The Illusion of National Security

September 4, 2003

By Tom DeWeese

No one, after 911, can doubt that our national and our personal safety has been attacked by Islamic fanatics bent on imposing their religion via “jihad” or holy war. Our government has been energized. Not since Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” have the forces of Big Brother been so excited. They have a mission. They have a plan. They have programs. They have regulations. All desperately needed, says the government, to fight terrorism.

As free Americans, however, we must ask ourselves some serious questions. Are the tactics being implemented here at home necessary? Are they effective in fighting terrorism? Are our liberties being protected? Is there a separate agenda being pursued? Why has virtually no effective action been taken to truly secure our borders, allowing an estimated 350,000 people to illegally invade our nation every year? Why has little been done to find and deport an estimated seven to eight million illegal immigrants? Why did our huge investments in agencies that include the FBI and CIA fail us? And how will another huge federal bureaucracy do a better job of securing our safety?

I have been through many airports since 9-11 and I have seen a lot of changes taking place. It has occurred to me that there are two basic approaches that could be taken to stop terrorists from stealing an airplane.

Approach A says that you must look at everyone as a potential threat. To do that, you need to establish long security lines, manned with lots of big, scary-looking guys who look through every bag, shoe and cell phone. You need metal detectors and prying cameras. And you need to use computers to provide detailed background checks on every single American trying to get on a plane, just in case they have a record of suspicious behavior, such as paying cash for their ticket or only buying a one-way trip. Don’t forget the all important random selection of children and grandmothers who will then be subjected to constant searches throughout their trip. Once you have assured that every law-abiding American is sufficiently disarmed you can then let them travel on the plane.

Now it seems that such a system would be extremely reassuring to any potential terrorist. Why? Because he has been trained to get around such barriers. And he will more than likely have help from buddies in his terrorist network who may have obtained jobs working for the airlines and can move in and out of the planes, leaving any tools he may need. Finally, his mission is greatly aided by the federal government which has already disarmed all the rest of the passengers. He is now free to move about the cabin.

Then there is approach B. Let the airlines choose their own methods of protecting their customers. You remember: freedom of choice. You see, it’s a plain fact that government can’t protect you on an airplane. Let the airlines provide a variety of ideas and the passengers can decide which ones appeal to them.

Now here’s one that would appeal to me. In a classic “Archie Bunker” episode, the famed TV character proposed that guns be issued to every passenger as they got on the plane. Just imagine the scene as the terrorists leave their seats and head for the cockpit. Suddenly, free Americans stand, point their pistols and say, “Not in this lifetime, Abdul!” Some may say that’s crazy, but I wonder which method some of those passengers on the doomed flights of 9-11 would have chosen if given another chance.

Of course, our nation’s leaders have chosen plan A. Now, with this mess of high-profile, high-tech-driven, security hysteria, some folks are saying they feel safer just knowing our government is doing something. Is the system effective against terrorists, or just a massive invasion of our private lives?

The human rights group, Privacy International, collected more than 5,000 nominations for its awards for the world’s dumbest security measures. The “Most Inexplicably Stupid Award” went to Philadelphia International Airport, where agents quarantined a room after a Saudi college student sprayed himself with cologne. San Francisco General Hospital earned the “Most Stupidly Counterproductive Award” for requiring anybody entering the emergency room, including homeless people, to show ID. Delta Airlines security officers at New York’s Kennedy Airport won the “Most Flagrantly Intrusive Award” for forcing a nursing mother to drink her own bottled breast milk to prove it wasn’t dangerous.

The Department of Homeland Security has created restrictions on recreational boaters, who, upon returning from a foreign port such as the Bahamas, are required to clear customs through either a hotline number or appearing in person before an immigration officer at a U.S. port of entry. The regulation prompted Congressman Mark Foley to remark, “Osama bin Laden isn’t going to check in after coming ashore.”

Meanwhile, Senator Richard Shelby received a letter from a constituent named Christine Mito who is a life-long resident of the historic town of Shelby, Alabama. Mrs. Mito had just married and her new husband, a prominent Egyptian businessman, arrived in Atlanta Airport to begin his new life. Upon his arrival he was detained for more than five hours as he was fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken, yet his passport was not stamped as it should have been.

A few weeks later he was required to report for a follow-up interview with the Immigration and Naturalization Service only to discover that they had no record of a mug shot or fingerprints! They had to do it all over again and charged him $50 for the privilege. Then, in follow-up correspondence, Mr. Mito was asked to attach an additional separate photo to “this original green sheet.” Trouble was, there was no “green sheet” enclosed. Meanwhile, as Mr. Mito is barred from getting a job, driver’s license or opening a bank account, his wife asks the logical question: “If the INS can’t even keep his mug shot on file, how the heck are they going to keep track of real terrorists?”

Do you feel safer now? Do you care what tactics the government uses to “keep you safe?” Americans must ask these questions: Are these tactics necessary? Are they effective in fighting terrorism? And is there a separate, possibly hidden agenda other than fighting terrorism being pursued? Are our liberties being protected?

Our government is on a mission. It is the duty of every American to question the purpose and outcome of that mission. Power for power’s sake is not the answer. It’s an illusion.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods ( He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.