Welcome to Part 3 of my 6-part series, The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers. Last week, we learned about the Director of National Intelligence and its role as principal on the playground of intelligence agencies. This week, we look at the Department of Homeland Security and its many chipper employees at the airport.
Want more laughs? Check out my novels, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror, and Victor in the Jungle, about a populist dictator. In the meantime, enjoy learning about the intelligence community!
Missed Part 1? Read it here.
Missed Part 2? Read it here.
The Intelligence Community:
Smart People Looking at Computers
Department of Homeland Security
DHS is the kid your mom invited to your birthday party even though you and your friends all think he’s a weenie, but your mom is trying to teach you a lesson after you pushed him down the slide last week. You and your friends still call him Mushroom Man behind his back. And sometimes to his face.
This is because DHS took a bunch of agencies that already existed and pulled them, or in some cases part of them, into its fiefdom. This caused a lot of animosity and confusion. Good thing there was a DNI to unconfuse things.
Created by a small-government Republican president, DHS has 240,000 employees and is now the third largest federal agency (after the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs). According to its web site, its duties are “wide-ranging,” which is a nice catch-all phrase that sounds better than, “Um, we couldn’t really define what falls under Homeland Security, so fuck it. Wide-ranging.”
DHS created Fusion Centers, which I imagine must have the sound of monks chanting in the background and eucalyptus aromatherapy candles burning to create a soothing ambience. But in reality, these are places for local, state, and federal officials to exchange information. And because everyone at every level wants to be helpful and prove they have a role to play in protecting the homeland, they create watch lists of anyone who might be a threat, including anti-war activists, pro-life protesters, pro-choice protesters, and Rand Paul supporters. The enemy is everywhere.
Perhaps DHS’s biggest success has been creating fear in order to let people profit from it. Find a way to say you’re protecting someone from terrorists, and the department’s leaders or former leaders will have DHS give you money to buy whatever you want to buy from a company who happens to be their client or on whose board they happen to sit. It has created a wonderful circus act to make it look like a lot is happening to keep us safe but actually ensures a cushy retirement for a select few. Need a teleprompter so your tiny town in Louisiana can meet “the national priority to expand regional collaboration”? Here’s $2,700. Want an armored personnel carrier to patrol your local Easter egg hunt? Take $200,000. Those wily terrorists could strike anywhere, at anytime.
A good example of leveraging fear is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the smiling and helpful people in blue uniforms at airports who make you strip and then take pictures of you to laugh at later (or, as revealed in a Politico piece, to look at while fooling around in the back office). DHS oversees TSA, and in the wake of the Underwear Bomber scare, former DHS head Michael Chertoff publicly pushed for TSA to purchase 300 Rapiscan machines, even though he and many DHS staff knew the machines were not very effective. Did I mention that Rapiscan was a client of Chertoff’s consulting company? I didn’t? Oh, well neither did Chertoff, who proved his ability to coordinate and cooperate on behalf of his and his clients’ bank accounts. I believe that is the efficiency and connecting the dots we were looking for.
DHS also oversees Customs and Border Patrol, the smiling and helpful people who welcome you back into the country by asking why the fuck you left in the first place.
And why are all of DHS’s employees always smiling and helpful and never rude? Because DHS consistently ranks low or dead last on employee morale surveys in the federal government. DHS employees leave their department at twice the rate of other federal agencies. Even DHS employees want to call it Mushroom Man and shove it down the slide.
Up Next: FBI, DIA, NSA, NGA, and NRO
To receive the full essay now, sign up here.