Americans should not quickly dismiss last week's story of the disgruntled American tobacco farmer who parked his tractor in a pond on the National Mall and falsely claimed he had explosives. The episode offers an important, if embarrassing, lesson in security.
Thankfully, the minisaga ended peacefully. But that a lone individual could close federal offices, and tie up traffic in the nation's capital for days, plainly illustrates what Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge has maintained all along - it's impossible to secure every square inch of America. Being prepared for a terrorist incident is also key to security.
The tractor episode took place as the country returned to a "high" alert with the start of the Iraq war, and as Mr. Ridge unveiled Operation Liberty Shield - which includes greater surveillance over chemical and nuclear plants, along with new airspace restrictions.
Overall, the security picture remains mixed. Airports, seaports, borders, and vital infrastructure sites have benefited from security refinements since 9/11. But spending on first-responders in cities and states is still inadequate. And a report by the General Accounting Office (Congress's watchdog agency) says no federal authority is monitoring chemical plants to ensure that owners and operators have implemented adequate safeguards. Another report by the US Office of Special Counsel shows some vulnerabilities at airports.
What's important is not to assign blame. It's to ensure that enough security is in place to deter terrorists by convincing them there's a good chance they'll be caught. To do that requires cooperation among all levels of government.