Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What is Eric Mansfield Holding Back?

Going through some back posts I had missed, I ran across an Eric Mansfield piece about a story he did not air. You can read the whole post, but here are the highlights. Someone called him saying that officers in a certain local police department were frequently patrolling a certain business. He started investigating.

It started as a story about a business possibly receiving favorable treatment from the local police. But after a spooky cloak-and-dagger phone call, it became a non-story about national security. Here’s an excerpt of the description of the phone call.

    "Then you should know that that business is one of the top Ohio targets for Al Qaida or other terrorists and no I'm not kidding."

    I sat there to compose my thoughts. Shouldn't the public be made aware of this target? Shouldn't people have a right to know what's in their backyard? Shouldn't the federal government be involved here? Wouldn't Bob Woodward jump on this with both feet and never stop typing until it brought down the President?

    "If it's this much of a target," I asked, "why don't they have their own super security or something?"

    "Because the federal government doesn't have the dollars to protect it, so it's up to us," he told me. "I really need your help here Eric."
Based on the phone call, Eric has decided not to air the story because he doesn’t want to alert terrorists to the existence of a high-value target in the area.

I understand Eric’s reluctance to air the story just to tell the world about a target here in NEO. Not only is it tempting fate, it would end up in the vein of “Your sweater can kill you!!! Film at eleven.” Thankfully the Akron newscast has been able to avoid much of that.

But because the story didn’t air, a number of questions remain unanswered. Is this a target because taking it out would kill lots of people or is it an infrastructure target. If it’s a target that can kill people, what is being done to protect the public in the event of an attack. Is there an evacuation plan? Are first responders and medical facilities equipped to handle the disaster?

And who should be paying for security? Is Company X in an industry group that lobbied against regulations requiring facility hardening like the chemical industry did? Does the locality have a case for getting a Homeland Secutiry grant? And did they? And if not, was that decision valid or based on a bias toward New York, DC, etc.?

Right now what we know is that a private company exists, it is a high-value target and the local taxpayers are stuck with the tab for protecting it.

Eric’s decision not to run the story may or may not keep information out of the hands of terrorists. It is definitely keeping information out of the hands of local citizens, and leaving lots of unanswered questions as a result.


Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Scott,

I surfed over to Eric's site and read the story. This is the comment I left there.

Shalom Eric,

Two points in the story get my Lemmings Meter running:

First, security clearances aren't generic, they're always need-to-know. (I held a secret clearance in the Navy with a nuclear weapons specification for the system I worked on, but that didn't get me access to non-system information.)

Why in the world would any official ask that question and then take your word without documentation that you had such a clearance?

Second, even random patrols by local police as a deterrent to criminals are questionable as an effective measure. Why should anyone assume that all criminals are as stupid as the Watergate burglars?

If this is truly a target, then even hourly patrols wouldn't make a difference. Casual surveillance would quickly determine how often the black and whites roll by and allow the criminals to plan accordingly.

Given the amount of Department of Homeland Insecurity money that has not been spent, the inefficient budget excuse just doesn't work.

There may be a deeper story here, but given the information provided here, I think your first instinct was most likely correct.

Whether this is a corruption story or an inept government story, I'd say go with it.