Flash: DHS Disputes Al-Qaeda's 5-Star Rating of Two U.S. Cities

By Dana Milbank
Friday, June 2, 2006

Homeland Security Undersecretary George Foresman was leaving the Chamber of Commerce on H Street yesterday morning when he met one of his subordinates, Tracy Henke, arriving to deliver a speech.

"It's gonna get better," Foresman told Henke, consolingly.

Henke shrugged. "You just roll with it," she said.

Or, more likely, get rolled. Henke, who is in charge of Homeland Security's grant-making, has become a target of ridicule since she announced plans Wednesday to cut counterterrorism money for New York City and the Washington area -- which together have been the targets of 100 percent of al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks on American soil -- by 40 percent each.

Adding insult to this injury, Henke's department judged that the nation's capital is a "low-risk" city and that the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building are not worthy of "national icon" status. By contrast, those terrorism magnets of Kansas City and St. Louis -- both by happenstance in Henke's home state of Missouri -- received boosts in funds. Other winners: the horses of Louisville, the cattle of Omaha and five cities in Jeb Bush's Florida.

Sounds dubious? Sorry, you can't see the data Henke used. Classified.

To nobody's surprise, the actions at DHS have brought furious condemnations, most notably from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who wrote in Thursday's New York Post: "As far as I'm concerned, the Department of Homeland Security has declared war on New York City."

Henke seems rattled. Arriving for her speech yesterday to a DHS-backed group called the Citizen Corps, she was a bit out of breath and hurried to the stage, saying "I'm up again." She immediately brought up the controversial grant announcement and appealed to her audience for some love.

"Needless to say, not everybody has nice things to say about me," she said, so "anybody who wants to say something nice, please feel free to do so. You know, it's one of those things where it's occasionally important to have a little bit of that positive affirmation. If nothing else, then I'll have to call my parents, and the reality is they don't give it to me either."

In this time of torment over big-city terrorism funding, Henke opted to recall her small-town upbringing. "People come to Washington and they forget where they came from and they think all knowledge, all information, all good ideas generate in the marble buildings of Washington, D.C.," she argued. "Guess what? Not true. Not true at all. I'm very fortunate, I come from a very small town in Missouri." She said she keeps a sign in her desk that says "Remember where you came from."

Henke has. St. Louis, not far from her hometown of Moscow Mills, gets a 31 percent boost in counterterrorism money under the new formula.

The new DHS plan is advertised as a "risk-based" model, but it came up with almost the opposite conclusions to a Rand Corp. study last year that calculated terrorism risk to 47 cities. Seven of the 10 highest-risk cities in the Rand study will lose funding under the DHS plan; six of the 10 lowest-risk cities in the Rand study will see increases in funds, including such hot spots as Milwaukee and Tampa.

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