L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 329, July 24, 2005
"You've GOTTA be kidding"
Who's Afraid of Freedom?
Special to TLE
The recent terrorist bombings in London are, without question, a tragedy. Innocent people lost their lives or suffered serious injury; innocent people lost loved ones or face the hardships of recovery. Those who are claiming responsibility say they engaged in terrorism to protest the British involvement in the War on Terror. On the face of it, that rationale seems a bit odd since such attacks are likely only to entrench the policymaker's mindset still deeper. Frightening the public badly enough, however, could very well result in some changes more favorable to the terrorists' cause.
Terrorist attacks go beyond immediate physical damage. They disrupt the economy, at least locally, and can potentially misdirect the attention of intelligence operatives. They make things inconvenient, at a minimum, for those who must still live and work near where the attacks occurred. They cause injury far above and beyond the proximity of the attacks for people who, by virtue of their religion or nationality are shunned or assaulted by people who are understandably nervous at best. But for all the other causes and effects of such attacks, there's one repercussion that's even worse than the others and which, unfortunately, is at least as likely as the most probable of the others.
Almost immediately following the first news reports from England, there were people writing on Internet newsgroups who suggested that the British government itself might have been responsible for the terrorist attacks. Plans to implement a national ID card in England have generated a good deal of protest which is now beginning to get quite organized. Since terror attacks seem to result in at least the temporary clamor of citizens begging the government to protect them at any cost, some believe that the protests against the ID card will now be quieted and people will line up to get them like the sheep officials doubtless prefer they would be. Those people are probably right about at least the latter part of their suppositions.
I'm personally not prepared to say that the government had any role whatsoever in actually carrying out the terrorist bombings in London's subway system and on a double-decker bus there. I'm enough of a realist, though, to be absolutely certain that the government won't hesitate for a moment to take advantage of those terror attacks. They'll use it shamelessly to promote their national ID plans. They'll use it to bolster public opinion for the War on Terror. Worse still, they'll export it to us here in America where the administration has been trying to combat decreased supportand in some cases overt oppositionfor its own supposed anti-terror measures including a national ID, retention and expansion of the PATRIOT Act, travel restrictions and severe security measures, and more.
In fact, even in the earliest days of the investigation into the London bombings, the Bush administration is seeing advantages. The president is already reminding Americans of the ongoing War on Terror and of America's resolve to continue fighting it, and at least some of them appear to be listening. In the wake of his reminders and the news stories coming out of London, many in Congress will likely be hard pressed to remain too critical of the PATRIOT Act the Justice Department claims is crucial to the War on Terror; Attorney General Alberto Gonzalescredited with helping to write the PATRIOT Act as well as to draft policies concerning those held as "enemy combatants" in Guantanamohas suddenly become a less contentious candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
The president himself, who has seen his popularity decrease dramatically in recent weeks, will probably get something of a "bounce" thanks to the attacks and his subsequent rhetoric as will beleaguered British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I still don't think that the British government had anything to do with planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks there. But given the political advantages of such an attack once it's occurred, it's easy enough to see why some people might think a government would at least consider taking such action, heinous as it might be!
Regardless of who planned and carried out the attacks, they occurred, and some in government have already started to take advantage of that fact. Americans who are afraid that something comparable might happen here next are inclined to let the government do whatever it says it needs to do to protect us against such attacks. Therein, of course, lies the gravest damage such attacks can cause. And to add insult to already grievous injury, the vast majority of measures the government has takenand plans to take in the immediate futurearen't really going to keep Americans any safer from terrorism at all.
Consider, for example, that the Transportation Security Administration has instituted programs that involve random searches of passengers. Passenger searches might make some small amount of sense if those who resembled suspects were the subject. But instead, randomness is demanded by those who suggest that anything else might involve the apparently unforgivable sin of "racial profiling." This summer, the TSA also intends to begin implementing what effectively amounts to strip searches for all passengers which means that everyone must suffer a humiliating invasion of privacy equally on the off chance that some terrorist will make a mistake.
When you look long and hard at the perpetrators of past terror attacks, it makes less and less sense to search elementary school students and grandmothers while letting men of obvious Middle Eastern descent wander past the checkpoints. At the same time, the TSA has done everything in its power to slow progress in arming pilots which might actually be the single cheapest and most effective solution of all to protecting airliners from onboard attackers.
Intelligence agencies have suggested that our bordersthe one to our south in particularrepresent points of entry for criminals of all kinds and most assuredly that includes terrorists. Despite the danger, illegal immigrants continue today to cross the border almost at will. As recently as this month, among the illegals who were caught were two Iraqi men.
Instead of tightening the border, the Bush administration first proposed immigration "reform" that included what effectively amounts to an amnesty program. Though the administration has backed off that notion slightly in recent weeks, it also failed to hire more than a token percent of the new Border Patrol personnel authorized by Congress in an effort to gain more control over our borders. The Bush administration also referred to civilians patrolling the borderwho took up the task only because the federal government was apparently unable or unwilling to do soas "vigilantes" thus making it clear that preventing border crossings is of significantly less concern than the general public and the intelligence community believe it ought to be.
Security cameras are everywhere. In Washington DC, they're in buildings and on street corners. In Chicago, they're coupled with audio hardware that can supposedly "hear" and identify gun shots. In virtually every town, they're in stores and at transportation hubs. Those cameras are intended to deter, prevent, and help to solve crimes of all kinds. We're told being under constant surveillance is worth it because we're safer with the cameras.
But before street cameras were everywhere in America, security cameras were everywhere in England. Despite that, a terrible terrorist attack occurred there in full view of what some reports say total as many as some 3,000 cameras. Whether or not any of those cameras provide evidence to help solve the crime will have to wait until police can review tape from all of those sources. But whatever else, it's clear the cameras did nothing to stop the attacks in either deterrent mode or by bringing the authorities in time to do anything about it.
The government already knows that there's no such thing as perfect security from terror attacks. Whether we want to acknowledge the fact or not, it's the plain truth that a truly determined attackerparticularly one who doesn't care if he surviveswill sometimes fulfill his mission. If there are enough such attackers willing to make an attempt, there will be a few successes and innocents will die.
Is that acceptable? Absolutely not. But what's even less acceptable is the loss of freedom in ways that will have little if any effect on the potential for terror attacks even as they exert draconian curtailments of liberty for law abiding citizens. The only thing worse than that is that the government will continue doing these things while it convinces people who want desperately to believe that it really is for their own good.
If Americans really want to be safer from terrorists, they don't need to give up their liberty. Instead, they need to stop cowering behind their government nanny and demand that the most effective possible measures be taken. That means border control. That means armed pilots. That means checking people who match suspect descriptions no matter where they fall in the ticket lines. But most of all, it means refusing to let fear steal our freedom via a government that preys on that fear, and to muster enough courage to appreciate that freedom in and of itself entails some risk.
To do anything less means that, even without another attack, the terrorists get what they want. If we're really fighting a war against terror, shouldn't we at least try to win?