Turning success into failure, one civil liberty at a time

According to Associated Press reports:

The nation’s chief of homeland security said Sunday that the U.S. should consider reviewing its laws to allow for more electronic surveillance and detention of possible terror suspects, citing last week’s foiled plot.

Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, stopped short of calling for immediate changes, noting there might be constitutional barriers to the type of wide police powers the British had in apprehending suspects in the plot to blow up airliners headed to the U.S.

But Chertoff made clear his belief that wider authority could thwart future attacks at a time when Congress is reviewing the proper scope of the Bush administration’s executive powers for its warrantless eavesdropping program and military tribunals for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“What helped the British in this case is the ability to be nimble, to be fast, to be flexible, to operate based on fast-moving information,” he said. “We have to make sure our legal system allows us to do that. It’s not like the 20th century, where you had time to get warrants.”

Look at that last statement: It’s not like the 20th century, where you had time to get warrants.” This is a fecklessley opportunistic statement that America needs less civil liberties protection by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The British government conducted human and signals intelligence operations on identified targets. The British Home Secretary said “Most of the work was driven and conducted here in the UK,” which indicates that civil liberties very similar to those in the United States were respected.

The travel patterns of a suspected terrorist reportedly provide the focus that resulted in revelations about as many as 20 plots. In particular, a tip from a source in Pakistan and a meeting in Pakistan identified by British intelligence resulted in the breakthrough, according to the Financial Times:

The arrest in Pakistan of up to three British men allegedly caught meeting local militants was on Friday night being heralded as the key breakthrough that helped foil a suspected terrorist plot to blow up US-bound aircraft, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

In fact, the British and Pakistanis are still monitoring people who may be arrested—suggesting that the FISA Court warrant system here in the United States, which preserve judicial review for secret surveillance is more than adequate to keep up with the speed of events. The British government has reaffirmed the inadmissibility of evidence collected through use of torture, which also provides support for greater, not less, oversight of Guantanamo Bay activity.

Secretary Chertoff ought to stick to using the law to defeat our enemies instead of trying to change the law. As Paul Krugman put it today: We now know that from the very beginning, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress saw the terrorist threat not as a problem to be solved, but as a political opportunity to be exploited. The story of the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever.”

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Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.