Homeland security is a joke

When it was announced last week that the British had foiled a major terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic flights, my first thought was “good job, this is what they should be doing.” It’s hard not to be happy about news like that; it shows that law enforcement and intelligence agencies are indeed doing their job in preventing future attacks.

Unfortunately though, this sense of triumph quickly faded as the story developed. Far from symbolizing a success of our security efforts, this incident once again highlights the ineptitude of our post-9/11 security efforts and shows them for what a joke the powers that be regard them as.

The first thing to give anyone pause is the timing. In contrast to initial reports, this attack was not imminent, and British police wanted to continue surveillance of the suspects for at least another week. It was American officials who pressured them into making the arrests when they did… two days before Connecticut voters decided the Democratic primary between Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman, a race that had come to symbolize the anti-war sentiment in the US.

Now, perhaps there were legitimate reasons for the disagreement over timing, but there’s also good reasons to be cynical based on Bush’s history with these things. I’d like to think that politics would never interfere with a terrorist investigation; but it’s happened so much in the last five years I’m feeling “boy who cried wolf” whenever something like this is in the news. And although there’s little evidence for it yet, I have to wonder whether the threat itself has been completely overblown as well, not unlike the alleged plot to detonate a dirty bomb in Washington DC a few years ago.

Then there’s the abysmal uselessness of the Department of Homeland Security, or at least it’s most public aspect: our security level as indicated by the infamous color coded system. In the days prior to these “imminent attacks” and arrests, it remained firmly as yellow. Greg Palast examines this in more detail; suffice to say the system has never been more blatantly political and meaningless.

And then there’s the utter hysteria of security officials and TSA, illustrating just how fucking stupid airport security is. As soon as it happened, there was an immediate crackdown on carry on baggage, and all liquids were banned from airplanes. BoingBoing, in addition to highlighting the absurdity of this, managed to debunk the whole policy with one simple question. And as Bruce Schneier argues, it’s a monumentally ineffective exercise as far as actually stopping terrorists goes.

I wish I could have more faith in our anti-terrorism efforts. But all this incident demonstrates is what a joke those efforts are.

In a month, we’ll pass the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Do you feel any safer? I don’t.

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