Government’s Demonstrated Security Incompetence Warrants Abolishing Its Powers

The pro-surveillance state narrative says that 9/11 resulted from U.S. security agencies’ “Failure to connect the dots.”

Apparently this “failure” stemmed from there being too few agencies and/or their having too-limited powers, because its “correction” necessitated the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security (is the purpose of the Defense Department—which failed to defend even its own headquarter building on 9/11—to defend something other than “the homeland”?), the federalization of American airport security and the creation of the TSA, and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, providing security agencies extra-Constitutional powers to collect data on U.S. citizens suspected of no wrongdoing.

Today, advocates for the surveillance state are decrying the expiration of the PATRIOT Act and its replacement by the USA FREEDOM Act as now preventing the security agencies “from collecting the dots, to put them together,” declaring opposition to the PATRIOT Act to be a “war against intelligence.”

Mass collection of all electronic data on all Americans, in this narrative, “just replaces what a lot of agents used to do by hand… it gives you faster profiles.”

Let’s take a look at these contentions.

First of all, 9/11 could indeed be characterized as an “intelligence failure:” how difficult should it have been been to connect these dots:

Two months before the hijackings, FBI agents in Phoenix reported their suspicions about Arab students at a Phoenix flight school, and directly referred to the possibility of a connection to bin Laden.

In a memo from the Phoenix FBI to headquarters, the agents recommended an urgent nationwide review of flight schools “for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions” of a terrorist connection. The memo reportedly cited Osama bin Laden by name.

FBI higher-ups paid no attention to its agents.

While the current CIA Director claims that the data collection programs under the USA PATRIOT Act have “really helped stop attacks,” he offers no evidence that they have in fact done so. And what we know from reality is that the two attempts to blow up planes since 9/11 were stopped by their fellow passengers—civilians, not government agents.

Meanwhile, TSA can’t even connect its own internal “dots.”

On the front lines: TSA failed to stop undercover agents from smuggling weapons and explosives past checkpoints 67 times out of 70 attempts—an astounding 96% fail rate.

And behind the scenes,TSA missed 73 airline industry workers on terrorism-related watchlists—approving them for employment by airlines, airport vendors, and other airport employers.

And according to a member of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, “The publicly available facts are disturbing, but the classified details are even worse.”

So, if U.S. intelligence agencies’ ability to provide security is the same regardless of any expansion of their sizes, numbers, budgets, and powers—is there any reason not to reverse the expansion of their sizes, numbers, budgets, and powers?

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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