Counter-Terrorism: Guarding the Wrong Targets

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January 30, 2007: Many analysts in the U.S. government are criticizing the efforts of the DHS (Department Homeland Security) for its failure to do a realistic risk assessment of the entire American transportation system. Intelligence agencies, in particular, are unhappy with this, mainly because outfits like the CIA have done this sort of analysis before. While the CIA has done analysis of foreign transportation systems, they know the methodology could be applied easily enough to the United States. The problem is mainly political. DHS was created in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, with the mandate to protect America from terrorist attacks. As is usually the case, the perceived risks are not the same as the real ones. Flying is safer than any other form of transportation, yet more people are afraid of flying than of any other mode of transportation. There is greater fear of terrorist attacks on airliners, than there is for any other means of moving around. The non-DHS analysts point out that the biggest vulnerabilities are at ports, and railroads. Not so much against people, as against economic infrastructure. Al Qaeda has made it clear that it wishes to wreck the American economy. But guarding railroad choke points is not as politically volatile as appearing alert defending air transportation. Even in the air transport area, DHS is criticized for generally ignoring general aviation. There are thousands of smaller aircraft all over the country that get hardly any attention at all. 

What no one wants to say out loud is that DHS is responding more to threats the media and politicians see as critical, than to the ones that really matter. But that's the way the world works, and DHS is not likely to change direction any time soon.


 

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