Thursday, October 11, 2012
Pigs are flying
Pigs are flying. Wonders have ceased. Hell must have frozen over. The United States Congress has investigated a government agency and issued a damning indictment. The Homeland Security & Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations criticized counter terrorism reporting and found significant examples of waste, fraud and abuse.
“It’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties,” said Senator Tom Coburn, the Subcommittee’s ranking member who initiated the investigation.
Examples of the fusion center difficulties (from the report):
• Blaming a Russian for hacking into the Springfield IL Water District's systems. It was actually an employee logging in while vacationing in Russia.
• Implying Jared Loughner shot Gabrielle Giffords because she was the first Jewish female elected to Congress …a fact that a simple Google search would have caught.
• A memo suggesting that members of the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party (as well as Ron Paul supporters) are potential terrorists.
Homeland Security is one of those descriptors that is Orwellian in nature. It came into American’s lexicon in the days following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Politicians were desperate to do something. The result is that 187 agencies and departments fall under the Homeland Security banner . According to the Department’s FY 13 Budget inBrief (197 pages) there are more than 230,000 employees of the department and their last budget was $59 billion, $6 billion more than they asked for. That’s approx. $200 for every man woman and child in the U.S..
In an enterprise that large there will be problems. Their mission is equally as big: “The Department of Homeland Security will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation. We will ensure safe and secure borders, welcome lawful immigrants and visitors and promote the free-flow of commerce.”
There’s nothing wrong with their mission. Thousands of dedicated, patriotic Americans who work there take their function seriously. The problem comes with the very notion that any entity can guarantee safety from all threats. To realize that goal anything that potentially could be construed as a risk factor has to be acted on. To protect itself (like many innocent people), the Department initially refused to cooperate in the investigation, is unable to determine whether it spent $289 or $1.2 billion on fusion centers, and routinely violate civil liberties and privacy laws. The ends shouldn’t justify the means…but that’s a minority opinion.
The good news is that Congress has a comprehensive analysis and report on the ineptitude in delivering its well intentioned mission (and balancing its books). The bad news is that it took Congress more than two years and cost millions of dollars to do the investigation and report. So pigs may not be flying, but they were air born for a moment. The real question is whether any practical change will happen - or, more likely, things will continue on as they have.