TB Patient Breeches Border: Feeling Safe And Secure? genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

A Little Persuasion

We hear a lot of discussion about the safety of our borders and the efforts of the Homeland Security Department to prevent the entrance of terrorists. Given the fact that we haven’t had any further attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11, the impression is that our efforts are succeeding. While I have no doubt there is truth to that assumption, the recent crossing of our northern border by the gentleman infected with a rare strain of drug resistant tuberculosis raises more questions and doubts.

Congressional investigators, who will be holding hearings on the way the case of the man, Andrew Speaker, has been handled, say that the border agent at the Plattsburgh, N.Y., border crossing with Canada decided that Mr. Speaker did not look sick and so let him go.

Russ Knocke, press secretary for the Homeland Security Department, would not confirm the agent’s rationale for releasing the man, saying only that the case was under investigation by its internal affairs and inspector general’s offices.

Mr. Speaker came back into the United States at Plattsburgh, N.Y., at 6:18 p.m. on May 24 in a car he had rented at Pierre Trudeau International Airport in Montreal after flying there from Prague on Czech Air.

A day earlier, on May 23, the disease control centers alerted the Atlanta office of Customs and Border Protection, a part of the Homeland Security Department, that a man with a serious medical condition might try to enter the United States and the information was entered in the department’s computer system.

The department instructed any border control agents who encountered the man to “isolate, detain and contact the Public Health Service," Mr. Knocke said.

Allow me to offer some speculations in advance of the hearings on the incident. Always a skeptic, my first thought was, “What actually transpired between the border agent and Mr. Speaker?" Two thoughts arise...one, our border agents are poorly trained and prone to ignoring directives intended to protect against threats...and two, assuming that the border guard understood the directive, what actually led him to allow Mr. Speaker to proceed into the U.S. rather than carrying out the detention order?

I don't buy the explanation that the border agent thought Mr. Speaker didn't look ill so he let him enter the country...that would mean that not only didn't the agent consider Speaker a threat to others...he didn't feel personally threatened. That makes no sense to me given my belief that most people are quite alarmed by exposure to a contagious disease...often well beyond what may be warranted...and the fact that the sick individual may look healthy doesn't often overcome the fear of exposure.

So my cynicism leads me to another scenario. Suppose the border agent was in fact troubled by the threat to his own well being...and suppose that he viewed the prospect of detaining Mr. Speaker as a further personal risk (he would have to be near the ill man for an extended period of time)...and finally, suppose Mr. Speaker's motivation to gain entry to the U.S. without detention resulted in a couple crisp hundred dollar bills finding their way into the border agents hand? Keep in mind that the most recent reports suggest that the CDC was willing to retrieve Mr. Speaker from Italy on a private plane...but it was communicated that it may cost a hundred thousand dollars...that sounds like sufficient motivation to part with a few "Benjamin bills" to me.

Now I'll gladly admit that I have no evidence to support my speculation...other than my own preoccupation with understanding human nature and believing that when something just doesn't ring true, there is likely a more suspect rationale. Regardless, it left me wondering whether all of the debate over adding more border crossing stations and agents was nothing more than our propensity to embrace measures we believe will protect us from danger...even if those measures are simply providing a false sense of security.

Bear with my argument for a moment longer. Let's suppose that a directive is issued to detain a man named Joe Smith because he is suspected of ties to a middle eastern terrorist group...and let's suppose that a similarly minded guard encounters Joe Smith...and Joe Smith speaks fluent English, talks about his golf game, has a cute blond girlfriend in the passenger seat that he says he just married in Greece, and tells a tale of mistaken identity (hey, there's bound to be a few Joe Smiths out there, right?)...and let's assume he convinces the guard that he is just trying to get back home so he can make it into work the next morning. Now toss in a few greenbacks to close the deal and Joe Smith the terrorist is in the homeland...security be damned. Far fetched? Maybe. Plausible? I think so.

To presume that the people who executed a plan to highjack four planes and take down two high profile buildings in the heart of New York City aren't scheming to recruit a few Joe Smiths and get them into the U.S. is, in my opinion, an exercise in blatant denial. If Bill the border guard can be persuaded with a sad story and a few hundred dollars, what would it take to assemble twenty disgruntled Joe Smiths to carry out the next terrorist attack? Further, you may not even need to get the Joe Smiths across the border...they could be our neighbors.

OK, so none of these observations are reasons to abandon efforts to secure our borders...and my goal isn't to suggest that hard working, sincere individuals aren't employed at the Homeland Security Department. However, I am suggesting that combating terrorism and the hatred towards the United States requires a broad arsenal of strategies and tactics. Further, anyone that believes we have employed all the means necessary to prevent another attack is not only naive, they are likely delusional.

Time may well prove that while we were busy devouring the 24/7 coverage of a self-centered man who lacked the good sense to take care of himself and those around him, a far more lethal intruder made its way into our midst. But hey...as I'm writing this and listening to the discussions about a terrorist plot at JFK Airport, I know I’m feeling safe and secure today...you too?

Image courtesy of www.democracyfornewmexico.com

Daniel DiRito | June 2, 2007 | 9:39 AM
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