Strategies for Defending the Border and Protecting Critical Infrastructure

Paul Stockton, the former assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, discusses the strategy of "security in depth."

by / November 24, 2014
Paul Stockton is the former assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. David Kidd/e.Republic

Paul Stockton is the former assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, where he served as the DOD’s domestic crisis manager and was responsible for supervising the department’s homeland defense activities, including critical infrastructure protection, domestic crisis management, defense support of civil authorities and Western Hemisphere security matters. He led the department’s response to Superstorm Sandy and other disasters.

Stockton is an internationally recognized leader in infrastructure resilience and U.S. national security and foreign policy. He is currently the managing director of economic analysis firm Sonecon.

Emergency Management: You suggested recently that there is a better use of National Guard troops than stationing them at the border with Mexico, and you discuss a strategy of “security in depth.” Can you explain what you mean?

Paul Stockton: We’re asking our customs and border patrol and our state and local law enforcement and other members of the border team to play defense on our 1-yard line. That is we’re allowing adversaries too much freedom to come up to the border and have our own folks on the last line of defense. Instead we ought to play football further down the field and take the security fight further toward its source and partner with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and countries in the region to go after the transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) close to their basing, and begin to intensify intelligence-led operations in cooperation with our partners well before illicit flows get to our border.

EM: You describe putting National Guard troops at the border in football terms as a goal-line stand. That would suggest there is not much hope of success?

PS: We can use our resources much more effectively if in addition to continuing our capabilities right at the border, or if you will, goal-line defense, that we also move to the south even more strongly than we currently are and together with the nations with whom we can partner, do much more to conduct intelligence-led operations and take down the transnational criminal organizations before they can bring their illicit trafficking to the U.S. border.

We also need to prioritize the way we think about the threats posed by transnational crime organizations. We know that TCOs are interested potentially in trafficking not only unaccompanied children but much more severe challenges to the U.S. The commander of Southern Command, Gen. John Kelly, has argued that the United States faces potentially existential threats from transnational criminal organizations attempting to move terrorists or even weapons of mass destruction to the U.S. We need to focus on the threats to the U.S. that TCOs pose that are of greater significance to U.S. security and build an intelligence-led security system in partnership with nations in the region that focuses on those most severe challenges.

EM: I sense in your response that we’re not focusing enough on potentially catastrophic threats.

PS: I believe we ought to prioritize the way we deal with illicit flows toward the U.S. and concentrate our efforts on the threats that are most severe and take seriously the risk that in the future these transnational criminal organizations will not only traffic in minors but traffic in terrorists and even potentially, weapons of mass destruction.

There is some very important progress that isn’t getting the attention it needs and that I hope will be sustained. There are three particular opportunities for progress. First of all, Secretary for Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has under development what he calls Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Planning. It’s very important that progress in that planning effort be sustained because it provides a framework for much greater emphasis on dealing with transnational criminal organizations at their home bases rather than at the U.S. border.

Second, one of the important and really valuable parts of both House and Senate bills in Congress is an emphasis on the need for improved metrics for understanding whether our investment in security is paying off. Building such metrics will be especially important if we are going to shift toward security in depth so that we can assess the degree to which assisting foreign countries in Central America and Mexico on its southern border are making effective use of our support to them.

Last, we need to ensure that we’re fully leveraging technology, especially for detection and monitoring of illicit flows and to be able to understand how we can bring together multiple data sources to provide for intelligence-led operations. Just like our military conducts intelligence-led operations abroad, I think we can use technology much more effectively in partnership with nations in the region to focus our security assets and take down these TCOs in a much more efficient way than would otherwise be possible. Technology, sensors, data integration — these are the keys to progress.

EM: I want to switch to cybersecurity. Will you discuss how government and industry can and should work together to strengthen the resilience of the power grid and what should develop from these partnerships?

PS: These partnerships between industry and government, all levels of government, are advancing very rapidly. There is extensive collaboration under way, and I believe that voluntary collaboration is the best way, the most rapid way, to make progress against nontraditional hazards — the cyberthreat, electromagnetic threats, all of these less familiar hazards that the grid was never designed to be able to survive. My concern is that the threat is growing just as rapidly, maybe even more rapidly, and that we need to avoid congratulating ourselves prematurely but reinforce the collaborative efforts that are under way to take on what I call “black sky challenges.”

Today we have a grid that has been optimized for reliability purposes around functioning on a blue sky day. Events much worse than Sandy could strike and we could be facing hazards that would create bigger power outages, [for a] much greater geographic scope and potentially for a much longer duration. Building resilience against these extraordinary black sky hazards needs to become a special focus of government/industry collaboration.

EM: And part of that is getting industry to invest in resilience?

PS: Industry is investing heavily in resilience. The electric power companies are ramping up their investment against these nontraditional hazards very rapidly. The challenge lies in reaching consensus by public utility commissioners, industry and other stakeholders and what kinds of investments have the greatest value for building resilience and what kinds of investments are generally prudent and necessary in an environment where keeping rates low is an imperative, especially for the poorest ratepayers.

EM: You mentioned Superstorm Sandy. What did you take away from that in terms of our ability to become resilient to a similar or worse incident?

PS: Two key lessons came out of Sandy for me. First, the ability of the government to innovate under fire and build new mechanisms to support the electric industry for restoring power is terrific. We were able to work with the leadership of the Department of Energy, with FEMA and above all, the electric power industry to build new kinds of support missions to assist industry in restoring power. For example, flying utility trucks across the nation from California and the state of Washington to New York to support utility power restoration on transport aircraft. That mission had never been executed. We were able to glue it together, building the airplane while it was flying. That’s my first takeaway — that government can partner very effectively with industry under fire.

The second lesson is that we shouldn’t have to do that. That’s the hard way of doing business. It’s important now that we not only learn the lessons of Sandy and institutionalize the best practices that we developed in the heat of that crisis, but that we also anticipate even worse events than Sandy and begin to build the plans and capabilities and collaborative mechanisms. So when industry needs assistance in a black sky event, one worse than Sandy, the government will already have the plans and capabilities to collaborate with industry so that government support will be most effective.

This interview was originally published by Emergency Management

Jim McKay Contributing Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout.