The Security Pretext: An Examination of the Growth of Federal Police Agencies

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Since the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001, bureaucrats and special interest groups have been busy repackaging everything from peanut subsidies to steel protectionism under the rubric of “national security.” Federal law enforcement agencies have also been expanding their power in the name of combating terrorism, whether or notsuch expansion has anything to do with enhancingsecurity. One safeguard that exists to preventsuch abuse is congressional oversight, but toomany members of Congress are too often reluctantto challenge law enforcement officials.

For freedom to prevail in the age of terrorism,three things are essential. First, governmentofficials must take a sober look at the potentialrisk and recognize that there is no reason topanic and act rashly.

Second, Congress must stop federal police agenciesfrom acting arbitrarily. Before imposing costlyand restrictive security measures that inconveniencethousands of people, police agencies ought tobe required to produce cost‐​benefit analyses.

Third, government officials must demonstratecourage rather than give in to their fears.Radical Islamic terrorists are not the first enemythat America has faced. British troops burned theWhite House in 1814, the Japanese navy launcheda surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the SovietUnion deployed hundreds of nuclear missilesthat targeted American cities. If policymakers areserious about defending our freedom and ourway of life, they must wage this war without discardingour traditional constitutional frameworkof limited government.

Melanie Scarborough

Melanie Scarborough writes a monthly column for the Washington Post.