The debate over the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is one with strong opinions on both sides of the issues. There are pros and cons to the extensive network of security that the federal government has created to combat domestic and international terrorism. Here’s a look at the benefits and problems with Homeland Security.
The Benefits of Homeland Security
Proponents of the growing U.S. Department of Homeland Security point to several positive aspects of the program.
The first benefit is the increased organization of federal, state and local agencies to facilitate an effective response to incidents of terrorism. Every major federal law enforcement and security agency is directly involved and has specified responsibilities.
Another benefit is the creation of a critical infrastructure that can more effectively use available resources. These resources are organized under the umbrella of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in such a way that the government’s response includes not just radical Islamic terrorism but every type of major man-made and natural disaster.
The third benefit of Homeland Security is the prevention of terrorist attacks. One example of planned attacks that were almost carried out but thwarted by federal homeland security agencies include the arrests of six men who planned to attack the U.S. Army base For Dix in New Jersey in May of 2007. There have been a number of planned attacks that have been prevented on U.S. soil and abroad within the past several years.
The Negative Aspects of Homeland Security
Those who oppose the growing power of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cite several concerns.
The first concern is the potential for abuse by federal officials. Critics see little difference between the infrastructure that has developed to address terrorism in the United States and the centralist infrastructures of totalitarian societies.
Critics point to the perceived loss of individual freedoms and privacy under the Homeland Security Act. The need to identify, monitor and prosecute terrorists involves intensive investigation by federal agencies such as the FBI, CIA and others. The critics are unwilling to surrender the Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures to allow government agents to more effectively protect the nation.
Homeland Security critics also point to the heavy financial burden the nation is required to carry. Staffing and training expenses have soared over the traditional costs of defending the nation. The cost of Homeland Security was estimated by the Center for Defense Information to total $38 billion in 2003. The estimated cost for 2011 will be $56.3 billion.
The Future of Homeland Security
The tension between the positive benefits and successes within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the inherent problems and philosophical concerns of the critics will determine the agency’s future.
Whether the powers of the federal government will continue to expand and evolve into a system that justifies less restrictive search warrants, electronic surveillance and interceptions of communications depends in a large part on the perceptions of the public. If another terrorist incident occurs on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, the public will likely be willing to surrender Constitutional protections to secure safety. If the American public believes it is safe from attack, then the proponents of restricting the power and size of Homeland Security will prevail.
It’s important in a free society to identify, recognize and address both sides of the debate. The goal is to provide a safe and secure nation for everyone.
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