DHS needs a shakeup

Jan. 1, 2010
FROM the very outset the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) looked like some sort of Frankenstein cabinet department cobbled together with a variety

FROM the very outset the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) looked like some sort of Frankenstein cabinet department cobbled together with a variety of agencies and pursuing a security focus that sometimes seems to defy logic. The fundamental weaknesses at DHS become more apparent by the day.

DHS was established in 2002 in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. It was the largest federal government reorganization in more than 50 years. The third largest cabinet department, DHS has a staff of more than 200,000 bureaucrats and Presidential appointees.

Their primary objective at DHS is to protect the American people from terrorist attacks within the United States. They failed repeatedly in their mission during 2009. Islamic terrorists launched three deadly attacks in 2009, two of which were successful.

The first attack came on June 1, when a Muslim convert reportedly shot two US Army recruiters (killing one and wounding the other) in Little Rock, Arkansas. Next came Major Nidal Malik Hasan's November 5 rampage at Ft Hood, Texas that killed 13 and wounded 30. Closing out the year was the failed terrorist bombing on Christmas Day of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight with 300 passengers and crew. The alleged terrorists in these attacks reportedly all had links to Muslim radicals in Yemen.

These domestic terrorist attacks should not have come as a surprise to the officials at DHS. After all, the department published an Intelligence and Analysis Assessment in April 2009 warning that “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent…extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.” Unfortunately, DHS analysts focused solely on rightwing extremists and completely ignored the threats posed by the radical Muslim terrorists who actually are carrying out attacks in the United States.

It took the Christmas airliner bombing attempt to finally convince the Obama White House that there was a homeland security crisis. Current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was among 20 high level officials that were scolded by President Obama for the “human and systemic security failures” that made it possible for the bombing attempt to take place.

The officials represent America's anti-terrorist and intelligence agencies that together spend more than $40 billion a year on national security. The agencies had enough information to thwart the attack, but officials failed to connect the dots, according to President Obama.

A single scolding by the President probably will do little fix the problems at DHS, though. Officials either don't understand the domestic terrorism issues facing the United States or they are willfully blind to the true threats.

These are not abstract discussion points. They have a direct impact on whether the federal government can or will take appropriate action to protect the American people and critical industries and infrastructure in the United States. So far, we've seen little that would inspire confidence.

Problems start at the top with Secretary Napolitano. Many of the decisions made at DHS over the past year seem to have been more inspired by partisan politics rather than a pragmatic view of domestic security.

As Democrat governor of Arizona, most of her decisions related to security on the US-Mexico border seem to have had liberal political overtones. A case in point: An Arizona National Guard border observation post was assaulted by heavily armed gunmen from Mexico in January 2007. The guard unit reportedly was under orders to retreat, even though it was defending US territory. Those orders reportedly came from then-Governor Napolitano's office. The governor later called the attack a “non incident.”

Napolitano was confirmed as DHS Secretary in January 2009 and, in a March 2009 magazine interview, redefined terrorism as a “man-caused disaster.” A month later, she claimed incorrectly that the September 11 terrorists entered the United States from Canada.

Then came the Christmas airliner bombing attempt in which Napolitano claimed initially that the security system worked. It was such a laughable assertion that she later was forced to concede that US security had utterly failed.

DHS' Transportation Security Administration politicized what had been the Highway Watch Program, which was designed to train highway professionals to identify and report safety and security concerns on US roads. Operated by the American Trucking Associations, the program was shut down unexpectedly in 2008. It was relaunched as First Observer in 2009 with major support from The Teamsters. Trucking companies have been reluctant to join the program due to concerns that information on participating drivers would be made available to The Teamsters and could be used for union organizing efforts.

When all of these factors are examined together, it seems clear that DHS needs a top-down overhaul. Secretary Napolitano has shown that she either can't or won't do what it takes to keep America safe. She needs to be replaced.

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting Bulk Transporter Interactive at bulktransporter.com and clicking on “Contact Us.”

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.