Tag: Peter King

The NYT’s Weak Defense of Homeland Security Grants

Last week, the House passed a homeland security appropriations bill slashing funding for grants to states and localities. The New York Times has now noticed and unleashed an indignant editorial:

House Republicans talk tough on terrorism. So we can find no explanation — other than irresponsibility — for their vote to slash financing for eight antiterrorist programs. Unless the Senate repairs the damage, New York City and other high-risk localities will find it far harder to protect mass transit, ports and other potential targets.

The programs received $2.5 billion last year in separate allocations. The House has cut that back to a single block grant of $752 million, an extraordinary two-thirds reduction. The results for high-risk areas would be so damaging — with port and mass transit security financing likely cut by more than half — that the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King of New York, voted against the bill as “an invitation to an attack.”

Only a few months ago, Times editorials accused King of trying to “hype” and “stoke” fear of homegrown Muslim terrorism. It’s sort of touching to see them get behind his fearmongering when the beneficiaries are local firefighters, police, and other local interests.

But the editorial has trouble worse than hypocrisy. For starters, it’s light on facts. Its accounting seems to omit over $320 million in funds for local firefighters that a floor amendment put in the bill. It also fails to mention that the bill eliminates a formula that ensures that homeland security funds are distributed to every state. Because it means that counterterrorism spending is highest per-capita in rural areas where the threat from terrorism is lowest, homeland security watchers have long attacked that minimum funding provision. So while this bill would indeed cut homeland security funds going to New York, it would also mean that New York gets more of the remaining funds.

More importantly, the Times evidently did not try too hard to find an explanation for the cuts once they settled on irresponsibility, given that Republican appropriators readily offered one: the funds are wasteful. Rather than explain why they think the money is well spent (my definition of responsibility), the editorial conflates spending on security with security itself. It says the cuts will be “damaging,” but it cites only damage to the budgets of recipient agencies, not their purpose.

In fact, the threat of terrorism is so low in the United States and the efficacy of the funds in mitigating it so uncertain that the right amount of homeland security spending in most parts of the United States is none. That is especially true now that we are roughly a decade removed from the September 11 attacks, which spawned a massive increase in homeland security grant-making. That splurge was meant to bolster our ability to defend against what has proved a massively inflated threat of catastrophic terrorism; it was not meant to be a permanent subsidy to state and local governments.

New York City is uniquely threatened, but that does not mean that federal taxpayers should foot the bill. The federal government should collect intelligence on terrorists and hunt them down. Local and state officials should use that information to determine the right amount of local security spending. They have to ask whether normal policing funds, school spending, or slightly lower taxes are worth sacrificing for a new camera or chemical clean-up suit. Federal grants, because they are buried in a massive budget and partially deficit-funded, dilute our ability to perceive those tradeoffs. They also heighten fear of terrorism by encouraging state and local interests to overstate their peril to win the grants, as the editorial demonstrates.

It ends by instructing the Senate to “stand up for security over politics” and restore funding to past levels. But these decisions should be made politically. We give power over security policy to politicians — rather than leaving it exclusively to unelected bureaucrats — because these decisions are important. That is a product of design, not an accident. The notion that security is too important for politics is backwards.

Luckily, the attempt to divorce security policy from electoral politics is a pretense. The Times is engaging in politics by asking for funds. They aim to politically punish those that oppose their preferred policies. If the Senate restores most of the grant funds, as it likely will, it will do so for sound political reasons.

Cross-posted from The National Interest.

Terror Arrest Does Not Justify REAL ID Revival

The zeitgeist on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. may be for limited, constitutional government, but that doesn’t mean that big-government conservatives aren’t going to use the reprieve voters gave Republicans in the fall to once again advance big-government goals. On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano encouraging her to fully implement our national ID law, the REAL ID Act of 2005.

The deadline for state implementation of the national ID law lapsed nearly three years ago. Half the states in the country have affirmatively barred themselves from implementing REAL ID or they have passed resolutions objecting to the national ID law. But the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly extended the deadline and reduced the compliance bar to suggest progress on the flagging national ID effort. With another faux implementation deadline looming in May, the DHS is almost certain to issue a blanket extension of the compliance deadline again soon.

Smith, King, and Sensenbrenner don’t want that to happen. They cite the arrest of Khalid Aldawsari in Texas as a reason for “immediate implementation of REAL ID.” 

According to the government’s affidavit, Aldawsari planned to acquire a false birth certificate and multiple false drivers licenses, assumedly to assist in his getaway after executing his formative bombing plans. But if you read the affidavit, you can see just how remote and speculative his use of any false identification is compared to the real acts that go into his plans. You can also see the web of identifiers that law enforcement use to effectively track and surveil their targets, including phone numbers, license plates, physical addresses, immigration records, email addresses, and Internet Protocol addresses. Aldawsari was nowhere near slipping through the net, and having a false driver’s license would have made no difference after a North Carolina chemical supply company reported to the FBI his suspicious attempt to purchase the chemical phenol. Nor would false identification have made a difference had he succeeded in an attack of any significance.

Having a national ID is the fantastical way of addressing the fantastical part of Aldawsari’s alleged plot. Thankfully, the real plot was disrupted using real law enforcement techniques, which include the reporting of suspicious behavior and narrowly targeted, lawful surveillance.

Citizen Shahzad

Two smart guys on opposite sides of the political spectrum have sound points about the treatment of suspected Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.  First, Orin Kerr points out that investigators have some flexibility in determining when and whether to read Miranda rights.  In this case, they refrained initially and questioned Shahzad for a while under the public safety exception. And despite the apparent belief of the perpetually terrorized that Miranda warnings are some kind of magical incantation that causes the cone of silence to descend upon blabbermouths, they determined that he would probably continue cooperating even after being Mirandized. But as Kerr points out, they could have proceeded sans Miranda had that seemed necessary—provided they were willing to waive the ability to introduce Shahzad’s confession at trial. Given that there appears to be plenty of other evidence against him, that might well have been a viable option.

Either way, this surely seems like the kind of judgment call best left to the investigators on the scene, not Monday morning quarterbacks in Congress like Rep. Peter King (R-NY) who gave us this priceless reaction:

“Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still,” King said.

Putting aside that nauseating “but still,” does King really imagine that he possesses some deep insight into the pernicious effect of Miranda warnings that the agents on the ground lacked? Again, Shahzad is apparently still cooperating—maybe they knew what they were doing.

From Steve Benen, meanwhile, we have one of many posts around the blogosphere pointing out the incoherence of a cowardly proposal mooted by Joe Lieberman (I-CT) that would revoke the citizenship of Americans who join foreign terror groups.  The blindingly obvious question: By what process do we determine that a suspected member of a foreign terror group is really a member of a foreign terror group?   As Glenn Greenwald writes, there’s not much point to having a Bill of Rights if the government gets to revoke those rights at its whim. But no, Lieberman wants to assure us that suspects would have a right to challenge the revocation of their citizenship in a court—a civilian court, one hopes. Except giving material support to a foreign terror groups is, in fact, a crime.  If there’s enough evidence to persuade a court of law that someone is a member of such a group—congratulations, there’s enough evidence to convict them in the civilian system as well! It’s heartening that there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of support for this odious proposal, but depressing that a sitting senator would treat the rights of citizenship so lightly for the sake of a vapid, strutting display of “toughness.”

An “Attempted Act of Terrorism”

Along with learning the factual details, it remains to be seen whether the effort by a Nigerian traveler to ignite some type of explosive on a U.S.-bound flight was an “attempted act of terrorism”—as it has been characterized by the White House—or a successful act of terrorism. 

Though it certainly helps, terrorism doesn’t require explosions and fatalities to work its will. If public fear produced by this incident drives the U.S. toward self-injurious overreactions—abandonment of plane travel, overwrought and poorly directed security measures, and so on—then it will be a successful act of terrorism.

The behavior of the Obama administration, political leaders in Congress, and the media will determine whether this is a successful act of terrorism. One early commentator has framed this event as a “desperate bid for relevance” on the part of al Qaeda, chastising the “permanently hysterical” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) for promoting overreaction.

We will be reviewing the first year of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies at a Cato Institute policy forum on Wednesday, January 13, 2010—a follow-on to our hugely successful counterterrorism conference in January 2009, the week before President Obama’s inauguration. Along with an impressive line-up of commentators, the event will feature a keynote address by Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department.

This most recent event will surely be a focus as we review the Obama administration’s first year in counterterrorism. Register here.