Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack

By Lloyd F. Reese

***** Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack. By Clark Kent Ervin; published by Palgrave Macmillian, (Web); 231 pages; $24.95.

In Open Target, the former Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Clark Kent Ervin, presents a gripping account of how the agency’s leaders are failing to deal with the threat of terrorism.

Ervin, who was the agency’s first IG, does not limit himself to personal accounts. In this well-documented work, he highlights DHS’s deficiencies using his own office’s reviews, congressional testimony, media articles, and government reports, covering all areas of homeland security. He uses the obvious example of Hurricane Katrina to support his argument that the government remains unable to deal with a major incident.

Ervin finds the primary reason why the U.S. “remains dangerously unprotected is that our leaders aren’t quite sure what to do to increase our level of protection markedly.” Open questions at DHS include how much security is enough, how much is too little, and how secure we really are. He concludes that no one in or outside of government seems to have the answer.

One of Ervin’s major findings is that DHS does not get the funding it needs to do its job. He asks a fundamental question: Should the Department of Defense have an annual budget ten times greater than DHS?

But Ervin also points out repeatedly how DHS leaders are more interested in protecting their own reputations than their country. When his undercover IG agents tested the ability of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners to detect weapons, they found it easy to sneak these items past screeners. The then head of TSA felt the revelation reflected poorly on his agency; many feel it contributed to the White House’s decision not to renew Ervin’s recess appointment at the end of 2004.

One would reasonably ask if Ervin’s account is biased against the DHS, based either on the very nature of his work or the nature of his exit. Ervin might respond by pointing to a passage on page 11. When then Secretary Tom Ridge criticized him for not being “a team player,” he asked Ervin, “Are you my Inspector General?” The author responded, “No, I’m not, sir. I’m the American people’s Inspector General. You and I both work for them.”

Despite his critical view of the government’s performance, Ervin concludes that we are safer than we were on the morning of 9-11. He points out that aviation security has improved somewhat, it’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and the local first-responder community is better equipped and trained.

Ervin’s writing style is appropriate for the subject; it is easy to read with a minimum of jargon.

The author accomplishes his purpose of explaining where America is most vulnerable to attack. The book presents a clear argument, with more than enough examples and ample documentation. Any security professional concerned with homeland security would benefit from this work.

Reviewer: Lloyd F. Reese, CPP, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), has worked for the U.S. Government, a Fortune 50 Company, and a consulting business. He is a member of ASIS International.


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