The terrorist in the cornfield

The DHS says Indiana is first in the nation when it comes to terrorism targets.

Published July 12, 2006 2:04PM (EDT)

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld began pushing for an attack on Iraq. "We all said ... 'No, no. Al-Qaida is in Afghanistan, we need to bomb Afghanistan,'" Richard Clarke remembers. "Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq."

He forgot Indiana.

Yes, the Hoosier State had about as much to do with 9/11 as Iraq did. But Indiana has apparently got something prewar Iraq lacked: a boatload of high-value targets.

That's how the Homeland Security Department sees it, at least.

DHS's National Asset Database lists possible targets of terrorist attacks, and, as the New York Times reports this morning, Indiana appears in the database more often than any other state. We're talking one and a half times more often than New York. Twice as often as California. About 21 times as often as the District of Columbia.

Can't think of a likely terror target in Indiana?

You're just not trying hard enough.

Actually, we can't tell you about any terrorism targets in Indiana, either -- the Times report doesn't identify any of the 8,591 potential targets there. So we'll imagine for a moment that the Indianapolis 500 is on the list, and the Statehouse, and maybe Michael Jackson's childhood home and that high school where "Hoosiers" was set. But those would be significant targets compared with the ones the DHS lists for other states. As the Times reports, the National Asset Database includes "targets" such as a petting zoo in Woodville, Ala., the annual Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., "Nix's Check Cashing," the "Mall at Sears," an "ice cream parlor," a "tackle shop," the "Bean Fest" and the "Beach at End of a Street."

We're not making this up.

In a new report, DHS's inspector general says that the inclusion of these dubious targets "taints the credibility of the data" DHS uses to help it decide who gets antiterror funds. Sen. Chuck Schumer says the list explains a lot about why DHS is cutting funding for New York and Washington and increasing it for more out-of-the-way locations; we say he's just jealous that Wisconsin has more terrorist targets than New York.

As for DHS? The folks there say this is no laughing matter. "We dont find it embarrassing," DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen tells the Times. "The list is a valuable tool."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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