When is the Homeland Secure Enough?

by Diane Dimond on December 2, 2013

Give Thanks for Our National Security

Readers of this column know I spend considerable time dissecting what’s wrong with our crime and justice system. But during this season of giving thanks for the positive things in life, let’s pause to express thanksgiving for the fact that our #1 national worry – falling victim to another devastating terror attack – did not come to pass.

Improving national security has been “the” top priority since September 11, 2001 and the fact that we haven’t had another major terror attack on U.S. soil should be a comfort to us all.

It has been due, in large part, to our awakened awareness (and acceptance) that there are factions in the world that would like to kill us all and destroy America. We’ve thrown everything we can at trying to insulate ourselves from the madness.

I was in New York for the 9-11 attacks. I smelled the acrid air in downtown Manhattan still lingering days after the planes obliterated the Twin Towers. I saw the zombie-like stares of citizens going about their routine while trying to absorb the enormity of what had happened. All sense of security was gone after that awful day. I never want to feel that sense of utter helplessness again.

Twelve Years With No Major Terror Attack

Twelve years later I’m thankful that America has adopted a whole new way of looking at our nation’s safety. Now, when we see something – we say something. We have voluntarily given up portions of our privacy to make sure terrorists trying to navigate among us will be identified before they can do harm. Law enforcement is more attuned now to the extremist’s way of thinking and operating. Over the last decade the Department of Homeland Security has won budgets that topped half a trillion dollars – $589 billion dollars by my calculation – money earmarked to help keep us safe.

I’m thankful that as a nation we have that money to spend to make ourselves more secure. But I would not be a good citizen if I failed to ask the question – do we really have to keep spending upward of $60 billion dollars on Homeland Security every year? And, for how many more years does that level of spending continue?

Let’s look at some facts.

The government’s Worldwide Incidents Tracking System reports that the total number of global terror attacks has dropped almost 30 percent since 2007. According to the latest figures available (from 2011) of the 13,288 people killed in terror attacks only 17 were U.S. citizens. The year before that there were 15 Americans killed.

Falling TV’s Kill as Many Americans as Terrorism

The WITS report says those numbers are comparable to the annual number of us who are crushed to death by falling televisions or other furniture. (Thanks to reader Daniel Petry for calling my attention to this report.)

“This is not to diminish the real–albeit shrinking–threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world,” the WITS report states. “For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.”

The more recent acts of terror are occurring in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Somalia. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of the causalities – even when the target is an American-run installation – are local Muslims, not Americans.

Besides the 2012 tragedy at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya where four Americans were killed and 4 others injured we’ve  done a pretty stellar job at protecting ourselves both at home and at foreign posts.

Deadly Attack on U.S. Mission in Benghazi

So, what’s the projected year in which we can begin to scale back our homeland security spending? I know it isn’t routine to take away money from a government agency but hasn’t the more than half a trillion dollars already built us the security structure we need? It seems that at some time we might be able to consider a maintenance-level budget that keeps the security wheels rolling without adding expensive new accouterments.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the questions I pose here but I fret that no one in Washington seems to be asking them. Every year we just throw more money at DHS – and a host of other government agencies and programs – without talking about long-term strategies. When is enough enough? I fear the answer is: Never.

From Washington we continue to hear politically tinged fear-mongering from both sides of the aisle. Republicans have a tough guy image to uphold and Democrats don’t dare be perceived as being weak on national defense.

Annual Budgets Hover at $60 Billion

No one whose job it is to argue for ever larger Homeland Security budgets acknowledges that we haven’t had a terrorist death in America in twelve years.

No one mentions that Al Qaeda got lucky when we were less prepared in 2001 and is as diminished today as we are more secure. In hushed, conspiratorial terms politicians, DHS and military officials continue to tell us the terror threat is very, very real and, well … just leave it to them, they’ll make sure we’re safe.

This is not to say we shouldn’t continue to be vigilant here at home (specifically at our border crossings) and, especially, abroad. If terror cells are allowed to flourish over there they will attempt to export their violence here to the United States, no doubt.

I’m thankful that we have security experts in this country who have gotten us to this much safer and more secure spot. I’d feel better if they’d reach a point where they admit we’ve got a good strong national security organization in place.

At that point maybe we could start diverting a few billion dollars to other worthy programs.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:33 am

ABQ Journal Reader Les McDaniel writes:

” Diane: enjoyed your latest article in the ABQ Journal. I often wonder why the US does not adopt airport security programs like Israel. They use dogs — none of those expensive body-scanning machines & legions of TSA personnel at every airport. Israel’s airports and planes are as safe (or safer) than ours, at a mere fraction of the cost.”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:37 am

Noozhawk Reader MyComment2x2 writes:

“The problem with national security for Congress is that if they make any cuts they will be blamed for any subsiquent attacks that succeed, which would threaten their chances of re-election. So better to keep the system in place, improving, and well funded from their point of view.

The question that needs to be answered is how many successful terrorist attacks and dead and maimed bodies per year are acceptable by the American public. Then the politicians can scale back the programs until those results are achieved.”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

Noozhawk Reader Libertarian writes:

” Besides the preventable murder of our Ambassador in Libya, the complete trampling of our personal freedoms, and only blind luck (NYC bomber) stopping another major terrorist attack in NYC we are doing a really stellar job, yes.”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

Noozhawk Reader awakeallready replies to Libertarian:

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds as if you want perfect security and complete freedom. Is that really possible? Isn’t there a trade off somewhere between those two?”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:39 am

Noozhawk Reader Libertarian replies to AwakeAllready:

“You are wrong in your assessment of what I’m saying. There is no way to ever be “perfectly secure” and we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that it’s possible. However that is not the premise of the article. The article is about how much safer we are now vs pre 9/11 due to increased law enforcement activity. My point is we were no more safer pre 9/11 than we are post 9/11 and the only thing that has really changed is how many of our personal liberties are gone.

Our Ambassador asked for more security around 6 times and was turned down every time. The Boston bombers were tracked by Russian and we were notified but we did nothing. The NYC bomber’s bomb didn’t work but not from anything we did. These instances reek of an incompetent (at best) administration.

Obama is currently dropping missiles on terrorist’s family members. I’m sure this is having a superbly popular effect on their view of the US. This effect is most noted in the peace talks that are happening NOWHERE.

I have to wonder are you really awake? :)”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:41 am

Huffington Post Reader Lady_Cleo writes:

“It is beyond me how anyone can be executed without every avenue of investigation, every speck of evidence being examined & re-examined. DNA testing should be mandatory. Granted, there isn’t always DNA evidence in every crime but where there is even a minute possibility, it . No one should be executed, even imprisoned, without every avenue of evidentiary possibility exhausted.”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:42 am

Huffington Post Reader Deanna_Brownen writes:

“Anyone who is against mandatory DNA testing before an inmate is executed for a crime that he possibly did not commit is against justice all together. Real justice stems from Truth, anyone who is against DNA testing is against the truth, this is just another way they legislate their war on the poor…….These attorney’s representing these inmates are most likely not being paid much if anything at all, so that should tell you something about our justice system, no one in the United States should be executed until their is a complete overhaul of the prison industrial complex AKA modern day slavery!”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:43 am

dudleysharp
25 Fans
Huffington Post Reader Dudley Sharp writes:

“Diane:

Good idea.

The vast majority of death row cases don’t have biological material. So, testing all death row inmates will be a waste of time and money . . . However

As death row inmates are, most often, repeat offenders, entering them ito the CODIS database would, undountedly, solve some cold cases.

So, good idea.

I think Texas already does this.

9 death row inmates were released because of DNA exclusion, not 18.”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:44 am

The Innocence Project has consistently put the number of prisoners who have served time on Death Row (and have been released by DNA evidence) at 18. ~ DD

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:44 am

Huffington Post Reader Moe_Ramsey writes:

“Cali, don’t let yourselves become like texas! Our governor here doesn’t believe in dna evidence and that those on death row/in jail are just there because they are supposed to.
He even dismantled a committee that was checking out dna evidence for several death row inmates and murdered a person that the committee found found “innocent” because of no matching dna evidence from him and the crime scene.”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:45 am

Huffington Post Reader B_Cayenne_Bird writes:

“We need a new Governor who will re-try every case with a three year or more sentence and who hasn’t sold his soul to law enforcement labor unions. At a cost of $50,000 plus per year per inmate, everyone deserves a DNA test. Prison wrecks families and DNA could restore many people back to being a breadwinner. How horrible that DNA exists to clear people and the prosecutors refuse to do it. Not that DNA is 100% accurate, but real criminals are left to go free when DNA is refused.”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:47 am

Huffington Post Reader 8xInfinity writes:

“Hmm. Normally Diane Dimond makes my skin crawl, but here’s a topic we both agree on. DNA needs to be used like fingerprints. I get a little wary about testing everyone, but if the person can have their prints taken then DNA doesn’t seem like an excessive invasion. I absolutely agree that any defendant should have a right to demand their DNA be tested at any time. Before trial, after conviction, it shouldn’t matter. Also, there should be mandatory funds for the defendant and prosecution to each choose their own labs to prevent any hint of bias. “

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:47 am

Huffington Post Reader thinkingwomanmillstone writes:

“DNA taken after conviction in any case that involves violence is a no brainer. DNA upon arrest is not something that should be routinely done. Arrest is not enough to invade someone’s privacy in such a manner.”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 10:48 am

Huffington Post Reader PaulLev writes:

“Excellent proposition, argument, and evidence: I agree completely!”

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Diane Dimond December 5, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Facebook Friend William Drummond writes:

“Not easy. We have created a Security State in the meantime. We really need workers who will care for the aging population. Somebody will have to re-purpose all those law enforcement officers to empty bedpans in nursing homes for $12 an hour.”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Reader Tony Lesce writes:

Hello,
I was surprised that in last week’s column on homeland security, you did not mention the Boston Marathon terror bombing. It happened this year, only a few months ago.
Tony Lesce

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Diane Dimond December 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm

“Yes, Tony….thanks for writing. The reason I didn’t mention it – or the massacre at Ft. Hood – is that neither was officially labeled as a terror attack under U.S. law.
I know – I was surprised too. But the Boston Bombing, officials decided, was just two delusional brothers acting alone and not as part of a bigger terror cell.
The Ft. Hood mass killing was, according to the White House, “Work place violence.” Yeah….I know. Doesn’t seem to make complete sense – but that is why I didn’t mention the Boston Bombing. ~ DD

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