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National Security Issues Need More Attention
By Gail Harris
Durango Guardian

After reading Senator Obama's July 14, 2008, New York Times Op-Ed piece "My Plan for Iraq", I wondered yet again if I was living in an alternate reality. I've watched all the candidates and media pundits and other "experts" hoping against hope that someone would stop speaking in sound bites, stop focusing on ideological trees and look at the whole forest. Bringing troops home from Iraq and for that matter Afghanistan will not end Al Qaeda's war against us. I've yet to hear any candidate talk about their strategy to end the Global War on Terrorism.

I'm just a retired Baby Boomer trying to live happily ever after in the mountains of Colorado, but it seems obvious to me that Iraq and Afghanistan are a subset of a larger issue. Is our Defense policy properly structured to fight 21st Century threats to include the Global War on Terrorism?

Today, we still have significant numbers of military personnel in places like Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. These military distributions are relics of the Cold War. Is this still necessary, or are there other locations that make more sense given today's national security climate.

What current and emerging national security issues are most important? What is the role of the U.S. military on national security issues? Not every problem needs a military solution.

I know for a fact that a lot of people in the Department of Defense are spending a lot of time and effort looking at these very issues and many more in depth. How? One of the benefits of being retired is you have time to go to lots of conferences, some I've been invited to and others were open to the public so I invited myself. I always come away from the conferences wondering why some of the more important issues are not being discussed by either the candidates or the media.

Case in point, last summer the Navy held a conference at the Naval War College requesting assistance from the public in developing a maritime strategy for the 21st Century. They went on to hold forums open to the public in cities across the nation.

Why wasn't it national news? You might yawn and ask why should you care? 90% of imported goods come to us by sea. If I'm finally able to buy that sexy black Porsche I've been dreaming of, I don't want the boat carrying it to be blown up by terrorists. Shallow, I admit, but remember I'm an old person with who knows how much time left on this earth.

In all seriousness, port security and maritime security are important issues. Our Navy and Coast Guard have done a great job, but all it would take is one major incident for people to start screaming and pointing fingers.

Some might ask, "Well, I don't remember hearing of anyone trying to attack any of our merchant ships, so why do we need a large Coast Guard and Navy?' I would answer, maybe it's because we have a large and efficient maritime force that we have not been attacked in that way . . . yet. I would think that devising a strategy to ensure that our ports and sea lanes remain safe is worthy of discussion and consideration by the candidates.

Another example, last September I attended a conference sponsored by the Intelligence Community in Chicago. It was open to the public and the purpose was to request assistance from industry and academia. Why wasn't it national news?

Considering all the criticism and attention the intelligence community has endured since 9/11, I would have expected some coverage. The intelligence community was pretty open about their issues.

Two jumped out at me. Every 24 hours they collect one billion pieces of information. Out of that less than 1% gets analyzed. They're looking for help in fixing that. The second challenge that caught my attention concerned training and development of intelligence analysts. Currently, there are 100,000 analysts; of those 61%, have been in the job five years or less. Many of the remaining analysts are within five years of retirement. Given the challenges and limitations, it's a testament to the hard work of the men and woman in that community that there has not been another attack on American soil.

What about cyber warfare? In May of 2007, an unknown entity (person, terrorist group, or country) launched a cyber attack on the government of Estonia that resulted in bringing the government, banks, and other institutions to a standstill. As dependant as our nation is on technology — well, you do the calculations. Where do the candidates stand on cyber defense?

These are just a few of the many national security issues that if not approached carefully and with great consideration could cause ugly events. Are the candidates not discussing them because they don't understand the importance? I can only speak for myself but I don't get a warm and fuzzy that someone has their act together if they're only speaking in sound bites.

My views are my own, and I think I'll go for a ride bike. As I'm pedaling along to paraphrase one of the candidates, I'll try to have the audacity of hope that I'll hear something more substantive on national security issues from both the candidates and the media.

In 1973, Gail Harris became the first woman in Naval History to serve as an Intelligence Officer in a Navy aviation squadron, and at her retirement in December 2001, she was the highest ranking African American female in the Navy. Her career included hands-on leadership during every major conflict from the Cold War, to El Salvador, to Desert Storm, to Kosovo and at the forefront of one of the Department of Defense's newest challenges, Cyber Warfare. Since retiring, Gail has worked in the defense industry as an intelligence subject matter expert. In October 2006, she had an essay "Reflections of a Retired Black Woman" published in Lies and Limericks Inspirations from Ireland. A frequent guest on radio shows as a defense expert, Gail also hosts a weekly R&B show and is currently putting the finishing touches on her memoir "A Woman's War".

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