Sunday, March 07, 2004

Homeland security update ... not very homey or secure ...

Michael Crowley of The New Republic (hat tip to Josh Levin) writes that the Dept. of Homeland Security is a mess:

Last December, I called the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) main line. "Thank you for your interest in the Department of Homeland Security," a recorded voice responded. "Due to the high level of interest in the department all lines are currently busy. ... We encourage you to call back soon." A beep was followed by a click. It was a good thing I wasn't calling to report an anthrax attack, because I'd been disconnected. As advised, I tried calling back "soon"--and got the same recording. Just a bad week, perhaps? Apparently not. A few weeks later, a Roll Call reporter had the same experience.

Unanswered phones are a small but telling example of how DHS is faring one year after the department opened its doors last March. Far from being greater than the sum of its parts, DHS is a bureaucratic Frankenstein, with clumsily stitched-together limbs and an inadequate, misfiring brain. No one says merging 170,000 employees from 22 different agencies should have been easy. But, even allowing for inevitable transition problems, DHS has been a disaster: underfunded, undermanned, disorganized, and unforgivably slow-moving.

And, yet, George W. Bush can't stop praising it. His January State of the Union address hailed "the men and women of our new Homeland Security Department [who] are patrolling our coasts and borders," whose "vigilance is protecting America." In a September 11 anniversary address at Quantico, Virginia, Bush mentioned DHS no less than twelve times, saying, "Secretary [Tom] Ridge and his team have done a fine job in getting the difficult work of organizing the department [sic]." And, at an event celebrating the department's one-year anniversary this week, Bush declared that the department had "accomplished an historic task," and that Ridge has done a "fantastic job" of making the United States safer.

That's nonsense. DHS has failed to address some of our most serious vulnerabilities, from centralizing intelligence to protecting critical infrastructure to organizing against bioterror. Many a policy wonk who has evaluated the department has come away despondent. Zoe Lofgren, a senior Democrat on two House committees that oversee DHS, puts it this way: "We are arguably in worse shape than we were before [the creation of the department]. ... If the American people knew how little has been done, they would be outraged."

Meanwhile in Iraq, an Alqueda bad guy named Zarqawi becomes the scape-goat for American security troubles there as reported by Tony Karon in Time Magazine:

What do you do when you've rolled up most of your 52-card deck of Iraqi bad guys but the bad stuff keeps on happening? Why, mint a 53rd card, of course. The Coalition Provisional Authority announced last week that it was doing just that, adding a "wild card" bearing the visage of a Jordanian terrorist who goes by the name of Musab al-Zarqawi to its deck of former regime figures. The decision is hardly surprising: Most of the original deck are now dead or in U.S. custody; only seven are still at large. Yet, the insurgency continues to kill Americans and Iraqis every day, and shows no sign of abating. Perhaps because of a deeply ingrained Hollywood convention, Americans need to put a face on the enemy. Finding the "evil one" ends the game, at least in the movies.

MSNBC has a story examining the Zarqawi hype that supports Karon's analysis. Shouldn't we take the Admnistration's claims to have supporting documentation of Zarqawi's dangerousness seriously however? Zarqawi may indeed be a dangerous and prominent figure in the terrorist underworld, however it is highly unlikely that he is responsible for most of Iraq's insurgency which seems to be mostly propelled by indigenous nationalist concerns rather than religious jihad. The cynicism of the Bush Administration on this topic can be seen by their voluntary choice not to kill Zarqawi as reported by Jim Miklaszewski of MSNBC. If Zarqawi had been considered such an important figure in Alqueda and a serious danger to American national security interests, then why would it be true that "... NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger."

How many times did this happen? Not once. Not twice. Three times the Pentagon drew up a strike plan and three times the National Security Council killed it. Eventually, an attack plan was conducted but by Administration admission Zarqawi had gotten clean away by that time in order to pose the threat they now claim he represents in post-war Iraq today. Blaming him now for Iraq's security debacle is the height of cynicism.


Well, that just supports the gloomy news that the oldman has written about, regarding the selling out of the financial war on terrorism. Otherwise, Alqueda remains the "bogey-man" used to scare Americans into supporting political action even while the inept Intelligence Agencies and paralyzed Administration fumble about. We've destroyed most of the high-profile first generation Alqueda leadership, but they've successfully gone underground and are operating right now almost completely underneath our radar.

Unfortunately, people in the United States have lost focus again. Will it take another disaster for people to wake up to the truth? One of the fundamental principles of reasoning that one can almost always count on is that "Bureaucracy only responds to crisis". I'm afraid that shocking as it may seem, 911 wasn't a sufficient crisis to motivate true change. This is going on while in a completely cynical fashion the President is using 911 footage in his election ads (WaPo).

However, people get the leaders they deserve and not the ones they need. If we all stand by and let something like this pass, what can we expect but further bait&switch shennanigans?

Meanwhile the BBC reports that bin Ladin may have slipped through our fingers again ... despite the efforts of the US inter-service Special Ops Task Force 121. For a human interest perspective, read Newsweek's account about the leader of Task Force 121, McRaven, a former Navy Seal.


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