Small Wars Journal

Special Interest Aliens: Achieving an Integrated Approach

Mon, 12/12/2016 - 11:06am

Special Interest Aliens: Achieving an Integrated Approach

Adam MacAllister, Dan Spengler, Kyle Larish and Nam-young Kim

The potential threat posed by Special Interest Aliens (SIA) is receiving renewed emphasis, particularly in view of the recent terrorist attacks across Europe and North Africa directed or inspired by the Islamic State.  A percentage of individuals within the SIA category use illicit pathways throughout the western hemisphere to obfuscate their country of origin and gain illegal entry into the United States, some of whom are terrorists. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines the term Special Interest Alien as a person seeking entry to the United States who originates from “specially designated countries that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members.”[i]  In application, the term is used by law enforcement agencies as a filter to describe a subset of United States bound migrants who require additional security screening.[ii]  In September 2016, the Secretary of DHS, Secretary Johnson, acknowledged the DHS’ long standing concern about SIAs.[iii]  He noted that SIAs potentially pose “unique national security concerns to the Homeland,” and has emphasized the need for a whole-of-government approach to comprehensively address the issue.[iv]

Secretary Johnson’s outreach represents a critical and timely opportunity.  However, the opportunity to develop a coordinated and synchronized interagency approach for addressing SIAs is not new.[v]  The delay in establishing an integrated approach is a strategic and operational level failure, not a problem of tactical level capabilities or an inability to cooperate among agencies represented in the field.[vi]  The inability to achieve a whole-of-government approach to countering SIAs is a consequence of not having the requisite strategic leadership and policy guidance, a failure to define interagency roles, an inability to establish an effective operational/regional level interagency coordination body, and the lack of a common process for assessments and unified messaging.  Using the identified issues as guideposts, a more important argument is advanced.  The U.S. Government (USG) can rapidly establish an integrated whole-of-government approach to counter the terrorist threat posed by SIAs if the National Security Council (NSC) accepts the following four conditions: (a) DHS is the Lead Federal Agency (LFA), (b) clearly defined and enforced interagency roles and responsibilities, (c) establishment of a formal Interagency SIA Community of Interest (COI), and (d) development of a common assessments process to assure a clear and unified strategic message.             

Addressing Strategic Level Inhibitors to an Integrated Approach

Joint Vision 2020 prophetically highlighted, in the summer of 2000, “the primary challenge of interagency operations is to achieve unity of effort despite the diverse cultures, competing interests, and differing priorities of the participating organizations, many of whom guard their relative independence, freedom of action, and impartiality.”[vii]  This statement highlights many of the core challenges to achieving an integrated approach to SIAs.  It is also important to have a shared appreciation of the problem, a willingness to commit finite resources to enabling cooperation, and the support of each organization's senior leadership.  Each challenge represents an operational level friction point, but when considered holistically and in the context of SIAs they become the components of strategic level inertia.  Critical to overcoming this strategic inertia are two fundamental factors or, in the case of SIAs, two fundamental issues.  The first is the importance of strategic leadership and the second is the related requirement to conceive of, communicate, and enforce the roles and responsibilities appropriate to each department or agency with equities in the effort’s success. 

With complex topics like SIAs, government officials employ a range of methods to integrate and synchronize the instruments of national power; namely, the use of strategy documents, NSC processes, and/or the designation of a LFA empowered to coordinate topic specific efforts.  SIAs are not referenced within important national level strategies like the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Strategy for Counterterrorism, and the 2006 National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel.[viii]  SIAs are not referenced in major Department of State (DOS) strategies, arguably most appropriate being the Joint Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism.[ix]  There is no unclassified indication that the NSC provided guidance or direction on SIAs but the recent National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel Act of 2016 speaks to the void.[x]  The Act highlights that the “U.S. government lacks a comprehensive strategy for combating terrorist and foreign fighter travel—and has failed to maintain a comprehensive system for identifying and plugging related vulnerabilities in America’s defenses.”[xi]  Lastly, there is currently no designated LFA that has been granted the necessary authorities and permissions to conduct whole-of-government integration and synchronization for the problem of SIAs.   

Without the benefit of clear strategic guidance, Secretary Johnson advanced internal measures to synchronize and enhance the effort to counter known vulnerabilities, communicated his operational level objectives, provided prioritization towards specific geographic areas, and sought to integrate other instruments of national power into the DHS approach.[xii]  Other organizations, like the DOJ and the DOD, also advanced the effort against SIAs.  The reality however, as highlighted in the National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel of 2016, “hundreds of programs, projects, and initiatives have sprouted up to combat terrorist travel since 9/11, but without an overarching strategy to coordinate them, the United States may be wasting taxpayer dollars and failing to allocate resources where they are needed most.”[xiii]

DHS as the Lead Federal Agency

Designation of DHS as the LFA responsible for creating an integrated SIA strategy would resolve the absence of strategic level leadership and guidance.  This is preferable to creating additional demands on a NSC saturated with competing strategic priorities.  As the LFA for SIAs, DHS would identify interagency requirements, provide authoritative guidance, ensure integration and synchronization of effects, and serve as the USG’s preeminent voice for strategic messaging.  Abdicating the NSC’s interagency integration role to a LFA for SIAs does not negate the importance of the NSC’s and DOS’s role in reinforcing the DHS position by incorporating SIAs into appropriate national level strategies. 

The second strategic issue impacting the development of a comprehensive SIA approach is the lack of an accepted set of interagency roles and responsibilities, particularly with respect to the DOD.  SIAs and their supporting networks fall within the strategic gray area, where the nexus between homeland security and homeland defense converge.  At that convergence point, DOD and other supporting departments need to provide the elusive and exceedingly complex form of strategic leadership that enables a solution rather than owns a problem.  Some will argue compellingly that SIAs are an extension of the DOD’s homeland defense mission or that DOD is the only organization with the breadth and capacity to target a complex threat network of this nature.[xiv]  Unfortunately, these arguments are as extreme as those who believe that SIAs are purely an illegal migration problem where any terrorism linkages are tenuous and un-prosecutable and the resources needed to find a needle in a haystack could be better applied towards less complicated counterterrorism operations.   

Secretary Johnson has asked Secretary Carter and other department heads to appoint leaders to assist in defining the roles, responsibilities, and requirements of their respective departments.[xv]   Secretary Carter’s decision will likely consider a myriad of factors.[xvi]  First, there is a need for an individual with sufficient rank to engage comfortably at the Secretary and under-secretary level.  Second, an individual whose portfolio addresses whichever aspect of the problem the secretary views as more challenging (i.e. vague or non-existent policy guidance, operationalizing strategic guidance, the criticality of interagency cooperation, the procurement of enabling resources, etc.).   There is also the question of echelon; the identified leader could be a member of his own staff, a member of the Joint Staff, or a member of any one of the Geographic Combatant Commands (GCC) with vested interests in the problem.

Defined Roles and Responsibilities Through Strategic Leadership 

SIAs are arguably the quintessential example of a law enforcement problem where DOD’s role, though supporting, is critical to the effort’s success.  Beyond areas of active hostilities, the DOD achieves its greatest counterterrorism effects by enabling both partner nation security forces and our U.S. law enforcement partners.[xvii]  For this reason, the Office of the Secretary of Defense should consider a hybrid leadership solution that leverages the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats as well as the Joint Staff J37 Deputy Director for Special Operations.[xviii]  Both offices appreciate the importance of DOD’s role in enabling law enforcement, both enjoy a global perspective on complex networked threats, both can appreciate the current arguments about threat convergence, and each can effectively navigate the many challenges associated with fusing the disparate authorities and programs used to counter transnational organized crime and terrorism.[xix]  Additionally, those offices are ideally suited to empower the three Combatant Commanders with the greatest equities in the SIA problem: USSOUTHCOM, USNORTHCOM, and USSOCOM.     

Addressing Operational Level Inhibitors to an Integrated Approach

As mentioned above, the issue of SIAs falls squarely within the strategic grey area.  Complex problems, limited guidance, nuanced authorities and permissions, limited resources, and other operational level factors create challenges for those involved in the critical task of translating strategic direction and policy guidance into coordinated tactical level effects.  In the DOD, that task is accomplished through operational level headquarters, namely the geographic and functional combatant commands and their next echelon of headquarters, the component commands.  With varying levels of efficacy, other USG organizations answered the need for operational level coordination and synchronization through different methods.  Of particular importance to the SIA problem set are the DOS regional bureaus and the relatively new DHS Joint Task Forces: JTF - East, JTF - West, and JTF - Investigations.[xx]  The current interaction between operational level headquarters is episodic, relying on a loose network of liaison officers and periodic issue-based cooperation. 

Above the country team level, how does the USG coordinate activities across multiple departments and agencies when the issue extends not only across multiple countries but also multiple regions?  Most will gravitate to the creation of a Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) like JIATF-South which is congressionally mandated and funded to disrupt the drug trade into the United States.[xxi]  There is no argument that JIATF-S has become a gold-standard for interagency cooperation but to achieve that standard it took a significant investment in resources and time.[xxii]  The creation of an SIA equivalent of JIATF-S is unlikely due to the current fiscal environment and it is not likely palatable to accept a 20-year lead-time to achieve the expected level of efficacy given the nature of the threat posed by SIAs.[xxiii]  The creation of a JIATF-SIA provides a long term solution to an enduring threat. 

Barring the creation of a new organization, others will suggest that liaison officers shared between headquarters can achieve the needed coordination and synchronization to produce coherent trans-regional effects.  The concept has merit but those who serve in these critical roles admit their function is largely information sharing, their support staff is minimal, and their mandate lacks the needed decision making authorities to coordinate current operations, particularly if it is on a grand scale like what is needed to counter SIAs.[xxiv]

Operational level headquarters do not, or more appropriately should not, manage the execution of tactical operations but instead they strive to ensure the authorities, access, capabilities, and oversight are consistent with the expected ends.  Operational level headquarters align resources, share information, and communicate challenges and risks to our strategic leaders in support of the national decision making process.  At the operational coordination and synchronization level, several ‘musts’ exist: expertise, effective interagency relationships, a level of impartiality owing to distance and perspective, and the ability to dispassionately influence resource alignment.  For important initiatives lacking the prioritization necessary to attain dedicated funding, like SIAs, the recommended resource informed solution for achieving cross-functional and interagency cooperation is to establish an operational level COI.

Establish a Formal Community of Interest

A COI in its simplest form is an informal grouping of interested offices and organizations who have a vested interest in cooperatively achieving common, or at least aligned, objectives.  Aided by ever-improving collaborative technologies, examples abound throughout the USG where COIs advance cooperation, integration, and synchronization.[xxv]  The type of COI needed to address SIAs is one that incorporates the intelligence community, the interagency operations community, as well as partner nation perspectives.  A COI of this nature is a network of networks where each operational level HQ constitutes an upper echelon node with direct influence over its tactical level capabilities.[xxvi]  The more a COI transitions from an informal to a formal arrangement between nodes, the more effective the organization becomes at both consolidating coordination demands and attaining the desired effects.  To reinforce the point, the responsibilities expected of an operational level node within the COI would include:

  1. Develop strategic level guidance for approval.
  2. Translate strategic and policy objectives into both operational level ways and tactical level means for execution by subordinate organizations.
  3. Integrate the agreed upon SIA approach into existing theater level strategy documents.
  4. Advance the SIA effort by recommending long term programmatic options as well as obligate Operations and Maintenance funds in support of short to mid-term efforts.
  5. Inform senior leadership within the organization concerning operational and strategic level developments within the SIA problem set.
  6. Enhance the connective tissue between nodes through memorandums of agreement, meetings, conferences, personnel exchanges, joint operations, strategy publications, and other such means.

A further responsibility of the COI is the need for producing detailed assessments, but its significance warrants it being addressed as a separate issue altogether.  The purpose of assessments at the operational level is multi-faceted.  Assessments should provide senior leadership with the ability to determine whether or not an existing approach can reasonably attain the desired objectives.  An assessment is enabled by both measures of effectiveness (are we doing the right things) and measures of performance (are we doing the right things well) which helps to inform a senior leaders decision to adjust either the ways or the means, or both.  In an interagency endeavor such as countering SIAs, an assessment also provides a unified voice among disparate departments and agencies whose perspectives will vary widely based on the niche lens through which they contribute to the overall solution.  At the strategic and operational level, there is also the matter of uniformly communicating risk, equitably communicating success, and honestly communicating failure.  The sensitivities associated with all three require an assessments program that is well articulated at the outset. 

How is an assessment of this nature coordinated when there is no directed hierarchical command structure connecting all of the players, no congressionally mandated reporting requirement, no NSC directed assessment, no single budgetary oversight requirement, or other unified top-down driven requirement?

Establishment of a Common Assessments Process

This issue reinforces the importance of designating a LFA but that recommendation alone does not sufficiently address the need for a common assessment.  DHS, through their newly formed SIA Joint Action Group, must acknowledge the responsibility to consolidate a common assessment for the Interagency in order to advance the SIA issue.  The Joint Action Group must open the aperture at the outset to formulate an interagency agreed upon assessments process with widely accepted assessment criteria.  Specifically, the community must embrace a collectively developed set of measures of effectiveness and performance.  Further, the community must be willing to identify up front what the measures of success and failure are for the SIA problem set.  Each operational level node, armed with an appreciation of the common assessment criteria, assessment process, and assessments timeline must be willing to commit the manpower and resources at the operational HQ level to ensure the quality of each organization’s input to DHS. 

Several additional factors will contribute to the creation of a successful strategic level assessment and will have a direct bearing on the future efficacy of the SIA effort.  First, avoid what a strategic assessment is not.  It is not a litany of episodic, though illustrative, examples that highlight micro successes or failures.  This is a natural tendency stemming from the reality that sensational reporting influences the strategic dialogue.[xxvii]  Critical to the assessment process is the ability to elevate the importance of well-informed, unemotional, and balanced perspectives to the strategic discussion on an increasingly complex and interconnected topic.  Second, identify the right senior leaders within strategic headquarters and the NSC to receive and scrutinize the finished assessment.  Without an interested and capable strategic leader with the power to influence the efforts evolution the assessment becomes an important but underappreciated document.   Additionally, demand all operational level HQs submitting inputs to DHS receive senior leader concurrence prior to submission.  This recommendation is improved by including a cover-letter articulating the senior leader’s concurrence and priorities.  .     

Strategic Risk and Concluding Thoughts

The military views operational and tactical risks in terms of the threat to mission and the threat to forces, which is often more than sufficient to inspire cooperation and innovation among the varying commands and services.   With respect to SIAs, the same inspiration is required but to achieve cooperation and innovation amongst the interagency requires a common appreciation of the strategic level risk posed by SIAs.  Strategic risks are the consequences of failure should the USG be unable to achieve its core national interests.  There will be no shortage of skepticism that the SIA problem set sufficiently meets the threshold of our nation’s core national interests.  That said, there are several factors that skeptics and proponents alike should consider with respect to strategic risk.  The 2015 NSS, reinforces the core interests proposed in the 2010 NSS and provides further clarity on how we will prioritize efforts when resource constraints require tradeoffs.[xxviii]  The direct relationship between SIAs and our first core interest is unmistakable; we are charged with ensuring the security of the U.S. and its citizens and our priority efforts should include those that curtail the risk of a “catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland or critical infrastructure.”[xxix]  To reinforce an under emphasized reality, SIAs are of special interest because of the relationship between illegal migration and terrorism.  When discussing SIAs it is far more common to hear passive terms like vulnerability, potential, or challenge rather than threat.  SIAs are a threat because a terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland does exist.  The strategic risk is not that any single attack is an existential threat to the survival of the U.S. but the strategic failure will come in the form of lost credibility with the American people and our allies as well as the increased perception among terrorists that the U.S. homeland is vulnerable to attack.  The strategic risk is not the material damage that is caused from any one attack but the exponentially higher cost that will ensue from addressing failures and the anticipated cost of U.S. retaliation.  The strategic risk is not the singular response to an attack but instead the perpetuation of a cycle of reactionary evolutions in the U.S. approach to countering terrorism. 

Whether one believes in the risk associated with SIAs or whether it’s simply an expectation that the USG can function effectively, efficiently, and cooperatively to address complex trans-regional threats, the message of this article is the same.  There is an unmistakable opportunity for the USG, particularly the DOD, to capitalize on Secretary Johnson’s current initiative to develop an integrated approach to SIAs.  Standing in the way are several strategic and operational level issues that, like most anything else, are able to be overcome if accepted and addressed early.  To that end, this article outlined four interconnected issues and provided specific recommendations to address each.

The first issue identified was the current lack of SIA specific policy direction and strategic level guidance.  Several potential methods to address the critical gap were highlighted, namely the creation of national strategies, the use of NSC processes, and the designation of a LFA.  Owing largely to the recent initiatives of the DHS and an acknowledgment of the significant demands already placed on the NSC, it is recommended that the DHS be formally tasked as the LFA for SIAs with the responsibility to develop and manage an integrated whole of government approach to SIAs.

The second issue highlighted is the current lack of clearly defined interagency roles and responsibilities for countering SIAs.  Developing roles and responsibilities is a challenge given that the SIA issue falls in the strategic grey area where the nexus point exists between homeland defense and homeland security.  Though specific recommendations are provided for DOD, the overarching recommendation for all departments is to identify strategic level leaders who will assume a supporting role to DHS and who are positioned to assist in the process of developing and integrating interagency requirements into a whole-of-government approach for a complex transregional issue.

The third issue is the lack of operational level coordination among the interagency.  The transregional nature of the threat, the importance of translating strategic direction into executable tasks, alignment of resources and authorities, and the ability to synchronize effects requires operational level capacity that does not uniformly exist across the interagency.  The creation of a new interagency task force and expanding the responsibilities of the existing liaison officer network were discounted as feasible options based primarily on resource considerations, implementation timelines, and capacity issues.  Instead, it was recommended that a DHS led Community of Interest be established.  Along with that recommendation were a wide range of expectations that are aimed at supporting the COI’s effectiveness.

The final issue discussed was the current lack of an integrated assessments and strategic communications process.  The importance of such a process was discussed in detail and the majority of recommendations offered methods to improve quality, increase returns, and equitably message both success and failures.

As a final consideration, though the threat may be complex the solution is merely complicated.[xxx]  To address the complicated, this article articulated a simple logic chain that highlights the fundamental requirements needed to achieve interagency cooperation on a complex transregional threat.  Specifically, identify a leader, identify roles for those following the leader, create a means for the leader to synchronize the behaviors of the followers, and create a method for the leader to assess and, if required, modify the follower's behaviors.[xxxi]  Though many options exist, addressing the strategic risks posed by SIAs is an immediate imperative for the new administration.  However the method they choose will have implications well beyond their tenure for how the enduring threat posed by SIAs will impact U.S. national security.                   


Amidon, Jr., Doyle. “U.S. Response to Special Interest Aliens, A Collaborative Effort.” Master’s thesis, U.S. Army War College, 2008.

Bensman, Todd. “The Ultra-Marathoners of Human Smuggling:  How to Combat the Dark Networks that Can Move Terrorists over American Land Borders.” Homeland Security Affairs 12, Essay 2 (May 2016).

Department of Defense. Inspector General.  “Independent Auditor’s Report on the FY 2015 DOD Performance Summary Report of the Funds Obligated for National Drug Control Program Activities.” Washington D.C. United States Government. January 29, 2016.

Department of Homeland Security. Office of Inspector General. “Supervision of Aliens Commensurate With Risk.” Washington D.C. United States Government. December 23, 2011.

Department of State & USAID 2016 Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism, May 2016.

Munsing, Evan and Christopher Lamb, “JIATF-S: The Best Known, Least Understood Interagency Success.” Institute for National Strategic Studies Strategic Perspectives, No. 5 (June 2011).

Presidential Policy Directive 1 - Organization of the National Security Council System. February 13, 2009.

Secretary Jeb Johnson. Letter to Secretary Ash Carter. September 26, 2016.

Strategy Division, Directorate for Strategic Plans and Policy (J-5), Joint Staff, JFQ Summer 2000, “Joint Force 2020: America’s Military - Preparing for Tomorrow”, June 2000.

U.S. National Security Strategy. Washington D.C. United States Government. February 2015.

U.S. National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel Act of 2016, HR 4408. Washington D.C. United States Government. February 23, 2016.

U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism. Washington D.C. United States Government. June 2011.

U.S. Strategy for Combating Terrorist Travel.  National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Washington D.C. United States Government. May 2, 2006.

End Notes

1. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, “Supervision of Aliens Commensurate With Risk” (December 23, 2011): 8,

2. Ibid.

3.  Secretary Jeb Johnson, Letter to Secretary Ash Carter, September 26, 2016.

4. Ibid.

5. Doyle Amidon Jr., “U.S. Response to Special Interest Aliens, A Collaborative Effort.” (master’s thesis, U.S. Army War College, 2008).

6. This statement is not intended to suggest that opportunities do not exist at the tactical level to improve U.S. efforts to counter SIAs but rather it provides focus on the issues that have inhibited the U.S.’ ability to create a whole of government approach.  For tactical level recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the counter SIA effort see Todd Bensman’s thesis.  Todd Bensman, “The Ultra-Marathoners of Human Smuggling:  How to Combat the Dark Networks that Can Move Terrorists over American Land Borders.” Homeland Security Affairs 12, Essay 2 (May 2016).  

7. Joint Staff J5, JFQ Summer 2000, “Joint Force 2020: America’s Military - Preparing for Tomorrow” (June 2000).

8. U.S. National Security Strategy (February 2015); U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism (June 2011); U.S. National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel (May 2006).

9. Department of State & USAID 2016 Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism (May 2016).

10. Presidential Policy Directive 1 - Organization of the National Security Council System (February 13, 2009).  There are no indications that SIAs are being addressed within the current three tiered NSC, in particular at the Interagency Policy Committee (IPC) level or within its associated topic specific subordinate forums referred to as sub-IPCs.

11. National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel Act of 2016, HR 4408, 2,  The Act does not specifically mention SIAs but the intent of the document has clear applicability to SIAs.

12. Johnson, Letter to Carter.

13. National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel Act of 2016, 2.

14. For the reader’s consideration.  Another argument that may support an increased role for DOD stems from the department’s efforts to illuminate and counter trans-regional illicit networks, particularly those facilitating Foreign Terrorist Fighter flows.  Though there is no universally accepted definitions for either term, a major conceptual distinction between FTF and SIA networks are the direction their products (potential terrorists) travel; FTF networks are facilitating the movement of terrorists to areas of active hostilities while SIA networks are those facilitating the travel of personnel from terrorist affiliated countries to the United States.

15. Johnson, Letter to Carter.

16. Johnson, Letter to Carter.  DOD is highlighted for its use as an illustrative example, at the request of Secretary Johnson, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of the Treasury are also working through similar considerations.

17. This truth is most evident in the collaborative counter-narcotic strategies seen between law enforcement agencies and DOD as described in the Department of Defense, Inspector General, “Independent Auditor’s Report on the FY 2015 DOD Performance Summary Report of the Funds Obligated for National Drug Control Program Activities.” (January 29, 2016).

[xviii]. An alternative to the J37-DDSO is the Transregional Threat Coordination Cell (T2C2) which is a newly formed capability within the Joint Staff.  If their capacity is increased, the SIA effort nests appropriately with their role in Countering Transregional Terrorist Organizations (CTTO).  See. Senate Armed Services Committee policy questions to LTG Thomas which is available at  

19. For readers interested in understanding more about convergence, Mr. David Luna, Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs  at the Department of State provided the following illustrative quote: “Corruption, crime, and terrorism—the “unholy trinity” as Dr. Louise Shelley, Dr. Raufer, and other distinguished scholars have dubbed it—are the drivers of the global threat environment, the merging and blending of an ever-expanding array of illicit actors and networks.” This quote can be found at  Another illustrative speech by Mr. Luna on the topic is Threat Convergence: Subversion, Destabilization, and Insecurity which is available at

20. Information concerning the development of the three DHS operational level headquarters can be found at their website

21. Evan Munsing and Christopher Lamb, “JIATF-S: The Best Known, Least Understood Interagency Success”.  Institute for National Strategic Studies Strategic Perspectives, No. 5 (June 2011). An exceptional article concerning the challenging evolution of JIATF-S.

22. Ibid., 12.

23. Ibid., 19.

24. The benefit of Liaison Officers is unquestionable and there are a range of best practices that can assist in their effectiveness, of particular interest is the perception that LNOs and Advisors are the best method to address the operational level “void” that exists in most interagency organizations outside of DOD.  For more concerning the ‘Void” and coordination best practices please see Joint Staff J7 July 2013 edition of Insights and Best Practices Focus Paper: Interorganizational Coordination available at   

25. Examples of effective COIs can be found within the intelligence, operations and acquisitions arenas.  Three operational level examples include the USSOUTHCOM facilitated Counterterrorism COI, Central America COI, and the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction COI. 

26. The creation of a new COI increases requirements without necessarily increasing resources.  Most, if not all, USG organizations operate without the flexibility to accept new requirements without it detracting from existing requirements.  The COI construct does inherently provide the flexibility for operational level HQ to pursue efficiencies by combining related initiatives.  Similarly at the strategic level, currently disparate SIA efforts need to be aligned under the single DHS led COI with the expectation of reducing coordination demands on the operational level nodes.      

27. Consider the comments provided by Mr. Farhad Manjoo available at and the remarks made by Professor DiOrio about the “10,000 mile screwdriver” available at

28. National Security Strategy (February 2015): 2.

29. Ibid., 2.

30. It is recommended to view Eric Berlow’s well-articulated argument about the distinction between complex and complicated and the implications for developing effective and innovative solutions.  His speech is available at

31. For readers interested in illustrative SIA examples there are multiple highlighted within Bensman’s thesis.  Other examples can be found on popular media sites to include Fox News (example:, CNN (example:, Washington Post (example:, and many others.  


About the Author(s)

Commander Nam-young Kim, ROK-Navy. CDR Kim has recently served as the executive officer of the Amphibious Assault Ship, LPH-6111. He was commissioned through the Korean Naval Academy in 1997 and earned a BS in Operation research from the same. CDR Kim graduated from the South Korean National Defense University in 2008 and earned an MA in Military Strategy.  He has also graduated from the South Korean Army War College in 2011. Prior to his current assignment, CDR Kim’s operational level assignments include service within the ROK DOD and HQ of the Navy.

Major Kyle Larish, USMC. Maj Larish is currently serving as Land Domain Chief, in USNORTHCOM J3. He was commissioned through the Officer Candidate Course in 2004. Maj Larish earned a BS in Business Administration from the University at Buffalo in 2003.  Prior to his current assignment, Maj Larish has served in a variety of billets from Platoon Commander and Executive Officer to Company Commander.  He has deployed to Iraq, and Afghanistan where he deployed on a Police Advisor Team.  He also spent 2 years with the 31st MEU as the Force Protection Officer deploying throughout the Southeast Asian AOR.

Major Dan Spengler, USAF. Maj Spengler is currently serving as a member of J3 Staff at Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), in Tampa, FL. He was commissioned through the United States Air Force Academy in 2003. Maj Spengler earned a BS in Environmental Engineering from the Air Force Academy, and an MBA with finance concentration from Trident University in 2013. Prior to his current assignment, Maj Spengler served as a pilot in the 73rd Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB, NM from 2008 to 2014 flying the MC-130W and AC-130W.

Major Adam E. MacAllister, USA. MAJ MacAllister is currently serving as a Counterterrorism Plans and Operations Officer, in USSOUTHCOM J3. He was commissioned through the United States Military Academy in 2003 and earned a BS in Political Science from the same.  MAJ MacAllister graduated valedictorian and earned an MS in Statecraft and National Security Affairs from the Institute of World Politics in 2011. Prior to his current assignment, MAJ MacAllister has deployed four times, three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq.  At the tactical level he has served in positions ranging from Infantry Platoon Leader to Infantry Brigade Operations Officer and at the operational level he has been assigned to U.S. Army Europe G3 and the International Security Assistance Forces Commander’s Initiatives Group.