The Appearance of Security Is Expensive


A story in Sunday's New York Times explains that when it comes to homeland security, the appearance of doing something costs billions of dollars. But even money poorly spent–on weapon detection equipment that doesn't work, for example–is money well spent:

Even if the monitoring is less than ideal, officials say, it is still a deterrent.

"The nation is more secure in the deployment and use of these technologies versus having no technologies in place at all," said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

Every piece of equipment provides some level of additional security, said Christopher Y. Milowic, a customs official whose office oversees screening at ports and borders. "It is not the ultimate capacity," he said. "But it reduces risk."

Yet Homeland Security's inspector general says "the likelihood of detecting a hidden weapon or bomb has not significantly changed since the government took over airport screening operations in 2002." Baggage screening equipment is so inacccurate, cumbersome, and inefficient that checked luggage often goes on planes unscreened. Radiation detectors at ports, intended to detect "dirty bombs," yield so many false positives that they are nearly worthless.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, explains that throwing money at the problem is a largely symbolic endeavor. "After 9/11, we had to show how committed we were by spending hugely greater amounts of money than ever before, as rapidly as possible," he says. "That brought us what we might expect, which is some expensive mistakes."

[Thanks to Terrence Dugan for the link.]