Monday, October 14, 2013

Book review - Enemies Within

When mainstream journalists muster up the courage to criticize the national security state they can't seem to let go of the notion that the world is a dangerous place. Their critique falls somewhere in between lamenting the loss of liberty and the mismanagement of the security apparatus.

Matt Apuzzio and Adam Goldman are two AP reporters who spent years researching their new "expose" on the security state - Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America. The book takes a look at how the NYPD took advantage of national security apparatus and rain their own "demographics" unit. The backdrop of the book is the attempt to foil a supposed bomb attack in New York City.

True to form, Mr. Apuzzio and Mr. Goldman try to have it both ways. On the one hand they criticize the NYPD and the formation of its intelligence unit. They detail the ways in which the NYPD cultivated a vast array of paid and unpaid informants in Muslim communities. We find out how the police created detailed maps of mosques, delis, coffee shops and gyms across the city where Muslims gathered.

Then they criticize the NYPD for botching the surveillance of Najibullah Zazi. In the eyes of the authors, if only David Cohen had been more willing to cooperate with the FBI then all of the surveillance and the informants and the intrusions upon the personal liberty of the people of New York would have been worth it.

The operation was botched because Mr. Cohen's NYPD intelligence unit was more concerned about garnering headlines and acclaim for themselves than they were with working with FBI counter-terrorism agents as a joint task force.

Left unsaid is the assumption that something had to be done after the 9/11 attacks and that curtailment of some of our civil liberties and privacy was just the cost of being safe. But even with all of the sophisticated surveillance and other information gathering techniques available to the national security apparatus, Mr. Zazi and two of his friends managed to go to Pakistan and train with al-Qaeda. They learned to make bombs and set out to launch a suicide attack on the New York City subway system.

They also point out that after the 9/11 attacks the FBI was transformed from a crime-fighting agency to a counter-terrorism agency. Instead of reacting to and investigating crimes that had already occurred, the FBI attempted to become an agency that had the ability to predict the future - an agency that could catch the criminals before they had even committed a crime.

That change in mission is what fuels the ever-increasing need of the national security state to obtain more and more information on the citizenry. It's the mindset that allows secret national security (kangaroo) courts to authorize law enforcement to infringe upon the privacy of individuals without a showing that anyone broke the law. It's the mindset that allows government agencies to issue national security letters with the threat that should the recipient mention the receipt of such a letter he will go to prison.

In the end the book is hurt by the inability of the authors to step outside the mainstream journalist box and question the assumptions of the national security state. The answer is not to increase the efficient use of surveillance and intelligence-gathering tools, but to reduce the ability of the national security state to infringe upon our privacy. Unfortunately, with the revelations of the extent to which the government will go to obtain more and more information, our reasonable expectation of privacy has diminished to the point that it is barely existent.

So. in addition to scaling back the power of the national security state, we need to devise a new paradigm to determine just what constitutes a search because the one we have is fundamentally flawed.

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