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The price of distraction

Immediately after 9/11, America was united, vigilant and determined not to permit a repeat of the slaughter of the innocents. But since then, we have let down our guard.

Partisans on the right might say that we did so because the attorney general and the president tied the hands of those who are charged with defending our homeland. Partisans on the left might say that budget cuts impaired our ability to staff our homeland security efforts adequately. Both would be partially correct.

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But the fact is, we have let down our guard, and the attack on these magnificent athletes — and their children — is the result.

Our homeland security effort has been running on fumes under President Obama. Ever since George W. Bush left office, we have stopped developing the same kinds of leads and are no longer pursuing them with the same alacrity and élan as we did before. Now the investigators are more fearful than are those they investigate: the chances of getting indicted for over-zealousness or making a career-ending mistake looms before every one of them every day, inhibiting their efforts.

We now kill terrorists from a unmanned drone flying overhead at two or three times the rate we reached under the Bush administration. But a dead man tells no tales. Our source of interrogation-driven leads is drying up. Even when we catch a terrorist, we have no place to put him. Recently, we were fortunate enough to capture Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali terrorist leader. We could not question him at Gitmo; the rendition centers on foreign soil are all closed now. And we dared not repatriate him, lest he lawyer up and we lose all his information. So we put him on a Navy ship for two months as it sailed around the Indian Ocean. How many others have we let go without interrogating them adequately?

And when we do interrogate suspects, we do so under the rules of the U.S. Army Field Manuals, which restricts us to the most gentle of interrogation techniques. No hitting, touching, threatening or even loud shouting. Presumably we will get the information we need by some kind persuasion!

We have no idea as this is being written whether the terror attack in Boston — which, indeed it was — was perpetrated by an international organization or a lone wolf. Either way, we were caught napping.

Until now, with the exception of the Fort Hood massacre and the Little Rock shooting of a U.S. soldier, blood has not been spilled on our soil since 9/11.

But it has been as much due to our efforts as to our enemies’ failures, largely mechanical bomb-making failures. Since Bush left office and Obama brought in new rules and priorities, the record of attacks that would have succeeded had the bomb been made properly and which were thwarted by no effort of our own is daunting.

On Dec. 22, 2001, a bomber failed to detonate a bomb hidden in his shoe on a plane from Paris to Miami, and alert passengers subdued him. Hundreds were saved through nothing but dumb luck. Then on Christmas Day in 2009, a Nigerian man tried to ignite a bomb hidden in his underwear on a flight bound for Detroit. It failed to detonate. Luck again. On May 1, 2010, a car bomb in Times Square failed to detonate and was disarmed after its smoke was spotted. Dumb luck again. And on May 10, 2010, a pipe bomb in Jacksonville, Fla., exploded while about 60 people were praying in a mosque — again, through luck, there were no injuries.

On April 15, 2013, our luck ran out. This is no way to run our national security.

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.