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The Terrorists Have Won

by rdf Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 08:57:20 AM EST

The justification for enhanced security and the extra limits on civil liberties is not primarily to prevent physical attacks, but to defend our "way of life". As George Bush said, "they hate us for our freedoms".

One can debate the best methods to prevent physical attacks, but these are usually similar to defending against any form of lawlessness. Some combination of policing, intelligence gathering and observation. Any police official will explain that the goal of preventing, say, all armed robberies is impossible, the best one can do is to keep the level as low as possible. To expect otherwise in the case of politically motivated violence is unrealistic.

So to defend "our freedoms" the first thing that a society should do, one would think, was to maintain those freedoms that already exist. Otherwise the "terrorists have won". How has the record been in the US so far? I'll list just a handful of disturbing examples where the infringements on civil liberties have led us towards a society just like the ones we claim to oppose.


The main rule for a free society is that it be open and trusting. One always hears stories such as "when I was growing up we didn't even lock our front door". Has the incidence of housebreaking increased? No. What has happened is people no longer trust their neighbors.

We now have intrusive searches on airlines, trains and buses. Has the number of violent attacks on these services increased? No, yet every passenger is now viewed with suspicion, "if you see something, say something". Every forgotten briefcase by a harried businessman now becomes a potential terrorist threat. In the past 30 years there has been exactly one attack on the Long Island Railroad, by a paranoid schizophrenic. We lived with this risk of one incident out of millions of trips. The default was everyone was just trying to get where they were going, the same as you. Now everyone needs to be "watched".

When the British surveillance services were told to intercept mail of suspected German spies, they reacted with "gentleman don't read other people's mail". Now the government (and private companies) see nothing wrong with reading everybody's mail, and phone calls as well. The default is to suspect everyone, not to just leave people alone until there is some specific justification for action. This is the way East Germany worked, everyone was spied on, everyone had a file maintained by the STASI. Calumny, jealousy, revenge could lead to being reported and having your life turned upside down. Further since everyone knew that no one could be trusted, social interactions were all guarded and the cultural life of the state dried up.

Just two more, both currently in the news:

The willingness by congress to provide retroactive immunity to telecoms engaged in illegal spying is not just about the loss of privacy, but it sets a precedent for ex post facto legislation. When laws can be created retroactively then democracy is over. Tomorrow we will create a law that anyone buying a coffee at Starbucks last week is a support of state "terrorism" (by Juan Valdez) and subject to punishment. How can you have a free society where things get forbidden after they are done? Even adhering to the government's directives at this moment is no guarantee as the show trials in China under Mao and the USSR under Stalin have shown. You cannot change the rules of a game once it has started, but the US is trying.

Lastly there is the Supreme Court gun ruling. The key element in this is not the conclusion, but the premise. The majority thinks that vigilantism is an appropriate model for a civilized society. One needs a gun in the home to protect against everyone else, those who can't be trusted, those that need to be searched at airports, those that need to have their email read, those who might have done something wrong in the past when it seemed OK. An open society doesn't need self-protection, that's why we have a police force.

This ruling wasn't about guns, it was about trust. The terrorists have won, we have given up our freedoms and civil liberties and become as paranoid and autocratic as the states we claim to be defending against.

Display:
of the Global War on Terrorism (TM).  

How could it have been otherwise?  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 05:00:27 PM EST
Empires are paranoid and autocratic.
Comes with the job description.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 08:18:04 PM EST
this was my comment on a related thread at MoA

the list of items now prohibited w/in the front door of the US Consulate in Vancouver makes for interesting reading.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 12:58:37 AM EST
I, for one, am always on the alert for oversize strollers.  Fast growing babies are known to be terrorist fodder, and i'm thankful the amurkan embassulate is on the case.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 01:58:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Come on it's not that bad.  Everyone should be able to bring along their guns and knives! After all, in some places just about everyone has at least one of the above. Not in the UK or Canada?  Oh well.

The truth is that the average client spends very little time inside a consulate on business. In many places the visa lines are long and there is just no time to do security checks on everyone's backpack, etc.  You wouldn't believe what turns up in some places when searches of bags do take place.  I've seen loaded guns, knives, brass knuckles, and you name it, turned over for "safe keeping." In some places they just hauled out their gun and said here you are, hold this for me. Kind of like a Wild West saloon. Some US consulates (at least in the past) politely stored each of these items until the client exited the building and then returned the item to him/her.  But really, should a consulate do this? As you may know, most US consulate personnel only do business at arms length these days. Like bankers they are protected from potentially dangerous clients by hardened barriers, but ones fellow travellers in the waiting area have no such protection.  Do you really want a violent person (terrorist - well, not all that frequently but don't rule out the possibility) with a knife or gun setting next to you when he/she is denied a visa.  I think not.  Maybe you think everyone entering a consulate on business is (1) polite and harmless, and (2) in their right mind.  I know you would be correct almost all of the time.

The ban on liquids, sodas, etc. may relate in reasoning to the airline ban on liquids.  You can be as good a judge as I about that one.  I understand the risk really isn't that great, but don't know for certain.  I've never fully understood the logic of why I can buy a bottle of drinking water inside the "secure" area of an air terminal but can't take that same bottle on board the aircraft.

Electronic items are banned from certain areas of US diplomatic buildings and that ban applies to employees, the public and diplomats alike. Other than the fact that any object can be a hiding place for a weapon/dangerous chemical and needs to be searched, I'm not sure why they couldn't be taken inside once X-rayed, but again the problem is work load.  Who has the time and staff to check all that crap for hundreds of 15-20 minute visitors?  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 11:23:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Israeli consulates have never had any problem doing security checks on bags and so on. I doubt they are at less of a risk than the U.S. ones. As for protection from the people nearby you, do you really want a violent person next to you when he is denied a loan, fails a driving test, loses at the racetrack and so on? What makes consulates so special?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2008 at 02:20:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know that Israel has long taken extraordinary steps to protect its diplomatic missions from terrorists.  In my opinion, based on what I have seen, read, and deduced from conversations, these measures far exceed what the US and other countries do.  Also, in my opinion the Israelis are justified in their actions for obvious reasons.

Now, what is the Israel consular workload compared to the US?  I doubt it comes close to the US average, which is comprised mainly of non-immigrant visa seekers in most locations (even though new policies have cut down on lines and waiting times at the consulates).

As for protection from the people nearby you, do you really want a violent person next to you when he is denied a loan, fails a driving test, loses at the racetrack and so on? What makes consulates so special?

No, I don't want violent persons near by, if I can help it.  Ever been in a bank being robbed?  Not a healthy place to be.  US consulates, as symbols of the US Government, are more likely to be targets of violent acts by various groups abroad than non-political institutions.  US diplomatic facilities are not in general places most people would like to work if they carefully considered the risks and vulnerabilities. Some visa seekers apparently think they have the right to a US entry visa or some other benefit and when denied they go berserk.  Not often, but with sufficient frequency that extra security measures are seen as prudent. However, the primary reason for consulate security has long been terrorist attacks. The 9/11 events and the Bush administration added few additional requirements.  Most were already in place, by the way. There had already been enough attacks or attempts to warrant the added security.
 

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Jul 2nd, 2008 at 03:08:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In my opinion, based on what I have seen, read, and deduced from conversations, these measures far exceed what the US and other countries do.  Also, in my opinion the Israelis are justified in their actions for obvious reasons.

Which is precisely my point. They let you bring bags into their consulates, while checking the contents, unlike the U.S.  I doubt the workload has much to do with it: I'm sure neither workload compares with many U.S. courthouses (I suspect somebody who loses a court case is more likely to go berserk than somebody denied a visa), and they have no problem screening bags.

Some visa seekers apparently think they have the right to a US entry visa or some other benefit and when denied they go berserk.

Note that I have no problem with reasonable security checks. Assuming their presence, your scenario assumes someone hiding a weapon in their bag (with a good chance of being caught and denied a visa for this very reason; if that doesn't happen, maybe it should), so that they can then pull the weapon out and go berserk if denied the visa. I don't see this as very plausible.

I think the main difference between the Israeli and U.S. approaches to consulate security is that the Israelis actually want tourists to visit, whereas the U.S behaves as though they are a nuisance to be kept away at all costs. To judge by reactions I hear in Europe, they are quite successful.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2008 at 02:59:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the purpose of forbidding bags in the consulate is to move people along and avoid having to check bags and store items in the first place. In some places the visa lines exceed US courthouse crowds.  I've been to crowded courts and also seen the visa lines.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2008 at 03:52:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for the hasty reply above.  I enjoy these discussions, by the way, and do not see them as really adversarial but as opportunities to exchange views.

...the U.S behaves as though they are a nuisance to be kept away at all costs. To judge by reactions I hear in Europe, they are quite successful.

According to the ITA, Office of Travel and Tourism, over 5.8 million persons visited the US from the top 20 visiting countries during the first two months of 2008 alone. At least a million visitors came from Europe and another 2.5 million from Canada. Fifty million visited the US from the top 20 in 2000 and about the same in 2007. It would appear that the US isn't doing all that well if the intent is to discourage visitation.

When I mentioned policy changes in my comments above I was referring to expansion of the visa waiver program, which drops the requirement to obtain a US visa to enter the US.  This negates the need to visit a US consulate altogether.  I believe most, if not all European citizens qualify for this program. In addition, visa lines in many countries have been reduced by instituting a pre-visit appointment system to replace the old first come first served protocol that generated unbelievably long waiting lines in some countries.

In general, I don't see the restrictions on bringing the listed belongings along on a trip to the consulate as a particularly annoying issue, considering the improvements noted.  Yes, I suppose you are correct  in saying it is possible that they could be searched and allowed inside, but it would seem to be much easier just to not bring them in the first place. The less carry-on baggage I have to pass through airport security the quicker I get through and with much less hassle.  Unfortunately, I often carry a lot of photography gear which usually means my bag gets to go through the X-ray machine twice and then is hand searched and swabbed for explosives residue.  In the meantime I'm trying to get my shoes, belt, and watch off and on while I try to keep an eye on my belongings.  I actually feel bad about the time it takes me to get through and the time I am holding up other passengers. So, do I give up on photography (a US visit)?  Well, not yet.      

 

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Jul 3rd, 2008 at 10:07:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given how much cheaper the U.S. has become, no change in the number of visitors reflects a general loss of interest in visiting. With the dollar worth so much less than in 2000, the number of visitors should be breaking all records. Of course, this is not just due to the consulate policies, but also to horror stories of treatment by immigration authorities, and so on.

pre-visit appointment system

A good idea in principle. In practice? Well, in Germany, it used to be (still is?) bookable only on a 900-equivalent number which left you on hold a long time. Maybe a good way for the State Department to make money, but not a good way to make the U.S. popular...

Yes, I suppose you are correct  in saying it is possible that they could be searched and allowed inside, but it would seem to be much easier just to not bring them in the first place.

If you're coming by train from the other end of the country,  you're supposed to bring nothing with you? Regardless of how many people visit the consulate, if they can handle those people once inside, they should be able to do a security check as well. Unless processing the application is significantly shorter than the security check, in which case one wonders why they have to come to the consulate at all.

Probably my last word on the matter, as I'll have limited internet access for the next week.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Jul 4th, 2008 at 01:07:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good points all. I live in Mexico part of the year and the nearest US consulates are 350 to 500 miles away.  The average Mexican seeking a visa really has to plan ahead, but I don't hear complaints from relatives anymore even those seeking visas in Mexico City where the lines used to be horrendous.


I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Jul 4th, 2008 at 11:49:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's really ironic: after describing the problems of not having a bag check, I just realized that I may have exactly the same problem to deal with, if I visit the French Embassy in Rome in October...

I should mention that, apart from the problems for me, there is no similarity between the two situations. This is the Embassy, not the Consulate. They let a small number of people visit the building, if you beg nicely a reasonable amount of time in advance (I don't know yet if I'll know the exact time I can visit far enough in advance). Since it's free anyway, I shouldn't complain too much, but I'll probably have to find a hotel between it and the train station.

I'm in a hotel with free WiFi, contrary to what I expected. But I doubt it will happen again tomorrow...

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Jul 4th, 2008 at 04:20:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know how easy it would be to visit the American Embassy in Rome these  days, but it would be well worthwhile if one could arrange it. Visitors to the chancery vs. consulate can bring their bags in after security checks.

The US Embassy in Rome is housed in the Palace Margarita (sorry about the non- Italian spelling), and the place is a museum with its own appointed curator.  Supposedly the Palace is situated on the site of a country villa where Julius Caesar took Cleopatra.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Jul 4th, 2008 at 10:29:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Many people called security at any price and do not care about freedom. Neither of fundamental rights.
And security is necessary. But not by any means.

Living entails risks. And live maintaining the fundamental principles also entails them. Indeed, if we abandon those principles, terrorists and criminals in general have won.

by PerCLupi on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 01:26:29 PM EST
As George Bush said, "they hate us for our freedoms".

They don't, actually.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 02:58:20 PM EST


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