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William Rivers Pitt: You Are Not Safe

You Are Not Safe

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 13 July 2006

So let me get this straight.

According to the National Asset Database, a list of key locations requiring anti-terrorism protection and funding compiled by the Department of Homeland Security, the District of Columbia has 416 potential terror targets. One assumes this list of DC targets includes the myriad houses of government, defense, intelligence, as well as historical landmarks to be found in the city that is essentially the nerve center for our national security.

Some of the other terror targets indicated by this database, according to a New York Times report, include places and events all across the country such as the Mule Day Parade, Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo, the Sweetwater Flea Market, the Apple and Pork Festival, and the Amish Country Popcorn factory. Multiple listings give no clear indication of the so-called asset, and describe them in the simplest of terms: "Nix's Check Cashing," "Mall at Sears," "Ice Cream Parlor," "Tackle Shop," "Donut Shop," "Anti-Cruelty Society" and "Bean Fest."

"New York, for example, lists only 2 percent of the nation's banking and finance sector assets," continued the New York Times report, "which ranks it between North Dakota and Missouri. Washington State lists nearly twice as many national monuments and icons as the District of Columbia. Montana, one of the least populous states in the nation, turned up with far more assets than big-population states including Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Jersey."

The District of Columbia, according to the database, has exactly 47 more terror targets than the state of Wyoming. DC has 331 fewer terror targets than the state of Idaho. DC has 3,041 fewer terror targets than the state of Nebraska. DC has 8,175 fewer terror targets than the state of Indiana.

The best part is the funding cuts. Last May, a program was announced that cut anti-terror funding for DC and New York by 40%, amounting to millions of dollars lost by the two places that had buildings blown up a few years ago. Simultaneously, and thanks to the delineations of threats outlined by the database, anti-terror funding for Kentucky and Nebraska was significantly increased.

One would think, looking at the priorities outlined by the National Asset Database, that the most populated cities, the most critical infrastructure, the most important financial and national security institutions, don't have a lot to worry about from terrorism. One would also think the country is made of money, and can dedicate gobs of cash to defend cornfields and potato farms instead of bridges and power plants.

Representative John Murtha (D-Pa.), a decorated Marine veteran, has provided a financial breakdown of what the Iraq occupation is costing us. According to his figures, the United States is spending $8 billion a month in Iraq, which comes to $2 billion a week, $267 million a day and $11 million an hour.

Break these numbers down further and we see where our priorities truly lie: Equipping commercial airliners with defenses against shoulder-fired missiles costs the same as five weeks in Iraq. Securing public transportation and infrastructure against terrorism costs the same as three weeks in Iraq. Installing radiation detectors in all US ports costs the same as five days in Iraq. 100% screening of all air cargo costs the same as two days in Iraq. Restoring the aforementioned cuts in anti-terror funding absorbed by cities like Washington and New York costs the same as 8 1/2 hours in Iraq.

Taken all by itself and without any outside considerations, what is going on within the Department of Homeland Security and the Bush administration is nothing less than criminally outrageous. As a people, we have been subjected to a daily hammering by those who would have us believe that terrorism lurks around every corner and hides under every bed.

Yet the very same people who have turned scaring the citizenry into a political cottage industry have engineered an anti-terror program that puts petting zoos and bean festivals above critical infrastructure, while simultaneously pouring billions of dollars into the sands of Iraq to no good purpose.

There are, of course, outside considerations. Over the course of the last two weeks, the usually-troubled Middle East has become an extraordinarily dangerous cauldron of violence. Israel has hurled itself into military operations against the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Hezbollah has responded with violence of its own, launching Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

The killing appears ready to erupt into the wider region. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Thursday that Israel is accusing Hezbollah of preparing to transport two abducted IDF soldiers to Iran. "We have concrete evidence that Hezbollah plans to transfer the kidnapped soldiers to Iran," said Israeli Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry Gideon Meir. "As a result, Israel views Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran as the main players in the axis of terror and hate that endangers not only Israel, but the entire world."

Iraq is exploding into full-fledged civil war. Israel is attacking Gaza and Lebanon, and is now leveling deadly threats against both Syria and Iran. Each day that passes, the bloodshed and body count increases by orders of magnitude, and the entire Middle East teeters today on the edge of a regional conflagration.

What does this have to do with the National Asset Database and the administration's apparent set of priorities when it comes to defense against terrorism? Only everything. It was Israeli attacks against the Palestinians, and against Lebanon, that first inspired terrorists like Ramsi Yousef and Osama bin Laden to carry their war across the sea to the United States. When Palestinians suffer at the hands of Israel, those who would defend Palestinians through acts of terrorism do not merely think of attacking Tel Aviv. They think of attacking New York and Washington DC.

The escalation of violence in the Middle East, and the seeming inclusion of both Iran and Syria on Israel's attack list, places the United States in mortal peril of acts of terrorist reprisal. If the National Asset Database is any indication, we are totally unprepared for whatever may be coming.

We invaded and destabilized Iraq while giving negotiations between Israel and Palestine the back of our hand. Our Iraq invasion empowered extremists in both Iran and Palestine, further escalating tensions that have now blown up. We are bankrupting our own treasury through more than three years of violent failure in Iraq, and the money left over has been spread across the country to defend incomprehensibly unimportant locations while cutting anti-terror funding for states and cities that have already suffered attacks because they are phenomenal targets.

The Bush administration and Homeland Security do very well when it comes to frightening Americans about terrorism. When it comes to actually defending us, however, they have comprehensively failed to act with any degree of responsibility or sense. Worse, the administration's misguided dreams of empire combined with an unconscionable lack of attention have helped create and inspire what is taking place in the Middle East today. That violence could very well cross the sea to our shores, and we are not in any way ready for it.

At least the petting zoos and flea markets are safe.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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