Homeland Security or Homeland Pork?

by | Oct 12, 2007

There’s big controversy here in Pittsburgh about the mayor taking the city’s anti-terrorism van to a Toby Keith concert during the summer. But, really, where would our federally-supplied anti-terrorism vehicle have been that August night if the mayor hadn’t taken it? Riding around the city streets looking for al-Qaida? Checking out the Ali Baba eatery, […]

There’s big controversy here in Pittsburgh about the mayor taking the city’s anti-terrorism van to a Toby Keith concert during the summer. But, really, where would our federally-supplied anti-terrorism vehicle have been that August night if the mayor hadn’t taken it? Riding around the city streets looking for al-Qaida? Checking out the Ali Baba eatery, or Pita Land?

I’d say the mayor got it right that night, whether by design or chance, in terms of national security.

The Department of Homeland Security, seeing Pittsburgh as a potential target of Islamic fundamentalists, gave us the GMC Yukon for surveillance, to identify potential terrorism targets, and for intelligence gathering — to ride around and keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious or out of place.

The vehicle isn’t a tank. There’s no button on the dashboard to launch a surface-to-air missile and knock down an incoming plane that’s been taken over by a gang of religious martyrs. The vehicle is just for blending in, for shadowing, especially in target-rich environments.

Now, pretend for a minute that you’re a full-blown jihadist in Pittsburgh, looking for the fight of your life that summer night. Downtown’s completely dead. The Marine recruiting offices are closed. The mall movies are ho-hum. Hands down, there’s no better place to explode yourself than in front of a country singer who has a crowd all pumped up with his two-fisted response to 9/11:

This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
the U.S. of A
‘Cause we’ll put in a boot in your ass
It’s the American way.

The U.S. Attorney here, Mary Beth Buchanan, is investigating whether our federally-supplied anti-jihad asset was misallocated. It’s my guess that the Toby Keith concert was probably the only time the Yukon was in the right place at the right time. Where, for example, was the vehicle last night — parked outside a meeting of the International Student Association at Chatham University?

There’s also a complaint that the SUV came back from the concert containing several Marlboro Light butts and clear evidence of a tailgate party, i.e., some traces of charcoal and barbecue — a complaint that the mayor didn’t get out his Dirt Devil at 1 in the morning. But that’s how you catch shoe-bombers: by tossing a burger on the grill, blending in, and checking the tennies of passersby for fuses.

The real issue here has nothing to do with the mayor. The van shouldn’t even be in Pittsburgh, not when there’s not enough money in the budget to train agents in Islamic languages and the radiation detection equipment deployed to screen cargo containers can’t tell the difference between highly enriched uranium and Comet cleanser.

The real problem is the massive misallocation of the nation’s limited anti-terrorism resources, a federal bureaucracy that’s passing out free SUVs and treating billions in anti-terrorism spending as just so much more pork to be politically distributed, regardless of any meaningful risk assessments or cost-benefit analysis.

In “What Does Homeland Security Spending Buy?” — published in 2005 by the American Enterprise Institute — Veronique de Rugy provides clear evidence of how the nation’s security resources have been squandered. For example:

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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