Experts warn U.S. is coming apart at the seams

By Chuck McCutcheon

Newhouse News Service

WASHINGTON — A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country’s basic operating systems are deteriorating.

“When I see events like these, I become concerned that we’ve lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation’s infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation,” said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation “D” for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

“I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm,” said Casey Dinges, the society’s managing director of external affairs.

British oil company BP announced this month that severe corrosion would close its Alaska pipelines for extensive repairs. Analysts say this may sideline some 200,000 barrels a day of production for several months.

Then an instrument landing system that guides arriving planes onto a runway at Los Angeles International Airport failed for the second time in a week, delaying flights.

Those incidents followed reports that the National Security Agency (NSA), the intelligence world’s electronic eavesdropping arm, is consuming so much electricity at its headquarters outside Washington that it is in danger of exceeding its power supply.

“If a terrorist group were able to knock the NSA offline, or disrupt one of the nation’s busiest airports, or shut down the most important oil pipeline in the nation, the impact would be perceived as devastating,” Beckner said. “And yet we’ve essentially let these things happen — or almost happen — to ourselves.”

The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating “at an alarming rate.”


It noted that half the 257 locks operated by the Army Corps of Engineers on inland waterways are functionally obsolete, more than one-quarter of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete, and $11 billion is needed annually to replace aging drinking-water facilities.

President Bush, asked about the problem during a public question-and-answer session in an April visit to Irvine, Calif., cited last year’s enactment of a comprehensive law reauthorizing highway, transit and road-safety programs.

“Infrastructure is always a difficult issue,” Bush acknowledged. “It’s a federal responsibility and a state and local responsibility. And I, frankly, feel like we’ve upheld our responsibility at the federal level with the highway bill.”

But experts say the law is riddled with some 5,000 “earmarks” for projects sought by members of Congress that do nothing to systematically address the problem.

“There’s a growing understanding that these programs are at best inefficient and at worst corrupt,” said Everett Ehrlich, executive director of the CSIS public infrastructure commission.

Ehrlich and others cite several reasons for the lack of action:

• The political system is geared to reacting to crises instead of averting them.

• Some politicians don’t see infrastructure as a federal responsibility.

• And many problems are out of sight and — for the public — out of mind.

“You see bridges and roads and potholes, but so much else is hidden and taken for granted,” said Dinges of the Society of Civil Engineers. “As a result, people just don’t get stirred up and alarmed.”

But a few politicians are starting to notice. In March, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., joined Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Tom Carper, D-Del., in sponsoring a bill to set up a national commission to assess infrastructure needs.

That same month, the CSIS infrastructure commission issued a set of principles calling for increased spending, investments in new technologies and partnerships with business. Among those signing the report were Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

“Infrastructure deficiencies will further erode our global competitiveness, but with the federal budget so committed to mandatory spending, it’s unclear how we are going to deal with this challenge as we fall further and further behind in addressing these problems,” Hagel said in a speech last year. “We need to think creatively.”

Yes, yes I know.
There is not much of an excuse for why I haven’t been on here and doing things, but there have been a few mild challenges to writing, namely having anything worth any interest to recount. I am back and submerged in Americana again.
I am working at Microsoft, the work is challenging, but doable. The worst part about it is having to watch MSNBC throughout the day. I am considering starting a separate blog that focuses on things that the media reports and is actually incorrect information all together.
For instance, just last week, there were two seperate media incidents that transpired and the wrong information was reported.
First, it was the woman who had the plane grounded in Boston because she had a panic attack on the plane–then, almost immediatly, the press reported that she had various items of contraband on her along with possible terror connections, which turned out to be totally and completly untrue.
Next up we have Jon-Bonet’s little love package, the freak from Bangkok who, we are now being told, was just recently laser shaved for his future sex change operation. Hmmmmm, now this guy had many, many, many hours of completly dedicated MSNBC television attributed directly to him and he basically said nothing at all, except that he, like the rest of us, loves Jonbonet. Oh, I too love her. I love her because she brings out what the media is really after, little suburban horror stories. As long as she isn’t black and there is ample video of her, they will search and search for the killer–why? Because she is just like all of us, and if people wanted to see the real stories about the dark side of this American Life, they would watch Cops. That’s reality.

So, as you can see, I am probably not going to start that blog, because whats the fucking point when it all comes down to it? People are perfectly content with simply adding little pieces of content to their myspace and calling it a day. No one really wants to think about the evil things that are happening in the world….

Sorry about the delay in communications–there is a lot going on right now.
I accepted the job at Microsoft and have been training and working for the last week. It is a new challenge in an area from which I have little experience and its showing… but most of the people that I work with are very cool and there are a couple of friends of mine from WSU that I work with in the “war room”, so they keep me grounded.
In the next month, I will be getting a place and a car. Once these things happen, I am then going to work on the blog–once I get everything situated with the house–there is a lot of work to do–lots of writing to do, but I need to get my own personal space and time to do it. Once that happens, there will be some changes that happen here with the Blog–as to what those things are going to be, I am not sure just yet because for the most part these entries that you see are reminders of things for me to talk about in my current project.
Its nice to be working again and I look forward to the immense overtime that the job will bring. I hope to pay off a lot of the debts that have been hanging around ==but first I need to get a place to rest my head and some decent wheels.