The details of the reorganization are still being debated. Should the FBI have been left out? Should the Secret Service have been included? But combining agencies such as Border Patrol, Customs, the new TSA, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency into one department responsible for putting the people and systems in place to defend against or recover from an attack made sense, as did enabling the still-separate FBI to gather intelligence in order to stop the people planning attacks or track them down after an attack occurred.
Nonetheless, the result, especially at first, was management disarray and ineffectiveness that could fill a textbook on bureaucratic dysfunction. Ridge was preoccupied during his tenure with organizing the new agency and launching urgent programs, like the BioWatch detectors and the posting of U. Customs inspectors overseas. His successor, Michael Chertoff, a former federal appeals judge and head of the U. Napolitano focused, she told me, on rebuilding FEMA following the Katrina disaster, border security, and the unsuccessful effort to pass a broad immigration-reform bill.
A former general counsel for the Defense Department, Johnson seems to have become a smart, tough manager. But the challenges of fusing so many long-standing independent bureaucracies remain, even 14 years after they were first thrown together. An approachable boss who has made a habit of mingling with his troops wherever he goes, Johnson seems well suited to the challenge.
At a town-hall meeting for DHS employees in New York, I watched him connect with those who asked questions, inquiring about their families and then demonstrating that he was immersed in the issues they cared about. Although the GAO recently reported that DHS has made significant progress in tightening management, Johnson still has work to do, starting with customer service.
In June, a friend tried to call Customs and Border Protection with a complaint about a Global Entry card that he should have been able to use when entering the United States after an international flight. No one ever picked up the phone. Last winter, a House subcommittee hearing about a DHS human-resources IT program produced another installment of a C- SPAN drama that has played out in dozens of episodes since the agency was put together: indignant inquisitors lacerating their witness.
But the longest-running failure of management when it comes to homeland security—a failure that is deliberate, self-centered, and easy to fix—has to do with Congress itself. When Congress voted in to consolidate 22 federal agencies into a unified DHS, each of those agencies and their dozens of subunits was overseen by different congressional committees and subcommittees. That never happened.
A Comparison of the September 11 Attack and the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Thus, four House and Senate transportation subcommittees oversee the TSA and the Coast Guard, but subcommittees of the House and Senate homeland-security committees oversee them too. In all, congressional committees or subcommittees assert some kind of jurisdiction over DHS. Those committees and subcommittees held hearings in and alone, according to a tally compiled by DHS.
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Each hearing required DHS secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, or agency heads to sit for hours, listening to the members read ponderous opening speeches and then responding to questions. It adds up to one or more senior DHS officials sitting through these hearings about three times a week.
I could find no member of Congress or congressional staffer willing to defend the current setup.
Rather, unlike any other issue when it comes to terrorism—where urgency and indignation at even the slightest failing is the order of the day on Capitol Hill—everyone I talked with seemed to accept their own bipartisan failure to act as an immovable fact of life. There are few noticeable victories—but multiple opportunities for failure, embarrassment, and ridicule.
While the FBI, he explains, does high-profile detective work, DHS mostly screens people and things at airports and borders, reviews claims for cleanup grants after disasters, and does the unsung work of advising the private sector on how to protect its infrastructure. Although DHS mostly makes the news when it fails, it also gets attention when it becomes the butt of comedy monologues about mindless bureaucracy.
Early on, the jokes had to do with color codes and duct tape.
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Both illustrate the no-win proposition of having a government agency try to deal with the changing impulses of the September 12 era. The much-ridiculed color codes—public pronouncements that the country was at a green, blue, yellow, orange, or red state of alert—came about because Ridge insisted that federal officials should share threat information with the local police agencies who would be on the front lines. But the information the locals got was leaked, spurring outcries that the public deserved to know at least something about potential threats.
The resulting color scheme, announced in , was derided as so vague as to be meaningless. But it was seen as better than the alternatives of saying nothing or telling everyone, including the bad guys, specifically what the government knew. Duct tape was about a more important, if equally ridiculed, initiative.
This was, and remains, a prudent security precaution. But Ridge and his team were almost immediately lampooned, perhaps because joking about a possible disaster relieved nerves. In June , news leaked that testers from the DHS Office of the Inspector General had been able to smuggle simulated weapons or explosives through checkpoints 67 out of 70 times at airports across the U.
Johnson was so incensed that he removed the acting TSA administrator and replaced him with Peter Neffenger, a highly regarded Coast Guard vice admiral. Neffenger said he is also determined to expand the PreCheck program. Launched in , PreCheck provides expedited TSA clearance for the 3 million people so far who have agreed to be prescreened. Neffenger is determined to improve its marketing, open more-convenient enrollment centers, and give government officials who already have a security clearance automatic enrollment.
But it will be popular only until a PreCheck member does something bad—which is bound to happen today or 10 years from today, because no security process is perfect. Making homeland-security decisions based on logical weighing of risks makes sense and avoids public frustration and ridicule—until something bad happens. As those who have flown lately know, the problem of slow airport-security lines was exacerbated this spring and summer by record air-travel volume and by the fact that three years ago, the TSA began to trim its airport staff.
Hiring and training to get back to staffing levels sufficient to cut the current wait times while maintaining security will take at least until the beginning of next year. However, once the TSA was operating, people resumed flying instead of driving. In other words, the reassurance provided by the establishment of the TSA arguably saved more than lives a month. Of course, the TSA gets no credit for those lives a month.
The parallels and differences between Pearl Harbor and 9/11
Turning that theoretical math into congratulatory high fives is a stretch. But other, more direct measures of homeland-security success are no easier to calculate. I do know that last year TSA seized in carry-on luggage 2, guns—83 percent of which were loaded. Air marshals are supposed to prevent terrorist hijackings. There have been no hijackings. Why complain about that? How do we know how many hijackers were deterred by the well-publicized air-marshal buildup?
And what about the flights that air marshals were on? This is what makes any cost-benefit analysis so challenging. Yet training thousands of men and some women for armed combat in the sky and then having them travel mostly in first class, to be near the cockpit on endless flights every day does seem to be overkill, especially when all cockpits have been fortified to prevent the kind of forced entry that precipitated the buildup of the marshal force.
Yet only in the past four years have any members of Congress even mildly urged cuts in its budget. At least in the case of the air marshals, there is a tactical argument for cutting the program: The fortifying of cockpit doors and the arming of thousands of pilots may have eliminated the threat that the marshal program was supposed to address.
But no one in Washington seems willing to rank threats in terms of the relative risk they pose. Saying that something is less of a threat than something else is a political third rail. Everything is always a priority. Just go do your thing. Any moron could make the pressure-cooker bomb those idiots used in Boston. The San Bernardino couple were idiots.
You can still have an impact. You can be a hero. ISIL is just the opposite. Carlos T. Divided into 17 squads, the office has jurisdiction not only over New York, but also over cases emanating out of Canada, western Europe, and Africa. One squad chases down any and all tips from the public and refers those that seem credible to more-specialized units. Others hunt terrorists on the internet.
You look at the patients in the emergency room and decide what needs your immediate attention or what needs some kind of longer-term initiative. We know ISIL is trying to develop chemical weapons. And you have to worry about that, too. Balancing those threats is a challenge today. Comey was a chief federal prosecutor in New York and then the deputy attorney general under George W.
Bush until he left for the private sector in All in all, I think we really are a well-oiled anti-terror machine.
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However, Comey acknowledged that even in the brief time since he took over the bureau in , the rise of lone wolves has changed the nature of the intelligence his agents have to try to collect. The bureau has tools to sift through social media to try to connect the dots—but the volume of the traffic and possible connections between all those dots make this a hit-or-miss proposition where only hindsight provides clarity.
Essay about September 11 and Pearl Harbor
No amount of resources, let alone compromises in constitutional rights, would make it possible for the bureau to detain or even surveil all these people. We have to keep trying. The FBI had interrogated Mateen twice in the past, but never had cause to arrest him, or to keep him under constant surveillance. In the aftermath of attacks like those in Orlando and San Bernardino, some critics charge that Comey and his people were not aggressive enough in monitoring or arresting the perpetrators of those attacks before they occurred.
Others argue that the FBI has overstepped constitutional boundaries in its drive to find out what people might be planning, often by entrapping suspected terrorists into actually creating attack plans they might otherwise never have thought of. Bergen cites several cases in which defendants have argued that while they might have expressed hostile thoughts to someone who ended up informing on them, the FBI stepped in and, through informants or undercover agents, created an attack plan for them, encouraged them to try to carry it out—and then arrested them when they proceeded with the attempted attack.
And someone tells us about it. What should we do?
The Attack On Pearl Harbor
Or was he drunk? In fact, an informant was assigned to sound out Mateen two years before the Orlando attack, after co-workers reported that he had allegedly made inflammatory comments about terrorists. But Mateen did not seem to be a threat. The FBI has charged approximately 90 individuals with plotting a terrorist attack since So far, no entrapment defense has been successful. George Selim, the director of the Office for Community Partnerships, works with a staff of about 30—as well as with Jeh Johnson personally—to encourage leaders in Muslim communities to look for signs of trouble more subtle and further upstream than abandoned luggage, such as teenagers in schools or at mosques who appear disaffected.