Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Democrats Ask, Do You Feel Safer?

But a party web video strains some facts about homeland security.


A Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad that appeared on the Internet this week attacks the record of “Bush and the GOP” on homeland security, but makes some factual stumbles.

It claims terror attacks have increased four-fold under Bush, which isn’t true. The official count jumped due to a much broader definition of what constitutes a terrorist attack.

The ad says “law enforcement” spending has been cut $2 billion, but that refers only to cuts in aid to states and localities and ignores a big increase in spending on federal anti-terrorism activities.

It says that only 6 percent of cargo containers are being inspected. That’s about right, but its also a big improvement from three years earlier when the figure was only 2 percent. Also spending has increased seven-fold.

The ad’s biggest stumble was political, not factual. It correctly noted that millions of illegal aliens have entered the US in recent years. But the ad’s images of bazooka-toting terrorists and Osama bin Laden, associated with men furtively crossing the border, drew objections from Hispanics and the DSCC quickly took the ad off their Web site.


This Internet ad first appeared on the DSCC home page Aug. 14, and ran for several days before being taken down. It lays out a partisan line of attack that we expect to see Democrats imitating in Senate and House campaigns in coming months.


(On Screen: A montage featuring pictures of President Bush and Sens. Allen, Talent, Santorum, DeWine, Burns, Chafee, and Kyl.)

Text: Security under Bush and GOP?

Not Enough Troops…

Body Armor…or armed Humvees in Iraq.

Four times as many terror attacks in 2005.

Two billion cut from law enforcement.

Iran developing nuclear weapons. Just 6% of containers inspected.

Millions more illegal immigrants.

North Korea has quadrupled its nuclear arsenal.

Feel Safer?

Vote for change.


More Terror Attacks?

The ad says that there were “four times as many terror attacks in 2005.” However, that’s not true.

The Washington Post did report on April 29 that “the number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased nearly fourfold in 2005 to 11,111.” But a look at the underlying statistics shows that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison reflecting a much broader legal definition of “terrorism.”

The article draws its figures from the State Department’s 2005 Country Report’s on Terrorism. However, the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) which compiled the statistics for the report explained in a release that those figures could be misleading because of a change in terminology:

NCTC: The previously used statutory definition of “international terrorism”  (“involving citizens or territory of more than one country”) resulted in hundreds of incidents per year; the currently used statutory definition of “terrorism” (“premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets”) results in many thousands of incidents per year.

The report goes on to note that this discrepancy “limits our ability to do 2004/2005 comparisons.” The Post noted this vital caveat (toward the end of its story) but the DNC ad did not.

$2 Billion Cut From Law Enforcement?

According to the ad, $2 billion has been cut from “law enforcement” funding. We find the claim to be true regarding federal aid to state and local law enforcement, but not true of law enforcement spending generally or counter-terrorism spending in particular. The funds that have been cut have gone towards such things as cannabis eradication, prescription drug monitoring and pet Congressional projects such as NV.

President Bush proposed eliminating the state-local aid entirely in fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2007, which would have amounted to a cut of $2.8 billion from fiscal 2001. Congress restored some of that funding, however.

There has not been a reduction in domestic counter-terrorism spending, which has gone from $2.5 billion in fiscal 2003 to $4.5 billion in fiscal 2006. And the White House has requested $4.7 billion in spending for 2007 that, if approved by Congress, would represent an increase of more than $2 billion since 2003.

Six Percent of Containers Inspected?

The ad says “just 6% of containers inspected,” in regard to U.S. ports. The Washington Post did report on May 5 that the Department of Homeland Security currently inspects 6 percent of the 11 million cargo containers that enter U.S. seaports annually. That may actually be high: the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) has not officially endorsed any particular percentage, but the Rand Corporation has put  the number at 5 percent. Either way, it represents a big improvement since 2003. A hearing by the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation in 2003 found that only 2 percent of containers were physically inspected.

These numbers include cargo containers examined by x-ray, gamma or other radiation machines, and in some cases actually physically opened for visual inspection. The CBP says it “screens” 100 per cent of all cargo, but that refers to looking at database information to select “high-risk” shipments for possible physical inspection.

Also, the CBP cautions that the low inspection numbers can be misleading because inspection is targeted because of increased inspection at points of origin. The issue has certainly received more congressional attention as funding has increased 700 percent in the last five years.

Millions More Illegal Immigrants?

The DSCC ad claims “millions more illegal immigrants” have entered the country. This is true. According to the best estimates we can find, millions of illegal immigrants have indeed entered the United States since 2001. According to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, there were an estimated 7 million illegal immigrants living in the United States in Jan 2000. Two years later the Urban Institute estimated the illegal immigrant population to be 9.3 million. Most recently, Jeffrey S. Passel, a Senior Research Associate with Pew Hispanic Center and a contributor to the Urban Institute’s 2002 study, conducted a study which estimated the illegal immigrant population to be between 11.5 and 12 million people. That implies a minimum 4.4 million increase from the INS’s Jan 2000 estimate.

Bazookas, bin Laden & Illegal Immigrants

The ad’s immigration claim made news, but not because of any factual mistake. It showed images of bazooka-toting terrorists and Osama Bin Laden in association with two men illegally crossing the border. The comparison came as an unwelcome surprise for some members of the Hispanic community. The Associated Press quoted Lisa Navarrete of The National Council of La Raza saying: “This is the same kind of fear mongering we condemn in the extreme media and now we are seeing it at the DSCC…It’s appalling.” The AP also reported that Carol Alvarado, a Houston City councilwoman, sent the DSCC’s chair, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a letter requesting the ad be pulled for fear it would alienate Latino voters. The Web site that once led you to the ad now displays a new ad featuring quotes from key Republicans and asking voters if they want a “new course” in Iraq. The new ad makes no reference to immigration whatsoever.

Nuclear Threats

The ad is on more solid ground when it says that Iran is “developing nuclear weapons,” and that “North Korea has quadrupled its nuclear arsenal.” These are both fair statements based on the best public knowledge of each country’s capabilities.

Iran is openly developing the ability to enrich uranium into material that could be suitable for weapons.  They claim to be doing so for peaceful purposes and have denied any intention otherwise. However, the U.S. has claimed to have evidence to the contrary and the U.N recently set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium.

As for the North Koreans, according to a congressional report the CIA believed that they had enough plutonium for one or two nuclear warheads prior to 2002. In 2004, the former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory testified in front of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations after a visit to North Korea. Based on his observations and expertise he concluded the North Koreans had enough plutonium for four to six nuclear weapons. Assuming that the material has actually been made into bombs (which isn’t clear) those two vague estimates imply that the “arsenal” has at least doubled and may have increased six-fold.

-by Justin Bank & Emi Kolawole



Watch DSCC Web Ad


U.S. Senate.  Roll Call Vote 157.  109th Congress

“Analytical Perspectives,” Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal 2007. Office of Management and Budget.

“Analytical Perspectives,” Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal 2006. Office of Management and Budget.

“Analytical Perspectives,” Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal 2005. Office of Management and Budget.

Gamboa, Suzanne. “Democratic Web Ad Angers Some Hispanics,” The Associated Press. 17 Aug 2006.

Gamboa, Suzanne. “Republican Hispanics blast Democrats’ ad,” The Associated Press. 15 Aug 2006.

Squassoni, Sharon, “CRS Report RS21391: North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: How Soon an Arsenal?Congressional Research Service. 1 Aug 2005.

Senate Report 107-42. S 1215. 107th Congress.

Senate Report 109-280. HR 5672. 109th Congress.