departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level.2

The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was the most significant change to the U.S. national security apparatus since the National Security Act of 1947.3 The legislatively specified antiterror missions make DHS a critical part of the national security establishment along with the Defense Department and the State Department. The Defense Department has responsibility for deterring and, if need be, defending against military and paramilitary attack. The State Department has responsibility for conducting the nation’s foreign policy in accord with U.S. national security interests, including dealing with foreign countries or entities that may pose a danger to the United States.4 Although the overall mission of these three cabinet agencies—to protect the nation’s security—is the same, their focus and implementation of the mission must and do vary.

One area in which the implementation of these missions has the potential to conflict is in the risk assessment involved in balancing their approach to export controls. For example, if DHS seeks to export devices for bomb detection to a civilian location, a very similar technology may be used for bomb detection on the battlefield. The Defense Department would want to ensure that the enemy does not have access to this military application either to undermine U.S. or allied forces, or to reverse engineer for the purpose of devising ways to counter the technology or make its use less effective.

Dealing with the potential dual-use nature of this technology is sometimes described as a conflict between counterproliferation5 policies and counterterrorism policies.6 However, this is an oversimplification. Rather, this is an important risk-balancing process. The elements of risk are specific to each situation and are not susceptible to much generalization. The net risk with bomb-detection technology, for example, is a complex calculation that compares the risk to soldiers if the enemy gains access to the technology with the risk to civilians if a bomb goes undetected. This risk calculation is further complicated by the likelihood that the adversary may try to manipulate the technology for its own purposes; by the numbers of people likely to be killed; and by the economic, social, and political fallout from a civilian terrorist incident. There is no simple policy formulation for choosing one set of risks or one strategy over another in carrying out export control policy. This problem lies at the heart of this study.


2 Last accessed November 19, 2010.

3 Before the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which revised the command structure of the U.S. military, was considered to be the most sweeping change in the National Security Establishment since the National Security Act of 1947.

4 The chief national security role of the Commerce Department is discussed on pp. 35-36 of this report.

5 Counterproliferation and counterterrorism are in no way oppositional policies, but the strategies for operationalizing them tend to focus on different issues and may appear to conflict on occasion.

6 In this report, counterproliferation is defined as preventing the spread to adversaries, or the illegal transfer, of weapons or related technologies that could be developed that could be used against U.S. and allied military forces in the field or could cause mass civilian casualties.

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