Prominent politicians get a lot of protection from the random threats of violence that have people worried these days. You will not see the governor of my state anywhere -- at the gym, in a car, dining with friends -- without two burly, armed bodyguards keeping watch over him.
The rest of us must depend on our national security architecture, which is not particularly reassuring. Some recent reports:
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Unified School District was shut down in an apparent "swatting" incident. Some jerk with a computer emailed serious sounding threats to school board members. District officials, wary after the San Bernardino shootings, told more than 640,000 students to stay home.
Meanwhile. school security guards, the LAPD, state highway officials, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scrambled, unsuccessfully, to identify the source of the threat. The effort must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and so far has led nowhere.
The day before yesterday, the New York Times reported that the female terrorist in the San Bernardino shootings had a long social media history declaring her support of jihad and wish to participate in jihadism.
This information was not detected when she immigrated to the U.S. because neither the DHS nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) looked into her publicly available social media background.
So while Edward Snowden revealed that the government had been collecting meta data on all the rest of us for many years, immigration officials dithered over whether it was "appropriate" to look at potential immigrants' Facebook posts. These officials are dithering still.
Last June, a leaked classified report revealed that the Transit Security Agency (TSA) may not be doing a particularly good job of identifying threats to travelers.
In undercover government tests of TSA airport security, as much as 95 percent of planted contraband -- weapons and explosives, not bottles of water -- went undetected by screeners, scanners and radiation searches.
Think about it: TSA has 47,000 employees, a $7.5 billion budget and, in audits of its effectiveness, a 5 percent success rate at keeping implements of mass destruction off airplanes.
Another fun TSA fact: In May, it was reported that over the course of two years, 270 TSA employee badges had gone missing at the San Diego International Airport; more than 1,400 such badges were lost at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Apparently nobody has totted up the total number of lost badges at airports nationwide.
After the terror shootings in San Bernardino, Congress considered a measure to ban gun sales to individuals on the government's No Fly List, which aims to prevent likely terrorists from getting on airplanes. There were the usual political skirmishes, but the more interesting result was the revelation that followed about how squishy and unreliable the No Fly List actually is.
The national Terrorist Screening Center manages the No Fly List, which grew from 16 names before the 9/11 attacks to 2,500 names in 2008 to 47,000 names in 2013. (Another list, the FBI-administered Terrorist Watchlist has been variously reported to contain 700,000 names or more than 1 million names.)
It appears that a citizen can be placed on the No Fly List based on the hunch of a single bureaucrat. Many people with common names have been denied the opportunity to get on airplanes because they are "false positives."
This was funny many years ago when late Sen. Ted Kennedy had problems because of a "T. Kennedy" on a watch list, but he was a U.S. senator and able to fix things fast.
More recently, a Stanford PhD candidate, married and a mother, was not allowed to fly because a professional group to which she belonged had a name that sorta sounded like the name of an actual terrorist group. She is Muslim and so had a great deal more difficulty.
Long story short, these watch lists cannot be regarded as accurate but they do restrict the rights of an unknown number of innocent American citizens.
Last year it was revealed that the personnel files of 21 million federal workers had been compromised in two major hacks apparently orchestrated by the Chinese government.
Stolen information included names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information of current and former federal employees and contractors.
Initial reports of the theft of 1.1 million workers' fingerprint records were later revised up to about 5.6 million fingerprint records.
Six months later, less than 25 percent of those affected had been notified officially that their personal information had been compromised. This was revealed in an email sent from the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the Reuters news agency.The OPM effort to help affected employees -- offering credit monitoring and data theft protection -- seems to have been very slow and awkward at best and woefully bungled at worst.
No system, like no human, is perfect. But I wish sometimes that our government efforts were less riddled with failings than they seem to be.