Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security

Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security

Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security

Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security

Synopsis

In seeking to evaluate the efficacy of post-9/11 homeland security expenses -- which have risen by more than a trillion dollars, not including war costs -- the common query has been, "Are we safer?" This, however, is the wrong question. Of course we are "safer"-- the posting of a singlesecurity guard at one building's entrance enhances safety. The correct question is, "Are any gains in security worth the funds expended?"In this engaging, readable book, John Mueller and Mark Stewart apply risk and cost-benefit evaluation techniques to answer this very question. This analytical approach has been used throughout the world for decades by regulators, academics, and businesses--but, as a recent National Academy of Science study suggests, it has never been capably applied by the people administering homeland security funds. Given the limited risk terrorism presents, expenses meant to lower it have for the most part simply not been worth it. For example, to be considered cost-effective, increased Americanhomeland security expenditures would have had each year to have foiled up to 1,667 attacks roughly like the one intended on Times Square in 2010--more than four a day. Cataloging the mistakes that the US has made -- and continues to make--in managing homeland security programs, Terror, Security, and Money has the potential to redirect our efforts toward a more productive and far more cost-effective course.

Excerpt

In seeking to evaluate the effectiveness of the massive increases in homeland security expenditures since the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, the common and urgent query has been “are we safer?” This, however, is the wrong question. Of course, we are “safer”—the posting of a single security guard at one building’s entrance enhances safety, however microscopically. The correct question is “are the gains in security worth the funds expended?” Or as this absolutely central question was posed shortly after 9/11 by risk analyst Howard Kunreuther, “How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?”

TALLYING THE COSTS—$1 TRILLION AND COUNTING

We have, in fact, paid—or been willing to pay—a lot. In the years immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on Washington and New York, it was understandable that there was a tendency to fashion policy and expend funds in haste, confusion, and maybe even hysteria on homeland security. After all, intelligence was estimating at the time that there were as many as 5,000 al-Qaeda operatives at loose in the country and, as New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani reflected later, ‘Anybody, any one of these security experts, including myself, would have told you on September 11, 2001, we’re looking at dozens and dozens and multiyears of attacks like this.”

The intelligence claims and the anxieties of Giuliani and other “security experts” have clearly proved, putting it mildly, to be unjustified. In the frantic interim, however, the U.S. government massively increased its expenditures for dealing with terrorism. As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, federal expenditures on domestic homeland security have increased by some $360 billion over those in place in 2001, as table I.1 . . .

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