Police and military types have an overwhelming lust for the latest, greatest and most expensive technology — and a talent for rationalizing the budget expenditures. Since 9/11, it’s been one long Christmas list of weapons of war and anti-terror, and Santa Congress denies very little. In the meantime, anything that directly benefits We The People gets slashed. It’s time, as this L.A. Times article suggests, that we take a much closer look at what we get for all that money. I’d also like to suggest a name change – “Homeland Security” reminds me very much of Nazis:
A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security, setting up sophisticated radio networks, upgrading emergency medical response equipment, installing surveillance cameras and bomb-proof walls, and outfitting airport screeners to detect an ever-evolving list of mobile explosives.
But how effective has that 10-year spending spree been?
“The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.
“So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?” he said.
One effect is certain: Homeland Security spending has been a primer-pump for local governments starved by the recession, and has dramatically improved emergency response networks across the country.
An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.
Like the military-industrial complex that became a permanent and powerful part of the American landscape during the Cold War, the vast network of Homeland Security spyware, concrete barricades and high-tech identity screening is here to stay. The Department of Homeland Security, a collection of agencies ranging from border control to airport security sewn quickly together after Sept. 11, is the third-largest Cabinet department and — with almost no lawmaker willing to render the U.S. less prepared for a terrorist attack — one of those least to fall victim to budget cuts.
The expensive and time-consuming screening now routine for passengers at airport boarding gates has detected plenty of knives, loaded guns and other contraband, but it has never identified a terrorist who was about to board a plane. Only 14 Americans have died in about three dozen instances of Islamic extremist terrorist plots targeted at the U.S. outside war zones since 2001 — most of them involving one or two home-grown plotters.
[…] State and local emergency responders have undergone a dramatic transformation with the aid of $32 billion that has been dispensed in Homeland Security grants since 2002, much of it in the early years spent on Hollywood-style tactical gear, often with little connection between risk and outlay.
“After 9/11, it was literally like my mother running out the door with the charge card,” said Al Berndt, assistant director of the Emergency Management Agency in Nebraska, which has received $163.7 million in federal anti-terrorism and emergency aid grants. “What we really needed to be doing is saying, ‘Let’s identify the threat, identify the capability and capacity you already have, and say, OK, what’s the shortfall now, and how do we meet it?'”
The spending has been rife with dubious expenditures, including the $557,400 in rescue and communications gear that went to the 1,500 residents of North Pole, Alaska, and a $750,000 anti-terrorism fence — fashioned with 8-foot-high ram-proof wrought iron reinforced with concrete footers — built around a Veterans Affairs hospital in the pastoral hills outside Asheville, N.C.
Much of the equipment has been adapted to use for more common occurrences, but what’s the return on the money? You’ll notice most of the same clowns who are so outraged by FEMA spending think nothing of rubberstamping these pork barrel requests.