I'll be honest with you: I haven't watched much of the television coverage. I saw both of the recent movies that told stories about 9/11 (United 93 and World Trade Center), but couldn't muster up interest in comparable TV shows. I don't care to listen to people pontificate about the death and destruction that day - something none of them can really relate to, certainly not the way victims' families or the survivors can. And I really, really don't want to hear any more from Washington about how the actions taken by government officials after 9/11 mean that terrorist attacks are far less likely today.
The thing is, I believe that too many people are using - whether they'll admit it or not - the tragedies of that day to market themselves and their own interests (their movie, their talk show, their magazines, or themselves). Hold respectful memorials for those thousands of lost lives, by all means; remember the heroism of those who died trying to rescue others, including the unutterably brave souls aboard United Airlines Flight 93. Using 9/11 for ratings seems cheap and tawdry; using 9/11 for political fodder is even worse, especially when we really take a moment to consider 9/11 and how it happened in the first place.
The 9/11 highjackers were all foreign nationals. Many of them were here legally when they first arrived, but had overstayed their visas. Because there were no real checks on those who entered the country at the time, no pertinent questions were asked and no past behaviors were scrutinized. Far worse than that, once they were in, they were in; no one bothered to follow-up to ensure they were out once their permission to be in expired.
At least some of the highjackers behaved oddly in flight school. Most notably, flight instructors commented that at least a couple of them had no desire to learn how to land a plane. Most of the highjackers had driver's licenses; none of them had any significant trouble getting a plane ticket. Those highjackers who were armed carried mere boxcutters as their weapon of choice.
Over the course of the last five years, starting just about a month after 9/11, various preventative measure have been taken by the federal government in an effort to ensure future attack attempts would be thwarted. These included such things as the USA PATRIOT Act, federal "no fly" lists, revamped inter-agency communications protocols, the REAL ID Act, and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security under which the Transportation Security Administration was nurtured and grown. But are the politicians right? Are we safer?
The USA PATRIOT Act provides for any number of enhanced law enforcement powers, not the least among them those that allow warrantless and secret searches. In fact, the enhancements codified in the PATRIOT Act were so significant that some people worried about the possible adverse effects on civil liberties for law-abiding Americans. To assuage those worries, the government assured us that the PATRIOT Act would only be used for terror-related investigations.
Those assurances were, of course, shown to be baseless in relatively short order. The PATRIOT Act has been used in cases of suspected financial wrongdoing in Nevada and alleged drug crimes in Florida among other instances. Under the auspices of the PATRIOT Act, librarians in Connecticut were given not warrants, but mere letters (called "National Security Letters," these documents require no review or oversight). They refused to comply; throughout the course of an investigation and legal proceedings, they were muzzled by the nature of the letters which require secrecy to the point where acknowledging the existence of such a letter is a crime. The case turned out to be baseless; the librarians were eventually "permitted" to go public.
The PATRIOT Act was used, apparently appropriately, to hold a suspect in the Madrid, Spain terror attacks in Washington State; but even after foreign police agencies definitively showed the evidence (fingerprints) didn't match the man being held, American officials refused to acknowledge their error for weeks. Some allege this was the case because the FBI desperately needed something to show an increasingly leery public that the PATRIOT Act was good for something. Meanwhile, the former suspect - who is, at it happens, an attorney - is suing.
One of the more important provisions of various and sundry legislation connected to the War on Terror is the idea of enhanced communications between intelligence agencies. There are some who believe - and they could very well be right - that information possessed separately by the CIA and the FBI prior to 9/11 might have been combined to offer a warning. On the other hand, an FBI agent in Minnesota repeatedly warned her superiors about a man she had in her sights - Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th Highjacker - and ended up being disciplined for her troubles.
And despite the boasts of better communications between the various branches and agencies of the federal government, a current case illustrates better than most that there are still some serious problems to be addressed. I'm speaking, of course, of the "outing" of CIA Agent Valerie Plame. When Ms. Plame's name was first leaked to the media, there was some serious fall-out. Divulging the name of an agent can be a serious crime; the danger to the agent obviously can't be overstated. The man who was pretty sure that he was the one who'd spilled the beans - Richard Armitage, the former Deputy Secretary of State - immediately reported himself.
Why then was there a subsequent multi-million dollar investigation? Why was Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff raked over the coals? (Lewis "Scooter" Libby hasn't been charged with releasing Plame's name, though prosecutors have saddled him with other accusations, any or all of which may or may not be deserved.) Most importantly, why - as Mr. Armitage himself said in a recent television interview - did the special prosecutor in the case tell Mr. Armitage to keep quiet during the course of the investigation? I mean, seeing as how the investigation was supposed to find out who leaked the name and all, and Mr. Armitage was right there saying, "Hello? I think it was me. Hello?"
The REAL ID Act is supposed to ensure that everyone who lives, works, and drives in the United States is legally eligible to live, work, and drive in the Untied States. Though I've never supported a national ID and still find the very notion of one to be reprehensible, I will at least confess that I understand the stated reasoning behind it. But I frankly don't know that I buy it.
Some states are already taking action to see what they can do to give illegal aliens driver's licenses outside the auspices of REAL ID (some people actually claim that having a license makes you a better driver - I frankly think that being able to read English would help to make you a better driver, too, but nobody's mandating that, more's the pity). And let's be realistic: fraudulent paperwork abounds, including birth certificates and Social Security cards. REAL ID is going to cause plenty of inconveniences and added expense for law-abiding American citizens and immigrants inside the country legally; but the most it's going to do to stop illegal immigrants from getting their very own ID is merely to cause them some inconvenience and expense as well.
The reality is that REAL ID wouldn't have stopped 9/11. Remember: most of the highjackers were here legally. What might have mitigated 9/11, however, would have been some follow-up on the visa terms. Interestingly enough, one of the highjackers was stopped for speeding. If the officer who stopped him had been permitted to check immigration status (something local cops typically aren't allowed to do and for which they're roundly castigated as "racist" if they try), we might have had one less enemy able to attack us in September of 2001.
Worst of all, our borders are just about as porous as ever. A couple of attempts by dangerous would-be terrorists to enter the United States were stopped at Canadian border crossings, but the southern border represents even more of a threat. It seems that al Qaeda members - who may be obsessed and narrow-minded, but who can't be accused of being stupid - are learning Spanish and crossing the border with Mexican illegals. I think that I can safely say that this is probably not a good thing.
After the highjackers used boxcutters to subdue passengers and crew alike, the Transportation Security Administration decided it wouldn't allow any of the rest of us on board a plane if we were carrying such "weapons" as fingernail clippers. Lighters were soon among prohibited items after a man enroute from England to the United States tried to set explosives in his shoes on fire (Richard Reid is currently serving a life sentence for terrorism), yet matches are still okay to have on a plane (last time I checked, matches made fire pretty much like lighters do).
My sister, who recently returned from a trip overseas, tells me officials wouldn't let her carry chapstick in her purse since the recent arrests of suspected terrorists in London who had plans to blow planes up with liquid explosives. At the same time, she tells me she carried a few food items and a bottle of pain reliever, none of which were checked and any of which could have contained things far less innocent than granola or aspirin. She might have been more amused by the disparity if it hadn't scared her a little as she wondered what else might have gotten through in the purses of people less harmless than she.
Meanwhile, as Pepsi joins the list of prohibited carry-ons, most airlines are still far from able to check bags slotted to be loaded into the cargo hold (promises concerning the safety of checked baggage have been repeatedly made and repeatedly broken). A few bags are typically checked on a random basis, but I can't imagine it would be terribly difficult to get some prohibited product or another on a plane that way. Undercover agents with the government would likely agree with me seeing as how they've been able to actually carry prohibited items - under conditions that are far more stringent than those for checked baggage - a terrifying percentage of the time.
Want to make matters even worse for us, and more laughable for those who would hurt us? Political correctness prohibits anything but random passenger checks. So while Grandma endures a thorough search behind all too flimsy temporary walls, the young Middle Eastern man behind her saunters onto the jetway without so much as a second glance.
(The last time I flew post-9/11 - which was about three years ago - something very like this happened. I was in line for a security check when three Middle Eastern men arrived on the scene. They looked around and then huddled together and spoke to each other in a language I can only say sounded like Arabic. One stepped aside and used his cell phone, glancing around himself all the while. When their turn to pass through the metal detectors arrived, one of the three stood up clutching a briefcase to his chest rather than carrying it like you or I would, and the three trooped off together. No one asked any of them any questions. I'll be frank with you: Had they boarded the plane I was on, I would have immediately debarked. Since nothing happened on any flight that day, I think it's safe to assume they were innocent, but my point is that nobody even checked. I, meanwhile, had to remove my shoes.)
While all of this is going on, and each of us is enduring the inconveniences and all too often the humiliation of travel in this day and age, pilots are still struggling to arm themselves. Now, you'll forgive me if I'm at all confused here, but I'm pretty sure that in 100 instances out of 100 instances, a gun will trump a boxcutter. In fact, I strongly suspect a gun will trump nail clippers, too. And when martial arts experts climb aboard a plane and try to take it over - and don't think that's not already well under consideration by those who plan such things - you had better believe that a bullet goes even faster than the highest, hardest kick or the strongest brick-breaking chop.
A few months back, lots of people were none too pleased to learn that the United States was going to give the contract for security for some of our major shipping ports to a Middle Eastern company. At best, it didn't look good and it sure didn't make us feel safer. In reality, some tough questions did need to be addressed and the deal is largely in limbo as I write this (the company ostensibly was going to place security in the charge of an American corporation so as to mitigate some fears, but to date, nothing of substance has been done). While politicians, diplomats, and CEOs dither, I've heard on more than one occasion that fewer than 5% of shipping containers are checked for contraband.
Shipping containers actually sometimes contain what they're supposed to contain. But on other occasions, they've contained dozens of illegal immigrants, stolen goods, drugs, and other less-than-desirable imports. When these things are found, they're relatively easily handled; when they're not, at least they're probably not going to be the end of the world. But what of the time when the container holds something even more dangerous? Many experts believe there's a very real possibility that al Qaeda has - or can get - an old nuclear bomb or two. What happens when one of those shipping containers brings one of those ashore in Los Angeles?
So shipping containers aren't often checked, and neither is carry-on baggage. Our borders are extraordinarily insecure. We're not able to utilize those tools that might best protect us. And there's no significant improvement - least of all on our borders - expected any time soon. And despite the fact that almost no Americans are terrorists, all Americans are treated as if they might be under the PATRIOT Act and the REAL ID Act.
So, Mr. President, you want to know if I feel safer today than I did five years ago? Mr. Senator, you want me to tell you I think you've done a great job taking actions to enhance my security? Mr. Congressman, you'd like my vote because you've worked so hard to prevent terrorism? I've got a single answer consisting of a single word to cover all of your questions: No.
No, I don't feel safer. No, I don't think you've done a great job making me more secure. And no, I don't think you've done all that great a job preventing more terror attacks. (Politicians would like me to think they have because we haven't had any more attacks since 9/11, but given the circumstances outlined above, I'm thinking that a lot of that has more to do with luck and a lack of completed plans for attacks than it has with effective preventive measures.) I'll tell you what I do feel, though, and that's less free.
On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, you can bet there's one other thing that will be hashed and re-hashed unto death, and that is the this: Why? Why did the terrorists attack us? Why did they kill thousands of perfectly ordinary Americans who were doing nothing whatsoever but going about their business? They weren't hurting anybody, so why did the terrorists hurt them - and, by extension, all of the rest of us? There's no need to analyze the question ad nauseum. They attacked because they hate freedom. The fundamentalist version of their religion is just about as stringent in its guidelines as it gets, and they hate that Western society is virtually the opposite of fundamentalist Islam.
I will admit that the politicians are right about one thing: The terrorists aren't done yet. There will almost certainly be more attacks, or at least attempts at attacks. But you know what? If they're gunning for freedom, they may as well pack it up and go back to their training camps because they've already - at least in large part - won. I can only hope that the tide of battle turns once again in our favor and toward freedom. If there's to be any suitable 9/11 memorial, wouldn't freedom be it?
Enemies: The Reconquista by Matthew Bracken
Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista is the sequel to Bracken's well received Enemies Foreign and Domestic (though The Reconquista can stand alone, Bracken suggests and I agree that the first book offers an important foundation to the events in the second). The first book was good enough that I was anxious for the sequel; after waiting two years, I'm delighted to say that The Reconquista was worth the wait. (Read the rest here)
Lady Liberty is a pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House. E-mail Lady Liberty at email@example.com.
"Eternal Vigilance: The Best of Lady Liberty 2002-2004"