Tom Coburn Takes on the Zombie Apocalypse

I tell you, if Tom Coburn just stuck to shutting down the most egregious Homeland Security fearmongering boondoggle abuses rather than shutting down government itself, I might grow to love the man.

His latest effort (for which some of his staffers appear to have staged a very fun photo shoot) takes on the stupid things localities bought under the $7.1 billion Urban Area Security Initiative, which was originally intended to help likely terrorist targets (like NYC) prepare against an attack, but which turned into a big boondoggle for towns unlikely to be targeted.

The describes how Keene, NH (home of the Free State Project) tried to use a grant to buy its 40-cop police department–which has faced just one murder in the last two years–an armored vehicle to protect its annual pumpkin festival. Keene was not alone; the report has several pages dedicated to the graft Lenco Armored Vehicles has been conducting selling governments in Waukesha, WI and Santa Barbara, Carlsbad, Escondido, and Fontana, CA BearCats they have no need for using sole source bids.

The report attacks Pittsburgh for having bought an LRAD–which it used during the G-20–as “a kinder and gentler way to get people to leave.” It also describes how San Diego County used an LRAD to protect a speaking event with Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, and Susan Davis.

But the centerpiece of the report is the description of how first responders used grant money to attend a training session in a San Diego resort at which they were entertained by a Zombie Apocalypse simulation billed as “a very real exercise, this is not some type of big costume party.”

One notable training-related event that was deemed an allowable expense by DHS was the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit 2012. Held at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa on an island outside San Diego, the 5-day summit was deemed an allowable expense by DHS, permitting first responders to use grant funds for the $1,000 entrance fee. Event organizers described the location for the training event as an island paradise: “the exotic beauty and lush grandeur of this unique island setting that creates a perfect backdrop for the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit.

[snip]

The marquee event over the summit, however, was its highly-promoted “zombie apocalypse” demonstration. Strategic Operations, a tactical training firm, was hired to put on a “zombie-driven show” designed to simulate a real-life terrorism event.92 The firm performed two shows on Halloween, which featured 40 actors dressed as zombies getting gunned down by a military tactical unit. Conference attendees were invited to watch the shows as part of their education in emergency response training. Barker explained that, “the idea is to challenge authorities as they respond to extreme medical situations where people become crazed and violent, creating widespread fear and disorder.”93

According to the firm’s public relations manager, the exercise was brought about “utilizing Hollywood magic,” and setup in a “parking lot-sized movie set [with] state-of-the-art structures, pyrotechnic battlefield effects, medical special effects, vehicles and blank-firing weapons.”94 Barker added, however, “”This is a very real exercise, this is not some type of big costume party.”95

The report also criticizes the way cities scramble to define themselves as high risk, focusing particularly on Thousand Oaks-Oxnard, but also calling out his own state’s Tulsa for its recent UASI grants.

As per usual, DHS can’t justify much of this spending. Of particular interest, however, the report reveals that FEMA refused to give Coburn’s staffers data on how cities were defined as risks under the Bush Administration.

A fuller explanation of the reasoning for including 14 new jurisdictions in FY2008 was not given, however, and the risk scores for the FY2004-FY2008 DHS uses to award funds is neither public nor was it made available to staff upon request.69

69 Urban area risk scores were made available for 2009-2011. Despite the request, FEMA did not made the risk scores available for FY 2003-2008.

And the whole report is prefaced by some very sound remarks about security.

The balancing act between liberty and security has been tenuous throughout the history of our nation, founded upon basic freedoms granted by our Creator and protected from government infringement within the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. But a new element has been added to this equation over the past decade that threatens to undermine both our liberty and security— excessive government spending and insurmountable debt.

We cannot secure liberty and guarantee security simply by spending more and more money in the name of security. Every dollar misspent in the name of security weakens our already precarious economic condition, indebts us to foreign nations, and shackles the future of our children and grandchildren.

Yeah, Coburn is being a fiscal miser. But in this case, he’s absolutely right: this pork does nothing to keep us safe, it militarizes totally safe cities, and makes a bunch of corrupt contractors rich in the process.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    @Phil Perspective: I’d have to go back, though I doubt it (plus, he got there in 2005, after DHS and this program were both created).

    But this report especially (his last one, on fusion centers, less so, but still to some degree) is very good at calling out conservative localities going after pork. That’s why I noted the Tulsa stuff: he’s going after his own constituents.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @bmaz: Coburn’s staffers sure had fun writing this. I’m wondering whether they were high when they brainstormed having Lego armored vehicles for their cover.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Except that it is Congress, the White House and Homeland Security ™ that funded such foolish purchases, employed the people, and approved the oversight-free processes that led to such exorbitantly wasteful spending.

    By all means let’s have Congress get off the duff it’s been sitting on for a dozen years and implement meaningful oversight. Or is Mr. Coburn merely annoyed that it is no longer the GOP that determines this foolish overspending and overmilitarizing of local law enforcement?

  4. scribe says:

    This is perhaps the most damning report to have come out of Washington since Watergate or Iran-Contra. Coburn should have seen his way clear to have strangled it in its crib. That he didn’t shows what a rank political amateur he is.

    I say this not because it’s a major scandal or even a minor one. People have been rightly carping about the fountain of graft that is DHS since Joe Lieberman shat it on the American people. No surprises between the covers of this report.

    The damning part, though, is that it shows the congressional Rethuglicans not only know how to do oversight properly, but they also have intentionally not done it.

    Let me reiterate. They know how to to proper oversight and have deliberately, intentionally, chosen to not do it.

    Instead, they have engaged in juvenile antics masquerading as investigations and scream like infants when either Rethuglicans are the subject of investigation or Democrats call on them to do serious, mature, professional investigations instead of partisan witch hunts. Sensenbrenner turning off the lights in a hearing room and closing down a hearing. Darryl Issa, every f’g day. Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling. Blowjobs. Vince Foster. You name the clown show we’ve seen over the last dozen or twenty years, and the Rethuglicans and their deliberate choice to take the low, childish road has been at the center of it. This report shows their stunts have been aimed not at investigating and correcting, but at sedition.

    If ever in the history of the world there was a Party of Hate waging a War on Civilization, today’s Republican party is it’s present incarnation.

    This report’s existence proves it.

  5. justbetty says:

    What if small communities buy some big useless “security stuff” through Homeland Security which seems to approve everything and then turn around and sell it to some other country and use the money to make up for budget shortfalls? That would actually make sense.

Comments are closed.