Sarah Chayes used to be the special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2010 to 2011. Remember the outrage when she went public by proclaiming how America has sacrificed liberty in the blind pursuit of safety from terrorism? Neither do I.
What about the former head of the TSA, Kip Hawley? Remember when he scrapped the absurd rules that made everyone’s life miserable and forced children and the elderly to be groped by blue-shirted agents who got their jobs off pizza boxes? Neither do I.
Yet both have now gone public to reveal the insanity of government playing our fears and ignorance in the name of safety. Chayes wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, while Hawley found his way into the Wall Street Journal.
For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been focused on one type of threat above all others: terrorism. This obsession has not only been used to justify an erosion of Americans’ privacy, it has opened them to other dangers and, paradoxically, made it easier for terrorists to achieve success.
Demanding zero risk of terrorism at home, moreover, makes it easier for terrorists to succeed. If the bar is set at zero, then a single successful attack means the terrorists have triumphed. And it is likely to produce the kind of dramatic overreaction that, according to Osama bin Laden’s own writings, is Al Qaeda’s ultimate aim: disrupting the U.S. economy, obtaining a disproportionate psychological impact and eroding the trademark values and liberties of U.S. society.
An epiphany? A sudden surge of blood to the brain that caused her to realize that the exact opposite of what she was working to do was happening in the country when she was in a position to speak out against our policies and actually make it count?
The former head of the T.S.A., Kip Hawley, has argued that the agency should allow passengers to carry on all liquids, in any quantity. As a safeguard against explosives, passengers would simply have to put their liters of Evian in gray bins and pass them through scanners. Mr. Hawley sees reasons for keeping footwear checks, but those, too, are of questionable value. Passengers do not remove their shoes in the European Union, or even in Israel, one of the world’s most security-conscious countries, with a famously stringent screening process.
Granted, his view remains mired in his admiration of government’s role in saving us from flip-flop bombers, but then, this was the guy who could have spared a million water bottles with the stroke of a pen, and didn’t.
It’s not that I’m unappreciative of former public officials finally admitting that the complaints of their curtailing liberty in the name of security are valid, and that the government persists in gaming us with nonsensical claims of how critical every restriction they conceive is to saving us from the terrorist hordes. But why is it that they never seem to know this when they’re in a position to do something about it?
Of course, it’s not that they didn’t know this before. They knew. These aren’t stupid people. Just disingenuous. They were on a team called America, and they were good team players. Maybe even great team players, coming up with new ways to restrict people’s freedoms while claiming how necessary it was to save us from the terrorists. Maybe they would hang around in the conference room after coming up with something particularly ridiculous, laughing and joking about how stupid the American public was. “They’ll never question us, buncha morons,” and slapping their knees.
But now that they’re out of office, gone from the team (did they have to give back the softball shirts?), they feel some compulsion to come clean. That’s great, except now it’s just a matter of writing an op-ed or telling their story to some reporter. Before, they were the people with actual responsibility to get actual things done. Before, they could have made the changes they now just talk about.
And they did nothing.
Since this recurring theme of former government officials spilling their guts as to how they created rules that we never needed, restricted our freedoms in ways that served to suck away our freedom while giving us negligible, if any, security, our worst fears are validated. They were lying to us when they proclaimed how vital it was that we endure the offense of latex gloved hands caressing our private parts. We know it now. We were right all along.
It’s a shame that all these smart people, these macho protectors of America for our own good, lacked the guts to break from the team and tell the truth when they were in a position to really make it count. Or better yet, change the rules of the game when they were in a position to make it happen.
Better late than never? Fair enough, but far, far better on time, when it would show the American people a bit of honesty and integrity in government, rather than have a good laugh at the expense of the public. When will someone who still has his finger on the button of Homeland Security stand up, tell the truth, and rid us of these affronts to our freedom? When will we finally get over the fear of 9/11 and remember what it means to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave?