There haven’t been many “insider” books about how DHS has functioned but a good one has appeared. The Closing of the American Border was published last week by Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations and formerly with the Financial Times. It’s a detailed look at the policies and programs deployed after 9/11 to deter and detect terrorists hoping to use our transportation systems against us. If the acronyms NSEERS or PNR mean anything to you, you’ll enjoy the recounting. Some of the book relates to the period before DHS was created, including the legislative debate about the department’s scope and missions. But most relates to how DHS struggled within its new structure and within interagency policymaking to fix holes in immigration and aviation systems, and the negative impacts on legitimate trade and travel.
Of course, the personalities who worked together most of the time, and butted heads on occasion, are highlighted. While the recounting of turf wars is not pretty in the rear-view mirror, it is encouraging that Alden makes a real effort to understand the stresses DHS was under and the fact that its officials put in herculean efforts to do what they thought was best for the country.
My only compliant about the book is that its narrative ends too soon, essentially around the time Secretary Ridge departed in 2005. Some of the problems, like student visa enrollment, visa wait times and privacy fears, have improved. New programs, like Global Entry and WHTI, are using advanced technology to move low-risk travelers through the border. Significant challenges – US-VISIT exit, Visa Waiver expansion, etc – remain so there is no reason to reflect 2004 facts to describe the current state of border facilitation.
All in all, though, for anybody reading this type of blog, The Closing of the American Border is a must-read.