Homeland Security as Sport

THE White House will release a plan for homeland security in July, almost 10 months after Sept. 11. It will build on emergency steps taken after the attacks, such as improving air-travel safety. But critics in Congress and elsewhere are already faulting the Bush administration for not doing enough, or for misjudging the risks.

One critical assessment has come from the left-leaning Brookings Institution in a study that presages coming political battles on Capitol Hill and in November's midterm elections. The report faults the administration for focusing too much on preventing another hijacking or anthrax attack while not doing enough to head off or cope with "doomsday" attacks, such as a bio-bomb, that might cause mass casualties or huge economic losses.

The report claims the federal government will need to spend annually for homeland security $7 billion more than the $38 billion estimated by the White House, with another $10 billion needed from the private sector. That extra $7 billion, it says, is needed for more FBI staffing, information technology, cybersecurity, food inspection, as well as for protection of chemical plants and tall buildings.

Such kibitzing by think tanks is usually helpful in Washington. But before Congress uses this report to cry "security gap!" and demands more spending (with the smell of pork barrel), a less partisan tone is needed. Some members of Congress have already politicized the war on terrorism by demanding that the president's adviser for homeland security, Tom Ridge, testify on the Hill, even though he has no authority over spending.

Americans are unlikely to stand for squabbling over which buildings' air vents should be made more secure, or the details of how agencies should be reorganized in order to make the country safer.

Measuring the level of terrorist risk should not become an annual political game. Unlike past wars, the level of threat remains very uncertain. Intelligence agencies know more than anyone where terrorists might strike, and can advise the president and Congress on what actions to take. Then a consensus should quickly form.

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