A day after we hear about the disposition matrix, the drone wars and the militarization of the CIA, along comes Scott Shane to pose a question to all the same people who say we can’t afford to leave a legacy of debt to our children and grandchildren: uh, how do you plan to pay for all that?
The drumbeat of terrorism news never quite stops. And as a result, for 11 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the security colossus constructed to protect the nation from Al Qaeda and its ilk has continued to grow, propelled by public anxiety, stunning advances in surveillance technology and lavish spending — about $690 billion over a decade, by one estimate, not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now that may be changing. The looming federal budget crunch, a sense that major attacks on the United States are unlikely and new bipartisan criticism of the sprawling counterterrorism bureaucracy may mean that the open checkbook era is nearing an end.
I highly doubt that. The homeland security budget resembles the defense budget – a magic ledger that can grow and grow without ever costing any money. Most of the intelligence budget, which is increasingly how we run our wars, remains classified, away from public view. There aren’t any politicians cited in this article for a reason. They have spent lavishly on any program onto which you could hook the phrase “homeland security,” and whatever failures came out of that were easily swept aside. If the report on stateside anti-terrorism fusion centers can’t get them shut down, there’s no hope for anything in the domestic security space.
It’s been 11 years since 9/11. Since then, if you happened to be one of the rare few to die in a homicide, you had around a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying at the hands of a terrorist attack (Malik Hassan and the Fort Hood shootings that killed 14 is the only incident). This massive architecture to prevent this unlikely occurrence needs to be scaled back. But with 4.8 million Americans with security clearance and so much damn money to be made off fear, I wouldn’t look for it anytime soon.