Living and working in the DC area, even on the wages of an intern, one does actually experience a trickle-down economic profit. The streets are clean, the metro is reasonably efficient, the parks are well-watered, the museums are free, the buildings are beautiful, the pubs are plentiful, and the place is crowded with bright minds. Overall there is a culture of self-improvement, which if it can slip into narcissism, can also slip into virtue.
Then, occasionally, one bumps into the hidden cost of this modern urban paradise, this bloated imperial city forever sucking the life, liberty, and wealth out of its colonies. This morning the following picture appeared in my newsfeed:
Photo used with permission, taken by Julie Borowski, who had this to say about it:
Police and TSA agents were inspecting bags on the DC metro on my way home today. It’s all security theater. Our 4th amendment rights are being violated. No probable cause? Oh well! The government has to search your private property before you’re allowed to get on the train.
I’ve not encountered the metro police myself yet. Until today the only thing I’d seen was in the train station in Wilmington, Delaware, where there were several TVs looping a video showing disturbingly invasive sniffer dogs and police checks, with a big advert telling you that they were looking out for your safety.
The random bag searches on WMATA, focused on explosives, but embracing drug searches, started in December 2010. The proximate rationale for the security measure was the failed bomb plot of one Farooque Ahmed. But it turns out Mr. Ahmed’s plot was conjured by the FBI, who designed a sting operation and encouraged him the whole way, after learning that he was planning to travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan to fight US forces there. To catch him, FBI agents posed as al-Qaeda operatives and redirected his efforts towards a metro bombing, asking him for help gathering information on possible Metro station targets. The eventual charges successfully brought against Mr. Ahmed were attempting to provide materials to a foreign terrorist organization, and collecting information to assist in planning an attack, for which he got 23 years.
This 2010 post from greatergreaterwashington.org, published at the time of the beginning of the random bag searches, makes all the right arguments about the foolishness, inconvenience, wastefulness, rights-infringment, and ineffectiveness of these searches.
So here we have the worst kind of government waste and invasiveness offered as a solution to a threat invented by government agents, a threat paraded as an example of successful government counter-intelligence.
The centralized defense to terrorism has two parts: 1) monitoring intelligence and following up on good leads, and 2) containing the damage of an attack, so that normal public life can continue. Counter-intelligence needs to be as adaptable as the threat it faces. The WMATA security measures, and so many DHS-sponsored measures like them, are a Maginot line, providing a veneer of security that may make some of us feel more comfortable, but are easily penetrated by a cunningly-devised blitz. When that happens, morale collapses.
The best defense against terrorism is patriotism. True patriotism, which is wildly variable and adaptable to circumstance and locality while preserving the historical and intellectual inheritances of the nation, is the cultivation of strong local communities that support their members. We ought to build communities where the love of family, of the land, and of our culture overcomes the fiery hatreds that leap up in the souls of men and incite them to destroy their neighbors.
The same patriotism is the source of courage in an actual terrorist attack. A reserve militia of men and women who are accustomed to looking out for one-another, rather than depending on the expertise of government agents, have many times saved the day against an attack which evaded the military barricades.
The same patriotism accepts loss of life in a just war. Because it regards honor and duty and virtue as better possessions than mere existence, it has a measured contempt for death, and is unwilling to forsake all its inherited blessings in return for a slightly reduced risk of injury.
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