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A Times Editorial

Billions later, still not safe

Since the horrific tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on homeland security, including some $52 billion just this year to guard against terrorism and other threats to the nation.

And yet …

Apparently all that money and all that manpower could do little to prevent government investigators armed with $150 in explosive materials from smuggling bombs past clueless security officers supposedly protecting federal buildings, or unknown hackers from breaching U.S. State Department computers.

Feeling better?

Since 9/11, government officials have repeatedly warned about the possibility of a lone terrorist armed with little more than a suitcase bomb wreaking havoc upon the citizenry. Those fears cannot be easily dismissed, particularly after Government Accountability Office investigators so blithely bypassed lax security officers pretending to guard high-profile public buildings — often in less than four minutes.

Equally troubling was the Fourth of July weekend breach of government computers by … well, nobody seems to have any idea. The cyber attack could have come from North Korea, since South Korean government computers were also hacked. Or it could just as easily have been a bored 14-year-old techno-geek in South Dakota sitting home alone at his laptop armed with a couple hundred dollars of readily available software. We may never know for sure.

These two events underscore the soft underbelly of the nation's security framework. While various intelligence and law enforcement agencies have claimed success in preventing highly organized, multilayered conspiracies against the nation, the ability of a single individual or small group of plotters to pose a risk remains a serious threat.

Much more needs to be done to address the potential dangers still posed nearly eight years after 9/11. In many ways, the $150 in explosives and disruptive power of a few pieces of software suggest we are not that far removed from the devastating effects caused by a few box cutters.

Billions later, still not safe 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 6:55pm]
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