Anti-Terrorism: A Political Auto-Immune Disease?

Reading William Gibson’s recent novel, Zero History, I came across an interesting passage:

There were cameras literally everywhere in London. … He remembered Bigend saying they were a symptom of auto-immune disease, the state’s protective mechanisms ‘roiding up into something actively destructive, chronic; watchful eyes eroding the healthy function of that which they ostensibly protected.

I find his comparing the hyper-protective state’s infringements on freedom to an auto-immune disease quite provocative.

As a young analyst, I worked on a project for the military, researching sabotage threats to American security.  We found that preventing sabotage was impossible-a risk free world wasn’t in the cards.  However, nation states were reliable disciplinary forces against saboteurs.  Today, however, terrorists are often stateless.  Thus, there are no obvious ways of disciplining such behavior.

Still, although we cannot ensure a “safe” world, we need to do what we can to make the world “safer.”  To do so, everyone must be mindful of security; we cannot simply accept the measures pushed by bureaucracy as sufficient.  Airlines are not only better equipped to determine the weak points in their passenger and freight handling systems but also have a greater stake in the success of security measures.

Government, in assuming responsibility for air safety, for example, creates moral hazard and neglects the costs to our economic and civil liberties.  Consider the security risk created by bottlenecked security lines.  We are all targets as we inch through the lines, waiting to be cleared for safety.

America’s response to 9/11 created far more costs than the attack itself.  We as a society have failed to distinguish between healthy defenses and paranoid bureaucratic responses.  HSA and its sub-agency, TSA, are but two examples.  As many have noted, on 9/11 some horrible individuals did terrible things to America; on 9/12, our politicians took over!  The costs – both direct and indirect – of such bureaucratic anti-terrorist policies are massive.  And now the TSA has embarked on a massive new campaign to force air travelers to submit to either electronic nude-searches or the equally intrusive pat downs.  The outrage from this move may allow us to reevaluate our whole approach to achieving a safer world.

Everyone wants to live in a safe world but only government has the arrogance to claim they can achieve this.  In fact, all the government can do is make the world less convenient, less free, and more costly-exactly the result the 9/11 perpetrators sought.  Should we allow them to succeed?

Photo Credit: bfraz’s Flickr photostream