In Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, diamond-nabber Bill Mason notes notes a strange security trend: people will spend big bucks to have a whole host ultra-sophisticated locks on their front doors -- but they'll put something flimsy on the back door, or leave the windows unlocked altogether.That's what came to mind as I read James Fallows' homeland defense story in the current Atlantic Monthly. The Transportation Security Administration is spending $4 billion -- 80 percent of its budget -- on airport screening. Making sure grandma takes off her Mary Janes before she gets on the plane. That leaves, Fallows notes, "well under $1 billion for everything except airlines: roads, bridges, subways, tunnels, railroads, ports, and other facilities through which most of the nation's people and commerce move."Kinda reminds you of Mason's back door, hunh? Except the analogy doesn't quite hold together. It'd probably be more accurate to say that, while the Bush administration is making sure America's front door is tripled-locked, it has left the jewel box out on the front lawn.From President Bush to Senator Kerry to just about every homeland security guru in between, all these guys agree that "loose nukes" -- the 30,000 atomic warheads from the former Soviet arsenal -- are the worst threat to our nation imaginable. But, as Fallows notes, the U.S. seems to be "in no apparent hurry" to make sure these weapons are "safely locked away."Yes, it's true that the U.S. has helped secure in recent years about a hundred kilograms of Russian bomb-grade uranium. But that's out of 460 metric tons of Russian weapons-usable material. The Defense Department will spend about a billion -- a twentieth of a percent -- of its annual budget next year on "all forms of nuclear material control," Fallows observes. The Energy Department will add some additional dollars. But still, we're talking relative peanuts thrown at what everyone agrees is the biggest threat to our country.For the cost of a handful of Raptor stealth fighters, we could double our efforts to gather together these loose nukes. For what it takes to pay a couple of dudes at the airport inspecting grandma's shoes, we could hire a Russian nuclear scientist -- and make sure he doesn't start working for the other team.
JAMES FALLOWS AND THE JEWEL THIEF
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