After eight years of training and hundreds of billions of dollars spent attempting to make America safe from terrorism, a young Nigerian student, trained by al-Qaida, allegedly boarded an American airliner in Amsterdam with the intention of blowing up the plane and its 280 passengers over Detroit. Only the courageous action of the passengers prevented the catastrophe, and we are left to wonder what went wrong. Everything.
Our planning, our intelligence sharing, our State Department visa department -- everything went wrong. We are so consumed with political correctness that we spend so much time patting down 80-year-old grandmothers and 2-year-old babies that we miss the 24-year-old Arab man who truly has the desire and the means to do harm.
America always fights the last war. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Army brass was still pursuing heavy artillery platforms. The bureaucracies of the intelligence community are still having difficulty sharing information with others. The TSA is still looking for box cutters.
After the London incident, in which Islamic fundamentalists were caught trying to bring mixable liquids on airplanes, our TSA outlawed bringing more than three ounces of aftershave -- or any other liquid -- on an airplane. I called then-director of the TSA Kip Hawley and asked him what he would do if we heard that terrorists got possession of the smallpox virus with the intent to board airplanes and cough. (Suicide coughers?) Would we need to show our small pox vaccination scar to board an airplane? The American public hasn't been vaccinated for smallpox since 1972.
After every new challenge to an airliner we will add to the prohibited items and increase the screening procedures causing delays for tens of millions of innocent travelers while the terrorists move on to another technique.
We spend one out of every nine dollars of our Homeland Security budget on airlines. Some have proposed that we arm all airliners with anti-missile missiles. While there is still risk that an airliner can be destroyed and kill everyone on board, the Christmas incident over Detroit proved to us that passengers will not let it hit a target.
We will spend billions of dollars installing radioactive detecting equipment in all ports to detect potential nuclear risks in cargo containers. If we detect a nuclear device in a port, it is already too late.
We have given Homeland Security grants to police and fire departments across the country. The follow-up training for local agencies was less robust than the spending.
One of the most prized purchases was a bus with a communications center that would provide interoperability of the radio systems of the various police and fire departments in a region so that they could work together responding to an event. Four counties within 40 miles of my house proudly show off their purchase. So much for regional cooperation. In Texas, one agency used part of its grant to buy a powered up riding lawn mower for racing in local events.
What terrorists seek to achieve is to cause terror and financial destruction. A low-grade nuclear device released in lower Manhattan would cause us to empty the area and begin a multiyear, and trillion-dollar, cleanup. The U.S. Postal Service alone spent more than $200 million to mitigate the risk from the small amount of anthrax sent through the mail just after 9/11. Radioactive material is found in every hospital and medical research facility in the United States and is not always secured.
A suicide bomber in the Mall of America would keep everyone home for years.
A terrorist could go to any developing nation and wipe a cloth on the nose of a cow. That cow has foot and mouth disease. He could put that cloth in a glass vial with a cork in it and bring it across the ocean on his person. Eighty percent of our beef is fed out between North Texas and Kansas. Wiping that cloth on the nose of a cow in North Texas would infect every cow in the lot. Moving them by train would spread the disease for 40 miles in every direction spreading throughout the entire meat industry. We would kill all of the infected animals causing a several hundred billion dollar event and destroy the meat markets for years.
To prevent these catastrophes from occurring, we should be interrupting the planning and execution of the event before it reaches our shore. That requires a robust intelligence effort. We spend less than two percent of our Homeland Security budget on intelligence.
It all comes down to this: There are an infinite number of things to use to kill Americans. There are a finite number of people willing to do so. It is time to stop concentrating on things and start concentrating on people.