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Why America Is Still An Easy Target
From TIME Magazine
18 July 2004
by Stephen Flynn

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has spent more than $500 million to make America's seaports more secure. Sound like a lot? It isn't. That's about what the U.S. spends in Iraq in four days, notes Stephen Flynn, whose new book on homeland security, America the Vulnerable, concludes that the U.S. is scandalously unprepared for the next terrorist attack. Why? Because it still doesn't see protecting the homeland as a priority. Flynn, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says our leaders harbor the delusion that the real fight against terrorism is overseas. In the meantime, the U.S. has made scant progress in protecting its own infrastructure. Having spent years visiting America's high-risk targets, Flynn offers a damning assessment and some solutions as well.

 

Sept. 11, 2001, was a wake-up call, clearly America has fallen back asleep. With the exception of airports, much of what is critical to our way of life remains unprotected: water and food supplies; refineries, energy grids and pipelines; bridges, tunnels, trains, trucks and cargo containers; as well as the cyberbackbone that underpins the information age in which we live. The security measures we have been cobbling together are hardly fit to deter amateur thieves, vandals and hackers, never mind determined terrorists. Worse still, small improvements are often oversold as giant steps forward, lowering the guard of average citizens as they carry on their daily routine with an unwarranted sense of confidence. For instance, while the flying public is busy shedding shoes and bags at X-ray check-in points, the tons of air freight being loaded into the belly of most commercial airliners continues to fly the American skies virtually uninspected.

The U.S. has no rival when it comes to projecting its military, economic and cultural power around the world. But we are practically defenseless at home. In 2002 alone, more than 400 million people, 122 million cars, 11 million trucks, 2.4 million rail freight cars, approximately 8 million maritime containers and 56,596 vessels entered the U.S. at more than 3,700 terminals and 301 ports of entry. In general, frontline agents have only a matter of seconds to make a go/no-go decision on whether to allow entry: 30 seconds for people and one minute for vehicles. And then there are the 7,000 miles of land borders and 95,000 miles of shoreline, which provide ample opportunities to walk, swim or sail into the nation. Official estimates place the number of illegal migrants living in America at 7 million. Given these immense numbers, it is a sense of futility, fueled by the lack of vision about what sensible measures are worth pursuing, that lies at the heart of our national inertia on the homeland-security issue.

Adapted from America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism, by Stephen Flynn. 2004 by Stephen Flynn. Published by HarperCollins Publishers

2004 Time, Inc.


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