Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Day The Music Died

The ten-year anniversary of 9/11 is rapidly approaching and plans for memorializing the date are ratcheting up. "Ground Zero" has returned to our every day vocabulary. Politicians are once again thumping their chests and issuing dire warnings about terrorism and plots and jihadists, oh my. The day that a handful of maniacs took over four commercial airliners is once again being dragged into the national consciousness, although it's hard to tell just what the appropriate emotional response should be: sadness? anger? fear? celebration? set-jaw determination?

I know I have a pretty mixed set of emotions when I recall that day nearly ten years ago, especially now that we have slightly more information than we did back then. For example, we now know that President Bush and Vice President Cheney pushed investigators hard to find a connection between that attack and Iraq. Even in 2001 the administration wanted to get the Iraq War on, although it would have to settle for an attack on Afghnistan first when it became clear that the attackers were from a shadowy group known as Al Qaeda rather than from Saddam Hussein's stable. The neocons would still get their war with the oil rich Iraq, but that war would have to wait a couple of years.

We also know that the Bush administration was warned by the Clinton administration of the danger Al Qaeda posed and that even as late as August 6, 2001 the president was warned of an imminent attack from the group, a warning he shrugged off. Would it have made a difference if President Bush had taken the warnings seriously? It's hard to tell because we also learned that our various intelligence gathering agencies weren't communicating with each other.

And so the events unfolded on that day: over 3,000 people died, a huge number, yes, but one that is tiny compared to the death and destruction that followed in the wake. The destruction involved, however, more than buildings and jet liners. That day marks the destruction of some important principles which had protected Americans for over 200 years as the neocons ripped the heart out of the US Constitution. The attack gave rise to the first Patriot Act, a law which has been renewed and tweaked every year since and which enables our government to spy freely on its citizens.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Thanks to new laws and technologies, authorities track and eavesdrop on Americans as they never could before, hauling in billions of bank records, travel receipts and other information. In several cases, they have wiretapped conversations between lawyers and defendants, challenging the legal principle that attorney-client communication is inviolate.

Advocates say the expanded surveillance has helped eliminate vulnerabilities identified after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some critics, unconvinced, say the snooping undermines privacy and civil liberties and leads inevitably to abuse. They argue that the new systems have weakened security by burying investigators in irrelevant information.

"We are caught in the middle of a perfect storm in which every thought we communicate, every step we take, every transaction we enter into is captured in digital data and is subject to government collection," said Fred H. Cate, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who has written extensively on privacy and security. ...

Officials from the FBI and NSA say they follow strict rules to avoid abuses. But in 2007, the Justice Department's inspector general found that the FBI had engaged in "serious misuse" of its authority to issue National Security Letters, claiming urgency in cases where when none existed

Such letters, a kind of administrative subpoena, are key to the increased surveillance.

Those letters are still being used, essentially without any judicial or congressional oversight. As the article makes clear, not even the various congressional intelligence committee members know precisely how often and under what circumstances those letters are issued. Testimony from the FBI and NSA is murky, intentionally so, but what little data has been gleaned has shocked many committee members. Yet, those same committee members continue to vote to extend their use each time the Patriot Act is up for renewal.

9/11 will be a day of both profound sadness and extreme anger for me. I won't be celebrating.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home