Rich Galen

The other day, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said he has "kind of a gut feeling that we are in a period of increased vulnerability."

Let me say this in the vernacular of my youth in New York: Gut feelings I can get from the very nice lady who takes in my shirts at the cleaners. From the Secretary of Homeland Security I expect facts.

From Luke Skywalker I expect to hear there may be a "disturbance in the force." From Michael Chertoff I expect oversight of the Transportation Safety Administration.

Last month, you may have read, some TSA agents at Reagan National had a gut feeling that an ex-Secret Service agent (also a Homeland Security component) was trying to smuggle something dreadful onto an airplane in her two-year-old's sippy cup.

It was water. But they nailed her.

Chertoff said: "In the last August, and in prior summers, we've had attacks against the West, which suggests that summer seems to be appealing to them."

Summer is appealing to them, maybe, because they are training in the desert in Pakistan where in the summertime it is also hot and sticky.

In Islamabad, on Monday, it is supposed to be 96 degrees. On Tuesday, in Washington, DC it is forecast to be 93 degrees.

What does Chertoff's gut tell him, I wonder, about that amazing confluence of meteorological … um, stuff.

It is useful to remember that (1) FEMA is an agency within Homeland Security, and (2) it was Michael Chertoff - not Tom Ridge - who was the Secretary of Homeland Security when "Brownie" was doing his "heck of a job."

I may have this wrong by a day or so, but I don't believe Brownie's immediate boss, Chertoff, arrived in Baton Rouge until Wednesday after the storm by which time that particular battle had been well and truly lost.

Chertoff was newer then, at being Secretary of Homeland Security, so his guts may not have been as sensitized as they were in Chicago earlier this week and, therefore, could not foresee the devastation which Katrina wrought.

My problem with Michael Chertoff saying something as imprecise as having "a gut feeling" is that it sends exactly the wrong message to an American public which is a bit nervous about the ability of the government to protect it right now.

In an editorial following Chertoff's gutsy interview, the ChiTrib quoted a homeland security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who "chastised Chertoff for relying on a gut feeling, arguing that 'guesswork ... does very little to bolster confidence of an already threat-weary public.'"

So, it's not just me.

A huge proportion of the outcry demanding the government secure our borders during the immigration bill debate last month was precisely because Americans have little confidence that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (also an agency of DHS) is doing that very well right now.

That goofball stationed at the Canadian border who worked (and maybe still works) for Chertoff and let Andrew "TB Andy" Speaker waltz through the border crossing even though his name was flagged on a watch list did little to assuage my fears - even assuming I know what assuage actually means.

I wonder what Chertoff's gut tells him about the level of training of the people who are supposed to be protecting our borders - winter AND summer.

In addition, playing the gut card, gives real scary people like Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh) the opportunity to send out a press release saying the Administration is "is drumming up fear in order to protect its war agenda."

I absolutely don't believe that is the case, but the astonishing imprecision of Chertoff's remark gives the President's political opponents a clear field of fire.

Michael Chertoff was a senior official in the Justice Department and a Federal Judge before he took over DHS. He is smart enough and experienced enough to understand that a phrase like "a kind of gut feeling" is not what America is looking for in a threat assessment.

From my aunt's bunions I can get a weather report. From the Secretary of Homeland Security I expect something more technical.

Although, now that I think of it, my aunt's bunions are almost always right. When she says to take an umbrella...


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.