Saturday, May 20, 2006

Heads up to terrorists?

Today's New York Times story shows that we've learned nothing from the flap over the Dubai Ports World deal. The conventional wisdom following that incident was that at least it highlighted the gaps in port security and the Administration and Congress would now work overtime to close them.

And, yet, as the headline of today's story succinctly puts the essence of it, "to speed flow of goods, some ships are tipped by Coast Guard before inspections." The Coast Guard is supposed to conduct "surprise" inspections of incoming ships from time to time to, among other things, see to it that neither terrorists nor weapons of mass destruction and other implements of terror are sneaked into our country by sea. And, yet, bowing to complaints from industry about slowing down the flow of commerce, the Coast Guard sometimes gives ships advance notice that they will be inspected, potentially tipping off terrorists in time for them to slip away and to hide any weapons they may have stashed on board.

Part of the problem all along with the Administration's approach to homeland security is that it has paid disproportionate attention to industry concerns and complaints. Certainly security measures should be implemented in such a way as not to unduly inconvenience and financially penalize the private sector. But, when security and profit collide, security should trump, especially in the post-9/11 world when we know that terrorism is a real threat and not merely a theoretical one.

The article also points up another problem with the Department of Homeland Security from day one -underfunding. The Coast Guard is supposed to patrol 95,000 miles of coastline and to police 361 ports, and yet the total force (39,000) is not much larger than that of the New York City police department. So, to supplement its meager forces, the Coast Guard has to rely in part on, believe it or not, volunteers!

You'll recall that among the arguments the Adminstration and its supporters advanced in support of the notion of turning over port terminal operations to a country linked to terrorism was that, at the end of the day, port security would have remained in the hands of the Coast Guard. Today's Times article helps to show that those hands have a very weak grip, indeed.

"Mini-Amnesty" for potential terrorists?

The latest report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (which I used to head), noted in today's Washington Post, is but the latest evidence that the Adminstration's latest border security proposals are unserious and politically motivated.

Part of the reason that our borders are insecure is that we have too few Border Patrol Agents and too little effective technology to help us patrol them. The President's speech on Monday night at least rhetorically addresses these problems, though, again, I would have preferred that he give the Department of "Homeland Security" the manpower (i. e., more Border Patrol agents) it needs to get the job done, rather than our already dangerously overstretched military.

But, another part of the reason is that the relatively few illegal aliens we do catch are all too often released for lack of detention space to house them until they can be deported to their respective countries of origin. According to the DHS OIG report, 36% of the 774,112 illegal aliens caught in the past three years were released on account of the lack of detention space. To end the "catch and release" program, as the Administration has pledged to do by the fall, would require adding 35,000 beds, but the White House has proposed spending only $386 million, which would pay for only 6,700 more beds. What's really troubling about this is that, as result of the shortfall in detention space, illegal aliens are released before the Department of Homeland Security can determine whether they are criminals are, worse, terrorists!

The Senate passed a measure on Thursday that would add 20,000 beds, and a House bill to be voted on next week would add nearly 5,000. Let us hope for the sake of national security that the Administration and Congress will finally get serious about every aspect of border security by providing enough funds to end this "mini-amnesty" program for potential terrorists once and for all.