Tuesday, November 17, 2009

National Security vs. Personal Freedom

Watching C-Span this morning (or late last night) I saw the House Republicans Press Conference on the Fort Hood Shooting. Rep. Peter Hoekstra was asking for a look into the failings in the processes that failed to prevent the shootings at Fort Hood. and stated that congress needs to have their own investigation NOW. Peter King decried the lack of communication between intelligence agencies and the military - a failing that was supposed to be taken care of long ago. All well and good. Then Mike Rogers spoke.

Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan stated that tools and procedures that have worked for intelligence agencies in the past have been prohibited and are therefore no longer available. He believed those tools needed to be made available again. Mr. Hoekstra agreed, but refused to elaborate on what those tools might be.

I have to wonder what those tools are. The Patriot Act greatly expanded surveillance ability of federal agencies. The federal government illegally tapped virtually every phone in America and congress rewrote the law so the telecoms who aided and abetted the atrocious invasion of privacy could not be sued or held criminally accountable for their actions.

Rep. Mac Thornberry responded to reporters questions about "why the rush to take action" by pointing out that 2 provisions of the Patriot Act will lapse at the end of December, and immediate action is needed both to learn the lessons about what went wrong and fix it, and because the families of the victims at Fort Hood and the American people as a whole deserve to know that their government is doing everything it can to prevent tragedies like Fort Hood and to prove the importance of extending pieces of the Patriot Act as they reach their end of life.

The amazing thing about all of the comments was the obvious blinders the Representatives have when it comes to intelligence failures that led to Fort Hood. Indeed, the more news stories I read about Major Hasan the more it looks like 9/11 in miniature. The number of red flag items that are being bandied about in the media seem to indicate Major Hasan should have been taken out of circulation long ago. The reason he was not appears to be (but appearances can deceive) a breakdown of communications, whether between agencies or internally in specific agencies.

There were many things that made 9/11 possible. Among them were lack of communication between agencies and even departments within agencies. Another was the sheer volume of information being gathered. In the Fort Hood shootings the similarity is that there was apparently a wealth of information. Apparently the FBI was aware that Major Hasan was communicating with someone in Pakistan. Apparently he was involved in money transfers to Pakistan. The person he was contacting, Anwar al-Awlaki, was an imam who has been implicated in terrorist attacks, but never arrested.

Atrocities like the 9/11 attacks and the Fort Hood shootings are used to justify, even demand, increased erosion of personal liberty in the name of greater security. More surveillance powers will make us safer, is the claim. But both 9/11 and Fort Hood could have been prevented without granting intelligence agencies more tools and greater power to spy on citizens. Simply paying attention to the warning signs instead of waving them away, presumably because Major Hasan has been a good citizen and soldier, could have made all the difference.

This was a bit farther away from obvious personal security than I intended for today, but this is an issue that I believe is very important. Security is important. But I believe Benjamin Franklin knew what he was talking about when he said, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

[edited @ 8:25 am to correct 3am grammar and spelling errors]