Poor management undermines DHS terror research

The Department of Homeland Security agency responsible for research and development of new technology to detect and prevent terrorist activity is on the chopping block due to poor leadership, poor money management and poor results, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

This just might be a good thing.

The Science and Technology Directorate of DHS has had trouble retaining people, has been reorganized several times, and has had its budget cut since its inception in 2003. Its former head resigned earlier this year and was just replaced.

The problems plaguing the agency are getting increased attention after August 10 news of the United Kingdom having interrupted a terrorist plot to blow up airliners using liquid explosives.

Few experts believe that accelerated research alone would have been certain to stop a bomb plot involving liquid or gel explosives. Screening for such weapons poses both operational and technological challenges, experts said. But more research on approaches to countering emerging threats from conventional explosives improves the odds of detecting each attack, experts agree, and the years lost when work on new technology is not occurring cannot be recaptured, they said.

“There was a period that actually very little was getting done . . . even though this was something that everyone thought would be heavily funded,” said Fred Roder, manager of the explosives countermeasures portfolio at Homeland Security from 2003 to 2006. Lost in the scramble was research to secure aviation cargo and to prevent car and truck bombs, he said. — Washington Post

The agency, it turns out, was hobbled by the Bush administration’s poor vision. Focused too heavily on threats of weapons of mass destruction, it all but ignored smaller, much more likely threats.

The free market, however, did not.

I regularly receive press releases from various companies offering some new homeland security related technology, hoping to cash in on the security craze. One New York company announced Friday that it had dogs specially trained to sniff out liquid explosives such as those which the government had said were to be used in the foiled terror plot.

And one New Zealand company announced that it already had technology capable of detecting liquid explosive traces on carry-on baggage that was so fast and easy to use it wouldn’t even slow down the lines at the security checkpoints. It was just waiting for somebody to place an order.

It’s time for us to realize — again — that homeland security is not a function of the government, but of We the People, who should be ashamed of ourselves for abdicating our responsibility to keep ourselves secure.

One thought on “Poor management undermines DHS terror research

  • August 31, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    Brian, do you really think that will happen with a Republican majority in Congress standing behind Bush, and very reluctant to engage in any meaningful oversight?

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