Top Leadership of the Department of Homeland Security: “What Keeps You Up at Night?”

upatnight-peraFrom time to time, I ask members of the APUS leadership team to author blog articles. Dick Pera is Dean of the School of Security and Global Studies. Our faculty in that school have worked for traditional colleges and universities as well as worked on the frontlines of intelligence, homeland security, and national security operations. Dick’s piece is a reminder about the valuable work performed by many in that area 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

By Richard Pera
Dean of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University

What keeps you up at night? A sick child? Problems at work? Paying the mortgage?

If you were leading the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – responsible for protecting more than 300 million Americans from attack and disaster – your response would be different. Indeed, it would reflect an insider view of exceedingly serious and diverse threats posed by terrorists who are plotting every day to kill Americans. Life at the top of the third-largest cabinet-level department requires a 100 percent success rate. DHS has to be right every time because even a single failure could spell catastrophe.

While many Americans take national security threats for granted, a strong cadre of homeland security and intelligence professionals is on watch day and night. I recently had the opportunity to speak candidly with one of the top leaders of that cadre: William Tarry, acting under secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis and Chief Intelligence Officer for the Department of Homeland Security. Interfacing constantly with the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Security Council staff, and the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Tarry dealt with all threats to the homeland and played a major role in preventing and exploiting them. Therefore, I could not resist the temptation to ask that simple question: “What keeps you up at night?”

Mr. Tarry’s response will surprise people who continue to believe that, 12 years after 9/11, foreign terrorists have largely been neutralized. To the contrary, several groups continue to demonstrate both capability and intent to attack. He says that while domestic terrorism is exceptionally difficult to detect and prevent, it’s “American complacency” that keeps him up at night.

“I believe that the American people, as we get further from 9/11, have become complacent and do not really, fully understand that, every day, people both within the nation and abroad, are planning to conduct attacks against Americans within the Unites States,” he said.

First and foremost, Mr. Tarry pointed to al-Qaida (AQ), both the AQ “core” as well as affiliates, especially the very capable al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Next, he singled out Iran, with two subsets: 1) the Iranian Quds (“Jerusalem”) Force, a special-forces unit within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for overseas operations and; 2) Lebanese Hizballah, a very capable surrogate of Iran. Mr. Tarry went on to describe a very serious threat from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which resents continued U.S. offensive use of unmanned aerial systems in Pakistan.

Beyond violent intent, Mr. Tarry pointed out “cyber” as another serious terrorist threat to the homeland. “Cyber-attacks are probably one area that will affect more Americans than any other potential threat to the nation moving forward,” he said.

Mr. Tarry added that he would meet with three people every morning – the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and Counter-Terrorism Advisor – to discuss the most serious threats in an effort to “make sure that, as the department responsible for keeping the nation safe, we understood that threat environment and we were able to position our capabilities in a way that kept the nation safe, secure, and resilient.”

Watch the video below for more on my interview with Mr. Tarry.

About the Author
Richard Pera has more than 30 years of Navy and intelligence community experience, having most recently served as director of the Defense Intelligence Resource Management Office of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington, DC. Prior to joining DIA, Pera served in a variety of senior assignments, including director of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance on the Navy Staff and director of global information acquisition at the Office of Naval Intelligence.

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