May 27, 2008

Fear and Fantasy

Yesterday's New York Times had an article describing conflict between state governments and the Department of Homeland Security. States, like Massachusetts, want to use DHS grants to enhance citizens' safety from actual threats. DHS insists they spend a quarter of their grant money on, wait for it.....

defense against Improvised Explosive Devices:

Juliette N. Kayyem, the Massachusetts homeland security adviser, was in her office in early February when an aide brought her startling news. To qualify for its full allotment of federal money, Massachusetts had to come up with a plan to protect the state from an almost unheard-of threat: improvised explosive devices, known as I.E.D.’s.

“I.E.D.’s? As in Iraq I.E.D.’s?” Ms. Kayyem said in an interview, recalling her response. No one had ever suggested homemade roadside bombs might begin exploding on the highways of Massachusetts. “There was no new intelligence about this,” she said. “It just came out of nowhere.”

More openly than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local authorities have begun to complain that the federal financing for domestic security is being too closely tied to combating potential terrorist threats, at a time when they say they have more urgent priorities.

“I have a healthy respect for the federal government and the importance of keeping this nation safe,” said Col. Dean Esserman, the police chief in Providence, R.I. “But I also live every day as a police chief in an American city where violence every day is not foreign and is not anonymous but is right out there in the neighborhoods.”

It gets harder and harder to figure out whether these people are venal, idiotic or both. Is the need to hype a Terra Threat so deeply seated that it drives all public policy? Or do people like Chertoff actually believe that the good citizens of Amhearst or Brockton need to worry about Iraqis will sneak past the terrorist watchlist and attack them here using the methods they use to attack us there?

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