The national security state that has expanded in response to the Sept. 11 attacks will not shrink in the near future, even though al Qaeda’s top leadership has been decimated and the U.S. government faces extreme budget pressures.
When asked last month if the U.S. government could relinquish some of the extraordinary powers or shrink some of the budgets and bureaucracies created to protect Americans since 9/11, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave a one-word response: “No.”
Speaking at a homeland security seminar sponsored by the National Governors Association, Ms. Napolitano elicited nervous laughter with her response. She went on to say that her department defends against multiple threats beyond the ideology of al Qaeda.
“Realistically, we have to say environments change over time, and 9/11 was the signal of a change in the environment that we have to deal with, I think, throughout the foreseeable future,” Ms. Napolitano said.
“What is that change? That change is the threat against the United States motivated by various ideologies, terrorists, other ideologies as well, aimed at trying to commit a crime motivated by that ideology that will have an undue impact on our society, either economically and/or by the number of individuals affected.
“We at the department, we run this assuming that is the environment,” she said. “Then the question is, what are the best things we can do, consistent with American values and privacy.”
Since 9/11, the federal government has created a counterterrorism state unto itself:
• The FBI and the Justice Department have been given broad new authority to subpoena financial records from private companies without a search warrant.
• The National Security Agency (NSA) can wiretap electronic communications between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals without a warrant.
• The military has waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under the broader banner of the war on terror. But the U.S. has fought secretive wars all over the world in the past 10 years via drones, special operations forces and close cooperation with foreign intelligence services.
• The annual budget for the U.S. intelligence community has nearly tripled since 2001. Some analysts estimate that the federal, state and local governments have spent nearly $1 trillion on homeland security since the 2001 attacks.
• Major cities have installed full-motion video cameras at traffic lights, and many departments of motor vehicles require facial and iris scans to get a driver’s license. Indeed, the face, iris and fingerprint scan has become the industry standard for government and corporate ID cards.
Though the Obama administration has said much of al Qaeda’s leadership has been killed or captured, no administration official has said when the war on terrorism might end.
Ms. Napolitano is not alone in thinking the national security state will not soon recede.
“I would be hopeful, it would be aspirational where we could get to an environment where that could occur, but I think it’s unlikely,” Tom Ridge, the first homeland security secretary, said in an interview.