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As the world waits to see whether the United Nations- sponsored cease-fire will quell tensions in the Middle East, the July 28 shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle-where one person was killed and five others injured-is a reminder that hostilities overseas often provide fodder for violence in the United States. The alleged shooter is reported to have made comments critical of Israel before opening fire. Following the attack, police departments across the country raised their profile at locations identified with the Jewish and Muslim faiths. With a limited supply of police officers and a seemingly unlimited supply of potential targets, however, preventing attacks becomes an odd combination of luck and science. Although terrorists can strike anywhere, New York and the National Capital Region-the District of Columbia and surrounding areas in Virginia and Maryland-will remain on the terrorist shortlist. Indeed, the Aug. 10 announcement that British authorities foiled an alleged plot to destroy as many as 10 U.S.-bound flights with liquid explosives suggests that terror cells are active and well-organized. Some of the flights reportedly were bound for New York and Washington. So it was unfortunate that these locales recently found their federal anti-terrorism funding cut by 40%. Controversial allocations Allocating homeland security grants to state and local authorities is the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Because most jurisdictions rely on federal funding as their primary (and frequently only) source of anti-terrorism dollars, how best to allocate the funds has been controversial. DHS will dispense $1.7 billion in federal homeland security money this year. The money is divided among all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. In a target-rich environment, deciding how much federal assistance a particular city should receive is not only difficult but also deceptive. Paducah, Ky., for example, is the home to the only facility in the country that enriches uranium for use in nuclear power plants. Given its strategic importance to energy production, should Paducah-a city of just more than 26,000 people according to the last census-receive as much money as a city 10 times its size? While the amount of federal assistance that small cities with significant targets should receive is often debated, New York and the National Capital Region must receive sufficient dollars to address new threats and changing vulnerabilities. Despite continued need, New York’s grant dropped from approximately $207 million to approximately $124 million. The National Capital Region will receive approximately $46 million, a far cry from the $190 million requested and a reduction from the $77 million it received in 2005. By contrast, the Los Angeles/Long Beach area will receive more than $80 million this year. The complex manner DHS uses to analyze terror risk is responsible for the reductions. In recent testimony before Congress, the DHS undersecretary for preparedness, George Foresman, explained the risk methodology to skeptical members of the House Government Reform Committee. The committee’s chairman, Tom Davis, R-Va., opened the hearing by stating that “in attempting to implement a risk-based grant allocation system and improve state and local response capabilities, DHS appears to have built a dangerous house of mirrors for the unwary.” The house of mirrors is reflected by the growing list of potential terror targets, which is a key factor driving risk-based grant allocations for jurisdictions across the country. DHS has attempted to categorize targets into a National Asset Database. In 2003, the database began with 160 entries. Today, it has more than 77,000. According to the DHS inspector general, efforts to create a meaningful National Asset Database-and thus provide the foundation for realistic risk-based grant awards-have been unsuccessful, in part, because the database includes locations whose value to a terrorist is more hypothetical than real. The list has included “targets” such as a groundhog zoo, a doughnut shop and car dealerships. DHS is correct to use a risk-based model to make grant decisions, and the value of a meaningfully populated National Asset Database is similarly important. Nonetheless, a formula will never explain the attractiveness of New York and Washington to terrorists. These are precisely the cities that were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001-and the cities that will continue to be the focus of future plots. Before reducing funding to the nation’s riskiest locations, the federal government needs to double-check its figures using the most precise risk-formula available: common sense. Steven Roberts, an NLJ columnist, is a homeland security consultant.

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