Will Chertoff ditch the "rainbow of doom"?

Some serious recommendations for Bush's new Homeland Security chief.

By Mark Follman
Published March 7, 2005 10:05PM (EST)

The three co-authors of a recent book on the nation's domestic security vulnerabilities are giving new Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff a strong endorsement in today's L.A. Times. "Chertoff's government experience, and particularly his recent efforts to promote information-sharing within the FBI, makes him ideally suited to the task of forging coordination and cooperation within his new realm," write Martha Baer, Evan Ratliff and Katrina Heron.

But they've also got one hell of a "To-Do List" for Bush's new security chief. For starters, the mammoth agency of 180,000 staffers is, by some accounts, still an organizational disaster zone ("The DHS is far from the nimble, integrated agency it needs to be," they note.) That's due at least in part to turf wars causing chaos and inertia inside the agency.

The three recommend that Chertoff begin by "revising" the much-maligned color-coded alert system -- which some have taken to calling the "rainbow of doom" -- into "something useful." (They don't say anything specific about what that might be.) And from emergency response infrastructure to bioterrorism to port security -- no news here -- they say much remains to be done: "A nuclear weapon hidden inside a shipping container is the gravest danger facing this country  Customs inspectors don't have the resources or time to search more than a small fraction of the roughly 7 million containers entering the country each year."

Baer, Ratliff and Heron acknowledge that another terrorist attack on the U.S. may be all but inevitable. "Chertoff must also confront the potential cascade effects of a successful terrorist attack, " they write. "Beyond the individual city (or port or chemical plant) affected lies the landscape of secondary effects: the shortages of goods and services, the transportation shutdowns and the electrical outages that can spell long-term social and economic disaster."

For more on what that might look like -- why we all better hope Chertoff lives up to the authors' praise -- see this ominous study of disaster scenarios by former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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