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Ten questions about homeland security

ASK THIS | February 16, 2007

John Mueller asks: Why are airports on Orange alert now? How much do Orange alerts cost and who pays? Airport delays cause people to drive instead of fly on short trips; since driving is more dangerous, isn’t it likely that these delays result in more deaths? And other questions for reporters on any sized news organization to pursue.

By John Mueller

1. Why are U.S. airports still on Orange alert? An alleged plot for blowing up airliners was uncovered in the summer in London, a country in a different hemisphere. Has there been any connection found to a danger emanating from within the U.S.?

2. How much do Orange alerts cost the airports? There was one indication that it costs $100,000 per day for the Los Angeles airport alone to be on Orange alert. There are 5000 airports in the U.S., quite a few in the LAX class. Who is paying for all this, and why?

3. Economists have calculated that an extra half-hour wait in airports costs the economy something like $10 billion a year. Is that fact considered when setting up the airport security system?

4. Delays in airports mean more people take automobiles instead of boarding short haul flights. Since automobiles are far more dangerous than airplanes, some of these people will be killed. Is that considered?

5. If a supposed target—say, a shopping mall—undergoes enhanced security, a terrorist would presumably be inclined to attack instead a different shopping mall. The people at the first mall would not be killed, but those at the second would. How is this an improvement?

6. Each year, without judicial review, some 30,000 "national security letters" are issued forcing businesses and institutions to disclose information about their customers and forbidding them from telling anyone they have done so. How much does this process cost? Reports are that it has generated thousands of leads that, when pursued, have led nowhere. Is that true?

7. Eighty thousand Arab and Muslim immigrants have been subjected to fingerprinting and registration, another 8,000 have been called in for FBI interviews, and over 5,000 foreign nationals have been imprisoned in initiatives designed to prevent terrorism. How much has this cost? Has it had any led to any convictions or at least prosecutions for terrorist crimes?

8. Thousands of people in the United States have had their overseas communications tapped under a controversial surveillance program. Of these, less than 10 U.S. citizens or residents per year have reportedly aroused enough suspicion to impel the agencies spying on them to seek warrants to carry out surveillance of their domestic communications as well. Has any of this activity led to an indictment on any charges whatever? How much does the surveillance program cost?

9. In 2005, the FBI came out with a secret report (leaked to ABC News) indicating that they had so far been unable to find a single true al-Qaeda sleeper cell in the entire country. Is this report still secret? If so, why? Is it still true?

10. If nobody has yet been able to find a single true al-Qaeda cell in the U.S., what is the most likely lesson? Is it that:

1) the al-Qaeda terrorists are very, very clever and biding their time despite huge provocations like the war in Iraq and despite the fact that the longer they wait the more likely they are to be discovered, or
2) the internal policing agencies are incompetent, or
3) no such cell exists?

[Click here for an earlier Nieman Watchdog piece by Prof. Mueller on evaluating alarmism.]

Posted by Paul Swider
08/19/2008, 02:48 PM

Along the lines of the costs of security and the economic expense of its delays is the opportunity cost of that investment. What is we took that money and spent it on something else? For instance, research and development on renewable energy sources. Considering that it is fairly plain our dependence on Middle East oil is the root cause of the US being a terrorits target, removing that dependence would be a better long-term solution than more security. Ditto for investment over war. We have chosen, instead, to make more enemies and cost our economy more money while we work ourselves deeper into the energy hole.

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