September 11, 2001 was “government empowerment day.” The U.S. Government was suddenly given popular support to launch wars that had been planned long in advance. It got to pass unconstitutional spying laws that it had tried and failed to pass before. It felt emboldened to double down on secret NSA spying on Americans.
Until Edward Snowden exposed the secret operations of the NSA there was no significant backlash to any of this. In 2008 candidate Barack Obama knew people were tired of the wars and the unconstitutional spying, so he exploited that sentiment in his campaign against John McCain—who, to put it mildly, ran on the opposite side of that issue. But his anti-Bush rhetoric was entirely fraudulent. Obama doubled down on virtually every aspect of the war on terror and on the NSA’s secret spying.
Even if we should have known about it earlier, Snowden provided the evidence that finally forced everyone to acknowledge it.
So some people can’t wait for another government empowerment day.
Thus, Walter Pincus writes:
If there is another attack, today’s complainers may be as much at fault as the intelligence community, which nonetheless will get most of the criticism.
Blaming the “intelligence community” for failing to connect the dots is a whitewash. Richard Clark is no outsider but he is quite blunt that the CIA deliberately withheld important information from himself and others.
Furthermore, there were, on September 11, 2001, some amazing security failures. The attack should have failed even without our intelligence knowing about it. The delusion of Pincus’ remark is that the 9-11 failure was the result of structural mistakes that needed to be fixed. I think it was the result of personal failures but not one person ever lost pay or rank or suffered any other negative consequence.
But even apart from all that, Pincus’ basic argument is flawed. He thinks spying on everyone all the time generates security. It doesn’t. It generates noise. As Mike Masnick wrote at TechDirt:
Of course, connections may be missed for any of a long list of reasons – including the reasons that connections were missed that would have highlighted the 9/11 terrorists: the intelligence community screwed up. Having more information is generally not the solution, because that just makes it harder to find the relevant information. Even more bizarre, Pincus’ argument is the equivalent of saying that we should have no privacy at all, because it might stop a single terrorist attack, despite no evidence to support that.
What amazes me about these defenders of the surveillance state is that they seem to have no concept at all of a “cost/benefit” analysis. To them “more” is always better, no matter what the costs. The idea that there are costs to doing all this doesn’t even enter into the equation. This makes for poor policy and incredibly dumb analysis.
Related to this, Pincus ignores the fact that one of the scandals is that the NSA isn’t really committed to protecting the nation from terrorism. They dilute their attention into economic espionage and other things that have nothing to do with defending the nation from attack.