This isn’t the way counterterrorism is supposed to work, but it’s happening everywhere. It’s a result of our relentless campaign to convince ordinary citizens that they’re the front line of terrorism defense. “If you see something, say something” is how the ads read in the New York City subways. “If you suspect something, report it” urges another ad campaign in Manchester, UK. The Michigan State Police have a seven-minute video. Administration officials from then-attorney general John Ashcroft to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to President Bush have asked us all to report any suspicious activity.
The problem is that ordinary citizens don’t know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can’t tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector, or trash sculpture; or the difference between terrorist plotters and imams, musicians, or architects. All they know is that something makes them uneasy, usually based on fear, media hype, or just something being different.
November 1, 2007
The War on the Unexpected
[This is the way real witch hunts happen. This is the way we lose our freedom and our rights are permanently infringed. And when you dig deep into what actually happened, with 20-20 hindsight, no one was really to blame. Everyone makes pretty reasonable decisions at every little step along the way. The problem is that most people don’t have any hard and fast principles. They have no underlying philosophy they have confidence in. They take “one day at a time”. And “today is a good day to ignore the Bill of Rights” because these are “special circumstances”.
What I think people don’t really get is that the Bill of Rights wasn’t written for “a sunny day in the springtime”. It was written, and expected to be honored, when emotions are running high and as a firm reminder of what the true limits to government must be. It was written with extraordinary deliberation by very smart people who knew the risks of a tyrant, a committee, a mob, a government under stress and running on high emotions. After due deliberation it can be changed but it should never be violated because tyranny often masquerades as doing good.–Joe]