sailing a vessel with a nuclear device on board into the harbor of New York City, San Francisco or New Orleans, or any other port city? All the money in the U.S. Treasury might not be enough to prevent that from happening.Security Has Its LimitsBy raising these questions, I’m not trying to disparage the memories of those killed in the 9/11 attacks. I was at the base of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when it collapsed, and it is only by the grace of God that I was not listed among the dead. But as security professionals, we should be the first to face facts about the limitations of the very processes we advocate.

Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on increased security is not going to bring back the victims of 9/11, and it isn’t going to improve by very much our already heightened vigilance against terrorism. Haven’t we already captured two-thirds of the al-Qaida leadership? Haven’t we already overthrown the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and made fledgling democracies out of Afghanistan and Iraq? As a nation, don’t we already spend more on national security than the next 10 nations combined?

Yes, there are terrorists still out there in the world, but I’ve got news for you: There have always been terrorists in the world, and there always will beno matter how much money we spend fighting them. In economics, there is something called the law of diminishing marginal returns, which dictates that, at some point, spending additional dollars no longer gains you as much improvement. As a nation, we have certainly reached that point with spending on security.

Sure, my natural inclination as a CSO is to believe that if some security is good, then more security is better. But logically, I can’t help but think that it’s time for us to turn our attention to other types of threats. There is no end to them. Deteriorating educational performance, a declining manufacturing base and a lack of medical coverage for millions of Americans are but a few of the threats facing this nation. These issues are now far more likely to cause significant damage to the future health, safety and welfare of Americans than a crippled al-Qaida hiding in the bowels of the mountains of Afghanistan.

If you don’t want to spend money on those problems, fine. Save it instead. The U.S. Federal budget deficit is at a historic high. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office recently released a study showing federal budget projections through the year 2040. The study assumed that discretionary spending grows with the economy and all expiring tax cuts are extended. The result is that, even adjusted for inflation, in the year 2040, the federal government will be spending as much of the national GDP (about 20 percent) on making interest payments on the debt as it currently does for the entire federal budget. If the growth of government continues at current rates, then by the year 2040, the total federal budget, including those interest payments, will absorb almost 45 percent of the national GDP. The money we spend fighting terrorism could be used to reduce the budget deficit and prevent future economic problems instead.A Job for the CSOMy point is this: We CSOs know how to best allocate available resources to guard against the most likely threats. We have expertise in knowing where the government should be putting its poker chips. We should be vocal about the need to apply the same logic to our nation’s security that we apply to our everyday jobs as security officerseven though advocating for less security may at times be in conflict with the best interests of our profession (just as this approach is perhaps not in the best interest of a politician looking to get reelected). Some readers of this magazine are part of the Defense and Homeland Security establishments or are helping to shape their budgets and agendas. For those peopleand for the rest of us tooI would say the time has come to turn the corner on 9/11 and look to the future.

Instead of increasing Defense and Homeland Security spending, the money spent in these areas should now be reduced and the money used to fight other threats to the future of this country. This doesn’t mean letting al-Qaida reconstitute as a serious threat. But it certainly doesn’t require hundreds of billions of dollars in additional funding to continue that fight against a seriously crippled terrorist organization.

Former Vermont Sen. George Aiken reportedly gave some now-famous advise to Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. He told him, “Just declare victory and go home.” It’s time we did the same on terrorism. The sooner we stop spending more and more on security and start applying to other, more serious threats, the better off this country will be.