Sunday, May 19, 2002

Thank you Charles Dodgson for an excellent post. He begins by taking Tom Friedman to the woodshed, which I always appreciate. I am unable to fathom why Friedman has been annointed the as the Punditocracy's lead Pontificator on foreign affairs, and the Middle East in particular. He doesn't write well. He doesn't have original ideas. Even when I agree with him I find his supporting arguments usually so weak I start to question my own position.

But, following that, Dodgson says this:

If you buy that argument, it only clarifies the spectacular inappropriateness of the administration's response to the attack after the fact, the ill-named PATRIOT act. They claimed that the attack showed that intelligence and law enforcement agencies needed to be able to gather more information, with far less interference from the courts --- eventually floating an omnibus bill with provisions including, among other things, nationwide judge-shopping for wiretaps, and requiring ISPs to turn over billing records without a warrant. When the Senate balked, the administration publicly threatened to blame them for the next attack.

The rationale for all this was that the government didn't have enough information. Now, they explain their failure to heed specific warnings, like the report by that guy out in Phoenix, by saying they had too much information, and no way to sort the wheat from the chaff. You can't solve that problem by adding more chaff.

And yet adding more chaff is what they have done, not just with the PATRIOT act, which had as one of its overarching themes Government Access to More, but in the subsequent fishing expedition which amounted to asking every Arab-American immigrant whether they were a terrorist --- questions which real terrorists will not answer honestly, and which loyal Arab-Americans whose cooperation the FBI may need will remember as an insult. Yet, every available FBI agent was diverted to this task, and when their numbers proved insufficient, they tried to enlist local law enforcement as well --- though they were stymied in jurisdictions where ethnically based roundups by local police are actually against the law.

Those agents could have been instead asking about suspicious activity around cropdusters, or investigating security around water mains and works --- means of attack that we know that al-Qaeda has considered --- or even combed the dusty shelves of the FBI itself looking for a neglected report on attack modalities we haven't known about yet. Instead, to plagiarize myself, they were out asking immigrant Muslim housewives what they knew about Semtex.

There's more. Click the above link for the rest.