WASHINGTON — Dallas is now officially one of the nation's top 10 terrorist targets – a designation that sounds alarming but which state and local officials have sought for years, because it means millions in federal funds to beef up security.
The Department of Homeland Security's precise reasons remain secret, but there were plenty of educated guesses Wednesday about the many factors that justify putting Dallas on a list with New York and Washington. They include population growth, huge sports venues, economic impact, and even the fact that an ex-president calls the city home.
"We thought they should be a top-tier city last time ... considering the number of critical infrastructures, key resources, the population, soft targets, the economic importance," said Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety and Gov. Rick Perry's chief homeland security adviser. "We're glad that the threat-based formula that Homeland Security is using finally recognizes that."
The Dallas-Fort Worth area stands to get $25 million next year under the Urban Area Security Initiative, part of a grant program that will provide $832.5 million to 64 high-threat urban areas. The top 10 cities get 63 percent of that.
The designation "may nudge people to be less complacent, but it's not something that means people in Dallas should be running for cover," said Stephen Flynn, who served on Bill Clinton's National Security Council staff and in the White House military office under George W. Bush. "In terms of receiving more assistance ... this puts Dallas in a better position. Of course, it's a competition you probably don't want to be ahead in."
Mayors sought label
On Sept. 30 – six days after the FBI arrested a Jordanian man, Hosam Smadi, on charges he plotted to blow up a Dallas office tower – the mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, urging her to review the region's risk for terrorist attacks and consider elevating it to the top tier.
They cited the Smadi case; the fact that the region has become the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area, on track to have 8 million residents by 2020; the area's $300 billion economic output and presence of 25 Fortune 500 corporate headquarters; and the half-dozen major sporting events it will host in the next two years alone, including next year's NBA All-Star Game and the 2011 Super Bowl.
But no one can say which factors swayed federal officials to change Dallas' status.
"We cannot pinpoint any one specific reason why they did that," said Rocky Vaz, executive officer for the city of Dallas' Intergovernmental Services office.
In Washington, homeland security officials had little to say publicly about the rationale for moving Dallas – along with Boston and Philadelphia – into the top tier of cities facing potential threat.
The additions create a top 10 list for the first time. The Tier 1 list already included New York and Washington, which were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, plus Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Newark, N.J., and San Francisco.
A "further review" determined that the three newcomers "were more closely aligned to the other Tier 1 urban areas. DHS decided to expand the Tier 1 list to ensure a higher percentage of funding was going to the nation's highest risk urban areas," said Sara Kuban, a department spokeswoman.
Big cities, big target
Sen. John Cornyn welcomed the designation and the extra funding it entails. "We need to be vigilant everywhere but certainly our big cities, you would think, would be a logical target," he said.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also commended the department for sending more funds for security. But she argued that Dallas should be considered a high-risk area.
"The recent threats to Dallas, most notably the plot uncovered by the FBI to blow up a Dallas building, are very sobering," she said.
Houston's population and petrochemical complex earned it a spot on the list sooner than Dallas.
New York gets the biggest share of funds, by far, under the Urban Area Security Initiative – $152 million next year, more than Los Angeles and Washington combined. Boston's allocation, $18.9 million, is the only one smaller than Dallas-Fort Worth's.
Homeland Security weighs numerous factors: a region's economic output and importance to the nation; critical infrastructure; military bases and defense contracting; proximity to the border; transportation; banking; telecommunications; education; research facilities; hospitals – anything whose loss would create a major disruption.
"I wouldn't tie it directly to one thing," said McCraw, who said the state has pushed for Dallas to get top-tier treatment for several years. "Nothing has really changed in terms of threat from last year to this year, I can tell you that."
Austin Republican Rep. Michael McCaul is a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, which was briefed on the new list Wednesday by Napolitano aides. He said the department decided to upgrade Dallas after weighing threats and vulnerabilities facing all major U.S. cities.
"In their view, Dallas should have been one of the top ones all along," McCaul said. "This is not based on, 'Gee, we just discovered three al-Qaeda cells in Dallas.' "
Bush, Super Bowl
Security experts speculated that any number of factors may have helped bump Dallas into the top tier.
The Smadi case boosted concern about self-radicalized and homegrown terrorist plots in the intelligence community.
The fact that Bush – who led the nation into two ongoing wars in Muslim nations – lives in Dallas and is building his presidential library there could be a factor.
So could the 2011 Super Bowl, to be played at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington.
"This is not science," said Flynn, the former White House adviser and author of America the Vulnerable. "With finite resources, ideally you allocate where the threat is mostly likely to appear and/or where the consequences would be most severe. Dallas is a major city. It's a growing city and, also, relatively speaking, an iconic city."
Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said he can only guess how much weight the analysts gave to the area's major sports venues, from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth to the new Cowboys stadium to American Airlines Center in Dallas, though each clearly adds to the region's visibility.
"They will never tell us that," he said. "They refuse to give it."
Dallas Morning News staff writers Jeff Mosier and Rudolph Bush in Dallas contributed to this report.