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Ten years later

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is now upon us. Each year on the anniversary of this tragic event we look back and remember those who lost their lives or whose lives were shattered. We also look back on the changes that have...

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is now upon us. Each year on the anniversary of this tragic event we look back and remember those who lost their lives or whose lives were shattered. We also look back on the changes that have taken place in all our lives since that day.

As with any healing process, it takes time, but at some point you have to start looking ahead and turn the page. The question today is whether the US is able to do that now that a decade has passed? This is an extremely important question for Canada, which is currently in negotiation with the United States over a perimeter security agreement. For such an agreement to have much value for Canada, the quid pro quo for further tightening of security at our perimeter, has to be some improved facilitation at our land border with the US, which as we all know has thickened considerably over the last 10 years.

In some ways, it appears that attitudes in the US have yet to change. A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in February once again set off alarm bells in Washington over terrorists from Canada in a report that found the “northern” border – after all the measures introduced and the billions of dollars spent – to still be porous and “vulnerable for exploitation.”

Well-known Senator Joe Lieberman was quoted as saying the “American people are grossly under-protected along our northern border.”

While the Mexican border seems to receive more attention, in July, Rep. Candice Miller who hails from the Port Huron, Mich. area and sits on the House Homeland Security Committee and chairs the Sub-Committee on Border and Maritime Security was quoted as saying “I like to remind people that we have two borders and both need to be secured.”

This sort of rhetoric has prompted speculation that we could see even more border security measures introduced, more fences built, more surveillance systems introduced at the Canada-US border.

For most of the last decade, even questioning whether this or that security program made sense was considered unpatriotic, or so it seemed. But, there are signs of a change in thinking. A study released in April by two university professors – one from Ohio State and the other from the University of Newcastle in Australia – provided the first cost-benefit analysis of spending on homeland security since 9/11.

It found the cumulative increase in expenditures on homeland security during the period exceeded a trillion dollars. It then applied risk assessment and cost-benefit approaches that have been standard for governments for decades and found the increased expenditures to be “excessive” and accused officials of having “engaged in various forms of probability neglect by focusing on worst case scenarios; adding, rather than multiplying, the probabilities; assessing relative, rather than absolute, risk; and inflating terrorist capacities and the importance of potential terrorist targets.”

While recognizing “there are emotional and political pressures on the terrorism issue” the authors concluded that “this does not relieve politicians and bureaucrats of the fundamental responsibility of informing the public of the limited risk that terrorism presents and of seeking to expend funds wisely” and that “political concerns may be over-wrought.”

No one, least of all me, is suggesting that the security of the citizens of any country, including and perhaps especially the US, should not be a priority. But just throwing money at the problem and adding more and more programs and barriers to entry is not the answer.

And more US politicians seem to be coming around to that view. Rep. Miller recognizes federal funding is going to get a lot tighter and that DHS is going to have to get a whole lot smarter in the way it does business, “we have invested in the resources but we’re not necessarily using them in the most efficient way.”

At hearings in July, Texas Congressman, Michael McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management stated “As an oversight committee our job is to help reduce the cost of government. With our nation’s record debt approaching $15 trillion, we need this now more than ever before. One area of the federal government with great potential to reduce this cost to taxpayers is the Department of Homeland Security.”

The business community in the United States is more vocal now than it has ever been on the fact that there has been very little return on its investment in the so-called “trusted trader” programs.

Turning the page does not mean less security; it means moving to the next chapter, taking what we’ve learned and looking at how we can do things better in the cold, stark reality of today. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the coming months.

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