U.S. Terror Targets: Petting Zoo and Flea Market?
By ERIC LIPTON
WASHINGTON, July 11 — It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.”
But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child’s play: all these “unusual or out-of-place” sites “whose criticality is not readily apparent” are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.
The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.
The database is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly increasing spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha.
“We don’t find it embarrassing,” said the department’s deputy press secretary, Jarrod Agen. “The list is a valuable tool.”
But the audit says that lower-level department officials agreed that some older information in the inventory “was of low quality and that they had little faith in it.”
“The presence of large numbers of out-of-place assets taints the credibility of the data,” the report says.
In addition to the petting zoo, in Woodville, Ala., and the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., the auditors questioned many entries, including “Nix’s Check Cashing,” “Mall at Sears,” “Ice Cream Parlor,” “Tackle Shop,” “Donut Shop,” “Anti-Cruelty Society” and “Bean Fest.”
Even people connected to some of those businesses or events are baffled at their inclusion as possible terrorist targets.
“Seems like someone has gone overboard,” said Larry Buss, who helps organize the Apple and Pork Festival in Clinton, Ill. “Their time could be spent better doing other things, like providing security for the country.”
Angela McNabb, manager of the Sweetwater Flea Market, which is 50 miles from Knoxville, Tenn., said: “I don’t know where they get their information. We are talking about a flea market here.”
New York City officials, who have questioned the rationale for the reduction in this year’s antiterrorism grants, were similarly blunt.
“Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Tuesday. “This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system.”
The source of the problems, the audit said, appears to be insufficient definitions or standards for inclusion provided to the states, which submit lists of locations for the database.
New York, for example, lists only 2 percent of the nation’s banking and finance sector assets, which ranks it between North Dakota and Missouri. Washington State lists nearly twice as many national monuments and icons as the District of Columbia.
Montana, one of the least populous states in the nation, turned up with far more assets than big-population states including Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Jersey.
UPDATE: Now this morning we read in the NY Daily News:
On guard in N.Y.C. Cops swarm subway system after India carnage
Whenever a terror attack happens in any part of the world, NYC beefs up its security. The cops are rummaging through commuter's bags again. Now what I want to know is if the MacDonald's petting zoo has had to beef up its security. How are they spending their DHS funding after the trauma in India? Obviously there are still terrorists out there regardless of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.