The House Select Committee on Homeland Security recently released its report on the state of security in the U.S., and the performance of the Department of Homeland Security. The full report is 135 pages, and I read enough to satisfy myself that the executive summary is actually representative of the report. I’d recommend just reading the summary.
The substance is about what you’d expect. We’re not funding key efforts within the United States, having diverted far more of our effort and dollars to Iraq. Some highlights:
· DHS hasn’t yet completed a threat and vulnerability assessment to set priorities for what we can do.
· 100+ nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union need security improvements. These sites contain 600 metric tons of nuclear materials, enough for 41,000 warheads (presumably even more if the material is used for multiple-kiloton rather than megaton bombs).
· Outside Russia, 20+ tons of highly enriched uranium exists at 130 sites in 40 countries, many with little or no effective security.
· Without belaboring the details, we are utterly unequipped to deal with a widespread biological attack. The public health system lacks the staff, laboratory facilities, or funding to handle a major crisis.
· Only a tiny fraction of the 7 million cargo containers that arrive in American ports are physically inspected or mechanically screened. The vast majority of these containers have no tamper resistant seals, and the majority are not screened for radiological materials or nuclear devices. Less than 100 inspectors are assigned to foreign ports to screen cargo before it leaves for the United States.
· The Coast Guard estimates that ports need to spend $1.1 billion this year, and $5.4 billion over 10 years, to meet security standards. In other words, for the price of about a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can implement a ten year program to secure our ports. The Administration’s budgets for 2002 – 2004 have allocated only $46 million for port security, and although Congress supplemented this strongly, there is a $566 million funding gap in 2004 alone.
· We won’t even mention border security. There’s nothing good to report.
· Air security: focused mainly on passenger screening, has ignored air cargo screening and airport employee security standards.
· Virtually none of our critical infrastructure is secure: chemical plants, dams, electrical power generation, water systems, pipelines, etc. There isn’t even a comprehensive risk assessment of our infrastructure, so we don’t really even know what it’ll take or cost to secure it. Basically, the entire problem has been left to the private sector, with no public incentives for the companies to spend the money needed to secure their assets.
· Government IT systems and networks are insecure, with the DHS itself receiving the lowest security rating of any federal agency: 34% compliance. I find that disturbing, ironic, and not at all surprising.
· First responders – whose criticality was amply demonstrated on 9/11 – have received no real assistance in federal budgets since then. Federal grant programs exist, but aren’t moving quickly and the formulas are all whacked out: states with high-risk targets like California and New York are getting $6 per capita, while states which probably aren’t on anybody’s hit list are getting over $30 per person.
That’s enough headlines. The overall picture that emerges should surprise nobody who (a) has followed the reality of homeland security efforts since 9/11, or (b) is no longer surprised to find that the Administration consistently talks the talk, but never walks the walk.
I hope Kerry’s staff is reading this report carefully as well. Frankly, the Homeland Security strategy on Kerry’s website is a bit weak. The “targeted alert system” and “homeland security corps” ideas are good, but more attention needs to be given to the stuff which is less sexy, as outlined in this report.
Of course, the report also outlines some threats that I have no idea how they could protect against, like shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles targeting passenger airlines. Don’t get me wrong, I fly a lot and I’m kind of hoping somebody finds a way to protect me against this threat, but let’s be realistic about how difficult it is to protect against it…