When I was working in the intelligence community, it was my job
basically to gather intelligence on people of other nations, sometimes
bad guys in cooperation with the local government, other times foreign
government officials, military or individuals for a variety of reasons.
The reasons varied from mission to mission, but I realize a few things:
1. Information is power (and absolute information is absolute power!).
2. Intelligence gathering is an extraordinary activity and should be
used only for extraordinary purposes.
3. It should not be the role of a government to spy on its citizens
I know why the Patriot Act was passed. It went farther than it should
have in being intrusive into people’s lives, but at the time President
Bush correctly judged that further terrorist acts could upset the basic
perception of security for the American people and perhaps permanently
undermine the confidence of the people in their government.
After all, wasn’t that the goal of the terrorists in the first place?
What better way to destroy America than to permanently change how we
think of our country.
But the Patriot Act did change America. It showed the federal
government could degrade essential rights and freedoms for its citizens
and put systems capable of monitoring every citizen in certain aspects.
It effectively allows certain tools and privileges normally found only
in a police state.
Perhaps in the short term, the prospect of another 9/11 far outweighs
some temporary intrusive measure by the intelligence community. But
should the short term become the long term and the temporary become the
permanent, an erosion of rights and freedoms of this magnitude is
devastating, and contrary to the philosophies America was founded upon.
I’m not saying law enforcement and the intelligence community are
abusing this power. I can tell you from personal experience these
people are well vetted and are of the highest integrity. It’s the
politicians I don’t trust. I’m also not saying all of the Patriot Act
should go away since the terrorist threat is still real. I’m saying the
Patriot Act should be replaced with something that moves back to a
respect for privacy and the protection of law.
In the next of this series of articles, I’ll talk about the first of these lessons, ‘information is power.’