Posts Tagged ‘Homeland Security’

There’s a word for this: bureaucracy.  The U.S. narrowly escaped a devastating airborne disaster on Christmas Day and today President Obama unveiled his plan to assure us that such things won’t happen again. Unfortunately, his plan is a plan “of bureaucrats for bureaucrats”.  It preserves the holy pecking order of the government civil service.  Information gleaned by operatives in the field is passed up the chain to be reviewed and analyzed by experts.  Judgments are made or not made.  Alerts are issued or not issued. Nothing has fundamentally changed.  The bureaucrats are happy. Order in the office has been preserved.

Consider a hypothetical case: you are in a public building and you see a fire in a corridor.  You look around for a fire alarm, but there are none.  You look for a fire extinguisher, but there are none. You run to a nearby office to tell someone about the fire, but you are told you have to stand in line if you want to make a report.  Fortunately, our real world isn’t like that.  Buildings have fire alarms and anyone can pull a fire alarm.  The first person who sees a fire can warn everyone and call the fire department at the same time. In the world of the CIA, DIA, DHS, and the unending list of government acronyms and abbreviations, there are no fire alarms. A CIA agent can’t pull one and warn the world about anything. It has to go through the system – a system that demonstrably does not work.

President Obama has issued a stern order: make the bureaucracy work better.  Right.  This isn’t going to work.

The President said the buck stops with him. That does not help.  It might sound good, like in the old Hollywood movies. But it doesn’t help.  No organization can be victorious with incompetent people manning critical positions.  Imagine that the New York Yankees lost the World Series last year and their manager said, “The buck stops with me. We are not planning to trade anyone. We’ll keep the same team, same positions for next year. I take full responsibility.” Right.  That’ll work.

Here is one simple piece of evidence: the father of the man who tried to blow up the plane told the CIA that his son had become radicalized and that he was a threat to the U.S. The CIA person who received this information should have been able to pull the fire alarm.  He should have been able to put this man on the Do Not Fly list in a heartbeat – maybe two heartbeats.  He should have been able to put this man on a bunch of other lists too, but he couldn’t.  That’s because our anti-terrorism system is a gigantic bureaucracy.  It can never be successful fighting an agile enemy like Al Qaeda. President Obama does not understand that. Neither does anyone else in the self-sustaining bureaucracy of the bloated U.S. government.

Meanwhile, it seems that the facts surrounding the whole underpants bomber incident are morphing as the government bureaucracy passes the papers back and forth from desk to desk.  Take a look at the official accounting of what happened on the plane. This was published today, just a few hours ago. It says that after the terrorist failed to set off the bomb that he was restrained by the flight crew until the plane landed.  Gee, that’s odd.  I thought I had heard that this Dutch guy had leaped over four seats and tackled the terrorist and put out the fire with his bare hands  and that everyone on the plane was cheering for him and calling him a hero. At least that’s what it said in the Washington Post a couple of days after the incident. So what ever happened to good old Jasper Schuringa, the guy who saved everyone? Why has President Obama studiously ignored him? No medals for heroism? No key to the city of Detroit from the Mayor? Nothing?  Not even a thank you?  Are we too embarrassed to admit that the plane was saved by a Dutch passenger and that if it wasn’t for him almost 300 people would have died?  So, officially, Jasper doesn’t exist anymore and it was the flight crew (the stewardesses?) who saved everyone?

The problem with the President’s approach is that it is the approach of a politician and a bureaucrat to a practical issue.  The bigger problem is that the President doesn’t realize that that is a problem.  The thing is this: the system in place is horribly flawed. It didn’t work. The system did not work and the people in the system who might have tried to override the system did not do so. These people are at fault. These people are the only ones who could have saved the day because the system, demonstrably, does not work. They failed. They should be replaced with people who are not afraid of taking decisive action. Instead the President has chosen to protect these failures in our system. He says the buck stops with him.  He doesn’t want to blame anyone.  Fair enough, President Obama, if that is the best you can do then maybe it is time for you to step down.  We don’t need a manager who can’t make the tough decisions, we don’t need Generals who deal in warmth and platitudes.  We need a hero who can cut the Gordian knot of our vast, and hamstrung, homeland security system and get the job done.  Many of us thought that you were that hero.  Now, I’m not so sure. My sword-wielding hero is looking more and more like an average politician. (Let’s not even get into the health thing.)

The answer to the murderous terrorism of Al Qaeda will never, ever be found in protecting incompetent civil servants or in papering over the byzantine workings of Washington bureaucrats. Don’t we all know that?  Mr. President, don’t you know that?

I know, Mr. President, that you are fond of quoting President Truman when you say: “The buck stops here”, but Mr. President, you need to make major structural changes in our homeland security system.   The system does not work well enough.  Surely, you can see that.  If you would just rather not get entangled in such a messy affair, perhaps you might also ponder another one of President Truman’s quotes: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.

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Suppose you were going out to dinner and you called a babysitter to take care of your children. Then, after you made the arrangements for the sitter, a friend tells you that your babysitter has been exposed to bubonic plague.  Would you still let this person babysit your children? But wait – what if they didn’t show any symptoms of bubonic plague; wouldn’t it be alright then?

Today, the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center (administered by the FBI) has over 1,300,000 names on its Terror Watch List. Two sets of names are extracted from this ever-growing list. One set of names is the No Fly list.  The other set of names is the Selectee list.  The Selectee List is the list of names of people who must receive extra screening of some sort.  The No Fly (the name is self-explanatory) list is much, much shorter than the Terror Watch List.  Since the underwear bomber incident, the No Fly list has been growing longer. Even so, the are still a lot more names on the watch list than on the no fly list.

Here are a couple of things to think about:

1. We have pretty much proven that a terrorist can sneak through our security screeners with either box cutters or underwear bombs.  There are probably lots of other ways to sneak through security too.  The simple fact is that a really clever person can probably outsmart the system.

2 The 1.3 million people on the Terror Watch list make up about 0.014% of the world’s population. (The current world population is about 6.7 billion people.)

So, taking item # 2 first, we need to ask ourselves this question: in the larger scheme of things, how important are these 1.3 million people to our nation’s economy?  How important are these people to us, as a nation, in any way at all? All we really know is that we think they might want to kill us – but we aren’t sure. It’s sort of like the babysitter we hired. There are, of course, plenty of other babysitters we could hire. There are also plenty of other people who we might like to visit our country, besides these 1.3 million people we’re not too sure of.

Secondly, let’s remember the guy with the bomb in his underpants.  There must be a lot of other creative ways to disguise a bomb – after all drug smugglers even carry little amulets of their product in their intestines sometimes.  My point is that you really can’t be sure you are going to detect the guy’s bomb, or maybe some other dastardly weapon, he might be carrying.  Who knows, maybe he’s some sort of Al Qaeda Ninja and he can fabricate a deadly weapon out of his paperback book or something.

The sensible thing to do is to simply ban everyone whose name is on the FBI Watch List from entering the U.S., and if they are already in the U.S. (because they are U.S. citizens) they should be banned completely from flying.  That, of course, doesn’t make us 100% safe – you can never be that, but it makes us a lot safer than we are now. As for the 1.3 million people on the Watch List who can’t come here because we don’t trust them – well, it’s just too bad. They can either clear their name by presenting evidence to the FBI demonstrating that the FBI is all wrong about them, or they can just stay where they are and we’ll work with the other 6,698,000,000 people in the world.

Oh. And one other thing. Janet Napolitano has to go. She was one of President Obama’s political appointees, but as the head of Homeland Security she is clearly in way over her head.  When she said that the “system worked” that was a clue.  Unless, of course, airline passengers are now a key part of the Homeland Security System – could that be what she meant?  Homeland Security has been plagued with political hacks since its inception.  That needs to change.  The President needs to appoint a brilliant non-politician to this job.  It is one of the most important jobs in America and it cannot be entrusted to politicians or to people who are simply being repaid for some political favor.

If there is one message we should take from the underwear bomber it is this: it is time for this country to finally – finally – take homeland security seriously.  We were lucky this time.  The next time a terrorist sneaks through our “system” the results could be far, far worse.

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Here we go again.  Another lunatic tries to blow up an airplane and the Department of Homeland Security once again responds in a way that can only make one wonder if they give an IQ test for employment that specifies not a minimum IQ, but a maximum IQ – maybe around 60.  This sad department of the federal government, first made infamous by its completely inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, and then made even more infamous by its failure to recognize or own up to its own failure in Katrina, is now in knee jerk response mode to the recent attempt to blow up a Delta/Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Unfortunately for the people at Homeland Security, and thus unfortunately for the American people, this agency – and the government as a whole, with all its CIA, NSA, FBI, DIA, and who knows what other “intelligence” agencies lurk in the shadows of DC –  doesn’t believe in following up on tips from people who know we are in danger. Like for example: the father of the lunatic who tried to blow up the plane told the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son was a nut job and that he feared his son was about to do something radical. So, the lunatic gets on the plane with no problem – no questions asked, just “welcome aboard”. Homeland Security is asleep on the job – as usual.

Hours later, as the plane was preparing to land, the guy gets out of his seat and go to the aircraft lavatory – apparently to rig up the bomb in his pants.  Well, as everyone knows, his pants caught on fire but he didn’t blow himself up in his seat. The plane landed safely and now everyone is saying the same thing: what happened here? Who’s minding the store? Apparently not the Department of Homeland Security.  However, in an effort to convince us that they are not stupid, but instead that they are actually morons, Homeland Security has quickly instituted a rule that you can’t get out of your seat to go to the bathroom an hour before the plane lands. That’s because the lunatic did go to the bathroom an hour before the plane landed.

So here’s a question for the morons at Homeland Security: suppose another lunatic does the same thing but instead of getting up to go to the bathroom an hour before landing he gets up an hour and fifteen minutes before landing? Or what about an hour and a half?  An hour and forty-five minutes?

Is this the best that these inept people can do? Couldn’t a bunch of fifth graders come up with better ideas?  Couldn’t a bunch of sixth graders done a better job of responding to Hurricane Katrina?  Couldn’t a bunch of eighth graders have figured out a way by now (eight years after 9/11) of communicating information about threats to America? Doesn’t anyone remember that the government had plenty of information about Al Qaeda before 9/11 but the various departments all had their own turf and they fiercely defending that turf in the unending DC turf wars? Don’t they recall that it was these turf wars that prevented the sharing of information between departments, and that was one of the major reasons that Al Qaeda was successful on 9/11? Haven’t they figured out a way yet for crucial information about an imminent threat to the security of the U.S. to be relayed to the appropriate people in the government?

Apparently not.

And that is the continuing fiasco and failure that we inappropriately call the Department of Homeland Security.  The blind leading the blind.  Just remember, the next time you fly on an airplane – you can’t go to the bathroom.  That’s Homeland Security’s plan for keeping you safe.

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It wasn’t long after 9/11 that the Bush administration decided that it needed better information about possible future attacks.  Clearly, if you know that an attack is coming you have a better chance of preventing it.  This logic is faultless, but in it’s inimitable style, the Bush administration was heavy handed, careless of the rights of American citizens, and generally inept in creating such an ability.  Years ago the National Security Agency, an organization whose charter restricts it to foreign surveillance, began to collect massive amounts of data on U.S. citizens. One of these methods was to monitor all phone and internet transactions across the Pacific Ocean that come through the main trunk line terminus in California.  Apparently, the NSA uses its vast computer resources to scan for key words or phrases that, according to some computer code, might signal malevolent intent.  I imagine there must be thousands of words, taken out of context, that could do that – words like hate, blow up, dynamite, bomb, explosion, death and so forth.  All of these words, like so many in the English language, can have more than one meaning or connotation.  The only way you can determine the meaning of the word is by the context in which it is used.

It has occurred to me that people from all over the world read my blog from time to time and so some of my blogs have certainly passed through the monitors of the NSA, and undoubtedly some of them must have kicked off a computer flag because of a word I used or because of a comment someone made.  However, a computer is a dumb machine – just ask anyone who programs them.  It will slavishly try to do anything the programmer asks of it, whether it makes sense or not.  Therefore,whenever a computer gets a hit on a key word it has to raise a flag so that a human can look at the text and see if it really is indicative of a threat.

I suppose I should be ranting about the loss of American freedom, the loss of privacy, the freedom from unreasonable search, and the loss of my Constitutional rights, but my government is wearing me down.  Just like everyone else in the country, I just along with domestic spying on the citizenry.  After all, Big Brother knows best and who am I to question his activities.  Yet, I can’t help but notice the similarity between the name of this organization, the National Security Agency and another agency from another time. I mean the KGB, the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security. Sounds a lot like National Security Agency, doesn’t it?  The KGB was charged with, among other things, spying on citizens of the Soviet Union, just in case they were thinking about trying to overthrow the government.  That’s one of the reasons President Reagan called the USSR an evil empire – it was because of their culture of disregard for human rights.  One need only to look at the record of President Bush and Vice President Vader, the rationalization  of kidnap and torture, the spying on US citizens, and the theft of elections to realize that we have become that which we used to condemn.

So where are the Republican right wingers?  Where are the Libertarian defenders of freedom from Government? What sort of mental gymnastics do these people do in order to approve of our government doing exactly what we condemned the USSR for doing for its own people.  Oh,wait.  I think I understand.  This is different.  We’re just protecting ourselves from attack, while the Soviets were uh…let’s see, oh yes, protecting themselves from attack.

Haven’t we always been at risk since the day the USA was founded?  Didn’t we spend years fighting off the British?  Weren’t we almost always at war or about to go to war with one country or another to defend our freedom?  For the past 200 years, American citizens enjoyed freedom from government spying.  After all, it’s our country.  It belongs to us, not the government.  The government works for us – not the other way around.

But Bush and Vader turned it all around and made the NSA into an American KGB and they then used Homeland Security to terrorize the populace into thinking we were always on the verge of another terrorist attack. Rather than secure freedom for the American people, Bush and Vader stole our freedom and called it Patriotism – just like the Russians did under Stalin.  The problem is that they haven’t made us any safer.  But the NSA is still spying on us every day- in the name of Homeland Security.  How very Russian.  The question is will it ever end or will we have Big Brother peeping at us electronically forever? Do we, as citizens, have any say whatsoever about all of this anymore?  And if we have absolutely no say at all about the U.S. government spying on our conversations, the conversations of innocent  citizens, how far are we from becoming a shadow of the Evil Empire itself?

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In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration determined that if we only had a federal agency charged exclusively with protecting our homeland we could have prevented the terror attacks. As a result they promptly eliminated the rent-a-cops that used to provide security at our airports and replaced them with a uniformed corps of Americans who would be taught to search our luggage far more thoroughly than your average rent-a-cop could ever be trained to do.  However, the new Department of Homeland Security had a mandate to go far beyond simply searching our luggage; they were to be the giant eyes and ears of the government, an all pervading presence that would detect a terrorist the moment his toe crossed our border, and then, a moment later, swoop down sweep the hapless terrorist away to a remote detention facility for “questioning”.

Before 9/11, I had always thought that this role of protecting our homeland had already been sort of given to the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, FBI, NSA, CIA, State Police, local police, U.S. Border Patrol, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, rent-a-cops, and no doubt others that I can’t think of at the moment. However, I was wrong.  Apparently none of the foregoing organizations have the duty of protecting our homeland.  OK.  I understand.  I had it wrong. So, anyway, we created Homeland Security to keep us safe from being infiltrated by enemy terrorists (I won’t mention the other roles they were assigned, like disaster response, for which I am sure they must be equally effective.)

Just to keep us on our toes about the terrorist threat, our recent ex-Vice President, Dick Cheney declared that we face a “high probability” of a nuclear attack or a biological attack in the near future. Whoa!!!  Dick….Dick, wait a minute.  What about Homeland Security? Aren’t they going to prevent that?  I know they can’t stop nuclear-tipped missiles, but those aren’t launched by terrorists. We’re talking about terrorists smuggling in a nuclear device or a biological weapon here, right?  And we don’t really have to be concerned because Homeland Security has that covered, don’t they?  I mean, that’s what they do, isn’t it?

That’s what I thought, but something has started to bother me. It was a recent story about the arrest of a Mexican drug ring in the U.S.  About a week ago 775 people were arrested throughout the U.S. for smuggling cocaine from Mexico.  They were all part of the Sinaloa gang. It seems that this was the culmination of a 21 month surveillance effort by the Mexican authorities, as well as the U.S. and Canada.  Twenty-one months.  I wonder if they caught all the smugglers?  I wonder what else they were smuggling besides drugs?  I wonder if Homeland Security knew about this and if so, why didn’t they just catch and search the smugglers for nuclear weapons and biological weapons as soon as they set foot across the border?  Did they figure they were just ordinary cocaine smugglers and therefore it didn’t concern them? Did Homeland Security even know this was going on?

I wonder how many smugglers cross the U.S. border and are never caught?  I wonder if Cheney is right. Maybe the terrorists have already smuggled a weapon into the country. Or maybe Dick is thinking that the terrorists will sneak something through under the noses of Homeland Security in the next few weeks or months, or maybe next year.  What did Dick really mean, anyway? Is he saying that Homeland Security is not up to the job? It sounds like it, doesn’t it? If you look at all these Mexican drug traffickers importing tons of cocaine into the U.S. without being intercepted by Homeland Security, I think maybe Dick is telling us something here.  Sort of a hidden message, maybe. I think he’s saying that we would be just as well off with the old rent-a-cops.  They were a lot cheaper and they couldn’t find smugglers either.

It seems to me that the ease with which smugglers can enter the U.S. proves that Homeland Security is  a failure (I won’t mention Katrina here).  When you step back and consider our fleet of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, B-2 stealth bombers, spy satellites, warrentless phone monitoring, soldiers, sailors, airmen, spies, policemen…the list could go on and on. And now the Department of Homeland Security. You would think that someone could get the job done. Right? But according to Dick Cheney, and according to the clear evidence of all those drug arrests, after almost two years of investigation, the job isn’t getting done – by any organization acting either singularly or as part of a group! Smuggling stuff into the U.S. seems to be pretty easy.

This is an abject failure of Homeland Security, and it should make us wonder if we need this organization at all.

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