Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. (As a Taxpayer, Not As a Terror Victim.)

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In the 1980s, when the Reagan Administration’s defense buildup was in full swing, various military lobbying outfits would rent out the big halls in hotels around the capital to show off the latest weaponry they were trying to sell to the government. That’s so 20th Century. This week, the action moves to downtown D.C. and the huge new Walter E. Washington Convention Center — and the product isn’t national defense, but homeland security.

The Government Security & Expo (“co-located with U.S. Law, the U.S. Law Enforcement Conference and Exposition for federal, state and local law enforcement”) is three days of marketing excitement masked as a vital nexus of national self-defense. For those of us old enough to remember, it hearkens back to the late 1950s and the Civil Defense guys encouraging you to “duck and cover” and to stock your backyard fallout shelter with Saltines and bottled water.

It starts Tuesday. You review the web site, with its lame offerings and questionable reasons for attending, and you smile. Until you realize you’re paying for most of it — either via conference fees paid by government attendees or via exhibitors paying to display their wares and their personnel — who rely on the government for their sales.

“Gain valuable insights into key issues central to the protection of our nation through in-depth conference sessions and conference-only keynote addresses,” raves the website. Not that anything is classified: you could learn about as much on defending the nation by watching C-SPAN or reading the newspaper. But then you wouldn’t get to travel to Washington and spend three nights in a fancy hotel…

Tuesday opens with breakfast remarks from Randy Vickers, director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, followed by luncheon remarks from Tim Paydos, director of IBM Threat Prediction and Prevention. Check out who else is speaking here. How much will it cost you to attend these sessions? A cool $595. But don’t worry! If you work for the government, you can attend for only $495!

But wait! — as they used to say about those Ginsu knives — there’s more! For starters, in between all those boring lectures, there’s fake gun-firing for all to enjoy. “Test your skill and judgment in true-to-life shooting simulations,” the web site says. “You’ll compete against federal, state and local law enforcement by demonstrating your ability to make decisions with exceptional accuracy.” And: “JUST ANNOUNCED–Panel on Regime Change in the Middle East!”

The outfit staging this scary extravaganza isn’t some band of self-defense scholars or nerdy academics. It’s being put on by something called 1105 Media, a California entity run by four marketing and media folks, with a strong Los Angeles Times background.

Getting any boss who runs a tight ship to approve sending his or her personnel to such an exposition can be a challenge, 1105 Media concedes. But don’t fret — they’re here to help with their special “Justify Your Attendance” web page. “One of the best ways to get approval to attend a conference is to connect your responsibilities, goals and challenges to your conference experience,” 1105 Media advises. “Listed here are some goals common to our attendees, as well as the ways in which GovSec 2011 meets these needs, so you can make a strong case for attending.”

And if their list of reasons for attending — so you can evaluate products, learn “cutting-edge” means to protect the nation, become aware of what the federal government does, make better decisions, and learn how everyone else is doing what you’re trying to do — seems inadequate, there’s even more help. Further down the “Justify Your Attendance” page, you will find a “return on investment” worksheet that shows “how you could actually save money through your conference attendance.” Not to mention a “customizable letter to management” in which you can fill in the blanks and give to your boss to convince him or her of your need to attend. “The opportunity for me to develop better contacts with industry experts and to gain knowledge in specific areas of government security,” the letter says, “makes my attendance at this GovSec conference a wise investment, which will yield rich dividends for <your company>.” It’s a safe bet it’s yielding rich dividends for someone.