Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Protecting our Flea Markets from Terrorists

You will be gratified to know that the Department of Homeland Security maintains a list of potential targets. But, as the New York Times reports, the National Asset Database reads more like the itinerary of a whimsical summer road trip:
WASHINGTON, July 11 — It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.”
But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child’s play: all these “unusual or out-of-place” sites “whose criticality is not readily apparent” are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.
There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the database. Indiana tops the list with 8,591 sites followed by Wisconsin with 7,146 sites. New York ranks third with 5,687 potential targets.
Remember when the Department of Homeland Security stiffed Washington and New York in its grant program? A look within asset categories reveals how the department's decision-making could be so counter-intuitive:
New York, for example, lists only 2 percent of the nation’s banking and finance sector assets, which ranks it between North Dakota and Missouri. Washington State lists nearly twice as many national monuments and icons as the District of Columbia.
Many of the sites on the list sound like the off-beat, charming road attractions that enliven a long drive through the heartland:
In addition to the petting zoo, in Woodville, Ala., and the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., the auditors questioned many entries, including “Nix’s Check Cashing,” “Mall at Sears,” “Ice Cream Parlor,” “Tackle Shop,” “Donut Shop,” “Anti-Cruelty Society” and “Bean Fest.”
Even people connected to some of those businesses or events are baffled at their inclusion as possible terrorist targets.
“Seems like someone has gone overboard,” said Larry Buss, who helps organize the Apple and Pork Festival in Clinton, Ill. “Their time could be spent better doing other things, like providing security for the country.”
Angela McNabb, manager of the Sweetwater Flea Market, which is 50 miles from Knoxville, Tenn., said: “I don’t know where they get their information. We are talking about a flea market here.”

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