Thursday, July 28, 2005

Homeland Security and "pork barrel spending"

Rich Lowry recently wrote a shallow and smug column on homeland security spending. Lowry disagrees with the way the money is allocated to communities. In fact, he is so certain that he knows how than money should be spent( all in NYC and other big cities) that he thinks any divergence from his "plan" is nothing more than wasteful "pork barrel spending."

Lowry's certainty is anchored on just two ideas. First, population is the best measure of risk. Second, all the homeland security money should spent to high risk/high value targets. Implicitly, Lowry believes that money spent in the heartland is money wasted.

There are those who disagree. Richard Clarke, for instance, wrote a long article for the Atlantic a few months ago that was an extended scenario on future terrorism. Clarke believes that al Qaeda is likely to hit soft targets in the heartland (shopping malls, casinos) in their next wave of attacks. It is not so much that Lowry disagrees with Clarke, it is that he in no way considers Clarke's arguments for even an instant.

Worse, Lowry never mentions Beslan. How could he? The attack on the school in that remote town demonstrates that his smug "spend it in New York" prescriptions are out of touch with the realities of the global WoT.

He also seems unaware that high value targets can be found in low population areas. Railroads, pipelines, and chemical plants are all potential sites for an attack. There is no inherent reason why terrorists must attack these targets only in urban areas.

Rural areas face special challenges when it comes to potential attacks. They have limited law enforcement and disaster resources because they are generally low crime areas. A terrorist event, however, would stretch those resources past the breaking point. Unlike New York or Chicago, they do not have tens of thousands of LEOs and firemen to deploy if the worst happens. Nor do they have specialized equipment on hand or close-by. There are thousands of communities where the firemen are all volunteers and where bingo pays for the new fire equipment.

This does not mean that there is no waste in homeland security spending. Finding it, however, takes more research and analysis than Lowry is willing to devote to the subject.

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