Tuesday, March 07, 2006

security at home and abroad

The illusionary safety of the PATRIOT Act by Jeff A. Taylor at the indispensible Reason:

Box cutters, airliners, rental cars. This is how you make war on a free society from within. A Ryder truck, fertilizer, plastic barrels. These are the building blocks of terror. A quick mind and dark heart are the only two really indispensable (and, fortunately, fairly rare) components for making mayhem. The folly of PATRIOT is that it pretends to give the good guys access to those hearts and minds, in real time and on tape. But it is the mother of all knowledge problems. This approach supposes that if enough info can be sucked up, evil intent will become clear, and authorities can swoop in and stop it. Accordingly, some official, somewhere, is no doubt contemplating requiring FBI background checks for car rentals.

Such diffusion of attention masks the real threats. The one undisputed terror weapon to be deployed against America was anthrax. The government's best guess—facts have been hard to come by in the now stone-cold case—is that the anthrax came from U.S. government sources. An unofficial source that was twisted to some sick purpose, to be sure, but a very narrow target for improved oversight and security. This does not require a PATRIOT-sized revamping of the state's investigative powers over every citizen of the republic in order to correct. Worse, official Homeland Security doctrine, along with billions in flat-out pork, has pushed ever more lethal weapons in ever more hands around the country. This is exactly the opposite of security. Every deputy sheriff in America with access to a full-on military arsenal creates another target of opportunity for those quick minds. Alert the NSA: They will not be phoning Pakistan for instructions.

The greatest change has been in the perception of ordinary Americans' ability to accept responsibility for the security of the country. Hiring one guy to watch all of the intelligence agencies (and then denying him access to the miltary intelligence component) is a typical Bush recipe for disaster, perhaps from the Rumsfield or Cheney chapters of the cookbook. Soon Bush will be more than nudged back to his Crawford ranch, perhaps anointing some successor who thinks that this will not be politically toxic for them. In the meanwhile, we have good reason to hope that more and more competent people will have the opportunity to ensure our security. Just look at the change in design of the rebuilt NYC World Trade Center over several years from a reduced in height, diffuse in layout or skeletal structure to a gleaming hardened (first 30 floors a solid barrier wall with only slits of natural light) singular obelisk, with the same height as the tallest fallen tower but increased floor space and a massive antenna, reminscient of that proposed redesign with the higher 'middle finger' tower in a five tower early in the contest, giving the finger with its unbowed height and phallicity but the prudently solid base. The same defiant characteristic is now more than ever a part of the American psyche, a tradition which is debased by the ill-considered Act of false title.

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