The Lanny J. Davis Purple Nation column (“Anti-terrorist protection without sacrificing civil liberties,” Nation, Monday) demonstrates a level of naivete that is dangerous. He ignores the enormity of the terrorist threat. His concern for civil liberties - commendable in normal times - creates impracticality in his proposal. He fails to understand that secrecy is vital for our security and that our enemies adapt their techniques when secrets are revealed. He is wrong when he postulates that this nation should not choose between civil liberties and anti-terrorism surveillance. Why should this be a choice? Yes, we need to safeguard our civil liberties as best we can, but we also need to keep in mind that if our enemies succeed, no one will have any civil liberties. Our need to protect our civil liberties should not result in a suicide pact.
Mr. Davis states: “There is a great story to be told to the American people about the anti-terrorist programs of this government” in order to “enhance the public’s confidence” that the government is doing its job to protect us from terrorist attacks and, at the same time, preserve our historic civil liberties. On one hand, he is impressed with the “brilliance, dedication and patriotism of these men and women who were working 24/7 to protect us from terrorist attacks.” On the other hand, however, he thinks more exposure of classified programs is necessary to reassure the American people. Why should this be necessary?
Mr. Davis would expand the role of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, bemoaning that there is insufficient legal and constitutional authority, judicial review and congressional oversight. He suggests this would assist the process of telling the story of classified government programs and assure more oversight. Surely he has to be aware that increasing the number of monitors would increase the risk that classified information will be divulged.
One need only remember that the news media, over the years, has delighted in revealing top-secret programs, endangering our ability to defend ourselves - e.g., the National Security Agency Terrorist Surveillance Program and the tracking of the movement of funds into terrorist hands through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) financial system. Revelation of these two efforts has compromised their utility as tools in the war against terrorism.
WARREN A. MANISON