Bad Excuses

I won’t even get into whether or not the NSA should be able to get records of all Americans’ phone calls. I will just quickly register my annoyance with one justification I keep hearing.

I keep hearing, about this and the last possibly illegal spying adventure, that if we had only been doing this earlier, we may have prevented 9-11.

First of all, it’s easy to say that something “may have” prevented 9-11. Eating more peaches “may” have prevented 9-11. Once we convert “may” to “would,” we enter trickier territory.

It’s probably not true that this latest bit of data-collection would have actually made the difference. Let’s face it, had we been doing everything well enough, we would have stopped 9-11 without the offending domestic spying. If everyone in the FBI, NSA, and INS were razor-sharp, then they could have caught the bad guys using the techniques that were already in place. How many times have we heard about the signs and clues that were disregarded or misunderstood? And I’m not even saying that people were negligent. I’m saying that intelligence and analysis is hard. (Also, I bet that some people were negligent.)

What makes them think that any other bit of spying here or there would have provided the catalyst to act? There would have just been more clues that weren’t properly read.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that these measures would have stopped 9-11. Is “Would Have Stopped 9-11” really the standard that we want to use to determine the acceptability of a government action?

Requiring background checks of all airline passengers “Would Have Stopped 9-11”. Refusing passage to all non-US citizens “Would Have Stopped 9-11”. Requiring travelers to log where they stay, where they go, how long they go for, and who they meet, probably “Would Have Stopped 9-11”. We all know how low crime was in the Soviet states.

And still, a reasonably dedicated, well-funded and organized terrorist organization probably could have found a way around those regulations.

I don’t like the idea of the executive branch spying on US citizens without any congressional or judicial oversight. Doesn’t make sense, and there’s not been a single reason given for why it’s necessary. But regardless of all that, I just wish that they’d come up with better justifications. Every time they mention 9-11, I get an image of a very well-worn playbook with only a few pages. It’s lazy and insulting. Couldn’t they at least care enough to put a little effort into their cynical double-talk?

2 Responses to Bad Excuses

  1. Jeffrey May 26, 2006 at 8:20 am #

    Genius, Rob.

    I’ve been focusing on the general threat to, say, everything the U.S. stands for, but your discussion of “would have stopped 9/11” makes it quite succinctly.

    The sad fact, and one that I face every day that I commute to 4 blocks from the White House, is that we can have a free country with some risk that can’t be eliminated or a perfectly secure country.

    But no one in our government has the guts to admit it. Even more cowardly is that they claim the opposite to further their political goals.

  2. weeklyrob May 27, 2006 at 8:20 am #

    I remember Kerry admitting that there will always be terrorists, and Bush jumping on that to say something like, “he says we can’t win the war on terror! But I say we can and WILL.” Huge cheers.

    Mind you, Bush has other times admitted that the goal can’t be to eliminate terrorism, but only to limit it where we can. When he’s said this, he’s had political opponents drub him for it. Honesty gets you nowhere. Politicians are horrible.

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