Editorial: Paranoia of terrorism causes U.S. to spend needless billions
In retrospect, It would be fascinating, and probably terrifying, to know even roughly what amount of money and resources it took for this country to prepare for the tenth anniversary of 9/11…
Unfortunately, although there has been vast media coverage of the massive security measures undertaken for 9/11, no one seems to be looking at it in terms of the extent of vulnerability in which these knee-jerk measures leave the nation and the further economic drain that they place on our economy.
When Osama bin Laden first got geared up on his quest to bring down the United States, he said very clearly that one of his goals was to bankrupt us. Of course, what he meant was that he planned to create the conditions that would bring us to bankrupt ourselves.
It is critical to remember that terrorism is not designed to overwhelm. It is designed to undermine.
In that context, whatever it does to cause or initiate anxiety in targeted populations and governments, it relies on the reaction of those populations and governments equally as much to achieve its final goals. And America has reacted in ways that have haunted us and will continue to haunt us for decades. Unfortunately, Bin Laden could not have wished for more.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration and the country as a whole had a choice between two reactions. We could stick with the basic tenets of counterterrorism operations and go after Al Qaeda with our police, special operations and intelligence resources, or we could introduce measures that would prolong the atmosphere already created by the attack by introducing countermeasures that would keep our country perpetually on edge.
We chose the latter in violation of Benjamin Franklin’s injunction that “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. We passed the Patriot Act… We implemented a color-coded warning system, which, it seemed, was ramped up whenever our leadership thought we were getting complacent or, perish the thought, for political reasons. We instituted Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, “enhanced interrogation” and renditions.
And we did all this in the face of sheep-like acquiescence of the American people and their elected representatives who clearly felt that safety was more important than freedom. For its part, the press mostly just stood by.
Did these actions make us more or less vulnerable? Everything we have done has had the side effect of alienating those moderate Muslims (at least 99 percent of the Muslim world) who had no fundamentalist beef with us. Much of that damage has been done by the presence and operations of our military in the name of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan where there are practically no terrorists, and Iraq where there were none until after our 2003 invasion. We are probably more vulnerable than ever.
What we have done in our paranoia is put ourselves at the mercy of our own federal, state and municipal governments, which are singularly preoccupied with covering their posteriors. They cannot afford to overlook anything they think is a “credible” threat. Even worse than that, we have put ourselves in the position of being totally vulnerable to any an all provocations that the remnants of Al Qaida, or anyone else, might wish to run against us and we have done so completely voluntarily.
We have fulfilled bin Laden’s and the other terrorists’ dreams. They can now simply whisper to anyone we consider a reliable source that there is an attack in the works and America will galvanize as we did on 9/11 of this year, raising national paranoia and spending billions. Curiously, that could very well be what happened in New York City two weeks ago.
How has this escaped the attention of the media? How can we undo what we have already done to ourselves before we go bankrupt in this ongoing, ultra-frightened and paranoid national security environment?
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East, as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff, and as Executive Assistant in the Director’s office.