Thursday, October 07, 2004

P is for paranoia

During the late 1990s, public school officials, aided by the media, scared parents and children into thinking that a shooting spree a la Columbine could happen anytime, anywhere, even though school violence actually was on the decline. Time and money was wasted installing expensive security equipment and conducting disaster drills, and many students were unjustly and harshly punished for relatively minor offenses under zero-tolerance policies.

Well, just when it seemed that common sense might again be making a return, the U.S. Department of Education, despite having no specific threat information, is telling schools to be on the lookout for potential terrorists. This is all the result of the bloody attack on a school in Russia that left 340 people dead:

The effort is the latest by the Education Department and other federal agencies to encourage school officials to maintain and practice a plan for responding to emergencies. ...The federal government is advising schools to take many steps to improve the security of their buildings. Those include installing locks for all doors and windows, having a single entry point into buildings and ensuring they can reach school bus drivers in an emergency.

Guess what? Most schools have been doing this stuff for years. All this latest warning will do is create a new climate of fear in a place where it can do the most damage.

UPDATE: Floor plans and security information about schools in six states were found in Iraq, according to ABC News.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what about the children?

5:42 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And who is going to protect the kids from terrorists like this:

5:42 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The update kind of changes things, doesn't it?

3:25 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

That's right. New information becomes available that disputes my previous conclusion, and I acknowledge it. Now, were I the president or vice president, I would say that the new evidence merely upholds my previous opinion, which was based on the old evidence that has now been discredited.

4:02 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or, it means that there was better intelligence earlier, but when people started bitching that the White House wasn't being frank enough -- perhaps even trotting out the threat for political gain -- DOD/DHS/DOJ and CIA felt they had to let out more.

This has happened before.

5:19 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I meant that new information became available to me, smart guy. And if you are going to tell parents their kids might be in danger, shouldn't you give them as much information as possible?

8:07 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

DHS is in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't fix. Let's say they have some intelligence that suggests some school in CONUS is being targeted by Al Qaeda or a proxy group. They don't know where or when.

If they say nothing, for fear of alerting the bad guys they're on to their intelligence stream, and a school gets hit, they're going to look pretty bad during the inevitable Congressional hearings; endless series of leaks from disgruntled, largely incompetent or overlooked employees (Hello, Mr. Clark); and general after-action blood-letting and ass-covering that occurs after a tragedy.

But if they blab that they have some information, they shut off a tapped wire, an informant or a mail drop. They then get blamed by the Kerry campaign for blowing an intelligence asset.

No win, and the terrorists continue probing the soft targets: Voting booths, schools, chemical plants, rail lines (freight and passenger), ports, etc.

5:18 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Here's the thing: The Department of Education said that there were no specific threats against schools, and they at least implied that the only basis for the warnings was what happened in Russia. That's more than just keeping intelligence data close to the vest; it's dishonest in spirit if not in letter. They didn't necessarily have to disclose that they had discovered school plans in the hands of a suspected terrorist; they could just have said that they have information that terrorists might want to target American schools, and that any further disclosure could hurt intelligence efforts in the field.

The consequence of people not trusting the nation's homeland security officials is that ultimately they won't take threats seriously, and won't do what they need to do to prevent an attack or minimize its consequences. Credibility is an important component of homeland security, it seems to me.

5:43 PM


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