“Homeland Security” The Trillion-Dollar Concept That No One Can Define
Once upon a time, “homeland” was a word of little significance in the American context. What American before 9/11 would have called the United States his or her “homeland” rather than “country”? Who sang “My homeland, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty”? Between my birth in 1944, as World War II was drawing to a close, and September 11, 2001, I doubt I ever heard the word in reference to the U.S.
There was a reason: “homeland” had a certain ring to it and anyone would have known at once just what that ring, that resonance, was. Not to put too fine a point on it, we’re talking about the ring of evil. It sounded like the sort of word the Nazis or maybe Stalin would have used as the terrible totalitarians of the previous century mobilized their people for horrific wars and heinous crimes.
It’s true that, in the run-up to September 11th, somewhere in the corridors of Washington, there were right-wingers already pushing to homeland-ize this country. The word, along with the idea of creating a future Office of Homeland Security, was then gestating like the monster baby in the movie Alien, awaiting its moment to burst forth.
Today, there’s nothing alien about that most un-American of terms. It has slipped so smoothly into our lives that “Homeland” is the name of a popular TV show, and college students looking for a good livelihood can now get a BA or an MA coast to coast in… yep, homeland security. (“You can build a career helping to protect our nation by earning your Bachelor of Science Degree in Homeland and Corporate Security at St. John’s University.”) And if you happen to be into securing the homeland, you can even join the “corporate and homeland security club” on campus. After college, given the money pouring into the “field,” the sky’s the limit.
Perhaps Booz Allen will hire you to consult for firms on — you guessed it — homeland security. (“Booz Allen is able to serve the Department of Homeland Security and our other clients because we make their mission our mission. We therefore understand what is needed to react quickly to rapidly changing events.”) Or perhaps you’ll be taken on by the Homeland Security Research Corporation in Washington to provide “premium market, technology, and industry expertise that enables our global clients to gain critical insight into the business opportunities that exist within the Homeland Security & Homeland Defense market. Government clients include the US, UK, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Canada, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and Singapore. US Congress, DHS, US Army, US Navy, DOD, DOT, GAO, NATO, and the EU are among others. HSRC serves over 600 private sector clients, including all major defense contractors and many Fortune 500 companies.”
Or what about the Chertoff Group, headed by Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, or the Ashcroft Group, headed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, or for that matter Good Harbor Security Management, led by former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke.
And that only scratches the surface. By 2006, only three years after the Department of Homeland Security had been set up, the New York Times was already reporting that “at least 90 officials” who worked there or at the White House office that preceded it had zipped through the revolving door into the private sector and were “executives, consultants, or lobbyists for companies that collectively do billions of dollars’ worth of domestic security business.”
What makes all of this remarkable is how quietly, how easily, how securely that most alien of words and the organization that goes with it have entered American life (and changed it). Which is why, thanks to TomDispatch regulars Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman from the invaluable National Priorities Project, this website is doing something rare these days: putting a spotlight on that modern cash cow and giant boondoggle lurking in the shadows of our world, the Department of Homeland Security. Tom
Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit.
Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic, and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm.
For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which celebrates its 10th birthday this March, has grown into a miniature Pentagon. It’s supposed to be the actual “defense” department — since the Pentagon is essentially a Department of Offense — and it’s rife with all the same issues and defects that critics of the military-industrial complex have decried for decades. In other words, “homeland security” has become another obese boondoggle.
But here’s the strange thing: unlike the Pentagon, this monstrosity draws no attention whatsoever — even though, by our calculations, this country has spent a jaw-dropping $791 billion on “homeland security” since 9/11. To give you a sense of just how big that is, Washington spent an inflation-adjusted $500 billion on the entire New Deal.
Despite sucking up a sum of money that could have rebuilt crumbling infrastructure from coast to coast, this new agency and the very concept of “homeland security” have largely flown beneath the media radar — with disastrous results.
And that’s really no surprise, given how the DHS came into existence.
A few months before 9/11, Congress issued a national security reportacknowledging that U.S. defense policy had not evolved to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. The report recommended a “national homeland security agency” with a single leader to oversee homeland security-style initiatives across the full range of the federal government. Although the report warned that a terrorist attack could take place on American soil, it collected dust.
Then the attack came, and lawmakers of both political parties and the American public wanted swift, decisive action. President George W. Bush’s top officials and advisers saw in 9/11 their main chance to knock off Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and establish a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East. Others, who generally called themselves champions of small government, saw an opportunity to expand big government at home by increasing security spending.
Their decision to combine domestic security under one agency turned out to be like sending the Titanic into the nearest field of icebergs.
President Bush first created an Office of Homeland Security in the White House and then, with the Homeland Security Act of 2002, laid plans for a new executive department. The DHS was funded with billions of dollars and staffed with 180,000 federal employees when it opened for business on March 1, 2003. It qualified as the largest reorganization of the federal government since 1947 when, fittingly, the Department of Defense was established.
Announcing plans for this new branch of government, President Bush made a little-known declaration of “mission accomplished” that long preceded that infamous banner strung up on an aircraft carrier to celebrate his “victory” in Iraq. In November 2002, he said, “The continuing threat of terrorism, the threat of mass murder on our own soil, will be met with a unified, effective response.”
Mission unaccomplished (big time).
A decade later, a close look at the hodge-podge of homeland security programs that now spans the U.S. government reveals that there’s nothing “unified” about it. Not all homeland security programs are managed through the Department of Homeland Security, nor are all programs at the Department of Homeland Security related to securing the homeland. . .