on April 25, 2012
This book adds behind-the-scenes reality to the tip of the iceberg we see going through airports. It reads like a novel that we can all relate to. The degrees of separation between what we see as travellers and what the terrorists are trying to do to us becomes vivid - putting the why's behind many of the requirements we face. It is also a loud call for action to transform this massive and once hastily-assembled agency from one that is largely consumed on dealing problems that can't hurt us (but massively inconvenience us) to one that focuses primarily on the things that can kill us.
Appreciate the TSA for how they protect us or hate them for what they put us through, this book provides a plan for how we can better become part of the same team opposing the immediate threats that will now never go away. At some level it is policy, but in the end, this book is personal - as much mystery as history and highly relevant for all of us.
Informative, compelling, and very well written, this is a must read in the post 9/11 world.
on April 25, 2012
Kip Hawley does an amazing job of pulling back the curtain on aviation security. The book takes a never before seen look at a relevant, timely, and important subject - the safety of American air travel - in an unparalleled way. You'll read about the terrorist who are constantly plotting to bring down airliners and the operatives, at home and abroad, who are dead set on stopping them. Permanent Emergency is a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about what really goes into keeping the traveling public safe, or those who think they know all there is to know. Hawley and Means do an excellent job of weaving together a compelling narrative that will blow your doors off. Expect a movie out of this one - it's that informative, entertaining, and compelling.
on May 12, 2012
Kip Hawley has written arguably the most profound, insightful book yet published about homeland security institutions in the post-9/11 era. It is a self-effacing and stunningly instructive Washington memoir, rare qualities for such books.
Above all, it truly is a gripping read. Hawley tells his insider story through a series of vignettes, mostly focused on individuals who contributed to the creation of TSA and supported its operations during the years he ran the organization. He recounts how actual terrorist plots and a torrent of information dredged daily from the nation's vast intelligence networks shaped U.S. homeland security institutions in the early days and years after the 9/11 attacks.
The last chapter, in particular, is uniquely brilliant, compelling yet disturbing. It sums up lessons learned, candidly tallies mistakes made, and offers concrete advice about how to focus and lead not just the TSA, but other vital institutions that are tasked with grappling daily with what Hawley so aptly calls the permanent emergency.
This book combines both optimism about American ingenuity and an appropriately fatalistic sense that the permanent emergency will most certainly yield other successful attacks against the homeland. After which, our increasingly partisan, shallow and brittle political life will probably disgorge politicians who will first and furiously, like Cronus, rush to sup on the homeland security institutions they birthed.
It is today a regrettable commonplace to deride TSA. This book proves, instead, that TSA is home for an army of frontline heroes who daily grapple with threats unseen and unknowable to the public. They have, for sure, often sketchy intelligence data, imperfect tools and sometimes ineffectual procedures. But Hawley makes exquisitely clear this fact: TSA is staffed with legions of people who nonetheless serve with intelligence, passion, commitment and patience.
Permanent Emergency is a real-life drama, with a whiff of John le Carré.
As usual, I received this book for nothing and this time via the infinite monthly grace of LibraryThing. Despite that kind consideration I'll give my candid opinions below.
The summary of this novel is right in the subtitle. It goes into great detail to describe the people and processes that were put into place after the September 11th attacks to keep the country's air travelers from blowing things up. It is, in some ways, a response to the endless criticism that has been heaped upon this institution.
On the positive side, the book is wonderfully balanced as it covers all aspects of the TSA's efforts from the personnel, technology and training that are used today to the attackers themselves and their individual motivations and actions. I've seldom seen such a broad treatment of a single topic. It's also worth noting that author himself was a key contributor but his spin on the situation is wonderfully matter-of-fact and never falters into self-congratulation. He just recounts the events in meticulous detail whether those events be positive, negative or indifferent to his own reputation.
To the negative, the book is incredibly dense and will put some readers off significantly. This is a book best taken in small bites, say a chapter at a time and properly digested. Anyone attempting to read this in one sitting will likely be overwhelmed.
In summary, this is a deeply complex and fact-filled book. If you've ever wondered at the administrative origins of seemingly random TSA rules like 3-ounce liquid containers or why you have to take your shoes off then this book will answer absolutely every question you might possibly have. It's depth and breadth of topic is unparalleled. That said, it's not a book to be swallowed all in one go on a long Sunday afternoon. Highly recommended to the curious and the patient.
on July 23, 2013
I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. Those familiar with my other Amazon reviews are likely unaware that in my real job I have a role in Emergency Preparedness and Response, primarily in Emergency Support Function(ESF) 11, Agriculture and Natural Resources. Hierarchically I am not even on the same planet as former TSA Director Kip Hawley however I do have a perspective on much of this which will color my review.
The author (I will be focusing my author comments on Hawley rather than Means throughout) was involved in the formation of the Transportation Security Administration from its inception in the wake of 9/11 and was Director under President George W. Bush from the summer of 2005 to President Obama's inauguration in January, 2009.
For me this book can be looked at as providing two separate but interrelated accounts. One is a narrative history of the formation of the TSA, complete with how this new agency came to grips with the new, post-9/11 world we live in and developed policies, procedures, hired people, etc., in order to serve a vital national (and, though this is covered in less detail, international) role in the safety and security of the United States and its residents.
The second account is a growing realization by Hawley and others in the agency that this government organization must be different from most others; that operating as a regulatory agency will not work against an enemy which is smart, adaptable, resourceful, and which continuously changes its tactics. This book discusses attempts by Hawley and others to transform the TSA from an organization which follows bureaucratic methods such as performing tasks, "by the book" and focusing on procedures and processes to one in which its members are capable of quick, on-their-feet thinking and the ability to respond situationally, without an over-reliance on a rulebook. It is clear from this book that while Hawley believes the TSA was able to achieve some success in this area, much more remains to be done. Ultimately, Hawley believes the TSA cannot perform its functions by following a regulatory model focused on rules, procedures and numbers but must adopt more of a risk management approach stressing adaptability, flexibility and the capacity to respond quickly to unforeseen situations.
I particularly enjoyed his account of how the TSA came to emphasize passenger behavior when assessing threats. While physical screening remains an essential task, the recruitment and training of BDO's, Behavioral Detection Officers, who are stationed to identify suspicious behavior among passengers or even non-passengers was one of the most interesting, enlightening, and personally reassuring portions of the book.
Hawley also discusses the struggle the agency had to determine what would comprise acceptable risk. This is an argument I am familiar with in discussions related to food safety. We can provide almost total food safety in this country. We have that capacity. However to do so would drastically raise the cost of food to the point where we would likely no longer have the most inexpensive food supply in the world. Similarly Hawley discusses the ramifications of complete travel security and how this would impact travel times, wait times at airports and, while he does not discuss it, such a level of safety would also involved identical check-in and boarding procedures on trains. In essence, Hawley argues that while individual passenger safety is important, the TSA focus should be on preventing threats which are capable of bringing down a plane.
A further element is that Hawley selects several specific threats and discusses them in greater detail. While I am certain that he has not shared every detail, we are given a look at terrorist elements, their training, organization, adaptability, and the TSA's attempts (often in cooperation with other branches of government) to counter them and protect the country. Through this we learn items such as why shoes are removed at airports and why liquids must be in no greater than three ounce quantities in a clear, zip-lock baggie.
The narrative often focuses on the people in the agency and provides numerous examples of how they tried to fill key positions with people with less of a bureaucratic, process-based mindset. Instead they looked for people with the ability to find new and different solutions to new and different threats. This focus on people rather than TSA policies and procedures significantly enhances the readability of the book while providing a personal feel to this look inside the agency. Only in the last third of the book does the focus turn to policy.
Two areas were not covered which I feel would have added to the narrative. One is the political struggles which must have raged both within the agency and in attempting to respond to outside pressures by lawmakers and private companies. This is touched upon at times, but is not a point of emphasis. The other is the role of private citizens in national and travel security. Hawley must have some opinions on this. To point to a current example, is the "If you see something, say something" DHS campaign an effective strategy in identifying possible threats or does this generate excessive false leads and waste too much agency time, energy and resources? This book is written for the public and some discussion of the public's role would seem appropriate.
I enjoyed this book. The writing style is lively and engaging and the focus on people rather than process provides a personal feel. The narrative moves at a brisk pace and while I am certain some details have been omitted, enough is given for us to understand the struggles of Hawley and the TSA. The overall theme that the TSA must not fall into a regulatory "by-the-book" mindset is returned to frequently. By the end of the book much of what Hawley struggled with as head of the TSA is clear.
Permanent Emergency provides a welcome look into the functions and struggles of the TSA. The insights provided by Kip Hawley into its operations and the nature of the terrorist threat are fascinating, and at times frightening. This book will be of interest to all Americans, and particularly those who travel by air.