One Cost of Homeland-Security Ineptitude

For a long time Miami has been the de facto capital of Latin America. The infrastructure is good (including the cultural infrastructure that is particularly hospitable to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking visitors), taxes and other costs are relatively low and official corruption isn’t a serious problem. Miami is also conveniently located within a couple of hours of most of Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America and is on the way to the northeastern United States and Europe.

But now Miami faces increased competition. A recent WSJ article (subscription only) describes how Panama City is gaining market share as both a regional travel hub and banking and business center. Post-9/11 airport-security procedures have added a lot of time and hassle to trips for Latin American business people using Miami as a hub. And burdensome U.S. financial regulations make relatively laissez-faire Panama attractive.

There is also the matter of how U.S. officialdom too often treats foreign visitors, and that’s the real subject of this blog post. The WSJ article opens with an infuriating anecdote about the reception a Brazilian woman received at the Miami airport:

Anna Paula Gama, an accounts executive for MTV Brasil, got a cold reception when she arrived in Miami last year for a vacation.

Despite having visited the U.S. four previous times, she was pulled aside by immigration agents and grilled about her finances. She emerged teary-eyed, vowing to never visit Miami again. “They opened all my bags, opened my wallet, dropping money all over the floor, then they left me to pick it up myself,” she recalls.

This kind of treatment is inexcusable. This lady isn’t likely to be a terrorist, and even if she were, treating her disrespectfully would hardly increase our odds of identifying or apprehending her. But treating her badly probably does make it more likely that she will avoid visiting or doing business here, that she will vote for anti-American politicians in her own country, and that she will be less sympathetic to U.S. policies and interests when her elected officials look for public support for pro-U.S. policies.

I don’t care what the French political elite think about us, but I think that the perceptions and opinions about the U.S.A. of ordinary people around the world matter. A large part of what the Bush administration is trying to do, in its current campaign to promote democracy in formerly dangerous dictatorships, requires the residents of those places to trust in our good faith. We also need the support of voters in the democratic countries we are allied with. We gain nothing by abusing any of these people in our airports. And while I have no doubt that not all U.S. immigration officials abuse foreign visitors, I have heard and read enough of these stories to believe that mistreatment of visitors is frequent and that our bureaucracy does little to discourage it. This is an area in which the Bush administration, for all of its great successes overseas, has performed poorly. Never mind the Congressional gimmick of reorganizing the INS, surely we are long past due for a housecleaning of our immigration bureaucracy, starting at the top. Nothing reinforces accountability better than high-level firings, as Bush’s recent actions at the CIA demonstrate. What about the INS? I get the impression that it’s a low priority. I think that’s unfortunate.

The world is becoming increasingly competitive. Just as U.S. companies increasingly face foreign competition for business, so U.S. cities compete with foreign cities as business venues. And so the U.S. as a country competes with other countries for the world’s most productive people, who enrich our country greatly but don’t have to come here. We should treat them decently when they visit.

Quote of the Day

But the situation will be even more dangerous than Coll suggests. Long before a faculty lounge in Islamabad or Riyadh realizes it can build a bomb alone and secretly, the same thought will have occurred to individuals in Tel Aviv, New Delhi or Palo Alto. Any Islamic group that believes it can attack New York deniably should convince itself that no similar group can nuke Mecca at the height of the pilgrim season. In fact, the whole problem that Coll describes should be generalized. The only thing worse than discovering that New York has been destroyed by persons unknown is to find that Islamabad has been vaporized by a group we’ve never heard of.


Where do They Get This Stuff?

Craig Henry over at Lead and Gold has a bone to pick with Richard Clarke’s speculation about terrorist attacks in the US. So do I.

Clarke says that a few gunmen can mow down hundreds of people in a shopping mall with impunity.

Four men, disguised as private mall-security officers and armed with TEC-9 submachine guns, street-sweeper 12-gauge shotguns, and dynamite, entered the mall at two points and began executing shoppers at will.

(Insert paragraph about how the Assault Weapons Ban would have prevented the terrorists from arming themselves.)

The panic and confusion brought on by the terrorists’ opening volleys led many shoppers to run away from one pair of murderers and into the path of the other, leading to more carnage. Two off-duty police officers were cited for bravery after they took down one pair of terrorists with their personal weapons, before the local SWAT team could get to the scene. Meanwhile, one of the other terrorists used his cell phone to remotely detonate the rental van he had driven to the mall; this resulted in even more chaos in the parking garages. Once the SWAT team arrived, it made short work of the two remaining terrorists. By the time the smoke had cleared, more than 300 people were dead and 400 lay wounded. In the confusion of the firefight the SWAT team had killed six mall guards and wounded two police officers.

400 dead? Not if I’m in there buying new tennis shoes. And not if any of my former students are there. Or anyone from the Pink Pistols, one of the organizations for which I volunteer.

This might seem reasonable to someone who isn’t concerned with self defense, but to those of use who shoot it’s pretty much insane.

Read the whole thing. Craig is more than a little long-winded about this subject, but I can see why he wanted to talk about it at length.

Not News to the Blogosphere

It would appear that Europe is becoming “terrorism central” according to this entry at (Post dated February 4, 2005.)

Most people consider the Middle East to be the place where terrorist organizations find sanctuary and support. But SP points out that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for terrorists to operate there, not least because of anti-terrorism efforts by the governments in the region.

(As an aside, why are regimes in the ME cracking down on terrorists? The reasons are legion, but one that’s not getting enough attention is that they’re afraid to get on the bad side of the US. Another benefit of Pres. Bush’ policy of considering those who support terrorism as being enemies in the War on Terror.)

One place that’s becoming a major sanctuary for terrorists is Europe.

The reasons aren’t surprising to those who read the blogs. Europe has a large (and growing) Islamic immigrant population. Anti-Americanism is rampant in European media, and it’s a useful political tool for any party trying to get some votes. The generous Socialist welfare programs that the Europeans are so proud of have the result of supporting a population of young disaffected men who are sympathetic to terrorist recruiters.

But I think the most significant reason that Europe is becoming the new breeding ground for terrorists and their organizations is that most European cultures actively discourage assimilation.

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