Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

USA Today Goes 0-5 on REAL ID

This morning the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Public Liaison was good enough to email me a copy of USA Today’s editorial supporting the REAL ID Act.  Curiously absent from the email was a copy of, or even a link to, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero’s opposing view.

It has been called unwise to argue with someone who buys ink by the ton, but USA Today’s praiseworthy adoption of “Web 2.0” interactivity on its Web site shows how ink is shrinking in relevance.  So let’s go ahead and see how the paper did in its point-by-point assessment of REAL ID.  Below, USA Today’s points are in bold.  My commentary in roman text:

Taking the arguments of Real ID opponents one at a time:

•It won’t make the nation safer. True, there’s no guarantee that the law would have stopped the 9/11 hijackers and that determined terrorists won’t find a way around the new requirements. Averting terror attacks, however, requires layers of security. Credible IDs are an important layer.

To be more clear, the law would not have stopped the 9/11 hijackers.  All of the 9/11 attackers could have gotten driver’s licenses legally had the REAL ID Act been the law on September 11, 2001.  Identification really doesn’t provide any security against committed threats.

“Layered security” is a legitimate way of thinking about things.  One shouldn’t rely on a single security system, because that creates a single point of failure.  However, security layering doesn’t end the inquiry.  Each layer must provide security that is cost-justified.  If creating a national ID doesn’t create a substantial protection - and it doesn’t - the national ID layer does more harm than good.  Speaking of cost …

•It costs too much. Motorists will have to spend an estimated $20 more, a relatively small sum for a standardized, tamper-proof license. For states, the costs are estimated at up to $14.6 billion over five years, offset by as much as $100 million in federal grants this year alone, on top of $40 million in federal aid already provided. Governors can make a case for more help, but cost-sharing arguments shouldn’t stop the program from going forward.

DHS’s own cost estimate is that REAL ID costs over $17 billion dollars.  That’s about $50 per man, woman, and child in the United States.  State government officials are probably not enthused to know that DHS is making available less than 1 percent of the costs to implement REAL ID.

•It violates privacy. The creation of large databases always is reason to be wary. But the new regulations don’t create a national ID card or giant Big Brother-like federal database. States will still issue the licenses and retain information used to verify identity. Making an existing database more credible threatens privacy far less than many private sector data collections do.

To most people, a nationally standardized, government-issued card that is effectively mandatory to carry is a national ID card.

No database, huh?  Here’s section 202(d) of the Act:

To meet the requirements of this section, a State shall adopt the following practices in the issuance of drivers’ licenses and identification cards: …

(12) Provide electronic access to all other States to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the State. 

(13) Maintain a State motor vehicle database that contains, at a minimum–

(A) all data fields printed on drivers’ licenses and identification cards issued by the State; and

(B) motor vehicle drivers’ histories, including motor vehicle violations, suspensions, and points on licenses.

As to private sector data collections, these, at least, people can prevent.  But if the private sector is wrong to do this, two wrongs don’t make a right.

It forces illegal immigrants to drive without licenses or insurance. Illegal immigrants won’t be able to get Real ID licenses, but states will be allowed to issue permits allowing them to drive and obtain insurance. In any event, the nation’s immigration problems require a comprehensive solution in Washington; they can’t be solved at state motor vehicle departments.

When the state of New Mexico de-linked driver licensing and immigration status, uninsured vehicle rates in the state dropped from 33 percent to 17 percent.  Unlicensed driving, hit-and-run accidents, and insurance rates probably followed a similar course.  It’s true that states will be allowed to issue non-federally-compliant IDs, including to illegal immigrants.  Knowing that such cards are “for illegals,” illegals are unlikely to get them.  Thanks to REAL ID, these drivers will kill innocent law-abiding Americans on the highways.

It’s too hasty. This is just absurd. DHS gave states until the end of 2009 to have programs in place to replace all licenses by 2013 — a sluggish 12 years after the 9/11 attacks.

Each day that driver’s licenses lack credibility is a day of needless vulnerability. As DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told Congress last month, “If we don’t get it done now, someone’s going to be sitting around in three or four years explaining to the next 9/11 Commission why we didn’t do it.”

Few have made the argument that REAL ID is “too hasty.”  The Department of Homeland Security’s regulations didn’t make the law workable and neither can a delay.  The real problem is the law itself, and it needs to be repealed.

Careful observers noted the contrast between Secretary Chertoff’s urgency when speaking to Congress about REAL ID and his Department’s willingness to kick implementation down the road another year and a half, to December 2009.  Cards wouldn’t even be in everyone’s hands until 2013.  This puts the lie to the idea that a national ID is a security tool at all.

USA Today’s editorial page has been rather good on privacy issues in the past, and willing to call out government hypocrisy.  They took a winger on this one and got it wrong.

Webb on US Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Trolling through a news story about Sen. Jim Webb’s effort to preemptively deny the administration funds for attacking Iran unprovoked, this statement seems like one of the smartest things a congresscritter has said about foreign policy in a long time:

It is important that we clarify, formally, the perimeter of our immediate military interests in the Middle East.

Who would object to that?

Further Evidence of Federal Silliness

As an irony junkie, I enjoy watching federal officials argue that they should be able to run the country’s educational system at the same time they flunk the basics.  For example, the Clinton Administration once posted this map on the White House website:

 

There are a number of interesting things about this map.

  • Apparently, Owensboro, Kentucky, isn’t in Kentucky anymore.  In fact, it looks like Kentucky isn’t in Kentucky anymore.  It has moved to Tennessee. 
  • Illinois has annexed the entire western portion of Kentucky, completely cutting off everything south and west of Union county, and with it Kentucky’s access to the Mississippi River.
  • It seems that Kentuckians were so infuriated by the loss of western Kentucky — and their state’s very name — that they invaded their neighbors to the east, capturing the city of Roanoke, Virginia.
  • Both Minnesota and Iowa have led incursions into South Dakota, conquering and dividing up that state’s southeastern corner.  South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls, has fallen into the hands of wild-eyed Minnesotans.  Everything south of Sioux Falls is living under brutal Iowan occupation. 

So the other day, while in a lobby shared by CNN and the U.S. Department of Education (ED), a poster on the ED side bearing the following logo caught my eye:

U.S. Department of Education and Federal Student Aid logo (Start here. Go further.)

The proper usage of further and farther is the subject of some dispute.  Authorities have traditionally instructed that farther is used when discussing distance (Maine is farther from DC than New York) while further expresses a difference of degree (he further refined his craft).  Some argue that the distinction has been effectively erased by usage.  But I figured that since the ED’s new slogan was based on the common expression “you’ll go far,” there was a good chance that I had struck gold.

Yet the fun had really just begun.  When I pulled out my mobile phone to snap a photo, a very large man jumped up from behind the security desk and interposed himself between me and my prize.  He told me to put the camera away.  Irony or no irony.  Why?  Federal building.  Therefore, no taking pictures.   Of a poster.  In the lobby.  Of a building that doesn’t house, and isn’t near, anything even mildly important.  (Okay, that’s not fair.  If anything happened to those offices, who would all those former college attendees blow off?)

By the time I was done at CNN, an even larger man (the first man’s supervisor) wanted to have a word with me.  I wonder if their demeanors would have been different had the CNN reporter and cameraman not happened to follow me downstairs.

When Common Sense Just Isn’t Enough

The National Association of Manufacturers has been in Washington long enough to know that sometimes, if you make that last appeal, that last argument, compliment the right person, then things might just go your way. 

In an unusual (to me, at least) letter expressing opposition to an utterly inane amendment sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer that would required ALL inbound cargo at U.S. ports to be screened (an impossibility without bringing international trade to a halt), NAM’s Jay Timmons urges the Senate to oppose the amendment. In the letter, Timmons describes the impracticability of the idea and describes how such measures would actually make the ports less secure.

But, to be sure, to cover his bases, and to appeal to that special sense of honor and duty reserved only for politicians, Timmons concludes with this gem:

The NAM’s Key Vote Advisory Committee has indicated that votes on the Schumer amendment will be considered for designation as Key Manufacturing Votes in the NAM voting record for the 110th Congress.  Eligibility for the NAM Award for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence will be based on a member’s record on Key Manufacturing Votes.

That could be the clincher!

Cost Overruns, Again

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the cost of new combat ships from Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics will likely be at least $350 million each, instead of the originally budgeted $220 million.

That 59 percent cost increase is routine for big federal procurements. The table below summarizes official government estimates of costs for various defense, energy, and transportation projects.

No doubt, what goes on with these projects is a “nudge nudge, wink wink” between federal officials and major contractors. The game involves key players on both sides low-balling initial costs in order to get project approval, and then having an informal agreement to let costs float up over time.

In this case, one cause of the combat ship cost increase, noted the Post, was that ”the Navy said its original cost estimate did not factor in some management costs.” How convenient!

A Sampling of Federal Cost Overruns
(Defense items in constant dollars; other figures in current dollars)
Project Estimated Cost and Date of Estimate
Original Latest or Actual
Transportation    
Boston “Big Dig” $2.6b (1985) $14.6b (2005)
Virginia Springfield interchange $241m (1994) $676m (2003)
Kennedy Center parking lot $28m (1998) $88m (2003)
Air traffic control modernization $8.9b (1998-2004) $14.6b (2005)
Denver International Airport $1.7b (1989) $4.8b (1995)
Seattle light rail system $1.7b (1996) $2.6b (2000)
     
Energy  
Yucca mountain radioactive waste $6.3b (1992) $8.4b (2001)
Hanford nuclear fuels site $715m (1995) $1.6b (2001)
Idaho Falls nuclear fuels site $124m (1998) $273m (2001)
National ignition laser facility $2.1b (1995) $3.3b (2001)
Weldon Springs remedial action $358m (1989) $905m (2001)
     
Defense (per unit in 2003 dollars)  
Global Hawk surveillance plane $86m (2001) $123m (2004)
F/A-22 Raptor fighter $117m (1992) $254m (2002)
V-22 Osprey aircraft $36m (1987) $93m (2001)
RAH-66 Comanche helicopter $33m (2000) $53m (2002)
CH-47F cargo helicopter $9m (1998) $18m (2002)
SBIRS satellite system $825m (1998) $1.6b (2002)
Patriot advanced missile $5m (1995) $10m (2002)
EX-171 guided munition $45,000 (1997) $150,000 (2002)
     
Other  
Capitol Hill visitor center $374m (2002) $559m (2004)
Kennedy Center opera house $18.3m (1995) $22.2m (2003)
Kennedy Center concert hall $15.1m (1995) $21.3m (1997)
Washington D.C. baseball stadium $435m (2004) $611m (2007)
International space station $17b (1995) $30b (2002)
FBI Trilogy computer system $477m (2000) $600m (2004)
Pentagon secret spy satellite $5b (n/a) $9.5b (2004)
Pentagon laser anti-missile system $1b (1996) $2b (2004)
Sources: Compilation by Chris Edwards based on GAO reports and Washington Post stories. Figures in $millions (m) or $billions (b).

You Go to War with the State Department You Have

There’s been a good bit of commentary over the last few weeks about the role of the State Department in post-“Mission Accomplished” Iraq.

First, WaPo reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran pulled the curtain back from America’s “provincial reconstruction teams” in Iraq, noting that in one instance

The USDA had trouble finding six people who wanted to work in Iraq among its more than 100,000 employees. Although a USDA official said the department encouraged its workers to apply, officials at State believe USDA did not move with alacrity because the two agencies had not agreed on a mechanism to reimburse the USDA for the services it would provide in Iraq. Eventually, USDA and State agreed that USDA would provide just two of the six. The other four would be private contractors hired by State.

The first USDA specialist, Randy Frescoln, a rural credit specialist from Iowa, landed in Iraq in December and was sent to the reconstruction team in Tikrit. Although he was supposed to stay in Iraq for a year, he said he plans to leave next month because he received a promotion while he was away. The second specialist has not yet arrived.

Even if USDA and State were to get an agriculture expert to Diyala now, [a State Department administrator] believes, it is too late. Security conditions have deteriorated so significantly in the province that reconstruction personnel are lucky to make one or two trips a week off the military base where they live and work.

Secretary of State Rice was left only to lament that the State Department simply doesn’t employ the types of people who the administration wants to rebuild Iraq: “These are people like agronomists, veterinarians, city planners and others. No diplomatic service in the world has these specialties.” That’s true enough. As a result, it’s been left to DOD to staff open State Department spots in Iraq. (No word on whether DOD employs veterinarians and city planners.)

We’ve seen the announcement that State intends to double the number of “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” in Iraq, from the total staffing today of 10 30-person teams to 20 teams. Also, Sen. Richard Lugar has resurrected the idea of the “Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization” in the State Department, which some of its strongest advocates liken to a “colonial office.”

And now we have former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger discussing the super-ultra-mega embassy in Baghdad in today’s Post:

“I defy anyone to tell me how you can use that many people. It is nuts … it’s insane and it’s counterproductive … and it won’t work. I’ve been around the State Department long enough to know you can’t run an outfit like that.”

Then, a “senior State Department official” chimes in with a broader complaint:

“Maintaining an oversized mega-embassy in Baghdad is draining personnel and resources away from every other U.S. embassy around the world, and all for what?”

To try to salvage the Bush doctrine, that’s for what. 

But really, there’s an even broader question here: Do we want a national security bureaucracy that’s capable of taking on the types of tasks that we’re trying to do in Iraq? If so, we probably need a complete overhaul of the entire bureaucracy itself. That doesn’t mean just the State Department, or just DOD — it means everything.

There’s going to be inevitable bleedover between on-the-ground reconstructors, political advisers, police, military, intelligence operatives, and on and on. These people, by and large, are not currently employed by agencies that can force them to deploy into the middle of a conflict. You’d have to develop an agency that has these people on staff and could force them to deploy in order to come even close to the capacity that you’d need to have a good shot at success in these types of endeavors.

Simply put, our current bureaucracy is not designed — at all — with these sorts of operations in mind. If we came to the consensus that we need to do a lot more Iraq-style missions in the future, it’s time to completely reformulate not just our strategy, but the structure of the agencies that are devoted to executing the strategy.

Realistically, putting this into practice would probably mean at least tripling, if not quadrupling, the State Department’s budget, and maybe doubling the DOD budget, putting the combined budget well over a trillion dollars a year — about 10 percent of GDP. And that’s without anything near a guarantee of success. Sounds like a colossal waste to me.

For more on these themes, see Chris Preble and my paper on “failed states,” or the shorter essay (.pdf) we extracted for the American Foreign Service Association’s Foreign Service Journal.