Canada, that den of thieves suspiciously crouching directly above us, is a hotbed of anti-American extremist violence. That is why the Department of Homeland Security is dismantling a pretty sign at a border crossing.

The General Services Administration contracted an expensive architecture firm to design a new border crossing station up in some godforsaken part of far northeastern New York State, as part of their "let's make government buildings look nice again like they did in the '30s" program. The centerpiece of the station design: "glossy yellow, 21-foot-high letters spelling 'United States.'" Sounds neat!

But because of 9/11, we cannot have nice things. Less than a month after the station opened, DHS began removing the fancy sign.

"There were security concerns," said Kelly Ivahnenko, a spokeswoman for the customs agency. "The sign could be a huge target and attract undue attention. Anything that would place our officers at risk we need to avoid."

Yes, right, of course. Terrorists aimlessly driving through rural Ontario may stumble across the border station, see the giant sign advertising what nation lies across the Saint Laurence River, and remember just how much they hate our freedom. Then they will blow up the sign, which is an internationally recognized symbol of American pride, as it is some letters spelling out the name of our country.

As Times architecture writer Nicolai Ouroussoff says:

In fact, the sign itself demands multiple readings. Unlike the Freedom Tower, whose name could be interpreted as a jingoistic expression of America's post-Sept. 11 arrogance, Smith-Miller & Hawkinson's "United States" sign is politically neutral. Its meaning is constantly changing for the viewer. It communicates openness and possibility, not aggression.

It is hard to see how values like those would make any building a target. They may even seem like something worth defending. They certainly put into question the thinking behind Customs and Border Protection's decision. It is as if the government is attuned to architecture's symbolic power, but unable to decipher its meanings.

Or it's as if the national security arm of our government is just kinda dumb?