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Introduction to Homeland Security

Introduction to Homeland Security. By Jane A. Bullock, George D. Haddow, Damon Coppola, Erdem Ergin, Lissa Westerman, and Sarp Yeletaysi; published by Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 800/545-2522 (phone), (Web); 534 pages; $69.95.

In the crowded world of security textbooks, there is still room for a definitive guide to homeland security. Introduction to Homeland Securityattempts to fill that gap by, in the authors' words, presenting a "background and working knowledge of disciplines, players, and organizations that are part of this nation's homeland security efforts." It manages to nominally achieve this goal, but largely through content harvested from the Internet and summaries of government legislation, with some original writing appearing as well. These multiple sources of material create a tapestry of uneven writing styles and subject treatment--some important issues get little or no discussion, while other less pertinent issues are examined in detail. (Al Qaeda merits nary a mention, but landfill security gets a full page.)

Much of the content comes straight from the Web sites of the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Red Cross. The prose is the tipoff. When government agencies or interest groups post Internet content, the writing more closely resembles advertising copy than critical examination or journalism. As a result, much of the book has the sterility of a government press release.

That's a pity, because where there is original writing, it is quite good. The authors are knowledgeable in their fields, and they explore topics from an independent point of view. The public debate on the Patriot Act and civil liberties properly covers the various views.

Other content is more troubling. For example, a case study on the 1995 Tokyo subway attack by Aum Shinrikyo almost word for word tracks a summary of a report offered on the Internet for sale by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare. (Unfortunately, the authors omitted the conclusions of the report, which were more interesting and relevant to the text than the summary.)

This case study highlights a flaw in the book: the authors list Web pages as sources for their material, but they do not always use quotation marks when they cite direct passages from the text. Because of this, there is no clear line between the authors' work and what they found on the Internet.

The biggest surprise in the book is what is not in it, namely terrorist-threat assessment. Without presenting a threat-assessment model, the authors nevertheless assert that a great risk remains. For example, the authors quote an August 2003 risk index published by the British-based World Markets Research Center that says that the United States is the fourth most likely country to be attacked by terrorists, after Colombia, Israel, and Pakistan.

The reader is left to wonder why other risk-assessment companies rate the United States as a much lower terrorism risk. For example, insurance and risk-management company Aon ranks the United States number 22. Without discussion of how World Markets arrived at its threat assessment, the reader lacks the tools required to judge the merits of the terrorist threat level assigned.

The book is remarkably incurious about the subject of terrorism itself. Terrorist aims, organization, and tactics go untouched. The chapter entitled "Hazards" lists four categories of terrorist attack: conventional explosives and secondary devices; chemical agents; biological agents; and nuclear/radiological. What about kidnapping, small-arms attacks, and arson, which are far more likely than chemical, biological or nuclear/radiological attacks? For a book on America's preparation for terrorist attack, it seems odd to find so little information on terrorism.

This book is written for students, but offers them little more than they would get from the Internet. Because the book focuses on post-incident response, the authors reduce terrorist attacks to the inconvenience and inevitability of a natural disaster. Students of homeland security would be better served if they were taught that terrorist attacks in the United States are not as inevitable as flooding in the spring, and that through the cooperation of private and public security professionals, future attacks can be prevented, not just cleaned up.

  Reviewer: Ross Johnson, CPP, is a Texas-based safety, health, environment, and security supervisor for an offshore oil-drilling company. He served in the Canadian Forces as an infantry and intelligence officer for 24 years, after which he worked as director of intelligence for Air Security International. He is a member of ASIS International.