book review: Security Mom

security mom

Security Mom by Juliette Kayyem. Simon & Schuster| April 5, 2016| 260 pages | $25.99| ISBN: 978-1-4767-3374-6

RATING: ***/5*

In the last Massachusetts gubernatorial race, I volunteered early on for Juliette Kayyem and I’m convinced she now has me on a watch list. It’s not the easiest thing to take orders from millennials as a GenXer who has volunteered on political campaigns since they were babies. Things didn’t go well with these young ones and I’m pretty sure they held my mental health against me and then I found Juliette Kayyem had even blocked me on twitter and I’m not quite sure why. I chose to work with her. I picked her as my candidate. Unfortunately she did not receive enough caucus votes to secure a place on the ballot. Also interestingly Emily’s List—an organization devoted to putting women in political office—would only support ONE female candidate in Massachusetts and that was then Attorney General Martha Coakley, who as we know went on to lose against Republican Charlie Baker. That’s my connection with Juliette Kayyem.

“The warning that keeps sounding, year after year, generation after generation, is this: NO government ought to guarantee perfect security, because no government can provide it. There has never been a time of perfect peace. Indeed, there is only one promise that government should make: that it will invest in creating a more resilient nation. And that promise begins with acknowledging that citizens must be a part of this plan.”

Her new book Security Mom focuses more on the memoir part than the how-to part. Kayyem’s worked for the Department of Justice, she’s taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and worked as assistant secretary of Homeland Security and as the homeland security advisor for Massachusetts under Governor Deval Patrick. She does include tips we’ve all heard before disasters and after 9/11 such as keep a stocked first-aid kit; stock up on water and canned goods and flashlights and batteries; know your exit plan. One smart thing is to photocopy all essential paperwork—birth certificates, social security cards, passports and mail to someone out-of-state. Kayyem stresses: “We don’t need to live in fear of catastrophic disaster striking at any time. Preparedness means taking responsibility in the event that it might. When more people are prepared, fewer people will need help. That will minimize the possibility of greater catastrophe.”

Kayyem discusses The Boston Marathon bombing, the H1N1 pandemic, the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, anthrax scare and the BP oil spill. It’s a chronological account to her career as an attorney and terrorism expert. Her career began as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Former governor Deval Patrick served as Assistant Attorney General and her direct supervisor under Attorney General Janet Reno. She notes she was the only high-ranking Arab-American [she’s part Lebanese] at the Justice Department. Soon Janet Reno placed Kayyem on a team that reviewed “secret evidence” cases. The task: to examine how the FBI investigated certain individuals. This work started to make her a terrorism expert. She notes: “As my work drew me deeper into the national security apparatus, I became privy to information about the threats to our nation from various terrorist organizations thriving abroad and at home, as well as about the amount of activity—surveillance, intelligence operations, military actions, law enforcement raids—being performed to protect the country.”

In the 90s Congress appointed her to the National Commission on Terrorism. Of the appointment, Kayyem wrote: “The Democrats needed to show that I was a safe appointment, qualified and also acceptable to all of the religious, political, and ethnic groups invested in the issue: a Christian Arab-American terrorist expert born in California and married to a Jewish Law professor—a Harvard law professor, no less!” No slacker herself, Kayyem graduated from both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. That’s where she met her husband. No doubt Kayyem’s career fascinates and impresses and she details much of it within these pages. Might lead you to feel you’ve accomplished little with your own career. Although you’ll notice that each career appointment connects to her last. Politics subsists by who you know. If you are interested in homeland security, counter-terrorism and safety, it’s a book you should read. I’d rather not give out too many details. Watch list and all.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Simon & Schuster.

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purchase at Amazon: Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home

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