The Second Great Watershed

Fighting Terrorism with Big Government

In July we wrote an article, "The Oklahoma City Bombing: A Past and Future History", documenting how the tragic bombing of the Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City was a watershed event that scuttled the Religious Right and short-circuited efforts to bring an ever-expanding and frequently abusive government back to its constitutional guidelines. September 11th's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will most likely prove to be "Watershed II" in the move toward greater and global government - and one that will reach beyond the boundaries of the U.S.

Political watersheds tend to break the deadlock holds of competing political ideologies - promoting some and extinguishing others. When times of undeniable crisis arise, politicians invariably make poor decisions and pass bad legislation. Opposing a crisis tide is something that lawmakers seem incapable of doing, and besides, many lawmakers see crisis as an excellent opportunity to forward laws, agendas and regulations which could not succeed under normal conditions, all in the name of protecting the public from a future crisis.

When the next crisis arrives, the fact that the promised protections failed to materialize is conveniently forgotten and more "protections" are subsequently offered for the future, which always involve the increase of big government, more tax money and a diminishing of rights for individual citizens. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which created the Federal Reserve Bank, was sold to the public as a means to forever protect the country from bank panics and depressions. It worked so well that the largest depression in U.S. history occurred just 16 years later, in 1929, caused by the very organization that was supposed to prevent it. But that was forgotten in the panic which followed, and big government once again was promoted as the solution to a government-caused problem.

Things We Never Thought We'd See

The weeks following the WTC-Pentagon attacks have witnessed many events that just months ago would have seemed impossible. Who could have imagined The Star Spangled Banner accompanying the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or being sung on the front steps of Canada's Parliament? Even more impossible was the sight of people lighting candles in Iran, the signing of a condolence card by Sudanese leaders (complete with an offer of military aid), and condemnation of the terrorist attacks by Libya's dictator Gaddafi.

Pakistan has agreed to cooperate with the United States in its actions against Afghanistan, while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates withdrew diplomatic relations with the Afghani Taliban regime, and Jordan agreed to join the coalition - something they refused to do in the Persian Gulf War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly declared the Cold War done with and Russia to be a friendly European nation. Putin plans an unprecedented visit to NATO headquarters and rumors are that Russia may consider joining NATO. As if that weren't enough, President Putin referred to the U.S. as "our partner" and said that he would not "become hysterical" if Bush violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by deploying the controversial missile defense shield.1  Russia also agreed to let the U.S. use its air bases in the southern part of the country in its campaign against Afghanistan.

The European Union has almost forgotten its virulent criticism of the U.S. for abandoning such international issues like the Kyoto Treaty, the convention banning biological weapons, and the racism conference in South Africa. Internationally, UN sanctions originally imposed to curb nuclear weapons development have been dropped against Pakistan and India. The fuss over nuclear proliferation has now been "de-fussed" in order to gain Pakistan's cooperation in the war against bin Laden. The Pakistanis also received a restructuring of their debt and a $135 million loan from the IMF. Sudan benefited by having UN sanctions lifted in spite of its horrible human rights record and the persecution of Christians and animists by the Islamic government. To date, at least a million Christians are estimated to have been slaughtered. Even Jordan received a free-trade agreement with the United States, which would have been politically impossible before the September 11th attacks due to disagreements over trade details.

At What Cost?

It's all happening so fast that few are asking, "At what cost are we buying all of these favors?" It won't come cheaply! Part of the answer is already evident. Big Brother is on the prowl. Over the past few weeks, foreign diplomacy has changed radically, coupled with a wave of new terrorist-fighting legislation on the domestic front. Russia, China, and the European Union have agreed to share intelligence information regarding terrorists' activities, launching an unprecedented global spy network. One EU official commented that sharing intelligence among EU members was only on a bilateral basis, "This is uncharted territory. It's frankly difficult enough to get these services to talk to each other on their home ground or with their closest allies abroad, let alone to meet at EU level. It's quite a breakthrough."2 Bottom line: all these spy networks are beginning to spy on each other for each other to collect information about their own citizens and to do end-runs around domestic laws prohibiting these activities.

Big Brother to Pay?

In the U.S. the war against terrorism has resulted in legislation to "increase wiretapping of phones and the Internet, boost police authority to detain suspected terrorists, and rewrite immigration laws."3 Some of these measures will aid law enforcement agencies in pursuing terrorist suspects, such as allowing these agencies to obtain a single court order to trace communications across the country instead of requiring them to obtain a similar order for each court jurisdiction affected.

However, other provisions of the "Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001" will allow intelligence organizations to share any information gathered with non-law-enforcement officers - whatever that means. Under present law this information can only be shared with police entities to the extent that it assists in a criminal investigation.4 It is uncertain who these "non-law-enforcement officers" are and what kinds of intelligence would be open to them. It is clear that if the intelligence has the ability to share information with private or corporate officials, our cherished American rights to privacy will be essentially eliminated. Other provisions of this proposed legislation allow law enforcement officials to not only monitor e-mail and Internet communications, but also permit them to intercept and seize unopened mail before it reaches the intended recipient.5

Perhaps the most disturbing addition to government powers is a section codifying the use of foreign intelligence by U.S. prosecutors against American citizens even if it violates their Fourth Amendment rights regarding unwarranted searches. Even though U.S. law enforcement is not supposed to have participated in the gathering of such information, if they allow a foreign intelligence agency to gather incriminating evidence, our constitutional rights can be abridged.6

The "big government" agenda has been put on the fast track. The national ID card has been a pet project of big government for years. Hillary Clinton wanted it as a part of her national health care program in 1993. But privacy-loving Americans have resisted the measure. It now appears to be an inevitable piece of the anti-terrorism war, which in the name of unity will go unchallenged. The ID card will not help track down terrorists, who have already successfully forged various identity documents, but it will help Big Brother merge data collected on U.S. citizens from education, health, employment, banking, and criminal databases. There is a growing emphasis in law enforcement to snoop on everyone and try to find someone who is violating one of thousands of laws and regulations, which thousands break every day without knowing it.

The Never-Ending Story

Perhaps the chief concern is the fact that the war on terrorism has been declared to be a never-ending war for which we must give up an undefined number of our constitutional rights for an undefined period of time. Undefined armies and undefined wars have a habit of never being conquered or won. Exemplum primum: The War on Drugs, which escalated in the 1980s. We were told we had to fight this war in the name of saving us (from ourselves) and our children. A key weapon law enforcement had to have was the use of civil forfeiture to seize property from drug traffickers without having to obtain a prior criminal conviction. Well, here we are 20 years later in 2001 and the drug war is no closer to being won than it was in 1980. The drug war has taken a serious toll on the American people in terms of property seized from innocent citizens, not to mention the damage inflicted on the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution. Under America's new civil forfeiture laws, "mere possession of a large amount of cash or a drug dog barking at your luggage is sufficient probable cause for police to legally seize everything you are carrying."7 Then you have to go to court to get it back. There is no presumption of innocence, since the property is charged with the crime and property has no constitutional rights. It sounds crazy but it's everyday business in the war on drugs, and now over 100 crimes - most of which are not drug related - allow use of civil forfeiture.

A Terrible Dilemma

The War on Terrorism is going to have to be fought. But as it is fought, it will be wise to remember that history shows the greatest potential source of terror is not small hate groups or religious fanatics, but uncontrolled, unaccountable government itself. Benjamin Franklin anticipated just such a situation when he warned us that those who give up any freedom in exchange for a little security will ultimately have neither.


  1. "Putin Says Russia Will Not Haggle Over U.S. Missile Shield Plans," Agence France-Presse , September 22, 2001.
  2. Black, Ian, "EU to Pool Security Intelligence," The Guardian , September 29, 2001.
  3. McCullagh, Declan, "Why Liberty Suffers in War Time," Wired Digital Inc., September 24, 2001.
  4. "Bush Sends Congress MATA of Anti-Terrorism Laws,", September 20, 2001.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Wollstein, Jarret,"Government Property Seizures Out of Control,", June 30, 2001.