THE MAGAZINE

Think Tank Perspective: Interview with Philip Mudd

By Matthew Harwood


The Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group, of which you’re a member, just released a report describing intelligence reforms for the DHS. Can you explain the recommendations outlined in the report?

When you look at the constellation of intelligence services in the United States, there is some overlap, but many of them have unique capabilities. For example, the CIA’s capabilities are obviously focused overseas in places like South Asia or the Horn of Africa. The National Counterterrorism Center’s capabilities are focused on infusing intelligence from all services. The FBI’s focus is largely domestic. So you look at a couple of pieces that help define what DHS’s specific mandate and responsibilities are. There are unique areas—such as the border, customs, and national infrastructure—that other intelligence community members don’t focus on. These are areas where DHS has a mandate by statute and by responsibility. They have unique pools of data in areas like travel or immigration. So Aspen’s recommendation is to build on these unique areas and try to avoid areas that are the responsibility of other agencies.

How would DHS make the private sector a factor in the domestic intelligence apparatus? What responsibilities would they each have?

There are a couple of responsibilities. The first is when you’re looking at broad industries: How do we prevent breaches of digital information by a foreign power? What are the common threats across the United States? Maybe an industry on the West Coast hasn’t been attacked yet, but an industry on the East Coast has been. Maybe there are lessons.

While you’re trying to help people understand what the common threat is and maybe how to respond to it, you’re also, hopefully, building trust, so they report a breach, and the federal government can sound the alarm and give stakeholders advice on protecting themselves. It has to be a partnership though, because a lot of information that resides out there is not going to be in federal databases. It’s going to be in the hands of a security manager who needs to build trust with DHS because he’s concerned about proprietary information reaching the general public.

So what the Aspen Institute wants is for DHS to focus more on protection at the local level than determining who’s going to attack us and why?

I think what we’re saying is “How can we sharpen and focus what we do over time so it aligns with our areas of expertise?” That includes the areas where we have unique talent and data pools and the areas where we have a customer base that isn’t being served by other agencies. We spent a lot of time with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and other DHS officials.

I’m afraid that someone is going to perceive this as a critique of DHS. It’s only saying we have more experience than we did a decade ago, so let’s apply it and see if there are ways to evolve. Any entity that I’ve ever been involved with—whether it’s public or private—has to sit back at some point and say, “Look, the world changes.” I don’t care if you’re selling widgets or you’re doing homeland security. Let’s keep evolving or we’ll die.

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