Interest in national and homeland security is cyclical. Nobody pays much attention to security until there is a big event, and then everybody wants to know why nobody was paying attention. Well, pay attention now, because an even bigger event than Paris or Mali (or the hotels in Mumbai, or the ballet in Moscow, or the schools in Beslan, Chibok, or Peshawar) is coming.
-- In ISIS, we have an enemy who hates us because we exist. There may be opponents who hate our freedoms, or values, or policies overseas, or who are motivated by poverty and oppression. They may be assuaged by engagement and soft power. But we also have enemies who see our existence as an affront to their god. They are growing.
-- They are enabled by global communications, transportation, distribution of scientific expertise, and the computer revolution. Soon they will be enabled by the biological revolution.
-- Eventually they will acquire the chemical, radiological, nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction experts have been warning about for two decades.
-- When they get such weapons, they will use them. They must. Failure to do so would delegitimize their leaders now attracting volunteers by promising to destroy the West.--We are unprepared for such attacks. We have some domestic forces dedicated to WMD response – a few hundred National Guard troops here, and a few thousand active duty troops there. But we are unprepared legally, bureaucratically, scientifically, and psychologically for an attack that kills tens of thousands and destroys the ability of the government to govern.
This is the “Austin or Boston” threat.
The entire structure of emergency response in the US is built upon the principle of local leadership. Mayors and county officials make key decisions and use their resources until exhausted. Then governors and state officials supply resources and guidance. When that fails, the federal government steps in with resources, but the locals remain in charge. At no point do the feds take over from the locals.
Responding to a major WMD attack would require massive resources, lots of practice, and if an entire state government were destroyed (as with a nuclear weapon in Austin or Boston), some mechanism to control the response and restore the state and local government. We do not have such mechanisms today. We have not even thought seriously about establishing them.
We need to do that right now while everyone is paying attention. And before our opponents gain the weapons they seek, and use them in the ways they promise.