The New York Times reports that the nearly bottomless budget for counterterrorism operations at home and abroad may finally, at long last, be facing some scrutiny:
The drumbeat of terrorism news never quite stops. And as a result, for 11 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the security colossus constructed to protect the nation from Al Qaeda and its ilk has continued to grow, propelled by public anxiety, stunning advances in surveillance technology and lavish spending — about $690 billion over a decade, by one estimate, not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now that may be changing. The looming federal budget crunch, a sense that major attacks on the United States are unlikely and new bipartisan criticism of the sprawling counterterrorism bureaucracy may mean that the open checkbook era is nearing an end.
While the presidential candidates have clashed over security for American diplomats in Libya, their campaigns have barely mentioned domestic security. That is for a reason: fewer than one-half of 1 percent of Americans, in a Gallup poll in September, said that terrorism was the country’s most important problem.
But the next administration may face a decision: Has the time come to scale back security spending, eliminating the least productive programs? Or, with tumult in the Arab world and America still a prime target, would that be dangerous?
Many security experts believe that a retrenchment is inevitable and justified.
“After 9/11, we had to respond with everything we had, not knowing what would work best,” said Rick Nelson, a former Navy helicopter pilot who served in several counterterrorism positions and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That’s a model we can no longer afford, financially or politically.”
Thank the good Lord. The fortress mindset that has descended on the country over the past decade has been colossally damaging for a variety of reasons, but the budgetary aspect of it is definitely one of its worst offenses. So it’s long past time we reexamined the efficacy and costs of our security measures. Let’s keep the momentum going.