The name “Homeland Security” speaks for itself. If the homeland wasn’t in danger, perhaps even in jeopardy, the agency known as Homeland Security would not exist. There would be no reason for it. And there would be no sub-group of more than 50,000 agents called the TSA and they would not be spending in excess of $7 billion a year to “protect” commercial air passengers and those living on the ground below some nearly 80,000 aircraft in US skies everyday from terrorists. The attacks of 9/11 generated this type of national hyper-response. The objective was, of course, to prevent another such attack.
A quick reminder. The four hijacked airliners used by terrorists on September 11, 2001 had no bombs on board. None of the terrorists who boarded and commandeered those aircraft violated any air travel regulations. Although they were not US citizens, none came here illegally. Nothing those 18 men did on 9/11 could have or would have been noticed or caught or prevented had the TSA establishment been in place at the time. Had all of them been searched – even using the most invasive methods currently the cause of such hot debate today – each and every one of them would have been sent through with a perfectly legitimate boarding pass. Every item they carried onboard was acceptable and legal at that time. Most important to recall – they brought no explosives on board any of the airplanes and they had not taken any steps to hide explosives in advance. Yes, those planes blew-up. But only when they were flown full speed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or the ground. The bombs were the airplanes themselves. No terrorist had a bomb hidden in a shoe, in their underwear or anyplace else.
So, what is it we are trying to prevent again? The same thing? Not hardly. Instead, we have become obsessed by explosives, by “bomb making materials” and by our irrational fear of “the bomb.” In our zeal for protection against being blown to smithereens at 30,000 feet we are spending billions of dollars, hiring tens of thousands of “agents” and engaging in a series of mind numbing and unproductive procedures all designed to do what? Supposedly to protect us against “another attack.” But, have we ever stopped to look at the threat of terrorism, especially from the air, with an eye for reasoned analysis and a suggestion, if not a mandate, to follow rational policy guidelines?
Believe it or not, someone has. Ohio State University, under the direction of John Muller of the Department of Political Science, issued a report in February 2009 titled: ESTABLISHING PRINCIPLES FOR EVALUATING MEASURES DESIGNED TO PROTECT THE HOMELAND FROM TERRORISM. Take a moment and read that title again. Isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for? Isn’t that the most sensible approach you’ve ever seen toward understanding and combating terrorism here in the United States with the possibility of preventing it if and when possible?
The Ohio State report begins by bringing us promptly to our senses – jolting us there with the simplicity of its analysis and the shocking truth we have somehow successfully avoided. Here is what it says:
“Since the number of targets is essentially unlimited and the probability that any given target will be attacked is near zero, and since a terrorist is free to redirect attention from a protected target to an unprotected one, of more or less equal consequence, protection seems to be plausible only in a limited number of instances. In many cases protection is a waste of resources and effort.”
If indeed the number of terrorist targets within the enormous confines of the continental United States is “essentially unlimited” then it’s true that the probability that any given target will be attacked must be as near to zero as one can imagine. Millions of potential targets spread across the country from New York to Los Angeles, Miami to Seattle, Minneapolis to Houston and all the millions of miles in between – the very essence of “essentially unlimited.” Thus, the odds of near zero. So, which to protect and which to not? And, if you make the decision to protect, does that not “redirect attention” for the terrorist to those targets left unprotected? Well, of course it does. And we’ve already agreed we cannot protect every target.
Maybe… just maybe, we ought to begin with air travel. Look it up. There has never been an incident of terrorism on a commercial airliner where a terrorist has exploded a bomb and brought down a plane. It simply hasn’t ever happened in the United States. Not once. Not ever. The two “near misses” the shoe-bomber and the underwear-bomber were on airplanes that originated overseas, outside the United States. Yet, everyday we subject more than 2 million domestic air travelers to nonsensical “security checks” to prevent something that’s never happened from… what… happening again? And while we spend the ugly sum of some $7 billion dollars a year in this effort we casually look away as the former head of The Homeland Security Agency, a Bush appointed former judge named Michael Chertoff, becomes fabulously wealthy by selling full-body scanners to – you guessed it – The Homeland Security Agency’s TSA branch. Well, at least somebody is getting something out of all this.
If we had a President with a meaningful agenda on terrorism, and if we had a Congress with a meaningful agenda on anything, we might get a commission to do exactly what the Department of Political Science at Ohio State did – make a rational study of and suggest guidelines for: ESTABLISHING PRINCIPLES FOR EVALUATING MEASURES DESIGNED TO PROTECT THE HOMELAND FROM TERRORISM. That is a worthy cause and deserves appropriate attention. Until that happens we’ll have The Homeland Security Agency and the follies that are the TSA.