Monday, March 06, 2006

Homeland Insecurity

Doesn't this just take the cake? There are reports in the news today that U.S. Department of Homeland Security "is having difficulty safeguarding its own headquarters." Guards at the Washington, D.C. complex have taken complaints of "inadequate training, failed security tests and slow or confused reactions to bomb and biological threats" to Congress.

An example cited in the Washington Post article is appalling and is worth citing at length:
...when an envelope with suspicious powder was opened last fall at Homeland Security Department headquarters, guards said they watched in amazement as superiors carried it by the office of Secretary Michael Chertoff, took it outside and then shook it outside Chertoff's window without evacuating people nearby.
I'm surprised they didn't taste it in an attempt to determine what it was. One of the complaints brought to Congress was that guards at DHS have no training for responding to an attack with WMD, which is richly ironic considering the fact that DHS is supposed to be protecting the nation from just such a threat.

The problem might start with the security firm that has been charged with guarding the DHS facility. It's called Wackenhut Services Inc, which is not a name that inspires confidence, sounding more like a third-rate Chuck E. Cheese's than a private security outfit. The firm has been criticized in the past for an inability to defend a nuclear laboratory against a simulated terrorist attack and improperly transporting nuclear weapons. Just because Bush can't pronounce the word doesn't mean he should put us all at risk.

There's a lesson in here somewhere. Giving an agency a reassuring name like "Homeland Security"—or, say, hanging a banner that reads "Mission Accomplished"—doesn't mean it's actually true. I know this is a radical idea, but it might be time for some competent leadership in Washington. Just a thought.
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