Counter-Terrorism: Some Pressing Questions about Preparedness for Terrorism


October 6, 2005: Since 911, the United States has spent a lot of money on terrorism. Have it really been spent wisely? The systemic failures on both the state and federal levels during the Katrina and Rita hurricane disasters revealed serious problems in our ability to respond promptly and effectively to a major problem.

Consider some questions:

1) Why do we have a "National Security Council" and a "National Homeland Security Council"? The personnel are virtually identical (pretty much the same, but for SEC DHS). It's a single problem -- like the old World War II song, that said we'd be defending America from over there "to the door line of every native soul."

2) Is the Department of Defense (DoD) serious about Homeland Protection? DoD still seems to prefer to deal with "away" games, and has resisted measures that might make it more effective in coping with problems at home. It has not supported efforts to strengthen State Defense Forces, which did yeoman service in the aftermath of 911 and currently in the Gulf hurricane disaster. For example,

· NY and NJ state military personnel who provided security for some federal military installations following the attack on the World Trade Center, were prohibited from using federal facilities or equipment.

· DoD also does not support bi-partisan Congressional efforts (HR 3401) to permit SDFs to receive surplus equipment (which can be granted to the Boys Scouts).

· When one state acted to create a Naval Militia to assist the Coast Guard in security and disaster relief, DoD and the State Adjutant General resisted the measure so fiercely that the organization had to be placed directly under the Governor.

3) Who's responsible for developing simple common communications, emergency operations center, and other procedures, to insure interoperability of military forces with federal and state law enforcement and emergency services personnel? DoD points to DHS, and DHS says its DoD.

4) What are the real threats? Too much attention has been focused on flashy threats that are not necessarily as dangerous as other possibilities. For example, a lot of attention - and money - has been devoted to cargo containers, which are probably less of a threat than a guy with a suitcase, or several guys with suitcases. The guys have a guidance system. A container, once it enters the shipping stream, goes where it goes until it reaches its port-of-entry; like a phone call, it may be routed by many different routes.

5) What has been done to secure the nation's rail system? When the troops at Fort Hood, ship out, they do so by rail, over tracks that cross scores of gullies and sloughs on viaducts that are supported by creosote-soaked wooden piles; a couple of guys with matches could do a lot of damage. Moreover, four years after 911 there are still trains loaded with toxic chemicals passing within a few blocks of Capitol Hill. And rather than strengthen our rail passenger capacity, to provide a fall-back if terrorists - or rising fuel costs - make flying less desirable, Congress is likely to destroy what's left of the system..

6) What are the real vulnerabilities in the nation's air transport system? We've spent lots of money to confiscate nail clippers and frisk grandmothers. Meanwhile, the nation's air control system uses dated technology, and is highly vulnerable to sabotage or cyberattack.

7) How secure are our utilities? Power lines, gas lines, communications lines to our military bases, industrial plants, hospital, and pretty much everything else, are readily accessible to passers-by, often with no security. A recent backhoe accident during construction of a costly new, high security gatehouse at an important base resulted in a total video blackout on the base due to a severed cable - it could as easily have been a the power or telephone service.

8) Are we putting our money where it's most needed? Frankly, no. The "Wyoming Effect," whereby the most sparsely populated states have garnered the largest share of the funds suggest otherwise. What is needed is an objective assessment of the areas and instructions most likely to attract the attention of terrorists. In that way, we can base our spending on the most likely targets.


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