The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were the catalyst for the creation of a national security-industrial complex, as lawmakers opened the government’s checkbook to try and prevent another terrorist attack on American soil – at any cost. In the ten years since, billions has been spent on domestic security by the federal government and state and local law enforcement agencies. The Homeland Security budget has gone from $36.2 billion in 2004 to a requested $59 billion in 2013.
A new report finds that billions of dollars in federal grants has been spent by local law enforcement agencies on equipment that has no counter-terrorism purpose. The report was produced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the senior Republican member of the Homeland Security permanent subcommittee on investigations. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the report makes the case that billions has been spent by program but no one knows if it produced any appreciable new security:
Officials in central Indianapolis thought deeply a few years back about what equipment they needed to defend against a local attack involving weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical arms or a nuclear bomb, and their answer was (ba dum, ba dum) a hovercraft!
Luckily, the city didn’t even have to foot the$69,000 bill. The funds instead came from a Federal Emergency Management Agency program known as the Urban Area Security Initiative, which has so far spent more than $7 billion trying to make about five dozen of America’s cities safe from the threat of terrorism.
When officials in Louisiana calculated how they could best deal with the terrorism threat in their own backyard, their answer in part was – yes, really – a teleprompter and a lapel microphone, again purchased with funds from the FEMA initiative. Similarly, Oxnard-Thousand Oaks officials in California deliberated and decided to buy new fins and snorkels for their dive team.
But the City of Clovis in that state was even more creative: They used a $250,000 FEMA grant to buy an armored vehicle known as the BearCat, which wound up being used to patrol at an Easter egg hunt and other public events.