America's No. 1 terror target: Indiana?
How 8,591 'assets' (such as an Amish popcorn plant) landed the state at the top of the government's watch list
Cordell Eddings / Indianapolis Star | July 13 2006
About three miles from the nearest town, Brian Lehman's popcorn factory near Berne has somehow ended up on the federal government's list of potential terrorist targets.
"I don't have a clue why we're on the list. We're on a gravel road, not even blacktop. We're nowhere," said Lehman, owner of Amish Country Popcorn, which employs five people.
Nevertheless, Amish Country Popcorn is one of 8,591 places or events in Indiana that the Department of Homeland Security regards as serious potential terrorist targets, according to an inspector general's report that raised questions about the accuracy and relevance of what's known as the National Asset Database.
Indiana has about 30 percent more listed potential targets than New York (5,687) and nearly twice as many as California (3,212), putting Indiana atop the nation's list of potential terrorism targets.
What's more, the number of potential Indiana targets rose from 322 in 2004 to 8,303 in 2005.
Amish Country isn't the only odd-sounding site in the federal database.
Without divulging specifics, the list includes 77,069 U.S. sites where terrorists might strike -- including a flea market, a petting zoo, ice cream parlors, several Wal-Marts and a tackle shop.
The government's database is used to determine how much states should get out of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal anti-terrorism grants.
In its report, the inspector general's office questions the accuracy of the list, especially because of the inclusion of "non-critical assets."
It also criticized inconsistent reporting by states. For example, Washington state listed 65 national monuments and icons, while Washington, D.C., listed only 37.
The findings drew the ire of some lawmakers, particularly in New York, which saw its portion of funds shrink this year.
"Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told The New York Times. "This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system."
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security said federal officials are to blame for the state's large number of targets.
The list may have become inflated because states were left to interpret a request for potential targets however they wanted.
Pam Bright, a spokeswoman for the state's Homeland Security Department, said federal administrators asked Indiana to make a list of "critical infrastructure and resources," not a list of potential terrorist sites.
"There was not a clear definition of what they wanted, so Indiana took the safe side and submitted all of our important infrastructures," Bright said. "If that's not what they wanted, they should have sent it back and said that's not what they wanted.
"(These) are assets to many local jurisdictions," Bright said in explaining some of the stranger entries on the list.
Officials would not say whether all the sites have been told they're on the list.
"Nobody from the government notified me," said Lehman, the Amish Country Popcorn owner.
Jim White, director of Marion County Emergency Management, had another explanation.
"The Department of Homeland Security is a relatively new organization and, quite frankly, they are in the process of refining their data," White said.
"Have they got it right yet? Probably not. Will it be different next year? Probably."
White acknowledged the list includes sites in Marion County but would not disclose details.
"You don't put your vulnerabilities out there for everybody to see, because the (intelligence) folks on the bad-guy side read the newspapers every day," White said.
As for the popcorn factory, Lehman said he is "having fun" with the hoopla, and he's not concerned about a terrorist attack.
"I haven't lost any sleep yet."
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