Feeling Insecure

There's no defense for some of the government's defense plans, even for D.C.


Defending D.C.: During the 9-11 attacks, with President George W. Bush holding a bum phone in Air Force One, Dick Cheney in the bunker shouting out orders to take down planes that had already crashed, and Don Rumsfeld AWOL, the job of protecting the capital city fell not to the military, but to the Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting the president.

The Secret Service apparently ordered the D.C. National Guard to scramble fighters into a CAP (combat air patrol) with fire-at-will instructions. The Secret Service is not in the chain of command for defense of the nation and operates on its own authority.

Rumsfeld later told the 9-11 Commission that protecting the U.S. within the nation's borders was not his responsibility but fell to some other government law enforcement agency. The 9-11 commissioners listened in rapt attention as this novel interpretation of the nation's laws was explained to them.

Anyhow, the situation is now rectified with the announcement that the Coast Guard will defend the capital. (It takes over from Customs, which has been doing the job since 2003.) On the surface this is a welcome move, since the Coast Guard was the only effective government agency during the recent hurricanes. But the Coast Guard's fleet of planes and ships is woefully outmoded, and it is not known for its firepower.

But that's not the real problem. Putting the Coast Guard in charge means putting Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff in permanent charge. Chertoff is not a military man but a former Justice Department lawyer and judge. He ran a feeble, incompetent government hurricane response. Bush has been pressured to get rid of him and install Rudy Giuliani instead. But he survives and now is commander in chief of the nation's capital.


Additional reporting: Isabel Huacuja and Ali Syed

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