— Volume VII (2011) —

Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security


Ray Finch August 15, 2011 12:51
Are we safer today after spending billions on homeland security? I don't think so, as this country continues to deteriorate from within. The funding that went to support this 'valuable' research and the entire DHS enterprise are part of the rotten and absurd windfall from the 9-11 attacks. We spend
August 16, 2011 12:17
An analysis based solely on finances fails to see the bigger picture. You can’t put a dollar value on a human life. Ask anybody who has recently lost a loved one if they would spend a million, or a billion, or a trillion dollars to get them back, they would say yes.
View all comments / Add Comment
CHDS Comment Policy
John Mueller

John Mueller is professor of political science at Ohio State University. He is the author of over a dozen books, several of which have won prizes. Among the most recent: The Remnants of War (2004), Overblown (2006), and Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (2010). He is also editor of Terrorism Since 9/11: The American Cases published as a web book in 2011 by the Mershon Center at OSU. He has published extensively in scholarly journals and general magazines and newspapers, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. In 2009, Mueller received the International Studies Association’s Susan Strange Award as one “whose singular intellect, assertiveness, and insight most challenge conventional wisdom and intellectual and organizational complacency in the international studies community.” For more information or to contact John Mueller, please go to www.polisci.osu.edu/.

Mark G. Stewart

Mark G. Stewart is professor of civil engineering and director of the Centre for Infrastructure Performance and Reliability at the University of Newcastle in Australia. He is the lead author of Probabilistic Risk Assessment of Engineering Systems (Chapman & Hall, 1997), as well as more than 300 technical papers and reports. He has more than twenty-five years of experience in probabilistic risk assessment of infrastructure systems that are subject to man-made and natural hazards. Since 2004, Stewart has received extensive Australian Research Council support to develop probabilistic terrorism risk-modeling techniques for buildings subject to explosive blasts and cost-benefit assessments of counterterrorism protective measures for critical infrastructure. In 2011, he received a five-year Australian Professorial Fellowship from the ARC to continue and to extend that work. For more information or to contact Mark Stewart, please go to www.newcastle.edu.au/.

The cumulative increase in expenditures on U.S. domestic homeland security over the decade since 9/11 exceeds one trillion dollars. It is clearly time to examine these massive expenditures applying risk assessment and cost-benefit approaches that have been standard for decades. Thus far, officials do not seem to have done so and have engaged in various forms of probability neglect by focusing on worst case scenarios; adding, rather than multiplying, the probabilities; assessing relative, rather than absolute, risk; and inflating terrorist capacities and the importance of potential terrorist targets. We find that enhanced expenditures have been excessive. To be deemed cost-effective in analyses that substantially bias the consideration toward the opposite conclusion, the security measures would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect each year against 1,667 otherwise successful attacks that each inflicted some $100 million in damage (more than four per day) or 167 attacks inflicting $1 billion in damage (nearly one every two days). This is in the range of destruction of what might have happened had the Times-Square bomber of 2010 been successful. Although there are emotional and political pressures on the terrorism issue, this does not relieve politicians and bureaucrats of the fundamental responsibility of informing the public of the limited risk that terrorism presents, of seeking to expend funds wisely, and of bearing in mind opportunity costs. Moreover, political concerns may be over-wrought: restrained reaction has often proved to be entirely acceptable politically. And avoiding overreaction is by far the most cost-effective counterterrorism measure.

Read full article.

Mueller, John, and Mark G. Stewart. “Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security.” Homeland Security Affairs 7, Article 16 (August 2011)