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Terrorism Fear button and funding: Ridiculous DHS spending

Dec 12, 20126 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

While discussing the $16 trillion national debt and the outpouring of DHS antiterrorism grants, Senator Tom Coburn alerts us to ludicrous counterterrorism spending that can be acquired by pressing the FEAR button. Yet 'North America is the least likely region to suffer from terrorism'…

Did you hear the joke about how terrorists infiltrated a pumpkin parade? How about the one where security sno-cone machines stopped a terrorist plot from being launched? Me neither, but the “joke” is on us since we helped foot the $34,700 bill for both.

While discussing the $16 trillion national debt and the outpouring of Homeland Security antiterrorism grants, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., alerts us to ludicrous spending on frivolous items that seem far-fetched when it comes to combatting terrorism or making the country any safer. It’s reminiscent of the Senate report about “useless” fusion centers which have never uncovered a single terrorist plot, despite spending money like it’s fake from a Monopoly game. You know the big red “Easy” button? Besides the cost passed on to the people, the Fear button is constantly the “Easy” button to attain DHS’s UASI grants for new surveillance technology that are decimating privacy and civil liberties.

That’s not farfetched, since according to “Tapping into Federal Funds: Your Ultimate Grant Resource” [PDF]:

Mark Pallans, system administrator for the Nevada Shared Radio System, says, “The most important thing to remember when writing a grant is this: Don’t write the grant telling them what you want. Tell them what they want to hear, and you stand a chance of getting a better score.”

So tell a compelling story. Fear has been a motivating factor in getting the government to spend its money since the inception of government as a concept. Ask “what if,” and create a scenario: What if the city’s water supply becomes contaminated with a foreign substance? What if a pipe bomb were found on a city bus?

If pushing the FEAR button is the only way cash-strapped towns can get the funds, then something is terribly stinky about the DHS UASI grant program…which has handed out about $7.144 billion over the last decade.

Senator Colburn mentioned this way to tap Homeland Security grants in his report titled “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Department of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities” [PDF]. He wrote, “The balancing act between liberty and security has been tenuous throughout the history of our nation, founded upon basic freedoms granted by our Creator and protected from government infringement within the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. But a new element has been added to this equation over the past decade that threatens to undermine both our liberty and security-excessive government spending and insurmountable debt.”

“We know that to defend the homeland, we must start by defending the hometown. We must defend our cities across America. And the mission, the purpose of the Urban Areas Security Initiative is to build a sustainable and measurable increase in the capability of these critical urban areas so we can defend them.

The American people recognize and understand the limits we face. They understand that we should never sacrifice all of our freedoms in the name of security. We similarly cannot mortgage our children and grandchildren’s future by funding unnecessary and ineffective programs, even including those that have important missions.

Sen Colburn pointed out these purchases made possible by UASI:

The Frivilous:

$11,700 was spent in Michigan to purchase 13 sno-cone machines. Detroit allegedly now wants some of those counter-terror sno-cone machines too. There was a $45 million failed video surveillance network, “Project Shield,” in Cook County Illinois. “Both were defended or promoted by DHS.”

Keene, New Hampshire, a tiny town of 23,000, spent $285,933, provided via DHS, for a 16,000-pound armored BearCat vehicle that was allegedly “needed to patrol events like its annual pumpkin festival.” Columbus, Ohio, spent $98,000 from a UASI grant to purchase an “underwater robot” for underwater rescues. While Bing maps show some water, it’s not like the city is on the ocean’s edge.

Kinder and Gentler Damaging of Ears

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was awarded $88,000 for a “kinder and gentler way to get people to leave.” In 2009, the city used those grant funds for several “Long-Range Acoustic Device” (LRADs) that are mounted on trucks and emit “a loud and intense sound that is capable of damaging hearing.”

Terrorists as sports or cultural connoisseurs?

Peoria, Arizona, spent $90,000 on surveillance cameras at the Peoria Sports Complex; Oxnard-Thousand Oaks gobbled $75,000 in UASI funds “to also purchase surveillance equipment, alarms and closed-circuit television, which it installed in its Civic Arts Plaza, a local theater and cultural center.”

High IQ and believe in prayer? You might be a domestic terrorist!

God help you if you pray, also have a decent IQ, and live near Jacksonville, Florida. More UASI money helped create websites and post “videos on how citizens can spot signs of terror in their own neighborhoods.” Red flags in that area include “people with ‘average or above average intelligence’ or who displayed ‘increased frequency of prayer or religious behavior’.” All of this is to combat terrorism and crime.

Yet “North America is the least likely region to suffer from terrorism,” according to the Global Terrorism Index [PDF] released by the Institute for Economics and Peace. So try not to get whiplash when you read that “terrorism is local,” according to DHS Program Manager for Social and Behavioral Science, Richard Legault, who is the only research criminologist on Homeland Security’s staff. Legault told The Crime Report, “Situational prevention will just make it harder for them to do bad things in particular areas. You start to see that, just like crime, and just like criminals, at least in the U.S., terrorism is local. Most terrorist acts and the preparation for them in the U.S. happen in a 30-mile radius.” Is that why so many of the surveillance technologies are worded to both supposedly combat potential terrorism and crime?

It’s an amazing head game waged against Americans and made easy by pushing the fear button to attain surveillance via DHS funding.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.