Sunday, August 13, 2006

On taking national security seriously

As cooler heads have pointed out, the recently announced plot to blow up airliners coming into the US is not only not a new idea, it had actually been implemented before. That it's been 12 years since Bojinka was discovered and disrupted and there's still no working plan for blocking people from carrying a bomb onto a plane short of having folks dump out their water bottles says all that must be said about the current state of our national security apparatus.

Luckily, Congress and the Bushes are on the case:

As the British terror plot was unfolding, the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent this year developing new explosives detection technology. Congressional leaders rejected the idea, the latest in a series of Homeland Security Department steps that have left lawmakers and some of the department's own experts questioning the commitment to create better anti-terror technologies.

Homeland Security's research arm, called the Sciences & Technology Directorate, is a "rudderless ship without a clear way to get back on course," Republican and Democratic senators on the Appropriations Committee declared recently.
When DHS was established, legitimate concerns were raised about the merits of creating a brand new and more complex bureaucracy when a series of smaller, more focused organizations already existed to be reformed. We've spent plenty of money trying to figure out the best way to integrate the Coast Guard and the FAA's security operations into the same organization as the ATF and immigration, but that money might just have been better spent on equipment and personnel to screen every container entering America's ports, or installing the detectors at airports that would actually detect explosive liquids in luggage.

Lawmakers and recently retired Homeland Security officials say they are concerned the department's research and development effort is bogged down by bureaucracy, lack of strategic planning and failure to use money wisely.

The department failed to spend $200 million in research and development money from past years, forcing lawmakers to rescind the money this summer.

The administration also was slow to start testing a new liquid explosives detector that the Japanese government provided to the United States earlier this year.
But that isn't my concern. If we lived in an age where the Vice-President and a discredited Senator didn't accuse the people of Connecticut of aiding and abetting al Qaeda by exercising their democratic prerogative, we might be able to have that discussion.

But we do have Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman making those comments, which makes reports like this more vital to discuss:

NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.
"Sooner" must be a British euphemism for "right after the repudiation of George Bush's favorite Democrat." It's just a bit too … convenient. If they're prepared to interfere in when a different nation arrests terrorism suspects within its own borders for what appear to be political reasons, why should we be surprised that the Department of Homeland Security is collapsing under its own weight.

I've said before that this administration doesn't believe in government big, small, or good. All they want and all they can achieve is bad government. We can't judge any of their policies in any other light. DHS may be a great idea, but this administration will undermine any attempt at getting this right. We need a new Congress and a new President, but in the mean time, we need a level of skepticism in the public response to the jokers in charge.