Associate editor Matthew Harwood interviews Major General Timothy J. Lowenberg.
Major General Timothy J. Lowenberg was appointed adjutant general of the State of Washington in 1999. As the adjutant general, he is commander of all Washington Army and Air National Guard forces and director of the State’s Emergency Management and Enhanced 911 programs. General Lowenberg also serves as homeland security advisor to the Governor of Washington and as state administrative agent for all United States Department of Homeland Security grants awarded to Washington’s state, local, tribal, and nonprofit agencies and organizations. He also served as chair of the Governor’s 2010 Winter Olympics Task Force Security Committee and currently serves as chair of homeland defense and homeland security of the Adjutants General Association of the United States; chair of the Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices); and chair of the Governor’s Domestic Security Sub-Cabinet.
What are the biggest threats facing Washington today, whether man-made or natural?
Our greatest natural threat is seismic in nature. We are part of the Rim of Fire. We have seismic events occurring literally every day. In the adaptive human-threat area, it would be the special challenges posed by our land, maritime, and air borders. We have unique geographic challenges for which we’ve developed response capabilities over time, reinforced by intense preparation for cross-border support to Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The Olympic games gave us the perfect opportunity to examine how we might deal with a range of threats in the air domain. It’s one thing to launch an F-15 or F-16 to intercept a fast-moving airborne threat and another thing entirely to do so in response to a helicopter or some other slow-moving airborne threat.
How does Washington partner with Canada and the U.S. federal government to increase northern border security?
Through the Stone Garden program, the state of Washington distributes federal homeland security grant monies to cover the overtime expenses of local law enforcement agencies that support federal border security units. You have to recognize that border security, per se, is an exclusive federal responsibility. It’s only when you step back from the air, land, and maritime borders that state officials have a role that they can constitutionally play in support of the federal agencies and in the exercise of their own jurisdiction.
We also have a complex maritime border that is far from conventional or linear. Our maritime border is fragmented by Mother Nature, making surveillance by radar and other technology very challenging. We, therefore, rely on close coordination and collaboration between the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards.
How has the state of Washington engaged the private sector in preparing for all hazards?
We’ve long recognized that there is a shared cultural, social, and economic corridor in the Pacific Northwest that runs north and south. There is a constant balancing of security and commercial, economic, and social interests. So we have long engaged with the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER), which is a nonprofit, private sector organization, whose membership includes private and public sector officials from both Canadian provinces and Northwestern states.
Forums like PNWER and cross-border assistance compacts like the Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Assistance Agreement, which was authorized by Congress in the mid-1990s, give us constant opportunities to discuss how to collaborate across the border and to plan, train, and exercise for closer, more synchronized public-private sector security efforts. For instance, during the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, we had to be prepared for mass migration of persons fleeing a terrorist attack in Vancouver, British Columbia. We had to be prepared for a medical surge in both directions across the border. Private enterprise, particularly in the healthcare industry, would be dramatically affected by that. In our state, we have healthcare professionals from the United States who work in Canada and Canadian healthcare professionals who work in Washington State on a daily basis. If we can’t move people with those critical professional skills across the border, especially in the midst of a catastrophic emergency, it ripples through the healthcare systems of Northern Washington in particular.
Why is medical surge capacity such a concern for you?
We have a medical system in the United States that operates at near full capacity on a daily basis. I don’t envision a time when we will ever develop excess capacity in our healthcare system. So we have to develop and train and exercise to execute tactical surges in medical responses. And that means quickly setting up tactical field hospitals, if necessary, and having a process in place where we draw from the medical community in a nonimpacted area and surge into an area of some catastrophic event requiring mass medical care. We have to be much more agile and flexible to artificially create a surge capacity that’s not there under the normal circumstances.
You’ve said in the past that the threat facing the United States is a residual of what it was on 9-11, but different. What did you mean by that?
I was referring to the migration of capability for causing mass destruction into the hands of independent actors or what has become known as homegrown violent extremists. That’s a phenomenon that’s a very real concern, because it’s so much harder to detect, intercept, and prevent those persons.
You’ve also made a distinction between lone wolves and stray dogs. What is the distinction between those two terms?
The lone wolves generally engage, through some kind of social media or other electronic connections, with other people of a similar ideology. And so there are ways lawfully to develop profiles and to engage in predictive behavior based upon communication among folks of that sort. But the stray dogs, the truly independent actors, don’t really connect with anyone. They’re isolationists. They may follow extremist views through social media and other sources, but they don’t actively engage in the dialogue. They quietly plan, then act on their distorted beliefs.
With the tenth anniversary of 9-11 directly in the rearview mirror, what lessons has the United States still failed to learn?
We can get far better at information sharing and intelligence fusion. We’ve made giant strides in that regard, but the state fusion centers across the nation are still in a developmental state, and the protocols for standardized sharing of information among fusion centers are still ripe for improvement.
Sharing of meaningful information between private-sector and public-sector intelligence operations is also an area for improvement. We have private foundations and nonprofit organizations and for-profit transnational companies that have very sophisticated information gathering and true intelligence gathering capabilities. They have to do so to protect their principal corporate representatives and their capital investments, not only in the United States but around the world. I still think there’s a great deal more to be done in the sharing of information between those private sector resource pools and conventional government resource pools.
If you had the resources, the political capital, and five years, what homeland security challenges would you tackle first?
You always have to respond to the threat. We know that the aviation industry remains a target of strong interest for at least al Qaeda. But we can’t put all of our eggs in that basket, so I’d be focusing on surface transportation—in particular, rail transportation—and preparing to respond to a biological attack that puts people at medical risk.
If there were an aerosolized Tularemia attack or some other attack that required dispensing medication to individual victims within 48 hours of exposure, you would have to be able to not just plan for that conceptually, you would have to be able to execute the delivery of those pharmaceuticals.