The”A Little Safer” America

Homeland Security Advisory System scale.

Image via Wikipedia

January 1, 2011

“The right of the people to be secure in their person, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated …” – Fourth Amendment to the Constitution

An old year has ended; a new year begins.  Because we can’t see where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been, I thought I’d take a look at where we’ve been over the nine years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 killed nearly 3,000 people from 80 countries – most of them, Americans.

As a result of those deaths, the American government declared a “War on Terror”.

Most of that time, we’ve been at war in two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq – although Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.  We’ve also conducted bombing raids and covert actions in Pakistan and Yemen.  Almost 6,000 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan and Iraq over these nine years, tens of thousands wounded and tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians have been killed.

In the year 2000, we spent 311.7 billion dollars on defense.  According to Wikipedia, “When the [2010] budget was signed into law on October 28, 2009, the final size of the Department of Defense’s budget was $680 billion, $16 billion more than President Obama had requested. An additional $37 billion supplemental bill to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was expected to pass in the spring of 2010, but has been delayed by the House of Representatives after passing the Senate. Defense-related expenditures outside of the Department of Defense constitute between $319 billion and $654 billion in additional spending, bringing the total for defense spending to between $1.01 and $1.35 trillion in fiscal year 2010.

Over the last nine years, this war of terror has eroded Constitutional rights Americans once held dear through a series of new laws and Presidential directives, beginning with the PATRIOT Act, which gave the government the right to rifle through our bank accounts, medical, email and phone records without a court order and  search our homes without a warrant.

This was quickly followed by a draft copy of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, which would have expanded  the Executive power to revoke Americans’ residency or citizenship, reauthorize the CIA and FBI to conduct domestic spying, force collection of DNA samples, revoke key portions of the Freedom Of Information Act, including the right to obtain information about detained family members deemed terrorists.  The leaked draft raised such an outcry, it never made it to Congress, but several key parts were passed as riders to other legislation.

In 2001, Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, creating the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) which was transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security when it was formed.  Since then, a series of increasingly onerous travel restrictions and searches have been instituted against ordinary Americans who have committed no crimes against anyone.

In 2006, the Military Commissions Act was passed.  Among other things, it  denied habeus corpus for any “alien unlawful enemy combatant” or any alien awaiting determination of status as such – effectively allowing the government to hold them indefinitely without prosecution.  Although the law defines alien as a person who is not a citizen of the United States, and the most controversial provisions in the law refer to “alien unlawful enemy combatants”, section 948a refers to “unlawful enemy combatants,” not explicitly excluding US citizens and raising questions as to whether a US citizen might be charged under this law.  The Military Commissions Act of 2009 amended some of the provisions of the 2006 Act to improve protections for defendants.  Whether the part referring to unlawful enemy combatants was changed, I do not know.

On May 4, 2007, then President, George W. Bush, issued NSPD 51, which says that, when the president considers an emergency to have occurred, an “Enduring Constitutional Government” comprising “a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, coordinated by the President,” will take the place of the nation’s regular government.  Although most of the directive is classified, the unclassified portion appears to conflict with the National Emergencies Act, of 1976, which gives Congress oversight over presidential emergency powers during such emergencies.

The Protect America Act of 2007, amended FISA by removing the warrant requirement for surveillance of foreign intelligence targets “reasonably believed to be outside of the United States” even though the person on the other end of that phone call is in the US, opening the way for unprecedented surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and internet use. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 reauthorized many provisions of the Protect America Act.

The Defense Authorization Act of 2007 allowed the President to declare Martial Law and station troops anywhere in America without the consent of the governor or local authorities.  This was repealed in 2008.
And, of course, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 established the Department of Homeland Security which has grown from a small office with eleven staff members when it first opened to the unwieldy, cabinet level bureaucracy we have today.  (You can view their organizational chart here: )  As far as I could find out, almost a quarter of a trillion dollars has been budgeted for DHS since its inception in 2002.

Between DHS and the Department of Defense, the War on terrorism comprises what Dana Priestly and William M. Arkin described as a bureaucracy  “so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”  In their series of articles in the Washington Post, entitled Top Secret America, (combining the three articles into one) the result of a two year investigation by the Post revealed:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

For what?

As Michael Cohen wrote in a July 20, 2010 opinion piece at, “And while the defense budget has been growing for decades, since 9/11 the numbers have jumped significantly. In fact, 65 percent of the increase in discretionary spending has gone to the Department of Defense in the years since 2001. And the money is not just going to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nonwar defense spending makes up more than a third of the increase.

“All of this is happening at a time when the U.S. faces no major foreign rival and al-Qaida, according to the nation’s intelligence chiefs, has been reduced to a mere 400 to 500 key operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan alone, the U.S. is spending $100 billion and deploying 100,000 troops to face an enemy that has only about 50 to 100 operatives in the entire country.”

And while the War On Terror has been waged abroad, the United States Government has waged a war of terror here at home.  As writers Nick Turse and Tom Englehart astutely pointed out almost a year ago, in their article, A Fight Against the Odds,,  “Soon enough, al-Qaeda, like the Japanese in 1941, went from a distant threat – the George W Bush administration, on coming into office, paid next to no attention to al-Qaeda’s possible plans – to a team of arch-villains with little short of superpowers. After all, they had already destroyed some of the mightiest buildings on the planet, were known to be on the verge of seizing weapons of mass destruction, and, if nothing was done, might soon enough turn the Muslim world into their “caliphate”.

“Al-Qaeda was suddenly an organization against which you wouldn’t launch anything less than the full strength of the armed forces of the world’s “sole superpower”. To a surprising extent, they are still dealt with this way. You can feel it, for instance, in the recent 24/7 panic over the thoroughly inept underwear bomber and the sudden threat of a few hundred self-proclaimed al-Qaeda members in Yemen. You can feel it in the ramping up of the Af-Pak war.

“You can hear it in the “debate” over moving al-Qaeda detainees from Guantanamo to US maximum security prisons. The way some politicians talk, you might think those detainees were all Lex Luthors and Magnetos, super-villains incapable of being held by any prison, just like the almost magically impossible-to-find Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the wild borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Because most Americans have never dealt with or thought of al-Qaeda as a group made up of actual human beings or accepted that, for every televisually striking success, they have an operation (or several) that go bust, the US can’t begin to imagine what it’s actually up against. The current president, like the previous one, claims that the US is “at war”. If so, it’s a war of one, since al-Qaeda and the US military are essentially not in the same war-fighting universe, which helps explain why repeatedly knocking off significant portions of al-Qaeda’s leadership (even if never finding bin Laden and Zawahiri) doesn’t seem to end the threat.”

Before the Aviation and Transportation Safety Act, passenger screening was the responsibility of airlines, with the actual duties of operating the screening checkpoint contracted-out to private firms such as Wackenhut, Globe, and ITS.Ticket counter agents were required to ask two questions of passengers checking luggage:  Have any of the items you’re traveling with been out of your immediate control since the time you packed them?  Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry an item aboard the aircraft?  Visitors had to pass through metal detectors and have their carry-on luggage X-rayed before entering the concourses. Boarding passes and photo ID were not required, as at that time the sterile concourse was still viewed as a public area.

Now?  Well, here’s a partial list.  You can click on the links for specific requirements:

As far as I can find, only two attempted attacks on airplanes have occurred since 9/11 – the “shoebomber” attack of 2002 and the “underwear” bomber of 2009.  Neither attempts were foiled by the elaborate system of airport security; both attackers were already on the plane when they attempted to set of their explosives.  They were foiled by alert passengers and their own incompetence.

Yet, ordinary Americans are subjected to increasingly humiliating and invasive routines at our airports before they can travel anywhere.  Are stories like those linked here,, and the thousands of other disabled and elderly travelers with pacemakers, implants and other medical necessities who will be subjected to invasive patdowns and scans that violate their right to be secure in their own person worth it?

The Heritage Foundation lists 30 thwarted terrorist attacks here over the last nine years.   Excluding the two airplane attempts and the attempted bombing in Times Square last year, most all of them were stopped by FBI stings or intelligence.

Life is inherently full of risk from our birth to our inevitable death from something.  The actual risk of dying in a terrorist attack here is one of the tiniest risks we take.  Yet, playing on our fears, the  government has kept up a steady drumbeat of the dangers, magnifying them out of all proportion to that reality in order to justify and maintain the military-security behemoth built up since 9/11.  For what purpose?

Are these valid reasons to maintain (and undoubtedly increase) the bloated, multi-trillion dollar bureaucracy that has built up since 9/11?  As energy prices go up and the economy is in danger of another severe contraction this year or next, we are going to have to answer these questions – before economic or climate driven collapse brings the full force of that bureaucracy down irrevocably on an unsuspecting public.

I think the saddest thing I read in all the research I did for this blog post was the statement made by a fellow traveler in the article about the 56 year old rape survivor with the pacemaker who was thrown to the floor, handcuffed and dragged through the airport after refusing to have her breasts felt.

When asked how she felt about that, the traveler who witnessed it said, “”It’s unfortunate that that happened and she didn’t get to fly home, but it makes me feel a little safer.”

A little safer?  Really?  From whom?

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1 Response to The”A Little Safer” America

  1. Pingback: Was It Worth It? | The Conflicted Doomer

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