Silver Bullets

At the Trans-Atlantic Maritime Conference last week there was the familiar reference to money that had been “thrown around” in the past and that would more than likely be “thrown around” in the future. The practice is chiseled in stone, and was confirmed within days. On Sunday, May the 8th, most of the nation’s major newspapers ran a story, emanating from the nation’s Capital, which had this disturbing headline, “Security Upgrade To Cost Billions”, and the article began like this:

[WASHINGTON – After spending more than $ 4.5 billion on screening devices to monitor the nation’s ports, borders, airports, mail and air, the federal government is moving to replace or alter much of the anti-terrorism equipment. The reason? Government officials have concluded the equipment is ineffective, unreliable or too expensive to operate. Many of the monitoring tools – intended to detect guns, explosives, and nuclear and biological weapons – were bought during the blitz in securing spending after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In its efforts to create a virtual shield around America, the Department of Homeland Security now plans to spend billions of dollars more. Some changes are the result of newly developed technology, but many are planned because devices currently in use have done little to improve the nation’s security, according to a review of agency documents and interviews with federal officials and outside experts. “Everyone was standing in line with their silver bullets to make us more secure after Sept. 11,” said Randall Larsen, a retired Air Force colonel and former government adviser on scientific issues. “We bought a lot of stuff off the shelf that wasn’t effective.”]

The rest of the story deals with the myriad of problems created by the inefficient and overpriced “technology”, and bolsters the developing suspicion that the only real problem the DHS had to deal with was the DHS. As Pogo would have put it, “We have met the enemy, and they ‘R’ us”. Critics are now saying that agencies did not seek competitive bids or consider cheaper, better alternatives. These fiscal geniuses are still allowed to come to the well again for a few more billions from the dumbed-down taxpayer. Could this be a program of “designed obsolescence”? Of “sweetheart” deals? Was Senator Byrd on to something when he questioned the legitimacy of the administration’s position with respect to the threat of terrorism? “Hoax” was the word he inserted in the Congressional Record. But what we’re being required to spend doesn’t tell the whole story. What we’re also losing in income is just now being revealed. From Canada comes the information that border delays at the U.S.-Canada border alone are costing the U.S. economy $ 471,461 per hour, and that figure, multiplied by the 8,760 hours in a year, comes to another $ 4.1 billion annually.

The 360-degree “ripple effect” hits out at everybody. The amounts required for security measures and “fees” at container ports are unconscionable, and now the DHS admits that this enormous expense has been, for all intents and purposes, wasted. We should ask the question the ONI’s Mr. Dragonette raised when the FBI asserted that, “There have been any number of attacks on ships that have been thwarted”. “I would like to ask for any examples, let alone ‘any number’ of them”, he challenged. Similarly, we should require proof from the DHS, whose technology is admittedly inadequate, that there was any threat to be detected even if adequate equipment had been employed.