After 9/11, the American government found its self in an interesting predicament. People wanted to know just how the government failed to stop a terrorist attack on America’s own shores. The response to this verbal attack on the President and his cabinet forced quick action and the forming of the Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council. The American people expect miracles at times. They expect government to protect them from any egregious attacks of moral peril – yet still give them the freedoms to do as they choose.
The reply to this is not an easy one to discern. The government set out with the intention to secure the country’s people. Previously the protection of American people fell under numerous headings and budgets. The goal of centrally locating these many areas has become a topic of much discussion and consternation. Does the need exist for a Department of Homeland Security?
When the Office of Homeland Security became the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, it was initiated in order to “make Americans safe,” (The Department of Homeland Security 1). This department was designed to provide a single entity, which would oversee all aspects of protecting Americans everywhere.
According to the proposal offered by the President, Homeland Security was divided into four components. Border and Transportation Security was instituted in order to control anyone entering or departing the nation’s borders. Emergency Preparedness and Response took over all components of disaster relief and control previously handled by the other department currently used to include FEMA, which now falls under this new Department. Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasures directs and mandates the procedures in the event of these disasters, as well as the training of applicable personnel. Finally, Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection now controls the outflow of information from the government, and seeks to protect America’s internal network (2-3).
In looking at how these items function in four given areas, validity of the usefulness and constitutionality of the department can be ascertained, at least in part. The Department of Homeland Security affects people’s lives the most in terms of their approach to security, how they use taxpayer dollars, its affect on information dissemination and the ways in which American citizens are being treated directly. In looking at these four areas, we get a brief overview of what is going on and invite new ideas as to how to protect us more efficiently if needed.
Approach to Security
“The government has been calling for a new security infrastructure: iris, retina and fingerprint scanners, hand-geometry assayers, face-recognition software and smart cards with custom identification chips. Their use may on the whole make Americans less safe, because many of these tools fail badly – they’re “brittle”, in engineering jargon,” (Mann 9).
Mann indicates that there is a flaw in the methodology behind these techniques in that they rely on an unbreakable code. He feels the technology should be able to get into the enemy hands – they should even be able to crack the code – but without a required “key” to break down the entire system, fail to be able to manipulate the security device (9). “Secrecy, in other words, is a prime cause of brittleness – and therefore something likely to make a system prone to catastrophic collapse. Conversely, openness provides ductility,” (Mann 9).
Credit card companies use specific algorithms to discover applicable candidates. Insurance companies also use a certain format of algorithm to identity risk in a person or business entity. In changing how security is thought of, Mann poses, we can greatly influence our safety and create an amenable solution to security breaches.
Secrecy, even in terms of computer connectivity and use, does not make a body safer. Mann discusses the impact of the “Melissa” virus on government computer networks. Despite the fact that these systems are in a secured room and not hooked to the Internet in any way, the virus got into the system. In letting employees use their laptops for other reasons, say personal email retrieval at home, they bring the viruses to the system once they connect (Mann 14).
In changing how the problem is addressed, the whole mess could have been avoided. If the system were designed with a key in mind, everyday uses would not be able to circumvent the security system. This would work on a national level as well. The Department of Homeland does not appear ready to entertain such a shift in thinking. According to Rothkopf, the Department has disclosed themselves as being unready to implement a partnership with the private sector; they are “overwhelmed” (62).
Taxpayers are naturally concerned with where their monies are going. In light of the fact that the Homeland Security was created from varying other departments, one can assume portions of these other budgets helped to form the department’s base-line budget. The government has managed to increase this budget by 194% in the past 5 years according to a report presented by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI). The reports claim that the budget for 2006 translates to $450 per American household. (AEI 1).
If the Department for Homeland Security was created to give one governmental department control over the security of this nation, one would expect it is controlling the use of its money for research and implementation of projects pertaining to that security. This is not so. The report estimates that over 23 billion dollars of this budget is spent on projects outside the department. This number is almost one-half of the entire budgets, the largest portions going to the Departments of Justice, Military/Defense and Health/Human Services (AEI 10).
Why the outside spending if the department was necessary to facilitate the efforts of security and its main purpose for existence was to consolidate efforts and knowledge? In looking at the spending on items currently under the domain of Homeland Security since 1994, de Rugy points out the obvious increase, particularly since 9/11/2001 (AEI 13). This would be understandable for many Americans as we obviously had some issues. It still appears to be a fleecing of some sort in that money is collected and then allocated for this “new” branch, yet it spends over half of its budget in other departments, departments that already have a budget of their own.
Freedom of Information
One of the top complaints against the Homeland Security Act is the impact on the American citizen’s right to information. As Americans, we pride ourselves on the freedoms we carry. This freedom includes the right to know what our government is up to or even what extremists are publishing. When the US Government steps in and says people are not allowing access to a certain item of information – alarm bells ring. Since its inception, the Department of Homeland Security has restricted our access to some information and gone so far as to institute their right to find out the items you are looking into – in case it prove to carry a malicious intent (Gidiere & Forrester 139-145).
Gidiere and Forrester outline the most reasonable exemptions to the FOIA that could impede securing our homeland. Number one on their list pertains to classified information. The current definition of classified information comes from executive order number 12,958 enacted by President Clinton. It states anything of “scientific, technological, or economic” in nature that could be used against our country (141). However, since the protagonists on 9/11 did not use anything of this nature – one questions the need to broaden the definition.
The terrorists on 9/11 used the internet to buy a plane ticket, rent a car and purchase pilot lessons; all things Americans do on a daily basis (Gidiere & Forrester 139). If we are to restrict the ability to do these mundane tasks, in order to protect ourselves, we in fact detract from the accessibility to commercial products, which is a part of what defines American culture. This is a fundamental reason why we feel, and are in fact, so vulnerable to terrorism (Serafino 1&5).
They obviously see the extreme power of information dissemination. The Department itself has attempted to quell further attacks by promoting Islam as a religion of peace. This informational message needs to be reiterated by Islamic countries and key figures, according to Serafino, but is a clear indication of things could be handled (4).
If Homeland Security intends to secure our borders and protect its people, it must also consider protecting our right to information. If we invite questions regarding the reasoning behind a plane ticket or vacation to another part of the world, a definitive breach of our civil liberties ensues. The question remains how far the Department of Homeland Security will go.
Treatment of People
The aftermath of 9/11 seems to have been particularly grim for many brown-skinned peoples, middle-eastern or not. Stories of racial profiling and excessive wire-tapping hit the news on an almost daily basis. However, are there numbers to support this; and does the US Patriot Act, the predecessor to the Department of Homeland Security?
Kathleen Moore discusses a recent study she performed to determine if America has in fact accepted its newly recognized “immigrants” or she has closed them off entirely (32). One-half of the surveyed people replied as General Americans, while the other half replied as Muslim Americans. A 15-point scale was used to answer dilemmas such as increased wiring tapping, warrant-less searches, internment camps, indefinite detention without hearing and ethnic profiling (33-34).
Her data showed that although General Americans were slightly less likely to be afflicted with profiling or unfair treatment, “Americans are at least slightly less likely to admit to wanting to infringe on the civil liberties of Arab and Muslim Americans as a group,” (Moore 34). Moore admits that some responses may have been given with politically correct ideals in mind, but in the end, the numbers still show that Americans are in fact making the mental effort to not impede the rights of ethnically identifiable people (35).
This research shows the media may be actually inflating the actual outcomes of such measures by Homeland Security. However, if the government is representative of the people, one must question the use of racial profiling, especially if it conflicts with the overall impression of its people. Although validated in terms of empirical research on who would most likely prove to be a terrorist, there are flaws. Protecting our civil liberties is as important as protecting our moral lives.
David J. Rothkopf suggests another possible means of handling the protection our shores. In “Business versus Terror”, he suggests that using economic choice and power poses a much more plausible and fiscally responsible means of protection.
“The members of this fighting force are scientists and doctors, venture capitalists and corporate project managers – the private-sector army that is the United States’ not-so-secret weapon and best hope,” (Rothkopf 56). With the Department of Homeland Security consolidating the forces, managerial control and capital needed to fund a War on terror; the best response would be the private sector. There would no need for weapons of mass destruction.
Our best minds are out in the business world making more money then the government could offer in a full-time position. These solutions could be saving lives in a sub-contracting environment. Facial recognition software or bioanalytical devices to test our food could pave the way to protecting ourselves, and everyone. The only question would be if the US government would work with the private sector and not tie their hands with red tape (Rothkopf 60-63).
Charles C. Mann, however, poses that Rothkopf’s suggestion will bring on the ire of the American people, fearing that a conglomeration of business and governmental sources will create a militaristic state, one in direct conflict with our constitution (9).
In the End
The Department of Homeland Security has pronounced itself a growing success. In the recent report “9/11 Five Years Later” the government outlines its success and future challenges. Not one failure is listed, only challenges to the mission – a reason for continuing to exist. The plan is to move onto International problems that impede our security.
The goals have moved with each completed mission, much as what happens in many areas of business and control. When a certain task is complete – the mission statement is read in a new light – allowing the organization to exist.
In failing to recognize the root issues at hand and implementing creative, effectual solutions to them, the Department serves as a shifting of furniture. This gives our government a new look, but exactly a needed one. The areas that require immediate attention have been superficially addressed, but they could have been addressed within the departments they belonged to formerly, and has been shown, sometimes still are. There is no need for a Department of Homeland Security if it is to remain as it is. The completion of the stated goals needs to be met in order for the department to be truly effectual and required.
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. (October 29, 2004). What does homeland security spending buy? (AEI Working Paper #107). Updated April 1, 2005. Washington, D.C.: de Rugy, V.
Gidiere, S. & Forrester, J. (Winter 2002). Balancing homelands security and freedom of information. Natural Resources and Environments, 139-145.
Mann, C. C. (2002). Homeland insecurity [Special Report]. The Atlantic Monthly 1-17.
Moore, K. (Autumn, 2002). A part of US or apart from US?: Post-September 11 attitudes toward Muslims and civil liberties. Middle East Report, 224, 32-35.
Rothkopf, D. J. (May-Jun, 2002). Business versus terror. Foreign Policy, 130, 56-64.
Serafino, N. M., (January 18, 2002). Combating terrorism: Are there lessons to be learned from foreign experiences? (Order Code RS21110). Washington, DC: U.S. Congressional Research Service Report.
U.S. Government. (June 2002). The department of homeland security. Washington, D.C.: Presidential Proposal. Retrieved October 25, 2006 from http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/book.pdf
U.S. Government. (September 2006). 9/11 five years later: Successes and challenges. Washington, D.C.: Governmental Report. Retrieved October 25, 2006 from http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/72027.pdf