It is human nature to be a hypocrite, but not every human succumbs to this irreverent tendency. However, in the National Security world hypocrisy is a fact. Never more so than in its effort to define or more specifically characterize threats to our national interest.

National Security experts will often find a threat where there is none and deny a threat exists where there is one. This tendency can and does have a drastic effect on the decisions made by policy makers and doctrine writers, national vulnerability assessment and risk management efforts, and those who implement, manage, operate and test security measures related to the effective protection of national assets.

In what should be a linear approach to threat determination (i.e. intelligence collection, then information analysis, then threat definition) the National Security establishment is subject to considerable outside influences, such as political and non-political agendas, budgetary excesses and constraints, or organizational rice bowls (not an official term). Understanding and properly characterizing threats are how we effectively defend ourselves and protect our interests. When a threat is not clearly defined and properly understood, we afford our adversaries an opportunity to not only attack us, but to complete their intended objectives.

Admittedly there is no easy solution to this multifaceted problem because it is part of our National Security culture. Consequently, 11 years after the attacks of 9/11 we are still struggling to properly identify and communicate threats. This has never been better illustrated than in the aftermath of the attacks on the consulate in Libya on September 11, 2012, as we continue to discover an appalling trail of indicators that an attack was eminent.

In the weeks and months following the 9/11 (2001) attacks, the National Security establishment took steps to correct what had been perceived as a mistake in threat assessment and analysis. Most agree now that the National Security establishment did not give Osama Bin-Laden and his network of terrorists enough credit.

The 9/11 Commission pointed out many deficiencies that existed in the federal government, and some specific to the operations within the US Intelligence Community (IC). These same deficiencies are believed to have contributed to Al Qaeda’s mission not being successfully detected prior to execution.

But two of the most poignant improvements suggested by the Commission were first, to create methods to better share intelligence-related information among the IC and within the broader federal government. The second improvement was directed at Threat Analysis and Assessment, or what the Commission sited as a lack of imagination among National Security leaders of the time.

The first suggestion, to improve intelligence related information flow among federal agencies, was followed up by a law being enacted (the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004) as well as dozens of other executive orders, congressional mandates and national directives. Many federal agencies and their contractor counter parts adopted a wide variety Information Sharing policies and process, some more successful than others (the success and failures of Information Sharing is a topic for an entirely different discussion).