of the administration's paper grandly proclaiming a "National
Strategy for Homeland Security" is the kind of innocuous bureaucratic
blather one finds in a report on waste management or wetlands maintenance.
I'm not sure whether it's alarming or reassuring to be confronted
by such soporific sentences as "This is an exceedingly complex
mission that requires coordinated and focused effort from our entire
society the federal government, state and local governments,
the private sector, and the American people." Or to be told
that "the challenge is to develop interconnected and complementary
systems that are reinforcing rather than duplicative and that ensure
essential requirements are met."
the bland bureaucratese, there is much in the document to worry
those who still cherish traditional American liberties. And despite
the fact that the House, under direction from Majority Leader Dick
Armey (is he feeling able to express whatever quasi-libertarian
impulses he has only now that he has announced his retirement?)
the re-creation of the Cuban block committee system and a nationalized
drivers license/ID card, much of what is left is even more worrisome.
is fascinating and seldom predictable what issues of many that should
have the potential to do so will attract the attention of enough
of the great public, or of those in the media who claim to have
their finger on the public pulse, to convert a policy question into
an issue. The Terrorist Information and Prevention System, or TIPS,
announced as being in the early stages of formation by the Justice
Department, managed to make the cut. To be sure, it was ripe with
opportunities not just for snooping but for cartoons and wise remarks
about cable guys as spies and the like. And the House under Dick
Armey has announced that it is opposed to such a systematic, federally
supervised use of people who are ordinarily in neighborhoods to
spy on Americans.
doesn't mean that the issue might not resurface, or that the system
might not be quietly implemented with less fanfare and attention.
It was set to be put in place by the Justice Department without
any new legislation being required, after all. And to some people,
including some in the media, the reaction was a tempest in a teapot.
This wasn't Sovietism in America, but kind of a glorified Neighborhood
Watch program, a community-oriented kind of thing. Opposition to
it, in some eyes, was simply a sign that knee-jerk ACLUism is still
all too prevalent in the United States, despite the obvious fact
that wartime demands some attitude adjustment.
fact, if I were the FBI, I would at least make arrangements to talk
to mail delivery people on a fairly regular basis, preceded by an
informal discussion about the kinds of things to look for
and the time-wasters to avoid. Mail carriers generally know a good
deal about who is in a neighborhood on a regular, who has relatives
living with them, who is seeing big changes in the kind of mail
they get, what addresses have mail sent to pseudonyms and the like.
There might be one person on every 10 or 50 carriers' route
legitimately deserving of attention because of patterns a carrier
it's of no concern to those genuinely seeking intelligence
on potential terrorist acts who is getting pornography, or even
who is getting magazines or mailings from wiggy political outfits.
And that's the weakness of such a program. You know that amateur
surveillers would find something suspicious in numerous instances
of harmless eccentricity.
would want to feel as if they were contributing, so they would redouble
their efforts to find something on which they could report. An "informer"
mentality would become predominant in some of them. They would find
a way to find something suspicious about increasing numbers of people.
They would begin to look at people from the assumption that they
are probably doing something that bears watching rather than from
the assumption that they are probably ordinary, innocent Americans
who are supposed to get protection rather than harassment from government.
this would not only have a chilling effect on freedom, it would
be a tremendous waste of time and resources. By concentrating attention
on something other than legitimate threats it might even make the
success of the next terrorist attack attempt more likely.
OVER THE CLIFF
idea of a national drivers' license or some form of national
ID, of course, has been around for a while, long enough for a constituency
opposed to the idea to have developed. (In fact, one of the more
striking aspects of the plan is how much of it has been seen and
rejected before, but has been waiting on the shelf, ready to put
forward again with a few tweaks in the language and a different
justification.) So it's not surprising that a national drivers'
license bit the dust.
as Jefferson knew, the natural way of things is for government to
advance and liberty to retreat. However, it's not exactly a
"natural" or inexorable process built into the way things
are. Government advances because as "public choice"
theorists have demonstrated rather convincingly and most non-academics
know as a matter of simple common sense people in bureaucracies
tend to assume for themselves the institutional interests of the
bureaucracies in which they are ensconced, which include growing
and having control of more money and more power.
the uniform drivers' license idea will be back, probably in
the form of uniform "voluntary guidelines" for states
in terms of the kind of proof of identification required, information
collected, electronic encoding and the like. It will be sold so
as to imply that only a covert ally of terrorism could oppose these
simple, sensible, minor reforms. Eternal vigilance and all that.
fact that the Homeland Security proposal (and it seems telling to
me that they have stuck with an Orwellian formulation with Mussolinian
overtones) is full of half-baked ideas and vague promises to "integrate
information sharing," And "integrate separate federal
response plans into a single all-discipline incident management
plan" is not the worst of it. The bureaucratic language almost
masks the more fundamental problems.
first is that "terrorism" is not a state, not an enemy,
not an adversary, not a phenomenon that can be eliminated with proper
inoculation and sanitation, like malaria. It is not a new phenomenon;
it was used in ancient times and people have been writing books
about modern terrorism since the 1960s.
is a tactic a tactic used by people with mostly political
goals who find themselves at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their
enemies who seek a dramatic way of announcing themselves or demoralizing
the other side. The Homeland Security paper, aside from a brief
mention of al Qaida and some murmuring about people trying to acquire
nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, does not
discuss who the enemy is and why the enemy should wish to harm anybody
in the United States.
seems like more than a minor oversight. It strikes me more as a
way to expand the size, scope and power of the government using
the World Trade Center bombing as a pretext, while being completely
unserious about trying to get to the bottom of why terrorist incidents
occur, which would seem to a normal person like the first step in
trying to minimize them.
some would argue that we face a world revolutionary movement seeking
to undermine and destroy Western civilization, while others would
argue that we face a small coterie of fanatical Islamists who are
well outside the mainstream of Islam generally. Some would argue
that the problem is a few psychologically unbalanced people able
to use political pretexts and modern technology to be the equivalent
of playground bullies, while others would argue that capitalist
or statist exploitation or poverty or inequality or arrogant U.S.
interventionism are among the root causes of the willingness to
commit terrorist acts.
would seem to make a difference, in designing a strategy, which
cause or through a combination of causes promotes the modern terrorist
phenomenon. Especially if terrorism is a tactic, not a strategy,
goal or cause, those who embrace political causes are likely to
use other tactics along the way, and to focus on terrorism is to
be unprepared for other possible tactics.
is striking about the White House document is that there is no discussion
zip, zero, nada of any of this. There are terrorist
enemies out there who are ruthless, and this is the extent of official
curiosity. The way to defeat them is to give the government more
power to coordinate all aspects of society, to peer into previously
private places, to assume more direct control over more areas of
huge blind spot in the report is the assumption that the key to
coordination is minutely exercised central control. The Hayekian
insight that real societal coordination arises from thousands and
millions of independent decisions taken with consideration for but
imperfect understanding of what other independent actors are doing,
creating what could be called "spontaneous order," is
insight is, of course, frightening to those who have made careers
of controlling others. It is also potentially frightening to people
who haven't given the matter much thought, because freedom
doesn't offer ironclad guarantees that nothing bad will ever
happen. The fact that government guarantees of safety through central
control or planning might be delivered but are seldom valid (see
September 11 for an example of government failure to perform the
minimal function even limited-government advocates would concede
as part of its legitimate job on a massive scale) is seldom stressed
or even mentioned.
our Republican leaders ("the appalling people who govern us"
as Richard Cowan of MarijuanaNews.com is fond of putting it) use
terrorism as a pretext for increasing central government power,
continuing the process of Sovietizing America even resurrecting
the age-old desire to have the military perform more essentially
civilian law enforcement functions, which failed abysmally when
tried in the War on Drugs and which most military people have no
desire to do. Just more than 10 years on, they seem to have missed
the lesson that it was the highly centralized, highly "coordinated,"
highly governed system that failed, while the "chaotic,"
relatively free society succeeded and triumphed.
leaders, in both parties, not only don't appreciate but seem
downright hostile to the freedom and independence that has made
the United States the leader and sole superpower of the world. If
they have their way, the problem of American hegemony, if it is
a problem, will not trouble the world for very long, at least in
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