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Is Our Homeland Any Safer With Homeland Security?

tom-ridge-2-book

Author Edward Alden talks about books by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff and raises some legitimate questions about the direction of the sprawling agency. Is it working? Was it worth creating a whole new bureaucracy?

By Edward Alden
Washington Post Outlook Section

In a single week last month, the U.S. government broke up an alleged al- Qaeda cell in Colorado, rushed aid to flood victims in Georgia and opened fire on three vans filled with illegal immigrants trying to break through the nation’s busiest border crossing.

The incidents were all reminders, as if we needed any, of the many threats to what we now call “homeland security,” a big, sprawling idea that spawned a big, sprawling department to stop bad things from happening and clean up when they inevitably do.

Just over six years since its creation, the Department of Homeland Security is still too young for any definitive verdict on its success or failure.

michael-chertoff-book

With its component agencies scattered around D.C. and some of its operations outsourced to private companies in Virginia, it has yet to become a whole that adds up to more than its parts. Its first two secretaries, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, left no consistent legacy to guide what the government’s third-largest department should be doing — and more important, why. For Janet Napolitano, the secretary now sorting through that inheritance, the reflections of her predecessors leave more questions than answers.

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