Tags: 911 | DHS | Government Waste | T.E. Lawrence | Sen. Tom Coburn

Scrap the Department of Homeland Security

By Monday, 05 January 2015 09:27 AM Current | Bio | Archive

T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) was many things. Shameless self-promoter may well have been one of them. If there was one thing Lawrence knew, however, it was what it took to make things happen and get results. You do not raise a native revolt and defeat the forces of the Sultan by clever use of bureaucratic memoranda or calling more meetings. Pity that we do not heed his words.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who has announced his retirement from the Senate, recently released the latest in a long string of scathing reports on the incompetence and waste that characterize so much of the federal government. Like its predecessors this report pulled no punches in describing the performance of its target, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DHS will spend $61 billion dollars of your money this year. Since its creation it has spent $544 billion. It employs 240,000 people, and is the third largest agency in the federal government. Nonetheless, it will, in Coburn’s opinion, fail to fulfill any of the core missions assigned to it by Congress when it was created following 9/11.

Per Coburn, DHS “is yielding little value for the nation’s counterterrorism efforts. Independent reviews — including audits and investigations by watchdogs—show that DHS’s intelligence and analysis programs, including its state and local fusion centers and other information sharing programs, are ineffective or providing little value.”

The scope of the failure of DHS is, in fact, difficult to overestimate: The Department’s programs to prevent chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological attacks have been ineffective and yielded virtually no results. DHS spent over a billion dollars on BioWatch detectors, which do not reliably detect actual pathogens and issue a steady stream of false alerts regarding non-existent biological attacks. A next generation of BioWatch sensors was cancelled when a review suggested that it would not be an improvement despite a price tag of an additional $5 billion.

The old detectors remain in use and still don’t work.
Another $230 million was spent on machines to detect smuggled nuclear material. They did not work. The program was scrapped.

Efforts to protect chemical plants against terrorist attack have effectively crashed and burned. Virtually no practical results have been achieved. Mired in bureaucracy and paper shuffling, DHS had as of June 2014 not even gotten around to inspecting 99 percent of the chemical facilities in the country much less begun to take action to improve their security.

DHS efforts to control immigration are essentially a complete failure. Only three out of every 100 illegal immigrants ever actually faces deportation. For all practical purposes, in other words, we might as well have an open border.

The Secret Service, which is part of DHS, has been repeatedly embarrassed by security breaches. The ability of an untrained individual acting alone to simply jump the White House fence and get inside the residence makes a mockery of any claims to competence or vigilance.

The Federal Protective Service (FPS), which has responsibility for the protection of federal buildings, is in, if possible, worse shape. It has 1300 staff employees and 13,000 contract employees, but has major problems with training and standards of performance.

A review of one group of contract personnel found that 38 percent of them had never been trained to use the metal detectors and X-ray machines they were operating. In Detroit, security personnel found an improvised explosive device outside a federal building, carried it inside, shook it, X-rayed  it and then left it sitting at the security checkpoint for 21 days before it was disposed of. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Coburn concludes his hard-hitting report with a series of detailed, concrete proposals for how DHS needs to reform itself and improve its level of performance. His are the words of a thoughtful, concerned lawmaker genuinely interested in making government perform better. I have nothing but respect for his motives. I must, however, disagree strongly with his recommendations.

The problem is not that the bureaucracy is not performing as well as it should. The problem is that the bureaucracy exists at all. DHS was created in the aftermath of 9/11. It was born of a desire on the part of the President and the Congress to do something to make the nation more secure and to prevent a terrorist attack of the type we had just experienced from ever happening again. Understandable. Well intentioned.

DHS was also born, however, of the mistaken notion that throwing money and people at a problem automatically improves a situation. It does not. In fact, it often makes the situation infinitely worse. Agility and creativity are crushed beneath process and paperwork; and meetings and more paperwork. Results no longer matter. Budgets and turf trump all else.

In World War II the British sent a small number of Special Operations Executive operators into Albania to work with the partisans and organize resistance to the German and Italian occupation of that nation. The size of the team was not based on some special foresight but purely on a lack of resources.

The handful of men on the ground began to get astonishing results. London began to pay attention. More resources were dedicated to the project. A general was placed in command, and he and his staff were jumped into Albania to take charge of efforts on the ground. If a few NCO’s and junior officers could make a splash certainly a general officer could accomplish much more.

What had been a nimble group of free thinkers turned instantly into a plodding monstrosity. Operators were berated for being out of uniform. Morning formations were called. Rank was to be worn. Salutes were to be given.

Operational activity ground to a halt. The hunters became the hunted. Men died. The general was extracted to escape certain capture. Things returned to normal. Activity jumped, and results were once again achieved.

DHS does not need to be reformed. In its present form, it needs to be disbanded. That does not mean the dissolution of the constituent elements that existed prior to its formation, like the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and the like. It means the elimination of the bulk of the post 9/11 staff level bureaucratic components, which have added nothing but process to the fight and which have cost us untold billions.

What remains must be stripped down to the bare essentials and focused tightly on achieving concrete results at the least possible cost. We cannot afford anything else. We do not have the time or money to continue as we have.

DHS is fond of encouraging the use of the phrase “If you see something, say something.” I’m taking their advice. I have seen something. It’s called waste. I am saying something. End it. Now.

This column appeared first in Epic Times.

Charles S. Faddis, president of Orion Strategic Services, LLC, is a former CIA operations officer with 20 years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. He is the senior intelligence editor for AND Magazine and a contributor to a wide variety of counterterrorism and homeland security journals. His nonfiction works include "Operation Hotel California," a history of the actions of his team inside Iraq from 2002 to 2003, "Willful Neglect," an examination of homeland security, and "Beyond Repair," an argument for intelligence reform. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.


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DHS does not need to be reformed. In its present form, it needs to be disbanded. That does not mean the dissolution of the constituent elements that existed prior to its formation, like the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and the like.
911, DHS, Government Waste, T.E. Lawrence, Sen. Tom Coburn
Monday, 05 January 2015 09:27 AM
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