The general in charge of the Pengaton’s counter-IED effort reiterated a couple of important points Wednesday. Speaking at a defense forum in Virginia Beach, Army Lieutenant General Thomas Metz noted that IEDs are strategic weapons, and they could be equally devastating if used in the United States.
“The IED is a strategic weapon and it’s got to be dealt with as a strategic weapon,” he told the audience at a conference on joint warfighting hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
Much like the methodical ‘death of thousand cuts’ employed by communist forces during the Vietnam War, the strategy of opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan who employ IEDs against U.S. troops, Metz said, is to exploit the American public’s low tolerance for casualties.
“It’s a strategic weapon to wear our will down,” he said.
General Metz currently serves as director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), which (as Air Force Times notes) has a $4 billion annual budget, to counter weapons that can cost less than $100 to build and deploy.
During his remarks, Metz raised the spectre of IEDs being used in the United States. He observed that an IED could be easily emplaced on a critical bridge or inside a tunnel, with deadly results.
Materials for such a device could be easily obtained, Metz claimed. ““I’m told that in most homes there’s enough [chemicals and cheap technology] to make an IED,” he said.
The Director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, made similar remarks last October, at a meeting in Washington, D.C. At the time, he said the Bush Administration would unveil its “domestic” strategy for the IED threat later this year.
As a part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security has asked the states to develop plans for dealing with the menace. The plan is a requirement for states to receive their full allotment of federal funding. And, as you might expect, there’s been plenty of belly-aching about the IED mandate. From an article published last month in The New York Times:
Juliette N. Kayyem, the Massachusetts homeland security adviser, was in her office in early February when an aide brought her startling news. To qualify for its full allotment of federal money, Massachusetts had to come up with a plan to protect the state from an almost unheard-of threat: improvised explosive devices, known as I.E.D.’s
“I.E.D.’s? As in Iraq I.E.D.’s?” Ms. Kayyem said in an interview, recalling her response. No one had ever suggested homemade roadside bombs might begin exploding on the highways of Massachusetts. “There was no new intelligence about this,” she said. “It just came out of nowhere.”
More openly than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local authorities have begun to complain that the federal financing for domestic security is being too closely tied to combating potential terrorist threats, at a time when they say they have more urgent priorities.
And there’s the rub:
Local officials do not dismiss the terrorist threat, but many are trying to retool counterterrorism programs so that they focus more directly on combating gun violence, narcotics trafficking and gangs — while arguing that these programs, too, should qualify for federal financing, on the theory that terrorists may engage in criminal activity as a precursor to an attack.
Secretary Chertoff disagrees:
“We have not been highly restrictive,” Mr. Chertoff said. But he said the department’s programs were never meant to assist local law enforcement agencies in their day-to-day policing. The requirements of the Homeland Security programs had helped strengthen the country against an attack, Mr. Chertoff said, expressing concern about shifting money to other law enforcement problems from counterterrorism. “If we drop the barrier and start to lose focus,” he said, “we will make it easier to have successful attacks here.”
Meanwhile, the administration is also catching flack on Capitol Hill for slow implementation of a plan for countering IEDs in the United States. Damned if you do, and damned if you do, or so it would seem.
Federal and state officials are, of course, free to debate the threat posed by IEDs in the homeland. But General Metz is correct in describing them as strategic weapons, and his assessment that they will be used in the U.S., perhaps sooner rather than later. If you accept that premise, then it seems logical that some sort of planning should be accomplished before the first IED explodes in an American city.
In fact, the Bush Administration probably deserves some credit for getting state and local officials to think about the threat, and using grant money to hold their feet to the fire. Unfortunately, many of those officials now view Homeland Security grants as just another example of federal largess, money that should not arrive with strings attached.
Normally, we’re a little leery of federal mandates, but in this case, we’ll make an exception. There is no indication that a terrorist IED campaign would be preceded by a rash of bank robberies or armored car heists, so the theory of “deterring crime to prevent terrorism” only goes so far.
More importantly, state and local law enforcement can’t afford to play “catch-up” on the IED threat, once the bombs start going off. Remember the public outcry over IED casualties in Iraq? Multiply that a thousand times, and you’ll get some idea of the response to domestic IEDs.
Now is the time for the states and municipalities to start thinking about the threat, and developing viable plans for attacking the bomb-makers and their networks before the first attack. IEDs may be relatively low on the priority list right now, but they won’t be after the first bomb explodes on a bridge or in a tunnel—or on a crowded commuter train.