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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

What's an Agency 'Horse Blanket'?


A hot-off-the-presses book on U.S. counterterrorism policy reveals an oddly named tool many agencies have had at their disposal since 2007. A "horse blanket," according to "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda" by New York Times correspondents Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, is "a large, multilayered briefing paper that unfolded, like a child's toy, to reveal a graduating series of contingencies that each federal agency could take in response to a potential or actual terrorist attack."

Created at the instigation of Michael Leiter, the then-director of the National Counterterrorism Center who was heading an interagency "crash review" of U.S. vulnerabilities, the horse blanket is "a graphic device that distilled thousands of hours of analytical work and PowerPoint slides to a fold-up chart that policy makers could pull from their briefcase to handily compare and contrast options," the journalists write.

Leiter believed agency leaders responsible for addressing an elevated terrorism threat needed "something tangible" to help them instantly weigh the cost in dollars, employees and economic impact of each course in the menu of options.


Charles S. Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books, and organizational media strategies.

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