Briefing Paper No. 94

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

By Melanie Scarborough
June 29, 2005

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 not such expansion has anything to do with enhancing security. One safeguard that exists to prevent such abuse is congressional oversight, but too many members of Congress are too often reluctant to challenge law enforcement officials.

For freedom to prevail in the age of terrorism, three things are essential. First, government officials must take a sober look at the potential risk and recognize that there is no reason to panic and act rashly.

Second, Congress must stop federal police agencies from acting arbitrarily. Before imposing costly and restrictive security measures that inconvenience thousands of people, police agencies ought to be required to produce cost-benefit analyses.

Third, government officials must demonstrate courage rather than give in to their fears. Radical Islamic terrorists are not the first enemy that America has faced. British troops burned the White House in 1814, the Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Soviet Union deployed hundreds of nuclear missiles that targeted American cities. If policymakers are serious about defending our freedom and our way of life, they must wage this war without discarding our traditional constitutional framework of limited government.

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Melanie Scarborough writes a monthly column for the Washington Post.