The Tip Off

The North County Times wire service issued this report on May 16th:

“LOS ANGELES – A future terrorist attack could involve strikes on several port complexes – including Los Angeles-Long Beach – and claim hundreds of thousands of casualties, according to terrorism experts. The grim prediction came out of a conference of terrorism experts yesterday at the University of Southern California. It was hosted by the USC-based Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, which is funded by the Department of Homeland Security.
“Local experts at the conference predicted that there would be another terror strike and, in the words of one of them, it would make 9/11 ‘look like peanuts,’ the Daily News reported.

“A likely scenario involves separate or simultaneous attacks on the nation’s largest ports – Los Angeles/Long Beach, New York City/New Jersey and Houston – which could cripple the nation’s economy, according to the experts quoted by the Daily News.

“‘Instead of talking 3,000 casualties, we are going to be talking about hundreds of thousands, or millions of casualties,’ Mike Intriligator, one of the nation’s leading economists and a professor of economics, political science and public policy at UCLA, said in remarks reported by the newspaper.

“Jim Moore II, a USC professor of industrial and systems engineering, said research on the impact of a ‘dirty bomb’ or other weapon of mass destruction at the nation’s three largest port complexes found it would cost the economy tens of billions of dollars a month, the Daily News reported. A large attack on the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach alone would have a $ 23 billion-a-month impact on the local economy, according to the newspaper.”

Those experts don’t even come close to the desolation Robert Pfriender describes in his book, “No Place to Run”. With these scenarios in hand, therefore, Timothy Egan’s story in Saturday’s (May 20th) New York Times caused some serious head-scratching around the country. His headline read, “Some Ships Get Coast Guard Tip Before Searches”, and here’s how that unnerving report began:

“LONG BEACH, Calif. – Under intense pressure from shipping companies concerned about costly delays, the Coast Guard is tipping off some large commercial ships about security searches that had been a surprise, according to high-ranking Coast Guard officials.

“The searches began after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a major revamping of the Coast Guard and its new antiterrorism mission. But shipping companies say the surprise boardings at sea cause unnecessary delays, costing up to $ 40,000 an hour.

“‘We’re trying to facilitate commerce and keep the port secure – and sometimes the two conflict,’ said Capt. Paul E. Wiedenhoeft, who is in charge of the port complex here at Los Angeles and Long Beach. ‘When possible, we’re trying to give shippers as much notice as we can’…”

Can you beat that? While U.S. lawmakers are spending billions of taxpayer dollars in the war against terrorism, our U.S. Coast Guard is tipping off vessels selected for surprise boarding. Jon Carroll at the San Francisco Chronicle offered some sarcastic remarks about this farce in an article he wrote on May 24th. Here are some excerpts:

“As you might imagine, the Coast Guard is an important part of our overall port security strategy. It is the Coast Guard, so it does guard our coast. As part of its mission, it sometimes conducts surprise searches of vessels heading into port. It brings on bomb-sniffing dogs and cool fifth-generation Geiger counters and it probes into crannies and pokes into nooks …

“But now it turns out that the Coast Guard has been giving advance warning of its ‘surprise’ searches. It’s like, you’re giving your friend Ed a surprise birthday party, but you know he really hates surprises, so you warn him the day before. ‘Pretend to act surprised,’ you tell him, and Ed does it, and the party goes smoothly. The party goes smoothly with non-surprise surprise searches too, which is the point: The shipping companies were complaining that the delays were costing them money.

“This is the retooled war on terror, where no stone is left unturned unless a large corporation stands to lose money…

“Now, like you, I would hate to think that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor. I’d also hate to think that terrorists were actually given the benefit of the doubt in our law enforcement procedures. But let us be kind; let us give everyone the benefit of the doubt. So let’s adopt the Coast Guard procedures universally. We could unclog the ports, reduce crowding in prisons and leave overworked public defenders and prosecutors more time to concentrate on the cases that really matter, like the abduction of pretty young white women from tropical resorts.

“The average marijuana dealer would, I am sure, appreciate advance notice of raids. Without much notice, the dealer stands to lose a lot of money, thereby depressing the economy and throwing more people onto the welfare rolls. With advance notice, the dealer would have time to tidy up the place, opening the closets, replacing the light on the cellar stairs and generally doing everything to make the search go more quickly. Less time searching, less paperwork – more time for cops on the beat, protecting potential victims of non-victimless crimes …

“This kind of cooperation is not unprecedented. Often anti-war demonstrators inform the police of their plans, and meet with police, and lo and behold, the anti-war demonstrations occur without incident, and no one is beaten senseless for doing something completely legal. Alas, this is not a completely analogous situation because smuggling terrorist death rays on container ships is not legal, although, as we have seen, intercepting death rays is not as important as a large corporation losing money …”

The bottom line is that it’s okay to demand that John Q. Public kick in billions of tax dollars every year to fund the DHS and it’s subsidiary, the U.S. Coast Guard, but it’s not okay to expect large corporations to contribute something to the cause. Haven’t those corporate bigwigs figured out yet that they have a lot more at risk than the individual taxpayer has?