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$1M Per Bad Guy

Wednesday, February 01 2006

Bruce Schneier wrote about the “failure of US-VISIT”, a blog entry about how the DHS has spent $15B on the US-VISIT program. Truth is, he’s wrong about the numbers. I’m not sure exactly where he’s getting his figure of $15B, but to date, the DHS has only received $1B for the program over the course of three years. He suggests that for the 1000 bad guys we’ve nabbed, they each cost $15M, which also isn’t true.


The program requires travelers to the US to submit fingerprints and photos in addition to normal customs routines. Out of the 44 million people processed, the program has captured 1000 people with criminal or immigration violations. No word on how many of those, if any, were terrorists. You can break down these costs two ways – $22/visitor, or $1,000,000/violator, but certainly not the $15M that Bruce suggests.


Now, I have to ask myself – am I comfortable with spending $1M per violator? I’m not sure I am. When I hear that only 1000 people out of 44 million were caught for whatever reason, that makes me wonder how effective the program is. Surely the percentage of “bad guys” is higher than that. And given that most of the terrorists who have committed attacks have had clean records, how will this catch those guys? There are terrorists who are brought up for a single purpose, one they’ll get a single chance at, and those guys will pass right through our filters. The entire idea seems about as pointless to me as the extensive security at airports – those who are truly committed to taking down a plane will always be able to just as those who are truly committed to getting into our country under false pretenses will always be able to.