Inside America’s Security Strategies

May 2, 2007

In this wide-ranging conversation, Clarke discusses the state of America's security at home and abroad. He reveals how national policies impact global public perception, as well as architecture, city planning, and urban design. His observations are insightful, thought provoking, and reflect a keen understanding of what the public and private sectors must do to achieve a more secure global society.

Richard A. Clarke is one of America's leading counterterrorism experts. After leaving his distinguished 30-year government service career in 2003, he provided sworn testimony before the 9/11 Commission in March 2004. His first book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (Free Press, 2004) asserted that the Bush Administration neglected terrorism well before 9/11, sparking an intense national debate about the war on terror and homeland security that continues to shape today's geopolitical landscape.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Clarke discusses the state of America's security at home and abroad. He reveals how national policies impact global public perception, as well as architecture, city planning, and urban design. His observations are insightful, thought provoking, and reflect a keen understanding of what the public and private sectors must do to achieve a more secure global society.

About Richard A. Clarke
Richard A. Clarke is an internationally recognized expert on security, including homeland security, national security, cyber security, and counterterrorism. He is currently an on-air consultant for ABC News. Clarke served the last three Presidents as a senior White House Advisor. Over the course of an unprecedented 11 consecutive years of White House service, he held the titles of Special Assistant to the President for Global Affairs, National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, and Special Advisor to the President for Cyber Security.

Prior to his White House years, Clarke served for 19 years in the Pentagon, the Intelligence Community, and State Department. During the Reagan Administration, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence. During the Bush (41) Administration, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs and coordinated diplomatic efforts to support the 1990-1991 Gulf War and the subsequent security arrangements.

As Chairman of Good Harbor Consulting LLC, Clarke advises clients on a range of issues, including corporate security risk management, information security technology, dealing with the federal government on security and IT issues, and counterterrorism.


Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA: How should the United States address homeland security?
Richard A. Clarke: We can deal with homeland security by reducing threats and vulnerabilities. We haven't done very well on reducing threats. There are now more people and terrorist organizations working against the United States than before Sept. 11. Some of this is because of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

We've done a good job on reducing vulnerabilities with passenger aircraft. Creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was a step forward, because it replaced rent-a-cops hired by the airlines. With the exception of TSA, we have not significantly reduced vulnerabilities. That includes chemical plants, nuclear plants, container shipping, and subways. We're just as vulnerable as we've ever been. The threat is bigger; the vulnerability is the same. On balance, the United States is worse off now than before 9/11.

What is the likelihood of reducing the U.S. military presence in Iraq before the November 2008 elections? Will there be opportunities for reprogramming funds to homeland security?
We don't know if President Bush will withdraw anyone from Iraq. He may wait for the next president to deal with this or he might decide to begin troop reductions to make it easier on the next Republican presidential nominee. However, we can expect large numbers of troops in Iraq on Jan. 20, 2009. Eventually, the new president will reduce them.

The government won't see a financial savings to reprogram for other uses because it's not spending money we have. The money doesn't exist; it's all debt. So, reprogramming the spending is not going to happen.

What about America's current place in the world?
We are probably less admired and supported around the world now than we've ever been. According to reliable polling data, taken with the same questions, in the same countries for many years, we are suffering a nadir in support around the world (especially in Europe), but to the greatest extent in the Middle East. The rest of the world believes we've been singularly preoccupied with the war on terror and don't care about other issues. Most of the world thinks we see the war on terror as a military issue and the only one issue that we focus on. Other countries would like us to focus on strengthening the United Nations, international organizations, trade agreements, equitable development of nations, strengthening international regimes, the Kyoto agreements, and climate change.

Should we be concerned about future attacks or is this fear mongering? Are we playing into the terrorists' hands by focusing on protecting assets or questioning public policies?
The government has engaged in fear mongering, especially around election time. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a threat, and it's not always Al Qaeda. Some days, it's a student with a gun at Virginia Tech or Americans at Oklahoma City.

Americans should always question the government; that's not playing into the terrorists' hands. We should reduce our vulnerabilities to terrorism, but do so by remaining consistent in our beliefs and civil liberties. People are concerned with the enormous databases containing a lot of private information. There is a concern about the surveillance state we're creating. There are ways to improve security and surveillance while protecting our privacy rights and civil liberties.

Which terrorist threats concern you most?
Our chief concern should be events that could create large numbers of casualties. It's hard to protect every facility against every threat when there is the potential for thousands of deaths. We need to reduce vulnerabilities at chemical plants and other facilities that would victimize or kill thousands of people.

What's your assessment of homeland security preparedness across the United States?
Homeland security preparedness varies enormously by city. New York City's Police Department (NYPD) has a high level of expenditures and organization. San Francisco is a city of about 40 square miles with a population of under 700,000. The result is an emergency response and police infrastructure much less than in New York City. Bigger city governments are more likely to have effective police and emergency response teams. Boston and San Francisco have small police departments. NYPD has more people assigned to counterterrorism than Boston's total police force.

Las Vegas is a fascinating example. They're a one-industry town, dependent on tourism. They don't want to make it difficult to get in or out of a casino. There are no inspections or magnetometers because they don't want to scare people or deter people from coming. The Nevada Gaming Commission hasn't required these security elements. There are many surveillance cameras aimed at gaming tables, not at people entering or leaving the casinos. Casinos are likely targets for fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, who see them as heathen places.

Would you consider returning to government in the next administration?
No. Thirty years of national security federal service was enough.

If you were advising the next homeland security director, what priorities would you propose? How would you approach allocating federal resources?
We need to decide on the minimum essential capabilities we want to have in every major metropolitan area and lay out a 5-year plan to reach those capabilities. Currently, we have cities and states spending money any way they want to. The minimal essential capabilities, in several categories, should have to be met first. For example:

Medical mass trauma. Some places say they can accommodate 300 to 1,000 casualties, but we need to be able to deal with thousands at a time, whether from chemical biological contamination or bird flu. The Spanish flu in 1919 was the last major pandemic, and we couldn't handle that today.

Communications. Most metropolitan areas have two dozen separate fire and police agencies, and federal agencies. They must be able to communicate with each other reliably and securely in a crisis; that can't happen in most cities today. There are inadequate radio frequencies; television stations use many of them for high-definition television (HDTV). The federal government and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulate the airwaves and assign frequencies, but this coordination isn't happening.

Intelligence. NYPD does a good job with its intelligence capabilities. Officers are familiar with the community and collect information. NYPD has infiltrated radical groups, talked to stores that sell bomb components, and checked self-storage facilities where bomb materials may be stored: They have an awareness of what's going on that other cities don't.

Share your thoughts on balancing security, openness, and design. How can we create safe, vibrant, livable communities?
Balancing security and openness can be achieved through creative planning and design. Buildings and facilities can be attractive, open, and secure. That doesn't mean we won't be inconvenienced.

We can no longer drive up to the Capitol or the White House in Washington D.C. But, almost any citizen can walk up to the front steps of the Capitol. Several years ago, many thought that, if we closed Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, we'd deny citizens and tourists access. Initially, it was ugly, with concrete Jersey barriers and paved with macadam. Now, there are attractively designed guardhouses, planters serving as barriers, and paving stones. Overall, the current landscape design is more attractive than when we had an open street for cars and trucks. In this case, we didn't deny access; people can still get close to the White House and it's a more attractive streetscape.

People want safe cities. There are many ways to increase security in urban areas. Baltimore's mayor installed closed-circuit television (CCTV) in certain neighborhoods and crime dropped. Nearby neighborhoods soon requested similar surveillance to reduce crime.

We want to enjoy large public spaces. Plainclothes and uniformed police, horseback patrols, and visible cameras are common techniques. People feel safer and petty crime drops. For vibrant outdoor public areas, overt security is likely to ensure that people will enjoy the space. This doesn't have to be heavy handed.


How was infrastructure protection addressed when you were the Infrastructure Protection Chairman at the White House?
Infrastructure is defined as buildings or facilities, such as bridges, tunnels, and communications facilities that large numbers of people utilize and depend on; if such an entity were destroyed, it would inconvenience large numbers of people or create mass casualties. Depending on whose definition you use, there are anywhere from 9, 12, or 17 infrastructure categories, including buildings, transportation centers, utilities, and communications nodes.

During the Clinton Administration, after the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the State Department set embassy security standards. The Oklahoma City bombing prompted the federal government to create five classes of security standards for federal buildings. Many agencies tried to get waivers because of the costs involved.

What about strategies for protecting buildings and assets in the private sector?
Companies don't want to be the only ones in their industry doing security because they will incur costs and may be at an economic disadvantage against their competition. Oddly enough, many in the private sector want to see security regulations, so they will all do it. If a company is certified to have done what is required, the liability may be reduced. Banking largely has regulations and guidelines; shopping malls do not. In the chemical industry, big companies favored regulations; smaller ones didn't because of additional costs.

How can architects, engineers, landscape architects, owners, and the building industry protect buildings and infrastructure against terrorism? What building types are most at risk?
Government buildings are likely to be at risk because of their role. Due to the large numbers of people moving through them, train stations, sports facilities, and other similar public venues are also at risk.

Building technology should minimize unnecessary secondary casualties due to architectural or engineering decisions. Avoid the use of glass that, when shattered, might kill more people than a bomb. Laminated glass, blast windows, and other glazing can minimize secondary casualties.

The new U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C., features a large underground complex that all visitors must go through for orientation; people will be screened as they go through it. Occasionally, there may be a need for controlled access or pat-downs, like at baseball games, or people with backpacks might be pulled aside. The need to limit entries and control the funneling of people may be necessary through sensors, dogs sniffing for chemicals, and magnetometers. There are many options. Architects must design entries and lobbies to accommodate these functions.

Loading docks are not advised for high-risk facilities. Remote delivery facilities (RDFs) will enable packages to be screened first for hazardous materials before being transported into the building.

Buildings designed for high security can be attractive and don't have to look like bomb shelters. The Secret Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C., was designed after the Oklahoma City bombing, with many security features, including structural systems to avoid "pancaking" (progressive collapse). The outer façade is a barrier to the real façade in the event of a blast (sacrificial façade). The building's interior spaces have natural light.

People should be able to evacuate buildings quickly, with large-scale egress systems that are clearly visible. There are many lessons learned for commercial high-rises after 9/11. There is a need for communications repeaters, so that the fire and police departments can communicate inside the building during emergencies. Wider stairs are another design issue. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report indicated that the World Trade Center's stairwells weren't wide enough to handle people going down the stairs while the first responders were going up. Architects must find ways to shelter in place where people wait before they are rescued.

How can security and urban planning contribute to the quality of life?
Urban planners need to take into account that they haven't traditionally developed evacuation routes for cities. Urban planning must ensure that communities and neighborhoods can handle disasters by themselves for a while. As we saw during Hurricane Katrina, it took quite a while for the cavalry to arrive. In earthquake-prone San Francisco, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has two major urban rescue units in Oakland, CA, and San Jose, CA. If there is a major earthquake, they probably couldn't get to San Francisco.

Transportation choke points, such as bridges and tunnels, might prevent rescue teams from getting in or people from evacuating. Many cities could easily be crippled due to natural events, earthquakes, or terrorism against transportation nodes.

For these reasons, we should increase federal funding for transportation infrastructure around the country. New airports in Korea, Hong Kong, and Munich demonstrate that other countries are capable of building new infrastructure. Yet it's very difficult to do in the United States for two reasons: funding and the many regulatory checks and balances.

What are your favorite cities?
In Paris and Sydney, I enjoy the large, open spaces, where you can walk safely through many neighborhoods and cars don't dominate. These cities have good public transportation and pleasant, open spaces. Their public facilities, plazas, and squares contribute to the quality of life. In the United States, my favorite cities are Boston and San Francisco, because they are walkable and compact, have many public spaces, and have good public transportation.



  • Clarke, Richard A., Breakpoint (Putnam Adult, 2007). Predicts a technological revolution in the next ten years, raising many moral and ethical questions.
  • Clarke, Richard A., The Scorpion's Gate (Putnam Adult, 2005). Explores the need to understand the culture and complexities of the Middle East.
  • Clarke, Richard A., Against All Enemies (Free Press, 2004). The war on terror from inside the White House.

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