Wednesday, March 07, 2007

An Honest Republican

I realize it's probably asking a bit too much, given the heavy-handed and paranoid fashion that this administration is run, to have an honest Republican speak his mind while he can actually have some influence in governing, but this may be as close as we get in 2007:
WASHINGTON -- New York City's counterterrorism chief said Tuesday he wakes every morning braced for another terrorist attack -- most likely from satchel bombs blown up near-simultaneously in the city's subways.

"The threat to New York City's transit system is not just theoretical," Deputy New York Police Department Commissioner Richard Falkenrath warned House lawmakers in sometimes apocalyptic testimony. "It is real. There have been 22 bomb threats and 31 intelligence leads related to subway attack plots this year."
It's true: the New York City subway, as well as the regional commuter railways, have long been a target for terror attacks and in fact have been subjected to various terrorist-like criminals acts.

One, the result of which saw Nassau County send it's first woman to Congress, Carolyn McCarthy, involved a mass homicide on a Long Island Railroad commuter train. Various plots have been tested, by both the US government and the state and local governments (jointly), which involved attacks using weapons of mass destruction, as well as simultaneous bombings across the system.

And in truth, it's really easy to blow up a subway train. Police presence is keyed to high volume stations on a random basis where a terrorist might blend in carrying an oversized satchel, such as near bus depots, train stations and connections to the two area airports. 468 stations, 26 train lines, and 1.4 billion riders every year, and you can see that this is a tactical response and not a comprehensive one. The allocation of resources determined based on trying to "guess" the possible scenarios.

Commuter trains would be even easier: while subways have at least some nominal police presence, police presence at commuter rail stations is dependent upon the town one would board in, and some towns deploy their officers with other priorities in mind, trying to get the best bang for the buck in fighting crime. Too, while an unwatched satchel on a subway might grab someone's attention (we city folks are trained in hanging on tightly to our bags), on commuter lines, it's not uncommon for someone to leave a bag behind when deboarding, knowing that at Grand Central or some other terminal station, it will be picked up and taken to the lost and found.

What makes Falkenrath's statement even more remarkable is the fact that he is a former White House homeland security official. As he continued his testimony, he gets to the nub of the problem:
Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee on a bill that would require a national mass transit strategy and would appropriate $4 billion to fortify subway and rail systems -- including $100 million to secure six tunnels in New York's Penn Station -- Falkenrath praised it as "a step in the right direction."

But he was also highly critical of key provisions, such as its call for a national strategy.

"Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the field of homeland security has been gripped by a mania for plans, strategies and other mandatory reports," Falkenrath said. "... They are of almost no value to operating agencies in the field; and they seem to be ignored by virtually everyone except the government contractors paid to verify that the reporting requirements have been met."
(emphasis added) Bingo!

We were attacked by killers and they gave us a rainbow! A Fucking rainbow!!! 184,000 employees, and I'd wager that more than half of them are on some planning committee or other.
The Department of Homeland Security has been dogged by persistent criticism over excessive bureaucracy, waste, and ineffectiveness. In 2003, the department came under fire after the media revealed that Laura Callahan, Deputy Chief Information Officer at DHS with responsibilities for sensitive national security databases, had in fact obtained her advanced computer science degrees through a diploma mill in a small town in Wyoming. The department was blamed for up to $2 billion of waste and fraud after audits by the Government Accountability Office revealed widespread misuse of government credit cards by DHS employees, with purchases including beer brewing kits, $70,000 of plastic dog booties that were later deemed unusable, boats purchased at double the retail price many of which later could not be found, and iPods ostensibly for use in "data storage".

The department's initial response to Hurricane Katrina was castigated by its critics as inadequate, a charge later acknowledged by the Bush administration. Following the discovery by British authorities in August 2006 of a plot to destroy commercial airliners using liquid explosives, it was revealed that DHS had consistently failed to spend research and development money on new airport screening methods, and that funds for explosive detection equipment were re-routed by the Bush Administration to cover budget shortfalls elsewhere. In August 2006, a bipartisan group of Senators on the Appropriations Committee described the Sciences & Technology Directorate, the research arm of DHS, as a "rudderless ship without a clear way to get back on course".
Of course, Falkenrath also attacks the Bush mantra of "accountability":
"This [technology] bias pervades virtually all homeland security grant programs," he said. "It is a reflection of the interests of government vendors, who sell more products, and federal auditors, whose jobs are simplified when grants can be connected to invoices."

He also criticized a proposal that would pay for training for transit workers but not for law enforcement, noting that the NYPD assigns nearly 2,700 officers daily to secure subways.
Here's the kicker for me: I can pretty much picture Falkenrath, like Richard Clarke, raising hell inside the administration and quietly being ignored, then not-so-quietly being ignored and then being told to shut up.

One might think that journalists would do some legwork in agencies like Homeland Security, the FBI and CIA and start finding these people before they have to, out of good conscience, quit a vital post in order to be heard. After all....
Republicans criticized provisions mandating whistleblower protection for those revealing security lapses