Thanks in large part to the hapless, ineffective, counterproductive, and embarrassing work of the Transportation Security Agency, Americans have grown accustomed to "security theater." The National Threat Advisory scheme at Homeland Security is equally nebulous, if not outright bewildering. Blue alerts? Yellow alerts? Orange alerts? Is there a difference, and which is the bad one? When does one duct tape his or her windows and parcel the cyanide tablets?
There is nothing theatrical, however, about installation security of the Armed Forces. Military police of every branch maintain a defensive posture based on Force Protection Conditions (or FPCON) determined by intelligence agencies. Conditions range from Normal, where dossiers reveal no active domestic terrorist threat, to Delta, when the nation is under terrorist attack. Force Protection Conditions make a difference, and its effects are immediately obvious. At Normal, many bases are open to the general public. At Delta, a government ID card is required for entry, at which point vehicles are searched and registered by military police, parking is restricted, and armed sentries are posted at building doorways.
Hours after the attack on Fort Hood, President Obama asked Americans not to rush to judgment about Nidal Hasan's motivation, and as recently as Saturday urged Congress to hold off on hearings until federal and military officials could complete their investigations. "The stakes," he said, "are far too high" for political theater. And right he is.