Homeland Security is the issue, not journalists’ behavior

Should the media be punished for exposing the government’s failures? The Attorney General is currently pondering whether to file charges against ABC News reporters for smuggling 15 pounds of depleted uranium into the country. Instead of addressing the security issues highlighted by ABC News, the government seems intent on punishing the news station.

It is legal to import depleted uranium into the United States with a license. However, Federal authorities claim that ABC News broke the law by filing a false declaration on their import papers. This caused ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider to say, “Do you think terrorists are going to fill out a form saying they’re shipping uranium? That’s the point of the test.”

On this point Schneider is correct. One can hardly imagine a blushing Ayman Al-Zanahiri erasing “weapons grade uranium” from his declaration sheet in front of his al-Qaida brethren.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Dennis Murphy stated, “We believe that may have broken the law, and we are pursuing the appropriate course of action.” He also added, “Can a reporter rob a bank to prove that that bank security is lax?” But the reporters didn’t hold up the customs officer. A better analogy would be a reporter reporting on a big hole in the bank’s safe that allows thieves to slip in and out of the bank with ease.

The uranium was given to ABC News by the National Resources Defense Council. A physicist from the council said that if federal inspectors “can’t detect that, then they can’t detect the real thing,” referring to the almost identical signature of depleted uranium in its steel canister and live uranium in a thicker canister.

Murphy stated, “The package was successfully targeted for screening. We screened it with our equipment and it posed no threat and we released it,” causing reporters all over the nation to keel over laughing.

ABC News concurs that the carton containing the depleted uranium was targeted for screening by customs officials, but it was never opened. Is the Department of Homeland Security using psychics to detect the contents of suspicious containers entering the country? Because there is no other way that they could have known what was really in the canister.

ABC News has technically broken the law, but more importantly, highlighted serious gaps in screening methods at ports.

Instead of shooting the messenger, the Bush administration should work to plug the security holes highlighted by the ABC report.