Impact of the Department of Homeland Security on local governance, commerce, individual rights and the balance of power
By Peter Duveen
PETER'S NEW YORK, Jan. 21, 2009--I recently submitted a position paper on
the Department of Homeland Security to a local town board after briefly
raising the issue at previous town meetings. Local government may be
our last best hope exerting a positive influence on the political
destiny of the United States.
recently approached the Town Board informally at its monthly meeting
and expressed my concern regarding Department of Homeland Security
chief Michael Chertoff’s remarks regarding the overriding of local
government policy by Federal policy.
At that time, I called to
the attention of the board a document entitled "Advancing the
Management of Homeland Security: Managing Intergovernmental Relations
for Homeland Security (2004; National Academy of Public Administration,
Washington, D.C.) The report indicated that, while issues of the
balance of power between the Federal and local level were important,
the local level would be overridden by Federal concerns. The report
states, for example, that
"The Founding Fathers intentionally
designed the federal system to have checks and balances, even though
that principle made government more complex to operate” (p.9-10).
Elsewhere in the document, however, the report shows another face. It states:
best efforts, some city or local governments may not cooperate to the
extent necessary when coordinating homeland security activities. When
cooperation is necessary but elusive, the Panel believed that the
Department (of Homeland Security) should compel cooperation with
nationally legislated preemptions and mandates, or heavily influence it
with grant conditions. Withholding highway trust funds from states
unwilling to enforce federally-mandated speed limits and clean air
goals are examples of effective controls" (p. 13).
It also states, in a similar vein, that:
and the Department must establish national standards in certain areas
and then force or encourage state and local governments to adopt them"
Please note the use of the words "compel" and "force" in the aforementioned passages.
also submitted a summary of a book by Prof. John Mueller entitled
“Overblown” in which Mueller asserts that the terrorist threat within
the United States has been exaggerated to the benefit of a variety of
policy goals and the terrorism industry. I also referred to an article
by Mueller, "Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?: The Myth of the
Omnipresent Enemy," outlining the same assertions, which appeared in
the September/October 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, the
nation’s premier foreign policy journal.
Mueller, at the end of the article, summarizes his conclusions as follows:
it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears
of the omnipotent terrorist...may have been overblown, the threat
presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The
massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11
may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and
taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely
Mueller's work was brought to the attention of the
board in order to put into perspective the pretext for the legislation
establishing the Department of Homeland Security, based on what was
claimed to be a substantial terrorist threat in the wake of the
incidents of September 11, 2001. The government’s version of “9-11” as
outlined in the federally-mandated “9-11 Commission Report” has been
taken to task by a legion of critics on a number of fronts. It is this
report, and the commission behind it, that form the basis for much of
the legislation that has been passed ostensibly to make America more
secure, but which has, in effect, strengthened the hand of the federal
government and weakened support for citizens’ basic constitutional
If indeed the domestic terrorist threat is a "myth," as
Mueller contends, then it must be admitted that the formation of the
Department of Homeland Security and the establishment of a new and
novel body of law in reaction to a security threat has another purpose
entirely. Many commentators believe that this unstated purpose is to
put in place an apparatus that will enable the Federal government to
implement an aggressive, costly and militaristic foreign policy while
brutally stifling dissent at home.
If the terrorist threat has
been overstated, and is being used to undermine local governance
through policies implemented by DHS, its effect will be to upset the
balance of power that exists between Federal, State and local
There is already a movement to absorb certain
functions now reserved for towns and villages into the state and
Federal government. This movement exists on many levels.
ISSUES ON THE LOCAL LEVEL
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
many of us have been briefed on what we can do to protect ourselves
against the threat of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons?
Certainly, drills have been conducted with law enforcement, emergency
medical teams, various agencies such as the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, local police, etc. However, these drills have not
involved the general public.
For example, the public has not
been informed how to protect itself against biological attack. It has
not been given information, for example, on how to obtain antibiotics
to thwart an anthrax attack similar to the one that occurred in the
weeks after 9-11. It has not been issued gas masks to protect against
chemical agents during a chemical attack. It has not been encouraged to
take precautions, as it was in the 1950s, against a nuclear attack.
One can draw the following conclusions from the above.
1. The threat is not real, and the public does not need to be informed.
The threat is real, but will be so severe that there will be no point
in informing the public to take any precautions.
3. There is no interest in protecting the public, but only in cleaning up in the aftermath of an attack.
AGRICULTURE AND COMMERCE
number of onerous measures have been imposed on the agriculture
industry in the name of national security, such as the tagging of
animals and the submission of detailed information on agricultural
assets. While these measures are being imposed on the Federal level,
there is little that farmers and public citizens have been able to do
to oppose these measures. Often, the agendas have been set by
policymakers from extremely well-funded nonprofit “think tanks." They
have been imposed under the pretext of countering a terrorist threat
which in reality may not exist. These policies may have been crafted
with other policy objectives in mind than the ones stated. For example,
if government mismanagement leads to an economic disaster, these
policies may be used to assist implementation of control of the food
resources, and result in confiscation of assets.
constitution protects citizens’ rights on a number of fronts in the
Bill of Rights. Citizens rights are not only intended to help the
individual. They are also designed to put in place a balance of power
that prevents government from becoming corrupt or the tool of special
interests at the expense of the electorate.
DHS has policies
supposedly designed to protect against terrorism, but which may upset
the balance of power and result in an undue concentration of power on
the Federal level. This can have extremely dangerous consequences.
THE GOVERNMENT AS A THREAT
of power in its many manifestations, whether it is a balance between
state and local government, or the balance between the judicial ,
legislative and executive branches of government, or the guaranteed
expression of individual rights and privacy, was established to prevent
government power from becoming abusive. The implementation of “Homeland
Security” and other legislation can dangerously upset the balance of
power, and result in a case where the government itself may be more of
a threat to civil society than the so-called “terrorists” it claims to
be fighting. The Federal government has the motive, means and
opportunity to conduct acts of terrorism and deception against its
citizens, and such acts have occurred and are well documented.
citizens are of the belief that the Federal government has so insulated
itself from the citizenry that it acts more as a private club, crafting
its own goals and policies, and funding them on the back of the
taxpayer, whatever the consequences, without regard to what the public
thinks. Try to contact a congressperson on a matter of importance, and
one will generally find that he or she has already made up his or her
mind. The inquiry will be met by a form letter. In the meantime,
policies are crafted that have an extreme and often negative effect at
the local level. A case in point is the present economic collapse we
are experiencing. This is primarily due to decisions regarding the
nation's monetary policy, upon which the average citizen has had little
or no leverage in effecting change.
is established to be a great benefit to the governed. But it can only
remain so when the balance of power is maintained. Moves to override
local governance are direct challenges to the balance of powers, and
should be resisted.
1. The Town Board should pass a
resolution affirming the importance of local government functions and
their maintenance at the local level, and its intention to retain and
expand upon its current levels of authority. Although these may not
always be efficient, they are important in their function of retaining
the balance of power between local, state and Federal governments. This
resolution should be expanded, as much as possible, to neighboring
towns and to the County.
2. The Town Board should create a
three-year plan to revitalize community activity and involve citizenry
in local government affairs. This may include the promotion of
functions which may not be governmental, but affect social and
commercial interests. A town fair, town garbage pickups, newsletters,
websites and other forms promoting communications among the citizenry
and between the citizenry and government could be covered in such a
3. Greater efficiency in the performance of services will
enable local governments to avoid the accusation, usually unfounded,
that such services are better left to the state or the Federal
4. Funds should as much as possible be retained at
the local level, and should not be circulated through the Federal
government, as such circulation results in an imbalance of power
between Federal and local levels.
5. The town should consider
measures to safeguard the privacy of its citizens. Spying on citizens
by Federal agencies can result in selective prosecutions and
manipulations, and upset the balance of power originally enshrined in
the U.S. constitution.
6. The town should consider measures to
reduce or eliminate Federal government operations that interfere with
the constitutionally-protected rights of its citizens.
7. The Town
Board should act to represent the concerns of its constituents to
members of the state legislature and members of congress, as well as to
the county board.
The Federal government, since the
events of September 11, 2001, has tended to create laws to enable it to
override local decision-making and unnecessarily conduct surveillance
on the local citizenry. This had created an imbalance of power between
local and the Federal government, and has led to an overly strong
Federal decision-making apparatus insulated from local input. It has
led to an expensive and dangerous set of policies in the economic and
foreign policy spheres. All of this has appeared because local
governance has been extremely weak. The antidote is, at least in part,
to empower local governance, not as an appendage of Federal government,
but, rather, as a robust independent body reflecting popular
participation and support, and capable of helping to shape Federal