Monday, April 23, 2007

Homeland Security

Much has been made of the United States efforts to fight terrorists around the world, the theory being if we fought them there, we wouldn't have to fight them here.

A ludicrous theory on the face, as an organization that can pop up like a Whack-A-Mole is not likely to suddenly freeze in one place and be hammered over the head constantly.

We should expect them here and relatively soon. So how good are our domestic defenses? We do a fairly good job at airport security, even allowing for the massive holes in the screening processes (like airport employees and faulty and inadequate equipment). Our land borders are absolutely porous as evidenced by the great Mexican immigration debate (our Canadian border is even more porous).

Port screenings are still nearly non-existent, relying on the Coast Guard to interdict on the open seas any suspicious ship.

Well...not for very much longer, at this rate:
Although it is busy and obvious and well known, the coastguard has long been a poor sibling to the navy, army and air force. At the same time, its responsibilities have grown. In 2003 it became part of the Department of Homeland Security, with increased emphasis on protecting America's 361 ports and 95,000 miles (153,000km) of coastline from terrorists.

Yet the 40,000-member service has to scratch desperately for money from Congress. Its boats are often in poor shape; some patrol cutters are over 50 years old. In 2005 USA Today ran a story on life aboard a 210-foot (64-metre) cutter, where equipment regularly malfunctioned and raw sewage flooded the sleeping quarters.

In an attempt to remedy all this, and to win back prestige, the coastguard launched “Deepwater” in the 1990s. This was a $24 billion upgrade of its ships and aircraft. The goal was a modernised fleet and air arm with complementary communications and tracking equipment, lower maintenance and better conditions for the crew. Contracts to start building were signed in 2002.

Five years on, Deepwater is plagued by catastrophe. A plan to enlarge the coastguard's 110-foot cutters into more capable 123-foot boats was scrapped last autumn after the first eight refitted boats showed signs of cracking apart. The flagships of Deepwater—eight state-of-the-art 418-foot National Security Cutters, the first of which is nearing completion—have structural flaws that will probably shorten their projected 30-year service life and lead to costly repairs.
Right smack in the middle of the first battles that includes American soil since the Civil War, we're losing the ability to defend our shores. The story includes tales of corruption due to the privatization of the contracts and the hubris and arrogance of an admiralty that finally was garnering the attention it deserved in the 90s (when Bill Clinton was President, efforts to defend this nation from domestic terror attacks were not only in the works, they were being executed and were successful).

This does not bode well for the security of the US coastlines. Ships in dry dock for repairs are ships that are not out patrolling the coastal waters. Ships in danger of sinking or overweighted are ships that cannot keep up with faster, more manueverable ships and boats. It's a little like a fat cat chasing a pack of mice. Maybe he catches one or two, but the other dozen manage to steal all the cheese anyway.

This is a disgraceful situation, made more urgent by the ill-conceived "fight them there" strategy that shifts the focus of homeland security away from the homeland itself. Had Bush instead pursued a strategy of treating the September 11th attacks as a crime as well as an act of war, his focus could have been on fixing the major problems we have in protecting ourselves and not on inciting and inflaming more terrorists and more terror groups than ever before.

When a criminal breaks into a house and kills the family living there, two things occur: the police hunt down and capture the crook, and the remaining family beefs up their home security system.

Right now, we've got the cops out looking (and not very thoroughly), but we've left the doors and windows open.