Compounding the Damage

By Mike Kroll

There is no denying the sorrow, anger and rage many Americans feel since last Tuesday’s attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Most of us have been virtually glued to our television sets as we had the (fortunately) rare opportunity to see such a tragedy unfold right before our eyes. This event has elicited an emotional reaction almost without parallel along with a general feeling of helplessness as a full week has now passed with almost no rescued survivors and a probable final death toll approaching 10,000.

Since Tuesday many of us have been asking, "how could something like this happen" and exclaiming loudly "we must never let this happen again."

The answer to the first question is unfortunately quite simple; some major terrorist incident was bound to happen–the sheer magnitude of what occurred on September 11th undoubtedly was a shock even to those responsible. When a fanatically dedicated and capable small group is intent on carrying out an activity they know will necessarily result in their own death has sufficient time to plan such an action there really is little that can be done to stop them.

That our law enforcement and intelligence communities have previously prevented other terrorist attacks is laudable, but hardly reason to expect them to shield us from all such attacks. The expectation of invulnerability is an unreasonable expectation.

America is a free society; unquestionably we enjoy a higher degree of freedom in this country than possible anywhere else in the world. Such freedom carries with it a higher degree of risk from those who would take advantage of our Constitutionally protected civil liberties to do us harm. This freedom is generally considered our most prized national asset yet we now appear so willing to sacrifice portions of it in a vain attempt to fight terrorists or criminals.

Already lawmakers and others are pushing for laws that will lesson our freedoms while affording very little added security. We have already seen a trampling of the Bill of Rights–a victim our ill-considered drug war that filled our nations prisons to the breaking point while accomplishing little else of value. Any knowledgeable law enforcement or military person who is candidly honest will admit that even the actions now being implemented or contemplated would probably not have averted this national tragedy.

We are now acceding to increasingly vigilant and intrusive searches of our persons and possessions by law enforcement and security personal in many public places-- often solely because we wish to simply enter or move about. Sure, the argument is that most of us have nothing to hide so what’s the big deal. However, our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure is one of the most unique civil liberties in our modern world and one we should strenuously resist giving up. This is especially the case when you consider how ineffective such searches of our person and property have proven in preventing either criminal or terrorist actions.

Now Justice officials are asking us to accept mere suspicion of being a terrorist as sufficient probable cause to arrest someone. What will prompt such suspicion? …anonymous tips to Terrorist Stoppers or middle-eastern heritage? (That’s only a baby step from our contemptible World War II internment of Japanese Americans!) Again we are inching closer and closer toward granting police the power to arrest anyone with the flimsiest of reasons assuming that heavy-handed tactics will only be used against "bad guys." There are ample examples from our drug to prove otherwise.

Next the FBI and Justice Department want to have near Carte blanch approval for eavesdropping on "suspected terrorists" among others without being constrained to specific telephone numbers. The argument is that they should be permitted to monitor and record any communication modality that a suspect "might" utilize. This is an incredibly broad sweeping expansion to what is already one of the most frequently abused investigative techniques.

On a related matter, the FBI and Justice Department have reopened the issue of blocking the use of effective encryption technology by the general public. The logic has always been that similar argument, "only the bad guys or guilty have anything that valuable to hide behind strong encryption." Regardless of how nonessential it might appear, most of us should enjoy the expectation of privacy in our communications. Yet, with the electronic capabilities currently in use by our government this is already not the case.

Just as the thousands of innocents who lost their lives in New York and Washington were victims, so too will our country victimize itself if we continue to be the most effective adversary of our own freedoms. Giving up the freedoms that were the basis for the founding of this country is a much higher price to pay than anything the terrorists could have hoped to accomplish on their own. In taking such ill-considered actions we inadvertently become accomplices to those who seek to destroy that for which our country stands tallest. We must revisit and reaffirm the principles that our this country’s bedrock foundation.