Effect Measure

IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices are killing American soldiers in Iraq. In Massachusetts people are dying from more prosaic things: auto accidents, heart attacks, homicides and suicides. IEDs aren’t on Death’s Menu in Massachusetts. So naturally the Bush-Chertoff Department of Homeland Security wants to protect Massachusetts citizens against IEDs:

Juliette N. Kayyem, the Massachusetts homeland security adviser, was in her office in early February when an aide brought her startling news. To qualify for its full allotment of federal money, Massachusetts had to come up with a plan to protect the state from an almost unheard-of threat: improvised explosive devices, known as I.E.D.’s.


The demand for plans to guard against improvised explosives is being cited by state and local officials as the latest example that their concerns are not being heard, and that federal officials continue to push them to spend money on a terrorism threat that is often vague. Some $23 billion in domestic security financing has flowed to the states from the federal government since the Sept. 11 attacks, but authorities in many states and cities say they have seen little or no intelligence that Al Qaeda, or any of its potential homegrown offshoots, has concrete plans for an attack. (New York Times)

State and local public safety and public health officials are faced with shrinking budgets, declining morale and mounting problems with fewer resources. So the Bush administration, via its pinhead Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, knows they will do almost anything for a pittance of extra cash. So they load up federal grants with “security theater” requirements which guarantee the money is wasted. Not just wasted. Much worse are the knock on consequences of distorted priorities and personnel reassignments to security leaf raking activities, causing the abandonment of routine public health and public safety tasks to avoid laying off long time employees. So in the end we are like the man who goes to the Bush emergency room to be treated for a broken leg and is told they would be glad to give us a rectal exam.

Everyone knows the Bush administration is counterterrorism crazy. Everyone knows they are also stupid and incompetent. So everyone tries to work around them, like dealing with the crazy rich uncle who makes no sense but whose support you need. The states have been creative in dressing up their proposals in counterterrorism garb to allow them to secure more generally useful equipment. But it is a wasteful way to work when resources are scarce.

In one effort to crack down on what Mr. Chertoff referred to as “mission creep,” Homeland Security officials last year imposed restrictions on use of a heavy truck by the police in Providence, R.I.

The truck had been bought with federal counterterrorism money, based on a plan that it be used to haul a patrol boat used for port security. But when the Police Department began to use the truck instead to pull a horse trailer, federal authorities sought to draw the line, relenting only after local officials protested in a phone call with Washington, said local and federal officials.

I don’t know why the truck was being used to draw a horse trailer but one has to conclude it wasn’t needed for its primary mission, either. Given the choice of money spent on a heavy truck or something the Police Department in Rhode Island really needed, I’m guessing something else would have been purchased.

But what do I know? I didn’t even know roadside bombs were such a common problem in Rhode Island, either.


  1. #1 Mary
    May 27, 2008

    Hey, we are so safe from small plastic advertising LED lights now, I just can’t complain….

    We have a much larger pothole problem each spring than IED problems. That is just fully absurd.

  2. #2 tincture
    May 27, 2008

    It’s all part of Al-Qaeda’s cunning plan to paralyse America’s defense by tying up all of its resources transporting horses. A plan so cunning it must have been created by Baldrick.

  3. #3 Tasha
    May 27, 2008

    Quoted from the NY Times story:
    “Seattle has experienced its own terrorism scares since 9/11, after photographs of the Space Needle were recovered in 2002 from suspected Qaeda safe houses in Afghanistan.”

    I don’t mean to make light of the situation, but I read this and my first thought was, “They found someone’s vacation slides?”

  4. #4 natural cynic
    May 27, 2008

    Mary, if the pothole is big enough, just plant something that looks suspicious in them. That should get a response, maybe some simple-minded functionary will have the bright idea to fill them as a security measure.

  5. #5 Joel
    May 27, 2008

    It hasn’t occurred to the Department of Homeland Security that because we have not been invaded, stripped of our police and military forces, and had our nations infrastructure destroyed, the threat of insurgents waging a guerilla war in the United States is minimal?

    Why do I have to keep reminding myself that Bush is running the show right now?

  6. #6 Mary
    May 27, 2008

    You, my cynical friend, are very clever. Or, clevah, as we say heah.

    But I barely drive these days, so I’ll let the commuters tackle that.

  7. #7 Matthew Platte
    May 27, 2008

    Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, but… wouldn’t it be interesting to see how an actual pinhead, such as Zip or Schlitze, would perform, given a chance to be POTUS? Couldn’t be much worse.


  8. #8 Julie Stahlhut
    May 27, 2008

    If they want to crack down on improvised explosive devices in Massachusetts, they should probably put more security cameras in the MIT dorms. Building small-scale IEDs was an extremely popular recreational activity when I lived on campus.

    Of course, the worst thing that ever happened was that every semester a few people got nitrogen triiodide charges stuffed into their door locks, but, dammit, this is potential TERRORISM, and tossing a few of these scofflaw nerds into Gitmo will certainly send a message that students should quit messing around with experimental chemistry and finish their problem sets on time instead!

  9. #9 Lea
    May 27, 2008

    Tasha said: my first thought was . . . .
    And I say that first thought was most likely correct.

    All kidding aside, on my part anyway, it’s refreshing to hear people aren’t buying into the hype anymore.
    Terrorists, Fear, Control the Masses. This is what the government wants and I sense that, finally, the majority of Americans are starting to catch on. At least I hope so. And I deplore the word Hope, quick someone give me another word that conveys what I’m trying to say.

  10. #10 M. Randolph Kruger
    May 28, 2008

    Just for grins, what would this post be if say we had seen any IED’s or new attacks going off or happening?

    Control of the masses? So far we have seen a fully Democrat Congress and all they could do is see how fast they could all earmark money for their pet projects. Health care Revere didnt seem to be one of them.

    Even Super Lib Teddy Kennedy didnt jump on that one. He was too busy ensuring wind farms werent used off Nantucket. I guess that means that they too dont consider it to be a priority as does the B. Administration? I dunno, but it seems the libs have a credibility gap as big as the Administrations.

    If we had seen IED’s going off or buildings being bombed would someone say we hadnt spent enough money, applied it correctly, trained enough or they were misled about the threat?


  11. #11 daedalus2u
    May 28, 2008

    Not only is Massachusetts unprepared for IED attacks, Pittsburgh is unprepared for a full-scale Zombie attack!


    MRK is absolutely correct, if there are any Zombie attacks on American cities, “would someone say we hadnt spent enough money, applied it correctly, trained enough or they were misled about the threat?”

  12. #12 BW
    May 28, 2008

    IEDs…….. A long time ago, when my father was a boy, my grandfather heard popping sounds from outside. When he investigated, he found my father hitting spots of nitroglycerine he had made with a hammer. My grandfather, after a pause, suggested he stop doing that, as it was pitting the sidewalk.

  13. #13 Tasha
    May 28, 2008

    Lea, I think the phrase you’re looking for is “a return to sanity.” :)

  14. #14 Grace RN
    May 28, 2008

    Your comment “Everyone knows the Bush administration is counterterrorism crazy” was somewhat wrong.

    I’m sure what your REALLY meant was “Everyone knows the Bush administration is….*&%$%* crazy”

  15. #15 revere
    May 28, 2008

    Grace: At least everyone who are not themselves …*&%$%* crazy”.

  16. #16 Grace RN
    May 30, 2008

    Point taken, will refer that comment only to the ‘Axes’ of Evil that reside in/around the Oval office.

  17. #17 paiwan
    May 30, 2008

    In 1969, my English teacher was a Vietnam War pacifist. After that I have resided in non-English speaking countries and worried my English would not progress. Goodness, now I have at least EM and NYtimes to polish.

  18. #18 Douglas
    June 1, 2008

    Yes, it was Boston where the HLD/authorities over-reacted to Lite Brite sets posted around the city, suspecting IED’s; they arrested the producers of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which turned out to be great publicity for the upcoming movie.
    Seems Boston was the only city out of several which preferred to arrest instead of defuse/discover an ad campaign…
    Our tax dollars at work.

  19. #19 anon
    June 3, 2008

    If by IEDs you mean remotely triggered explosives, as opposed to old fashioned mines and what used to be called, rather quaintly, “time bombs” (no doubt from an age prior to quantum physics, heh), I have news for you.

    There are NO effective countermeasures that offer reasonably high probability of stopping those things.

    I worked on the IED issue for our people in Iraq, a year before it got sexy in the media.

    I’m here to tell you there is no way to detect and defeat remotely detonated explosive devices. You can’t detect them, you can’t pre-detonate them, you can’t prevent them being detonated.

    The reason is that it only takes one bit of data to trigger a device, and that data bit can be sent via any radio frequency, any audio frequency, any type of light including infrared. It can be sent mechanically, magnetically, with or without a time delay. It can be sent in the form of “negative signal,” by which is meant, the absence of a signal rather than the presence of one.

    There is no signals intelligence collection system capable of sweeping the entire range of potential signaling modalities quickly enough to detect the positive or negative signal used to detonate a device. None. The classified ones can hear a flea fart on a football field, but they can’t hear a terrorist trigger a bomb in traffic, and even if they could, it would be too late to save lives.

    So in short, this is an enormous waste of money, a boondoggle with no viable answer. It will be used to prop up the share price of stock in robotics companies, who will make impressive looking machines on treads with clever grippers and cameras. It might support inventors who come up with things such as forward-looking X-Ray Vision on street sweepers and other slow-moving urban vehicles.

    It might provide excuses to festoon our cityscapes with surveillance cameras, all the better to catch up with Airstrip One in Oceania, or was that London in the UK, where the average bloke gets his mug taken approximately three hundred times per day. Yes, we need to catch up in the Big Brother race, don’t we? Smile for a while as you motor down the mile? With face recognition to catch the odd sourpuss on the basis that his bad day might (maybe, perhaps) become a bad day for whoever happens to be near him at the moment.

    Yes, and Cisco needs a growth market in those Great Firewall routers they developed for Communist (remember?) China. So next come the internet cafes, and then the major ISPs, and then the remaining mom-and-pop ISPs.

    And we can’t tolerate those MIT students putting their hands on real chemicals, so we’ll have them watch videos of others doing experiments, while someone watches them watching the videos.

    No doubt there are all manner of inventive things to do with IED bucks.

    Somewhere in Washington, someone with too much time on his hands and a Bush signing statement as his magic carpet, is thinking of something.

    And if you’re not registered to vote yet, you’d darn well better do it now.

  20. #20 revere
    June 3, 2008

    anon: Couldn’t agree more.