Homeland what?

Homeland security is a lexically challenging phrase as well as a bureaucratically challenging responsibility. The word "homeland" rests uneasily on our ears-evoking the language of Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa-while the demonstration of it so far manifests a high level of homeland ineptitude. We do not dispute the fact that the nation faces unprecedented challenges. Nor should the difficulties of mounting a comprehensive response to the dangers of terrorism be underestimated. But even as we await a promised congressional inquiry into the intelligence failures of the CIA and FBI on September 11, the subsequent missed calls on anthrax in Washington seem to be of a piece with the bureaucratic infighting over bioterrorism that went on before September 11. Something is awry.

Tom Ridge, the head of the new homeland defense office, is a wonderfully serious and earnest presence before the TV cameras, but will he, any more than Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson or Attorney General John Ashcroft, succeed in building cooperation among the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the FBI, the Army, the CIA, and other federal agencies? Who would know that they all work for the U.S. government and the American people?

Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War (Simon & Schuster), published just before September 11, recounts the bureaucratic infighting over bioterrorism within the...

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