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25. Homeland Security Was Designed to Fail

Sources: Mother Jones, September/October 2004, Title: “Red Alert,” Author: Matthew Brzezinski, NPR, September 24, 2004, Title: “Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security” (an interview with Matthew Brzezinski), Author Matthew Brzezinski

Faculty Evaluators: Greg and Meri Storino
Student Researcher: Joey Tabares

It was billed as America’s frontline defense against terrorism. But badly under-funded, crippled by special interests, and ignored by the White House, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been relegated to bureaucratic obscurity. Unveiled on March 1, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security had been touted as the Bush Administration’s bold response to the new threats facing America in the post-Cold War world of global terrorism. It is currently composed of 22 formerly separate federal agencies and it boasts 186,200 employees. Its operations are funded by a budget of nearly $27 billion.

There are 15,000 industrial plants in the United States that produce toxic chemicals. According to the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), about 100 of these plants could endanger up to a million lives with poisonous clouds of ammonia, chlorine, or carbon disulfide that could be released into the atmosphere over densely populated areas by a terror attack. Unprotected chemical plants are possible candidates for future attacks by terrorists. These are some of the most vulnerable pieces of infrastructure in America.

Following 9/11 there was a big push to increase security at all chemical plants in the United States. Democrats put forth a Chemical Security Act, the purpose of which was to codify parameters for site security, ensure safe transport of toxic materials, and prevent further accidents from happening. But Republicans defeated the bill after oil companies pumped millions of dollars into lobbying campaigns to stop it.

Matthew Brzezinski’s article in Mother Jones asserts that President Bush doesn’t put much importance, if any at all, on Homeland Security reports. Security spending has risen just 4 percent since 9/11, and most of that increase was only to cover higher insurance programs. There are many chemical plants that have no fencing requirements, cameras, and no guards. The article points out the spending needed to insure the safety of U.S. citizens and compares it (unfavorably) to the amount spent in Iraq over the same time period.

Aside from being hamstrung by its reluctant architects, DHS simply has not been able to compete with Iraq in the battle for resources. With the President’s tax cuts trimming government revenues, and budget deficits reaching levels not seen since the Vietnam War, money is tight for programs the White House does not see as top priorities. The truth of the matter is that Homeland Security is very much a shoestring operation-so much so that worried Democrats in Congress keep trying to throw more money at it.

Brzezinski, recent author of “Fortress America” and former Wall Street correspondent, suggests the Department of Homeland Security needs a serious reassessment of its goals and operations to better protect Americans. He says the White House has decided that the Homeland Security intelligence unit should rank lower than the FBI and the CIA. Seven Republican Senators that had previously endorsed the Chemical Security Act later withdrew their support. $5.7 million in contributions from the petrochemical campaign (led by the American Petroleum Institute) helped to ensure that Republicans took the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections and that the Chemical Security Act die out. People opposing the act emphasized the economic impact of the Security Act. The argument was that Chlorine and its derivatives went into products that account for 45 percent of the nations GDP, and reductions to its production would hurt the economy.

Three years after 9/11 almost anybody can still gain entry into thousands of chemical sites across the country. If a factory spends lots of money on security spending upgrades, its products can’t compete with other factories that spend nothing. Only legislation can level the playing field.

The failure of the mainstream media to acknowledge the fact that Homeland Security has been a complete washout further signifies the cozy relationship it enjoys with the halls of power. Protection of the homeland has been an area where the president has received consistently high marks from the country-ostensibly because this is the one area where he has stayed strong and focused. It would have been helpful for the country to know if this wasn’t true.

References:

Judy Clark, Oil and Gas Journal, June 23, 2003, “Government, Industry Forge Partnerships for Security Enhancement.”

Primedia, August 1, 2003, “An Overlooked Vulnerability?”

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