I first heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center about 10 a.m. after teaching a class in American Government at the Ivy Tech Wabash Valley campus. As an adjunct professor, I simply left the school when our class ended and went to my car to return to town. I was driving north on Carlisle Road when I heard the news on the radio.
Both towers had come down by the time I heard the news that morning, and it was already widely believed that a large-scale terrorist attack on the United States was under way. Like everyone else, I was stunned. But before I reached the city, I also began to worry about what this attack would mean for freedom in America.
Thanks largely to the work of economic historian Robert Higgs, I had come to understand that a big crisis — such as a war or depression — is accompanied by an increase in the size and scope of government authority. At the same time, individual freedom suffers because “national security” is used to trump constitutional rights, government transparency, privacy and other personal freedoms.
A new book by Washington Post writers Dana Priest and William Arkin titled “Top Secret America” details how the national security state has grown wildly and dramatically since Sept. 11, 2001.
Just measured in terms of dollars, this growth has been huge. The U.S. intelligence budget, which was $75 billion last year, has increased by 21 1/2 times since 9/11. And that figure does not include domestic counter-terrorism or many military activities, Priest and Arkin report.
Almost immediately after 9/11, Congress, eager to be seen to be doing something, began throwing billions of dollars into military and intelligence programs. As a result, 24 new government organizations were created by just the end of 2001, including the new Department of Homeland Security.
In 2002, 37 more organizers were created. That was followed by 36 new organizations in 2003, 26 new agencies in 2004 and a total of 83 new agencies from 2007 through 2009 the authors note.
“In all, 263 agencies have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11,” Priest and Arkin write, adding that the total number of people with “top secret” security clearances alone has reached approximately 854,000.
Such rapid growth has lead, not surprisingly, to a lot of waste.
“Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste,” Priest and Arkin write. “For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.” And many of the 50,000 intelligence reports drafted each year based on spy reports are routinely ignored, they say.
Political decisions — especially those made in a heated atmosphere of a crisis or a war — are often motivated by fear, emotion and political expediency, not calm reasoning amid an open and honest debate. In fact, when national security is involved, to question anything the government is doing is highly dangerous politically. Who wants to be the politician who votes to make a cut in the size or scope of the national security state if there is any chance there will be another attack on U.S. soil?
Yet, the growth of the government, including the national security state, is detrimental to our prosperity. The larger the government grows, the smaller the private sector will become. This means resources that could be used to improve the lives of ordinary people will be diverted from the relatively efficient and wealth-producing private sector to the much-less efficient public sector.
As Priest and Arkin state: “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”
A free society requires defense against foreign or domestic aggression. But politicians and bureaucrats are like everyone else. They are motivated by a mixed bag of hopes, fears and ambitions. They have developed a vast, new, intelligence bureaucracy with little oversight since 9/11, creating another terrible legacy of that awful day.
Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.