The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 shook the nation to its core. Politicians felt a tremendous pressure not only to go on the attack against the terrorists, but also to secure the homeland. As a result the United States’ government responded the way it often does in a crisis – It created a huge new bureaucracy. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was designed to consolidate dozens of agencies under one roof. Theoretically this would streamline the process of protecting the homeland. The Intelligence Act of 2004 was designed to better focus this process while also protecting the civil rights of Americans.
Proponents of the DHS argue that there has not been a major attack on American soil since 2001. This presents an incomplete picture of the security landscape however. DHS is still very much a work in progress. It has been plagued by numerous well-publicized problems. The Department of Homeland Security has not met the strategic goals and objectives set forth in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. Therefore, the DHS has not successfully provided national security. The Act and the Bureaucracy The consolidation of so many agencies under one roof was unprecedented in Washington.
Early fears that the bureaucracy would be so unwieldy as to be out of control seemed to be justified. After 9/11 the government felt an intense pressure to do something. The lack of coordination between agencies was exposed by these attacks. Creation of the DHS was an attempt to remedy this problem, but the agency itself was a massive undertaking. In many ways it is an agency still trying to find its footing. The DHS began operations in 2003 with more than 180. 000 employees (Brzezinski, 2004). It oversees dozens of agencies with a dizzying array of responsibilities.
From the start the agency has worked against long odds and excessive expectations. There is a gap between what the public expects of DHS and what DHS actually believes it can do. This makes it even more difficult for the DHS to operate effectively. A well known axiom within the intelligence community states that “The terrorists only have to be right once – we have to be right every time”. Meanwhile the American public is intolerant of failure. The reality that eventually the terrorists will succeed again is not well understood.
In fact, “The very notion of trying to design a zero-terrorist-risk environment is dangerously futile” (Brzezinski, 2004). As the DHS scuffled through its first few years, Congress and the American people became impatient. In 2004 Congress took action to reform the DHS and the intelligence and security apparatus. In an effort to re-focus DHS activities to the modern threat environment, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. The Act revised a number of provisions of the National Security Act of 1947. It set guidelines for information sharing, inter-agency cooperation and covert operations.
Five years later some of its provisions have been addressed; many have not. Prevention and Preparation The Department of Homeland Security is a vast organization with a vast number of duties. It is responsible for both day-to-day protection of the homeland and strategic long-term efforts to prevent terrorism in the future. Additionally it must respond to attacks already under way and is often called in on natural disaster situations. DHS duties on any given day include, but are not limited to: … screening 1. 5 million airline passengers [and] inspecting 57,006 shipping containers… very day DHS reviews 2200 intelligence reports. [It] stands watch over 8,000 federal facilities and pieces of critical infrastructure. (Brzezinski, 2004)
The Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 was intended to further streamline inter-agency cooperation between the many departments of the DHS. In some cases, such as the apprehension of alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, NY and Miami, FLA, better cooperation has been evident. However, reports of turf wars and lack of cooperation still surface periodically. In some cases the DHS has had a tin ear in regards to Congress and the American people.
Frequent news stories have made the public aware of the vulnerability of U. S. ports. Only a tiny percentage of the cargo that passes through these ports is screened. Technology and manpower to do so thoroughly are still limited. In response to public pressure, Congress strengthened port security provisions in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. The response from DHS was anything but urgent: The Department (Homeland Security) resisted 100 percent screening and offered a half measure involving known shippers… Congress in 2007 mandated full inspection of shipping containers, which has not yet been implemented. (Clarke, 2008)
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is primarily responsible for both passenger and cargo security. It defends its record by pointing to several accomplishments. These include: screening of 700,000 port workers and issuing of directives mandating 100% screening of “high risk” cargo (The Library of Congress, 2004). These efforts still fall short of what Congress has mandated. Much recent focus has gone into the issue of border security. DHS has made progress on, but not completed a border fence. Border Patrol personnel have been increased.
Technology for detecting illegal entry is improving, including the use of Predator drones to detect illegal crossers so Border Patrol can then be deployed. In response to criticism the DHS and ICE, its immigration division, have been forced to end the “catch and release” policy that was in place for many years. According to the DHS, the number of illegal aliens interdicted at the border has decreased. DHS and the border patrol claim this as evidence that their efforts are successful. It is likely, however, that additional factors explain the decrease in interdictions.
Events in Mexico, the downturn in the U. S. economy and more sophisticated means of entering the country also play a role. The FBI and CIA in tandem with local police are employing more sophisticated surveillance and search tools as well as providing security at large events that could be inviting targets for terrorists. Infrastructure security has improved but many important locations still lack adequate security. These include local water/sewer plants, electrical grids, mass transit systems and energy facilities. In the process of trying to provide such protections the DHS has had to face criticism from civil libertarians.
An ongoing debate continues about where national security crosses the line into being an erosion of hard-earned American civil rights. This debate is likely to continue in perpetuity. The changing landscapes of threat and fear alter the position of that line. After the 9/11 attacks, Americans were much more willing to trade civil rights for a perceived sense of security. In the years since many of the actions taken during that time, such as domestic warrantless wire tapping and random airport searches have come under heavy criticism.
It is likely that the DHS is engaging in a number of unknown activities that would be highly disturbing to the general public. This has always been true of the American intelligence and security establishment. There is no evidence that these activities are any worse or more prevalent since the founding of the DHS. In defense of the DHS, the organization must toe a slippery line. It is expected to take extraordinary measures to protect the nation. What is too extraordinary is never well-defined or unchanging. Bang for the Buck? The Department of Homeland Security has not been without certain successes.
The Science and Technology Directorate has been a standout among the many branches of DHS. Composed of some of the finest minds in the world, the Directorate has made significant advances in a number of different areas targeted toward fulfillment of the Intelligence Act of 2004. The US-VISIT program has made progress in the area of VISA overstays. Behavior spotting software is helping agents at ports of entry to identify and address suspicious behavior. DNA mapping technology is helping to more quickly identify biological agents and assess any potential threat.
At the same time an early warning system for these agents is in development. All of these developments have both civilian and military applications. On the forefront of information security is the Einstein 3 project currently undergoing testing. A Washington Post report describes the initiative this way: “the plan called for telecommunications companies to route the Internet traffic of civilian agencies through a monitoring box that would search for and block computer codes designed to penetrate or otherwise compromise networks” (Nakashima, 2009).
If successful, Einstein 3 could help ensure secrecy of vital infrastructure and security information. This is all the more important in light of recent reports of widespread hacking of government computers. Analysts suspect, but are still unable to prove, that North Korean or Chinese hackers are responsible for the repeated breaches in security. The American public may have assumed that the founding of DHS represented a massive financial investment in America’s security. In reality, the DHS budget is not substantially more than its individual agencies were already receiving. The truth of the matter is that Homeland Security is a shoestring operation” (Brzezinski, 2004).
This explains a lot about why measures deemed critical and necessary in 2001, and again in 2004, still have not been implemented. The agency is supposed to be free of the turf wars that plagued the intelligence community in the past. Because the individual agencies still lobby for a limited amount of funds this is not the reality. The harshest critics of the agency believe that is too much about appearing to do something and not enough about actually doing something.
The confusing color-coded terror warning system is one such example. Col. David Hunt (ret. ) writes of such efforts: “Colors, duct tape and wooden desks don’t stop 10 – kiloton bombs or terrorists” (2005). With a new administration in power the DHS is considering dropping or altering the color-code warning system. Each time the alert system is raised costs are incurred by local, state and federal governments. The public has become oblivious to the system since specific information about the threat or what to do are never given.
The ability of Americans to travel freely is the key to its future prosperity. For that reason a great deal of attention has been given to transportation links such as railroads, subways and airlines. The results have been mixed. Airport security, perhaps the most visible of DHS efforts has come under withering criticism. Inevitably errors will make better news than successes. The errors are numerous however, and come not only in the execution of policy but in the policies themselves. For example: “Our government keeps no fewer than twelve watch lists that we can choose from.
Mind you, not one consolidated list; that would be too easy” (Hunt, 2005). Much of airport security has been federalized, but that does not mean the system is operating smoothly. The watch lists are anything but accurate. Babies and young children have been flagged. Even a U. S. Representative, Sen. Edward Kennedy was stopped because he somehow appeared on a list. Random checks that result in searches of senior citizens, disabled people and children have been a public relations nightmare for the TSA, the organization within DHS responsible for travel safety.
Coping with these problems makes the jobs of airport screeners, many of whom are still being trained, all the more difficult. The TSA has required airlines to make certain security changes like locking cabin doors. On a random number of flights an armed federal air marshal is seated in the cabin. The prevalence of these marshals is a secret held tightly by the TSA. Random security checks run by independent agencies still raise concerns about the ease of getting potentially dangerous material on board domestic aircraft.
Meanwhile the lack of a terrorist incident since the attempted shoe bombing by Richard Reid has led to a false sense of security. Since the border issue reached critical mass during the second term of President George W. Bush spending on border security has increased. Critics worry that this increase has come at the expense of other critical DHS efforts. “Department officials concede that most of the Homeland Security money is being funneled into one mission – controlling the border with Mexico” (Alden, 2008). The DHS and border patrol are fulfilling mandates of the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004.
But lack funding to complete many other initiatives. Analysis and Conclusion The Department of Homeland Security was proposed as an organization free of political influence. The reality is much different. A giant organization with tentacles stretching in numerous directions is inevitably political when funding for it is limited. DHS has the problems of any other Washington bureaucracy. The organization has garnered mixed reviews from independent analysts. To date there has not been another serious terrorist attack in the United States since 2001.
A number of Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda- inspired cells have been infiltrated and brought to justice. The DHS should be given credit where credit is due in that regard. At the same time the actions of DHS have raised concerns that the civil rights of Americans are being eroded. It is also misleading to assume that the lack of attacks since 2001 is a strong indicator that the country is safe. In fact it is dangerous to assume so. The efforts of U. S. forces overseas probably have had as much to do as anything with the lack of attacks on American soil.
At the same time, the enemy who successfully executed the 9/11 attacks did so after years of planning. It is very likely that they, or some other enemy is studying the cracks in the Homeland Security apparatus in preparation for a future attack. This is a 21st century reality. DHS was given license after 9/11 to take shortcuts around the civil rights of individuals in the name of national security. Each successive generation of Americans will have to decide what they are willing to give up for a sense of security that may or may not be realistic.
Has the DHS protected America from terrorist attacks? Yes and no. Some of the actions it has taken have had clear-cut results. Others have not. Can it protect the homeland for the foreseeable future? Probably not. The DHS has not met many of its original mandates, as well as the mandates from the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. In certain instances it has shown the kind of bureaucratic inflexibility that allowed for the 9/11 attacks to take place. The American government has to be right every time – The terrorists only have to be right once.