Sunday, March 12, 2006



A great many people still do not understand why turning down the DP World deal was a bad step for the United States. The issue actually has several levels of significance, and most people never saw beyond one or two of them. I won’t go into a prolonged discussion about why DP World did not threaten National Security, or why the policies of the U.A.E. post-9/11 are so much more important than their pre-9/11 policies. For this article, I will simply present a real-world example of the limits of paranoid security concerns: The Stasi.

East Germany was not a fun place. The Communists suspected pretty much everybody of everything, and they set up a security network on that basic principle. Employers and employees spying on each other, any unusual conduct in public was investigated, and even children were taught to report to the authorities on what their parents did and said. And on top of that was the Stasi, a secret police agency with broad powers and no accountability. Sounds like the dream set-up for catching conspirators, hmm? Yet the CIA ran operations in and through East Germany all the time, and arranged for many defectors to escape to the West through East Germany. The problem was this; even with all the resources and laws made to support the security forces, the Stasi found itself unable to address all the information provided to it. Imagine for instance a room with an array of monitors, say a hundred monitors, each of which rotates its attention between a dozen cameras. That gives you a theoretical eye on 120 locations at once. However, it’s human nature to focus on one thing at a time, and to ignore anything which appears routine. The 9/11 hijackers, for example, spent time in the United States in order to not only familiarize themselves with their targets and operational preparation, but also to learn how to act unobstrusively, to blend in as it were. Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer, was also carefully ordinary in his appearance and behavior, as were other cold-blooded monsters like Ted Bundy. So even with programs designed to pick out certain behavior and anomalies, security services can find out only a certain amount of what is planned against them, and see only what they know to watch for. The lesson is that planning and focus matter in security matters.

No one is claiming that we do not need to do a much better job in securiing our borders and ports. But as I have noted before, the United States has many ways to enter, and most smugglers and illegal entry is not through major ports. A revisit of CFIUS is necessary, but that problem in no way meant that DP World represented a threat, and if you want proof that Congress was hamming it up instead of seriously addressing the issue, ask yourself why no one in Congress submitted a bill to get Communist China out of the ports it already controls in the United States. The need to address security issues is vital, but the proper allocation of time, attention, and resources to threat potential must take into consideration a balance of responsibilities and proportionate authority. That is, at some point a person must be willing to let the proper authorities do their job, and Congress should not micro-manage the DHS, various Port Authorities, or on-the-scene officials. Even though this is an election year, Americans should understand that we are made safer by the regular guys doing the job, not some suit making a speech and blowing holes into strategic alliances just so he can feel he has "done his part" in playing watchdog. The difference right now between a true watchdog for National Security and Congress, is the same as between a trained German Shepherd which neither barks nor attacks without cause, and a self-deluded Chihuahua which feels the need to frantically defend the home against dust bunnies.

FDR screwed the pooch in some major ways, but at least he had it right in March 1933, when he said “All we have to fear, is Fear itself”. When thinking about National Security for the United States in the Twenty-First Century, it would behoove us well to avoid putting every scare and rumor on the same shelf as a true threat to our security, and to give just a little credit to the leaders in the White House and Pentagon who have considered this matter for a while and in some detail. Panic cloaked as Protection is just plain stupid.

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