From CSMonitor, comes this piece about massive data-mining program that may be being developed by our government to detect and analyze information patterns that may be terrorism related. Leaving aside the potential problems with this system (the cost, the technical difficulty, the possible abuse of power and increased government intrusion into our lives) and its benefits (stopping another deadly terrorist attack), I found this quote from a software developer interesting, not the least which because it reflects an oft-repeated sentiment:
Starlight [a precursor to this new data-mining program] has already helped foil some terror plots, says Jim Thomas, one of its developers and director of the government's new National Visualization Analytics Center in Richland, Wash. He can't elaborate because the cases are classified, he adds. But "there's no question that the technology we've invented here at the lab has been used to protect our freedoms - and that's pretty cool." (emphasis mine)
Exactly how has this program, assuming it has indeed contributed to foiling a terrorist plot, protected our freedoms? Really, how does any counterterrorism program protect our freedom? Terrorists are not, and can never be, an occupying army that could overthrow the US government and establish an Islamic theocracy. While they may have the potential ability to kill our leaders, damage our infrastructure and cause other severe problems, our way of life and our system of government could survive even a hugely devastating attack. Terrorists are not a direct threat to our freedom in that they cannot take it away and they will never take over this country.
So how are terrorists a threat to our freedom? They are a threat to our freedom because of us. I think we are now, as a nation, incredibly weak emotionally and spiritually. I don't believe we are a nation that could sustain itself in the wake of some new atrocity. The panic that would have followed a Beslan in the US would have destroyed us - our economy would have stalled as parents stayed home to take care of kids they would no longer send to school, millions of people would have demanded billions of dollars in increased spending to stand cops and soldiers shoulder-to-shoulder in a ring around every school in the country. Terrorists are a threat to our freedom because of us and the fear that we would undoubtedly let rule in the aftermath of some significant attack. We are no longer a nation that can face hardship with a grim determination, no longer a people that can handle adversity in our own lives. We may come to relearn these "skills", but immediately following a new and deadlier strike, we would likely be our own worst enemy. We would willingly curtail our own freedoms and increase the power and reach of government. So in essence, we are fighting terrorism in an effort to fight our own weakness. Terrorists scare us not just because of what they will do, but what we will do as well.