Monday morning I was finishing up this article as the news came on about the Boston Marathon terrorist attack. I decided to re-write it since I talk about a study I did on terrorism several years ago.
Back in 1985 when I was an Air Force 1st Lt. I had a project dumped on me. Originally it was assigned to someone else but they dropped the ball leaving me 6 weeks to complete a 4 month project. My assignment – conduct an Energy Vulnerability Assessment to determine the mission impact if a terrorist disrupted the water, electricity and/or natural gas supply to Minot AFB.
In a bit of a panic I called the project’s manager and explained my situation hoping for a time extension. He told me not to worry, that this was a preliminary idea gathering study and there would be follow-on work.
After talking to him, I had an idea. What they really wanted to know was if terrorism could impact the base’s mission. Could terrorism keep Minot AFB’s B-52’s and Minuteman missiles grounded? That would require taking down the command and control system.
Back in 1985, terrorism was something that happened in foreign countries – Middle East plane hijackings, IRA bombs in Northern Ireland and England. We were a Super Power, we believed we were invincible.
We believed security came from overwhelming firepower. Any attack on our security would be met with an even larger counter attack.
Due to our superiority in weaponry and thinking, we believed our nuclear capabilities were secure –all threats were considered and mitigated.
We protected our nuclear assets with a large well-equipped security force who’s procedures were simple – shoot first, ask questions later. There were signs posted “Use of Deadly Force Authorized.” We were serious about our use of force to protect assets.
While the security forces protected the assets, the complex systems were at risk from an internal system failure. But with the greatest minds in the country designing the system, fail-safes were built in. All critical systems and components had redundancy. Some had triple redundancy with back-ups to the back-ups. They thought of every type of system failure and had a solution.
Yes, between our firepower and system redundancy we were secure.
As I spent a few days going through the command and control system with different base representatives, it struck me that no one on base knew the system as a whole. Everyone was immersed in autonomy – they looked at their little piece of the system without understanding how the system as a whole worked. To me, that was a risk.
As one officer walked me through part of the system, he tried to impress upon me how redundancy made the system absolutely secure. He took me to a small building that housed a critical section of the system. Within this section there was one small part that was deemed extremely critical. If for any reason the part failed, a duplicate part was adjacent to it and the system would automatically route the signal through the back-up part. Then because that section of the system was critical, it too was replicated in the building next door – less than 10’ away. Even if the smaller building was lost due to a tornado, the system could remain secure and operational in the larger building.
I already established that a terrorist could get past the security forces who were focused on the nuclear assets and walk right up to this ordinary support facility.
Thinking back to the building demolition class I took in college, I looked at the proximity of the buildings and said “Secure? Not if both buildings are blown up!” Oops, no one thought about that.
I went back through the command and control system and by looking at it as a whole, I found vulnerable critical components. I thought I knew how to cripple the system.
I decided to run my scenario past someone. I went to see the Command Post commander, who I had been working with. I laid out a simple scenario.
As long as I live I will always remember that his eyes literally got as big and as round as quarters.
He told me to stay in Command Post while he went to see the Wing Commander. For over 3 hours I sat alone at the War Room conference table amazed at the situation. Here I was an insignificant 24 year old female 1st Lt. surrounded by the symbols of male authority, dominance and world power knowing that I just neutralized it.
Talk about being the woman in the room!!
When the Command Post commander returned he wouldn’t tell me much but it was evident the stuff hit the fan.
Two weeks after I sent in my paper I got a call from the project manager. He was very excited and wanted to let me know what happened with my paper. He said “I gave them exactly what they wanted and they didn’t even know that is what they wanted.” That’s pretty cool! My paper was sent to every U.S. military command as a must-read. Armed Forces Europe (the Cold War front line) had already read my paper and went on high alert. The FBI and CIA had copies.
As a result of my paper, concrete barricades went up everywhere. (Yes, blame me. Sorry.)
I changed how the U.S. thought about terrorism on our soil. But that’s not my point – there is a much more important point.
It is not true that a strong entity can only be beat by an even stronger entity. Men sold us this perspective for centuries and it was unraveling…at tremendous speed.
Men are not willing to look at the complex system as a whole because they are more interested in owning and controlling a piece of it. At Minot AFB there were two wings that each owned part of the command and control system. My scenario took down components under the control of each wing. Because the wings were not integrating vulnerabilities were missed.
I concluded that complexity is the enemy of the male perspective.
Managing complexity is the power of the female perspective.
For almost 30 years I have been watching a world in transition. As the world becomes more complex physical power becomes less effective. 9-11 was a prime example of this but we spent over 10 years, lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars trying to prove physical power still wins and failed.
Even in our response to gun violence, many people believe the answer is more force. It is a simple answer from the male perspective. The alternative is to dive into the can of worms and tackle the complex reasons for escalating violence.
Men are not going to do this.
That is our job. We need to do it.
We need to step up and start managing this complex world. If we don’t like the way Wall Street behaves, then we need to get in there and fix the complex mess they created. The same is true about healthcare reform, the tax code, the budget, Medicare, Social Security, the education system, the food we eat…etc., etc., etc.
Men have led the world for thousands of years but now that complexity is taking over, it is our turn.
Let’s do it!
Empowered women lead in solving complex issues.