Daily Archives: December 30, 2006

President Bush Explains It All for You

How Safe Is Our Coast? Not Very

A Coast Guard plan to combat terrorism by creating the maritime equivalent of an air traffic control system in the coastal waters here, a test for a nationwide effort, has fallen far short of expectations.The Coast Guard installed long-range surveillance cameras, coastal radar and devices that automatically identify approaching vessels to help search out possible threats.

But the radar, it turns out, confuses waves with boats. The cameras cover just a sliver of the harbor and coasts. And only a small fraction of vessels can be identified automatically.

Officials acknowledge the limited progress that the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard have made toward creating a viable defense here in Miami or at harbors nationwide against a maritime attack, despite the billions of dollars invested since 2001.

Well, exactly what did they expect was going to happen? Anybody who’s ever used a camera could have told them that covering more than “a sliver” of the coast would take a rainforest worth of cameras; for long-range work, two forests. Radar aimed at water is notoriously touchy and hard to interpret (though it seems that the new system the CG bought is even worse than usual). Besides which:

  • The communications, boat tracking and surveillance equipment rarely lives up to its promised capacity; for the largest systems, work is far behind schedule and over budget.
  • Unlike the relatively unified command over the nation’s skies, control of the waterways and coasts is divided among at least 15 federal agencies, which sometimes act more like rivals than partners.
  • Even if the federal government can successfully gather tips on vessels that might present a threat, it will be of little help because the Coast Guard does not have enough armed vessels or planes to take action before it is too late.

Emphasis mine, of course.

Not very reassuring, ay? But they’ve made some progress, they say, even if it’s “limited”. Wanna know what they call “progress”?

Some progress has been made here and at other high-profile ports since 2001. Ships approaching the United States must provide notice 96 hours before they arrive. The Coast Guard then determines whether to board a vessel before it lands — it did that about 10,000 times in 2005.

Oh. Yes. A small boat full of terrorists, a la the Cole, is going to voluntarily call the CG 4 days beforehand to let them know when it plans to arrive to plant a bomb in the harbor.

I think there are 2 facts which need to be faced here.

  1. Homeland Security under Chertoff is basically a $$$ funnel that channels big bucks to the Republicans’ corporate sponsors (nothing new there) without bothering to check whether or not we’re getting what we’ve paid for.
  2. A great deal of what’s been done in the name of protecting us from terrorists is really being used by law enforcement for investigating criminal activity.

A year or so ago somebody (I wish I could remember who) did a study of the Patriot Act and discovered that in something like three-quarters of the cases in which it had been invoked, the targets weren’t terrorists but ordinary criminals. In other words, the police were using the Patriot Act to get information they couldn’t otherwise acquire legally, or worse, that they could acquire legally but it would take longer and would need a judge’s OK, and citing the PA was easier and quicker. Tell me that if this system of the CG’s worked, the DEA wouldn’t be the one using it 98% of the time trying to interdict drug smugglers.

If that seems OK to you, come at it from a slightly different angle: the Bush Admin and HS are using the Patriot Act and the GWOT to smuggle in under the people’s radar anti-Constitutional, authoritarian powers to spy on us. Pinochet used the same excuses in Chile when he undermined its laws in the name of – wait for it – protecting the state against criminals and Communist terrorists, and it only took the space of a couple of heartbeats before he was defining “terrorists” as anybody who dissented from his dictatorship, subsequently murdering and imprisoning his own people.

Throughout history, from Imperial Rome to Hitler and Stalin, dictators have been using the “law” in just that way – to justify the suppression of rivals and dissenters in the name of “protecting society from criminals” – whenever they thought they could get away with it. I’m not saying that’s what the Right is planning to do but why else would they want all that extrajudicial power? So far, not one terrorist has been stopped, caught, or even identified using the PA’s authoritarian police powers alone. By contrast, the Clinton Administration stopped both the Millenium and WTC plots without such powers.

I don’t think the Coast Guard is going to use its new technology (assuming they can ever get it to work) to help turn the US into a police state. I wish I could say the same about Bush and the right wing.