Increased domestic snooping would be both misguided and harmful. Increased domestic spying is unlikely to afford much added protection against terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, or WMD (nuclear, biological and chemical weapons). The Defense Science Board admitted that preventing biological attacks is more challenging (because of the difficulty of gaining intelligence about the production, transportation and delivery of such agents) than is mitigating the effects after the attack has occurred (which is also difficult). Terrorist groups are hard to penetrate — even by the best intelligence agents and undercover law enforcement officials — because they are small and often comprised of committed zealots. At the same time, law enforcement agencies and other organizations have the tendency to stretch and abuse any increased powers of investigation. For example, the FBI spied on and harassed Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. The Army conducted surveillance on Americans at home during the Vietnam War. The law enforcement community might use the threat of terrorist attacks with WMD as an excuse to expand its power of investigation far beyond appropriate levels.
In his remarks, Secretary Cohen implied that civil liberties should be undermined sooner rather than later. He suggested that waiting to curtail civil liberties until after experiencing the emotional effects of a catastrophic terrorist attack might be unwise. He seemed to assume that reducing liberties now will preclude a greater constriction of them after an attack. Although the threat of an attack is real, it may or may not occur. A preemptive surrender of civil liberties is, therefore, most ill‐advised. Undermining civil liberties through increased surveillance is not the best way to deal with an attack and would not preclude a draconian suppression of liberty in the wake of a calamitous attack. In fact, an earlier constriction might set a precedent for even harsher measures later.