Thursday, July 30, 2009


The War on Terror’s zenith of stupidity

The New York Times tells us about a sad — and silly — decision in the ever-sillier fight for homeland security:

Four years ago, when the federal General Services Administration unveiled its plans for a new border-crossing station here in northeastern New York State, the design was presented as part of the agency’s campaign to raise the dismal standards of government architecture. Even many in the famously fractious architectural community celebrated the complex — particularly its main building, emblazoned with glossy yellow, 21-foot-high letters spelling “United States” — as a rare project the government could point to with pride.
Pride, indeed! What could be better than taking an obvious entry point into the country and giving it the dual use of entry point and work of architectural art. Cool!

Of course, there’s a “but”:

Yet three weeks ago, less than a month after the station opened, workers began prying the big yellow letters off the building’s facade on orders from Customs and Border Protection. The plan is to dismantle the rest of the sign this week.

“At the end of the day, I think they were somewhat surprised at how bold and how bright it was,” said Les Shepherd, the chief architect of the General Services Administration, referring to the customs agency’s sudden turnaround.

“There were security concerns,” said Kelly Ivahnenko, a spokeswoman for the customs agency. “The sign could be a huge target and attract undue attention. Anything that would place our officers at risk we need to avoid.”

Declared unacceptable: A huge yellow sign spelling out 'United States' on the Canada-facing facade of the new border station in Massena, N.Y., is being dismantled because of security concerns.The Times correctly notes that what Customs and Border Protection are doing “is a depressing, if not wholly unpredictable, example of how the lingering trauma of 9/11 can make it difficult for government bureaucracies to make rational decisions. It reflects a tendency to focus on worst-case scenarios to the exclusion of common sense[.]”

Exclusion of common sense, indeed; that is the crux of it. This is not a secret building. It isn’t something trying to disguise itself as something else. We’re not trying to pretend that, say, some CIA office is really a dry-cleaning shop.

This is a major entry point into the United States, well known by all and used by many. Why on Earth should it not say “UNITED STATES” in large, yellow letters? How can anyone with any sense think that increases the threat? Anyone who should want to attack a border crossing knows where and what this is, regardless. And if there were any doubt, well, the Times helpfully includes a map to show us the location.

This has to be the “Ishtar” of Security Theatre — showing it at its worst, and most stupid.


Thomas J. Brown said...

I would argue that the building is now a more tempting target to any irony-conscious terrorists.

M. said...

I actually think the zenith is the size limit on liquids transported on airplanes. My brother was forced to down an entire latte. Is there some risk of blowing up a plane with coffee? What’s to prevent someone from filling 10 small bottles with something nasty? The sign is egregious, yes. But every day, millions of people throw away shampoo and the like. (They confiscated a hair product that to me, was not liquid—it was a very thick gel. But apparently 3 ounces of it is criminal.)

Barry Leiba said...

'tis true, it's a tough call. Actually, I'm inclined to agree with you, mostly because the limit on liquids affects so many people, and that they throw these dangerous, forbidden liquids in a bin right next to where everyone queues up.

On the other hand, if they sent in the bomb squad to take them all away, I'm not sure I'd feel better about it.

Thomas J. Brown said...

Not to mention that the human body is a container. The latte is still going on the plane, just in your brother's stomach instead of a paper cup.

scouter573 said...

For further security, they should sandblast the exterior of the building so that it diffuses and absorbs all incoming light (such as target-lasers). And they should remove all the American flags that mark the building as a facility of the U****d S****s. Finally, they should move the building far from any road so that the terrorists can't drive to it. Then and only then can the building be considered safe.