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"Government is not the solution…it is the problem" -Ronald Reagan



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Human Error: Greatest threat to national security

Posted by Stephen on June 11, 2007

The Washington Post is reporting that “U.S. authorities last week blamed tuberculosis carrier Andrew Speaker’s illicit reentry to America on a single point of human error, faulting a Champlain, N.Y., inspector who failed to detain him as instructed by a computer alert.”

The glaring concern should be focused on how vulnerable the nation is not because of a lack of resources or planning, but in the potential for human error. No matter how many checks are in place, no matter how many human resources are used or the level of technology in place, the nation’s safety still depends on ‘we the people’.

The Post report is focused on recent changes, all of which seems to be for the worse, in border patrol and passport policies.

Within the Post report Janice L. Kephart, a former counsel to the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who has testified on the problem to Congress said “When we don’t have the basics down, and we can’t even get an inspection right; it highlights that vulnerabilities especially on the land borders are continuing.”

In the past the reaction to Kephart’s statement regarding security challenges has been to increase the size of security forces, increase regulations, increase the amount of technology utilized. Yet, not enough conversations surround training and middle management support.

When reading The 9/11 Commission Report there are a plethora of examples provided to support the notion that the system to protect the United States against the very terror attacks that took place that day existed and worked. The painful reality is human error, not a lack of government, led to the tragedies that took place that day.

The lapses in judgment that lead to Andrew Speaker’s ability to cross the Canadian border are the same types of lapses that led to Airport security allowing hijackers to board planes on 9/11.

Andrew Speaker was detained, briefly, questioned and released. Four hijackers were detained, briefly, questioned and released. The system in place on both occasions worked. The system placed red flags in front of security personnel demanding that individuals be stopped, detained, and not allowed to continue if certain questions could not be answered properly. In short, the system worked.

Sadly, instead of working harder to train staff, hire more qualified individuals, and push middle management to support staff when questions arise, the solution seems to always be to hire more people, expand bureaucracies and increase regulations which typically adds to more confusion among the very people that are in need of a simplified system.

It is unclear what the ultimate reaction will be to the Speaker case, but the reaction to 9/11 was to create the largest government office not located in the Pentagon. Are we safer, or are we simply more dependent on human capabilities than ever before?

The Post report stated that part of the problem is that agents have mere seconds to decide whether documents are valid before sending people through security checks. Why? Is there someone standing behind them with stop watches, glaring at them with suspicious eyes just hoping that security violates the thirty second rule? Or is it that we have come to a point where the complaining citizen catches the ear of middle management with such ferocity that they will do anything to oil the squeaky wheel even if that means abandoning support for staff in order to ‘keep the line moving’.

Should we rewrite regulations or should we do away with the notion that pay raises and promotions are based on the person who has received the fewest customer complaints at our borders or in our airports?

Surely our resources would be better spent on training and supporting our people on the front lines of national security. After all, we will win this war on terror, not because we have more or bigger weapons, but because we have superior human capabilities.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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