Friday, July 14, 2006

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Tasty terror targets

The other day, the New York Times told us about some key sites that are listed as terror targets in the National Asset Database. According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, the list includes sites such as these:

  • Old MacDonald?s Petting Zoo (Woodville, AL)
  • the Apple and Pork Festival (Clinton, IL)
  • the Amish Country Popcorn factory (Berne, IN)
  • the Mule Day Parade (Columbia, TN)
  • the Sweetwater Flea Market (50 miles from Knoxville, TN)

The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.
Lower-level department officials, according to the audit, agreed that some information in the database "was of low quality and that they had little faith in it."

I should say. And so we get into more security theatre, wherein we're as worried, or moreso, about terrorist attacks on events and sites such as these as we are about attacks on sites of significant symbolic value. Of course, Senator Charles "I'm On the News at Every Opportunity" Schumer has something to say about it: "This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system." Well... yeah. It turns out that the list was compiled using input from the states, and, not surprisingly, some states listed a lot of things that the country as a whole ought to consider minor.

What we ought to really be concerned about (though I can't say that I have any idea what we can do about it) is the idea that someone who truly wanted to terrorize us would just start bombing buses and cafes. What's more frightening: knowing that someone might take out a county fair or a large office building... or knowing that you can't get on a bus or score a cappuccino without wondering whether you'll be blown up?

3 comments:

Ray Mansell said...

Each year I have occasion to visit Cortland, a small town in central NY. This year I happened to visit on the day they had their big annual farm parade, and noticed what seemed to me to be an inordinately large number of police. When I eventually found a restaurant that was open (the farm parade is taken very seriously), I asked about all the police, and was told, quite seriously, that they were necessary because this was just the sort of event that terrorists were looking for.

I was quite taken aback, but when I questioned him, the waiter was utterly convinced that Osama Bin Laden knew all about Cortland's farm parade. Sigh...

The Ridger said...

Hey, I've been to the Sweetwater Flea Market ... That's one sweet flea market (no pun intended but it's hard, you know?)

Anyway, I think the list is probably a fair assessment of things it would hurt us to lose, one way or another. That's not to say that those things are all "targets" in any equal sense - not the same damage potential, not the same sense of loss, not the same likelihood of being attacked. Those clowns in Florida wanted the Sears Tower, not the Apple and Pork Festival.

What's key here is, how the sites are ranked and how the money and assets are assigned for their protection. I have no problem with admitting that Mule Days is a big deal around Columbia and environs - even folks from far away show up - but that doesn't mean it needs the same level of protection as The Capitol Fourth.

Your symbols aren't mine, maybe, or vice versa, but they're all important. (Some are more important than others, that's all.)

But when you get right down to it, nothing much can be done to stop a lunatic or a very determined fanatic with a bomb or a couple of automatic weapons from wreaking havoc. Look at what our homegrown boys have accomplished, from the Unabomber through Timothy MacVeigh to the Washington snipers ... And honestly? Living in the DC area, those snipers had people more terrified than 9/11 did.

But that's the price of liberty. As the wolf told the dog, better to starve in freedom than feast in slavery. I'm not sure what we can do about it that isn't worse than it itself.

Barry Leiba said...

The Ridger has the salient point of all this exactly: "I'm not sure what we can do about it that isn't worse than it itself." Quite so. We could live in a police state ? and I think we would, if some of the wignuts running the country weren't checked by some of the balances ? but most of us wouldn't like that at all.

"And honestly? Living in the DC area, those snipers had people more terrified than 9/11 did."
And that was my main point at the end, yes: it's far more frightening to think about being caught in a day-to-day situation (say, being shot while pumping gas) than to mull about a disaster that's not likely, and that you probably won't be near anyway.