Stopping terrorism: More information isn’t better

Since 9/11, Bush and his enablers in Congress have eroded many of our civil liberties in the name of stopping terrorism. With our right to privacy practically obliterated, the government now collects massive amounts of data on our activities each day. The theory being that the more they know, the easier it will be to stop future terrorist attacks.

But, as Glenn Greenwald points out, that isn’t true:

As President Obama said yesterday, the Government — just as was true for 9/11 — had gathered more than enough information to have detected this plot, or at least to have kept Abdulmutallab off airplanes and out of the country.  Yet our intelligence agencies — just as was true for 9/11 — failed to understand what they had in their possession.  Why is that?  Because they had too much to process, including too much data wholly unrelated to Terrorism.  In other words, our panic-driven need to vest the Government with more and more surveillance power every time we get scared again by Terrorists — in the name of keeping us safe — has exactly the opposite effect.

As long as our government and media continues to hype fear of terrorism, the pressure will always be for more government power, not less. But just as more war exacerbates the threat of terrorism, more sweeping spying power makes it that much harder for our intelligence officials to stop actual terrorists. Finding a terrorist is already like finding a needle in a haystack. Let’s start making that haystack smaller, not bigger.


  1. Ian

    That doesn’t really make sense to me. If you lack the information, you can’t possibly catch a terrorist. The problem lies not in the fact that the information is collected, but in how it is parsed and processed.

    I’m not defending invasions of privacy or loss of civil liberties. I personally don’t see why we should have to sell our soul as a nation in order to be safe. If the US is supposed to be as unabashedly free as we advertise to the world, we should be free and just let the chips fall where they may.

  2. Chris

    As Greenwald notes, we had enough intelligence before 9/11 to stop even that plot. That was before Bush & Congress killed our privacy rights. So, you’re right to say the problem is how it’s parsed and processed. But by inundating the CIA, NSA and FBI with useless information, we make that processing much tougher.

  3. The problem is, as it always has been, bureaucrats….each having their little sphere of power and guarding it viciously….this has been the problem for 50 years and will not stop until we have a new department of Intel….