One of the issues that spurred our war of choice in Iraq was the false insistence by the criminal Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, specifically nuclear weapons. The premise was that he might fly a drone (nutty) or worse give one of his precious nukes to a terrorist group who would then try to smuggle it into the United States.
I am probably dating myself with this, but back when I was a kid one of the things that was almost an article of faith with my friends and I was the prospect of an nuclear war of some kind between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was not a daily worry but it was always there in the back of our heads. It led to a lot of blue sky talking about post apocalyptic survival (and the realization that Michigan had 300 primary targets and no one was likely to survive in the state if the worst happened).
Luckily the Cold War ended and the chance of world wide nuclear holocaust receded. However that dread is a part of many peoples childhood and still influences their thinking. While there is a much lower chance of a major nuclear war, there seems to be a higher chance of a single city being destroyed by a nuclear weapon.
After 9/11 this fear was stoked and we went out our way to figure out how to detect a nuclear weapon being smuggled into the country in one of the millions of shipping containers that land on our shores every day.
The Department of Homeland Security has spent 4 billion (4,000 million) on an automatic detection system. Which the GAO now says does not work and does not fit the requirements in terms of size for our ports. That’s right, after more than five years the folks at the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office found out that the machine they had designed would not work for the ports.
This is one of those areas where my process improvement background makes me pound my head on the table. Any new product or service has to fit the needs of the consumer. If it does not then it does not matter if the product is the best in the world, no one will want it. This is what happened to the DNDO they did not ask the folks at the ports what they needed, they just went off and started building what they thought would be best.
Personally I think this is a waste of time anyway. If you are a terrorist your ultimate goal might be to get a nuclear weapon to Washington or New York or Los Angels, but if you have to you could create just as devastating an attack by detonating the bomb in a major port, inside the ship before it ever gets on shore. In fact it might be more economically damaging to do so, especially in the Port of LA or Portland where tens of billions of dollars of shipping comes through every year. It would completely shut down world wide shipping as well as doing major damage to the city closest to the port.
Still that dread which many of our policy makers felt as kids is not going to let that scenario deter them. Even with the GAO slapping DHS around it is going forward with development of this program. Now it will actually collaborate with the Customs and Border Protection group (the folks who are in charge of port security and, obviously, customs) to define what is needed and how to deploy it so that it does not disrupt the flow of cargo in the nations ports.
This all leads me to the question, what is it with Republicans and thinking that we have Buck Rogers technology on the shelf just waiting to be deployed? The Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) program spent billions and now we have a missile defense system that sort of works, and are just getting going on the launch phase laser system that was always our best bet. We have seen the so-called “High Tech Border Fence” fail completely after spending a billion (1,000 million) on test phase technology.
All of these are big Republican ideas that sound great, very cutting edge, but never seem to realize any of the results. I am a technophile; you want to talk about lasers and such I am there all day and all night. The thing is that I know the limits of our current technology and don’t have a whole lot of faith that throwing money at a problem will lead to a break through. Sometimes it just leads to the spending of a lot of money.
Nuclear weapons are scary, so we will continue to spend a lot of money on something that in the end will probably not really help a lot. It will make some folks sleep better at night, but that is probably all it will ever do. As will Airline security if we really want to be safe we should be spending these billions on human intelligence. The best time to stop a terrorist is before the plan is in motion, not at the last possible moment before disaster.
The floor is yours.
Bill Egnor is a life-long Democrat from a political family as well as a Daily Editor here at The Seminal. He’s been a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and a Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org and is open to new opportunities in writing, baking and process improvement.