The Department of Homeland Security at Five Years: Celebration Amid Doubts

The Department of Homeland Security at Five Years: Celebration Amid Doubts

On March 6, President George W. Bush delivered a major speech on homeland security to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The President thanked DHS employees for their hard work and recounted some of the department's recent achievements. Bush also warned against complacency: "We must also remember that the danger to our country has not passed. Since the attacks of 9/11, the terrorists have tried to strike our homeland again and again."

In an op-ed published on the same day, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, the former and current DHS secretary, also claimed that during its first five years DHS polices and programs "have made America a tougher target for terrorists and other dangerous people." In their assessment, the department has created a "solid foundation" by pursuing "the right mix of missions and capabilities that include not only our efforts against terrorism but other essential homeland security functions such as responding to and recovering from natural disasters of a national scope." Echoing President Bush, they warned about the return of a "September 10 mentality" manifested by the way in which "some public intellectuals have joined like-minded press pundits in downplaying the threats we still confront."

That the United States has not suffered another terrorist disaster on the scale of 9/11 suggests that the department may be achieving its main objective: averting another massive terrorist attack within the country. Nonetheless, correlation does not equal causation. Many other developments since September 2001 also have affected both the nature of the terrorist threat to the United States and the U.S. vulnerability to this altered threat environment. The reorientation of U.S. intelligence agencies towards countering terrorist threats, the elimination of the terrorist state-sponsored haven in Afghanistan, and other governments' crackdowns on terrorist cells operating within their countries leave uncertain how much the department has contributed to this fortunate, if possibly transient, development.

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