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The Security Pretext: An Examination of the Growth of Federal Police Agencies, Cato Briefing Paper No. 94

The Security Pretext: An Examination of the Growth of Federal Police Agencies, Cato Briefing Paper No. 94

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Published by Cato Institute
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001, bureaucrats and special interest groups have been busy repackaging everything from peanut subsidies to steel protectionism under the rubric of "national security." Federal law enforcement agencies have also been expanding their power in the name of combating terrorism, whether or not
such expansion has anything to do with enhancing
security. One safeguard that exists to prevent
such abuse is congressional oversight, but too
many members of Congress are too often reluctant
to challenge law enforcement officials.

For freedom to prevail in the age of terrorism,
three things are essential. First, government
officials must take a sober look at the potential
risk and recognize that there is no reason to
panic and act rashly.

Second, Congress must stop federal police agencies
from acting arbitrarily. Before imposing costly
and restrictive security measures that inconvenience
thousands of people, police agencies ought to
be required to produce cost-benefit analyses.

Third, government officials must demonstrate
courage rather than give in to their fears.
Radical Islamic terrorists are not the first enemy
that America has faced. British troops burned the
White House in 1814, the Japanese navy launched
a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Soviet
Union deployed hundreds of nuclear missiles
that targeted American cities. If policymakers are
serious about defending our freedom and our
way of life, they must wage this war without discarding
our traditional constitutional framework
of limited government.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001, bureaucrats and special interest groups have been busy repackaging everything from peanut subsidies to steel protectionism under the rubric of "national security." Federal law enforcement agencies have also been expanding their power in the name of combating terrorism, whether or not
such expansion has anything to do with enhancing
security. One safeguard that exists to prevent
such abuse is congressional oversight, but too
many members of Congress are too often reluctant
to challenge law enforcement officials.

For freedom to prevail in the age of terrorism,
three things are essential. First, government
officials must take a sober look at the potential
risk and recognize that there is no reason to
panic and act rashly.

Second, Congress must stop federal police agencies
from acting arbitrarily. Before imposing costly
and restrictive security measures that inconvenience
thousands of people, police agencies ought to
be required to produce cost-benefit analyses.

Third, government officials must demonstrate
courage rather than give in to their fears.
Radical Islamic terrorists are not the first enemy
that America has faced. British troops burned the
White House in 1814, the Japanese navy launched
a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Soviet
Union deployed hundreds of nuclear missiles
that targeted American cities. If policymakers are
serious about defending our freedom and our
way of life, they must wage this war without discarding
our traditional constitutional framework
of limited government.

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Published by: Cato Institute on Mar 26, 2009
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The Security Pretext 
 An Examination of the Growth of Federal  Police Agencies
by Melanie Scarborough
 Melanie Scarborough writes a monthly column for the
Washington Post
.
No. 94
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001, bureaucrats and special interest groups havebeen busy repackaging everything from peanutsubsidies to steel protectionism under the rubricof “national security.” Federal law enforcementagencies have also been expanding their power inthe name of combating terrorism, whether or notsuch expansion has anything to do with enhanc-ing security. One safeguard that exists to preventsuch abuse is congressional oversight, but toomany members of Congress are too often reluc-tant to challenge law enforcement officials.For freedom to prevail in the age of terror-ism, three things are essential. First, governmentofficials must take a sober look at the potentialrisk and recognize that there is no reason topanic and act rashly.Second, Congress must stop federal police agen-cies from acting arbitrarily. Before imposing costly and restrictive security measures that inconven-ience thousands of people, police agencies ought tobe required to produce cost-benefit analyses.Third, government officials must demon-strate courage rather than give in to their fears.Radical Islamic terrorists are not the first enemy that America has faced. British troops burned theWhite House in 1814, the Japanese navy launcheda surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the SovietUnion deployed hundreds of nuclear missilesthat targeted American cities. If policymakers areserious about defending our freedom and ourway of life, they must wage this war without dis-carding our traditional constitutional frameworkof limited government.
 June 29, 2005
 
 June 29, 2005
Executive Summary
Cato Institute1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001(202) 842-0200
 
Introduction
“The Constitution of the United Stateswas written by 55 men—and one ghost,”writes military historian Dave R. Palmer in
1794
.
1
This nation’s Founders were wellaware of the example of Oliver Cromwell,who led the revolution that deposed KingCharles I and established civil government inGreat Britain. That democracy was short-lived, because when the newly formed RumpParliament refused to meet Cromwell’sdemands, he used the army to seize powerand establish himself as Great Britain’s “LordProtector.” To America’s Founders, the les-son was obvious: standing armies threatenliberty. That explains why the Constitutiondivided the power over the military betweenthe executive branch and the legislativebranch.What America’s Founders did not foreseewas Congress allowing the president to con-trol small armies of 
civilian
police forces. TheSecret Service, the National Park Service, theTransportation Security Administration, anddozens of other executive agencies act solely atthe president’s behest. But instead of checkingthe expansion of executive branch power,members of Congress have virtually aban-doned their critical oversight responsibilities. Although the growth of federal policepowers began before the September 11, 2001,terrorist attacks, the threat of terrorism isnow used to justify their reflexive expansion.Restrictions on individual freedom go virtu-ally unchallenged as long as they are charac-terized as “security measures.” Cost-benefitanalyses are rarely, if ever, offered or required.This paper will briefly examine the enhancedpowers of four federal police agencies andwill explain how those enhanced powersthreaten individual liberty.
National Park Police
Since the secretary of the interior reportsto the president, George W. Bush oversees theUnited States Park Police, which means thatthe president controls access to all nationalparks and monuments. Historically, thatpower has not been abused. But consider theactions that the Bush administration hastaken over the last several years.
 After 9/11, Bush closed the Statue of Liberty. Liberty Island reopened, butpeople can no longer go inside the stat-ue to overlook New York City and theharbor. The statue that stands as a bea-con of courage and freedom has now been closed off because of fear.
Independence Hall in Philadelphia resem-bles a minimum security prison facility.To protest the metal barriers surroundingthe building where the Declaration of Independence was adopted, local resident Jake Browne placed a sign reading “FreeIndependence Hall” on a park bench oneday as he ate his lunch. A park ranger toldBrowne to remove his sign. “What aboutmy First Amendment right to freespeech?” Browne asked. “This is a First- Amendment-free zone,” said the ranger,directing Browne to an area two blocksaway. Not wanting to move, Browneoffered instead to turn his sign around.“Fine,” said the ranger, “but if you turn itback, you’re under arrest.”
2
Some Americans have simply given upon plans to visit national parks and mon-uments. While in Hawaii, Dan and Lisa Holland of Meridian, Mississippi, tooktheir young sons to the Pearl Harbormemorial. The family waited in line twohours to get through security—only to behanded timed tickets dictating anothertwo-hour wait. “And you couldn’t evenspend that time looking around,” Mrs.Holland says, “because you couldn’t leavethe secured area.” The family outing they had hoped to enjoy became a burden-some ordeal.
3
In Washington, D.C., entrances to publicbuildings are blocked by metal detectorsand armed guards. Drivers near theCapitol can be stopped by police on city 
2
Instead of checking theexpansion of executive branchpower, membersof Congress have virtually abandoned theircritical oversightresponsibilities.
 
streets and their cars searched by bomb-sniffing dogs. Visiting museums requireswaiting in long lines while backpacks andpocketbooks are searched.
4
The Park Service has turned the Washing-ton Monument into a surveillance tower,placing cameras on its observation deckthat record activity on the National Malland beyond. After the Bush administra-tion announced its plans to begin elec-tronic surveillance of visitors to nationalmonuments, Rep. Constance Morella (R-MD) called a hearing and asked for details.“How long are they going to capture onthese cameras every face of every personwho is there? How long do they hold thismaterial? Who will have access to it?” sheasked John Parsons of the Park Service.Parsons’s dismissive response was that itwould be used “only for valid law enforce-ment purposes.”
5
Surveillance cameras cannot prevent a ter-rorist attack. If a suicide bomber walks intothe rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial withexplosives strapped to his body, a police offi-cer watching at a remote site can do nothingto prevent disaster. And what sort of imag-ined threat is forestalled by fencing off therear of the Lincoln Memorial? Almost no onegoes behind the Lincoln Memorial, but thefencing makes the monument an ugly site.Other measures are not only equally pointless, but they are likely to be counter-productive. Consider how the Park Policefence off the National Mall before suchevents as the Fourth of July festivities andherd visitors in through checkpoints, whichthe Park Police no longer pretend are purely anti-terrorism measures. Park officials haveadmitted that they search picnic baskets andcoolers for contraband—“alcoholic beverages,glass bottles, fireworks.
6
The searches almost certainly yield noth-ing but inconvenience. Determined scofflawswill hide drugs in potato chip bags or pourliquor into soda bottles. More important, if something does go wrong, thousands of peo-ple will be trapped in a confined space.Subjecting Americans to police searchesbefore entering the National Mall protects noone but may endanger many, and defies thefreedom the Mall is supposed to memorial-ize. Yet the Park Police are rarely asked to jus-tify their practices. And when they are askedbut refuse to account, they suffer no adverseconsequences.No one disputes that American land-marks are prime terrorist targets. But whatthe Bush administration ought to be exem-plifying—and what its policies shouldreflect—is a defiant refusal to be terrorized. As Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has put it: “Geton the damn elevator! Fly on the damnplane! Calculate the odds of being harmed by a terrorist! It’s still about as likely as beingswept out to sea by a tidal wave. Suck it up,for crying out loud. You’re almost certainly going to be okay. And in the unlikely eventyou’re not, do you really want to spend yourlast days cowering behind plastic sheets andduct tape? That’s not a life worth living, isit?”
7
That’s useful advice as well forHomeland Security officials. The vain questto “terrorproof” each and every possible tar-get is making the nation’s capital a monu-ment to fear.Is the astronomical chance that terroristswill attack a national landmark at the precisemoment of one’s visit worth hours wasted by 
every
individual before
every
 visit to
every
parkand museum? Trying to find a handful of ter-rorists by institutionalizing inconveniencefor millions of Americans would seem to be a prime example of an unreasonable search.Instead of sacrificing civil liberties forunneeded and ineffective homeland security measures, policymakers should be focusingon a few key areas that will make a significantdifference in preventing a future terroristattack—such as safeguarding nuclear andchemical facilities.
8
Capitol Police
In addition to the Washington, D.C., met-ropolitan police department, members of 
3
As Sen. JohnMcCain put it:“Get on the damnelevator! Fly onthe damn plane!”

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