Model Aircraft Are Not A National Security Threat

Recently, the FBI launched a successful sting operation that nabbed an wanna-be al-Qaeda member, Rezwan Ferdaus, who had been trying to provide terrorists with cellphones turned into explosive detonators and who had been plotting on attacking the Pentagon and the Capitol with remote-controlled aircraft.

There is already a great deal of hype from writers like Slate‘s Will Saletan over terrorists using RC aircraft to launch terrorist attacks. But it’s hype with little factual basis. The fact is that RC aircraft are not a significant threat to national security.

Setting the Record Straight

First, it’s important to get the facts correct. CNN erroneously reports that a model aircraft like the one that terrorist wanted to use can be purchased for less than $200. That is simply incorrect—you can buy small aircraft powered by electric motors and made of styrofoam for $200. But those will not carry much more than a small camera—certainly not enough explosive to make a dent in a building. Such aircraft weigh less than 2 pounds and have a range of less than two miles—hardly a devastating terror weapon.

The RC F-86 intended for the DC bomb plot

The RC F-86 intended for the DC bomb plot could not have carried a 20-pound payload

The aircraft that Ferdaus used was apparently a model of the Korean-War era F-86 with a wingspan of over five feet and a similarly-sized model of the Vietnam era F-4 Phantom. More than likely the aircraft would have been powered by gas turbine engines. Aircraft of that size are quite expensive, probably several thousand dollars, not including equipment. Plus, those aircraft are not designed to lift large payloads. They are designed for speed and maneuverability, not lifting objects. Even if Ferdaus had actually gotten his hands on C4 explosive, the chances of him pulling off a successful attack would have been slim. Loading that aircraft with 20 pounds of explosives and the gear needed for it to use GPS to fly to its intended target would have probably left it too heavy to fly, or at the very least much slower than it would otherwise be. While some reports say that the aircraft could carry 50 pounds of explosives, that is simply untrue. In theory a model aircraft of that size could be stuffed full of C4, but they would have no prayer of actually taking off with that kind of weight.

Not only that, but a turbine aircraft flying over Washington would have been very noisy and very visible. No doubt the Pentagon and the Capitol have systems in place to deal with airborne threats. Even at a maximum speed of over 100 miles per hour, a model aircraft is much slower than a missile, and much larger. The chances of it getting to a target undetected are slim to none. A plane packed full of explosives, assuming it could fly at all, would fly so slowly and ponderously that small arms fire would have no problem knocking it out of the sky long before it reached its target.

That assumes that Ferdaus wouldn’t have blown himself up in the process. C4 is a very stable explosive, but anyone who’s ever flown a model aircraft will say one thing: it’s damn hard. It’s harder than flying a full-scale aircraft. Even with technological aids, it’s still very difficult. And the aircraft that Ferdaus chose would require a long, paved runway to take off. It’s not something that could be launched from a park. Ferdaus would have more than likely not been able to take off, and there’s a good chance he would have ended up meeting his 72 virgins long before he would have caused harm to any government buildings.

In short, this attack would not have worked even if it hadn’t been an FBI sting from the very beginning. As Fast Company observes:

Model aircraft and drones are exceedingly poorly suited to lone wolf terrorist attacks. Despite the use of drones by the U.S. military for targeted strikes and assassinations, operation of these types of unmanned aircraft require access to resources and training generally available only to domestic and foreign military forces. In other words, if you don’t have North Korea or Pakistan training you and supplying AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, fuggedaboutit. The many drones easily available to the civilian market are good only for surveillance and aerial monitoring.

But that won’t stop the busybodies in Congress from trying to regulate model aircraft into oblivion given half the chance.

The Real Threat is Regulation

The real threat here isn’t from al-Qaeda. If you wanted to attack the Pentagon, there are 20,000 missiles gone missing from Libya that could do a lot more damage than a model F-86 packed with C4. Model aviation does not pose a substantial security threat to the United States.

But that won’t stop the regulators from trying to end the hobby. There have been efforts to regulate model aviation into the ground in the past, and busybodies like Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have threatened to regulate RC planes before. The federal government does not like it when anyone does something that they can’t control, and model aviation is next in their crosshairs. This harebrained scheme by a terrorist wanna-be is just the excuse that Washington needs to clamp down.

And this could not come at a worse time. Model aviation is becoming more and more useful to the American people. Thanks to better battery technology and cheaper radios, model aviation is open to people who could never have afforded to get into the hobby in the days of expensive and dangerous fuel-powered engines and equally expensive radios. This means that children can get into a hobby that will teach them about physics, engineering, and aerospace. Last I heard, we wanted to build a high-tech 21st Century economy. We can’t do that by restricting the ability of the average citizen to explore science and technology on their own.

Not only that, but this technology has more concrete uses. Civilian drones can be used for aerial surveying, aerial photography, and scientific studies. The University of North Dakota recently flew a model plane close to a tornado to launch probes into the storm. An off-the-shelf AR.Drone that can be bought at a mall was used to survey damage after the New Zealand earthquake. These are applications that would have previously been too expensive for civilians to afford.

We should not risk these benefits over unnecessary fears of terrorism. We have already sacrificed too much in the name of security, preferring the illusion that “security theater” will keep us safe when the reality is that those measures are less about preventing terrorism and more about having the illusion of doing something.

Rezwan Ferdaus’ foiled attempt to attack Americans with model aircraft was never going to work, and even if it had, the damage would have been far less than more conventional modes of attack. But we should not let Ferdaus’ foolishness lead to an overreaction on the part of government. We only have so many resources that can be brought to bear in stopping the next terror attack, and using those limited resources to patrol civilian hobbyists diminishes our capacity to deal with real threats to our safety and security.

Eternal Vigilance

Judith Miller writes on why we haven’t seen another attack on the US in the last six years:

Why has al-Qa’eda not repeated the attacks it staged in New York and Washington six years ago to the day? Because it can’t.

That is the only partly reassuring consensus of some of the experts who tried hardest to warn Washington about the danger posed by al-Qa’eda and militant Islam prior to its devastating strikes on September 11. Richard Clarke, the anti-terrorism adviser to two American presidents, Michael Sheehan, New York’s former deputy police commissioner who headed the State Department’s anti-terrorism effort, and others who sensed the danger long before it became obvious, assert that offensive and defensive measures taken since that terrible day have not only severely degraded al-Qa’eda’s ability to stage another terrorism “spectacular”, but have made American cities and targets less vulnerable.

Thanks to such steps, “we are safer than we were on September 11, 2001,” John Scott Redd, a retired vice-admiral who now leads the intelligence community’s National Counter-terrorism Centre, told anxious legislators on Capitol Hill yesterday. “But we are not safe,” he added. “Nor are we likely to be for a generation or more.”

We’ve done a much better job with security, but we are still chillingly vulnerable. Critical infrastructure is still vulnerable to attack, things like chemical plants, water purification plants, and food processing facilities. Our efforts at airport security are still a joke — the only way to effectively use our limited resources for security in an intelligent way is to do some profiling. A 3-year-old kid shouldn’t be getting checked for explosive residue, because by performing that check you potentially ignore a more likely target. We still waste far too much money on “homeland security” projects that defend targets of little value while taking money that could be best spent elsewhere.

The Department of Homeland Security, which is a good idea in theory, hasn’t worked in practice. It makes sense to have one coordinated command for homeland defense — but instead of simplifying the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy has expanded. Bureaucracy and agility are at odds, and we need institutions that are every bit as agile as the threats we face.

Ultimately, even the best defense isn’t enough. We need to go on the offensive to stop terrorism before it happens. Our record on this is equally mixed. We need to put more political pressure on the Musharraf regime to stop the infiltration of al-Qaeda across the Afghan/Pakistan border. We need to start working to undermine terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizballah in the same way we have done to al-Qaeda. As Europe faces the increasing radicalization of its mosques, we should be prepared to deal with the same here.

We haven’t been attacked because our government, by and large, has made it the number one priority to prevent another 9/11 from ever happening again. We may have stumbled and faltered along the way, but if six years ago someone had said that we would not see another attack like 9/11 for this long I’d scarcely have believed them.

Our government gets a lot of things wrong, but they have prevented another major attack on US soil. They have learned the lessons of that terrible day six years ago. As Jefferson once observed, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. We are safer, but we are not yet safe. We’ve seen what happens when we let our guard down, and our current relative safety is the result of an attitude that we need to be more vigilant and more aware of the threats we face.

Hizballah In America

David Bernstein notes that the head of US intelligence has warned that Hizballah has established sleeper cells in the United States, ready to strike if the US engages in military action against Iran.

I’m not particularly surprised about this — Hizballah is responsible for the murder of US citizens in Beirut and Saudi Arabia, and they have the Iranian financial backing to pull off even more ambitious acts if they wanted to. Getting into the United States is trivial — even after September 11, our visa procedures are still quite lax, and failing that we have two very porous borders with Canada and Mexico that make it easy for a foreign national to slip into the country.

That being said, I’m not sure that their plans would work as intended — if it were found that Iranian-backed agents were launching attacks in the US, it would make the American populace more rather than less likely to want to punish Iran for their actions. Then again, given the way in which the cancer of the blame-America-first mentality seems to have metastasized in this country, it could be that Hizballah knows us better than we know ourselves — certainly that’s the view al-Qaeda has of us, and we’re giving them every reason to believe it correct.

UPDATE: As Power Line notes, Hizballah has no problem finding a base of financial support in the United States, which makes it much less surprising that they would also have sleeper cells active here.

The Death Of The Airlines

CNN is already reporting one Congressman’s claim that the days of carry-on luggage are over on American aircraft. Already the oil markets have predicted lower-than-usual usage of oil by airlines.

The problem with banning all liquids on flights, making people take off their shoes, etc., is that those strategies essentially throw out the baby with the bath lotion. A security strategy that makes being shoved into a cattle car with wings even more arduous will make it easier to spot terrorists – they’ll be the only ones crazy enough to fly.

Realistically, the security measures put in place in the time since September 11, 2001 aren’t all that effective. Richard Reid nearly took down an aircraft with a shoe bomb. The plotters of the liquid bomb attacks weren’t foiled by airport screenings, but by good detective work on the part of Scotland Yard, MI5, the Pakistanis, and a whole host of others.

The current trend in airport security is to create the illusion of security for the most part. Al-Qaeda constantly studies our air transport systems, and someone with an all-access pass at the airport can defeat nearly every security measure we have in place – and one of the individuals arrested in London had such a pass. Ultimately the current measures we have in place can forstall an attack by a method we know about in advance – they can’t protect against everything.

The real answer is politically incorrect: we need to profile. So far the threat comes predominantly from young Arab and Central Asian males. Security resources are finite. We can’t search everyone. So why do we continue to search old ladies and young mothers? If an Arab male is 10 times more likely to be a terrorist than a 32-year-old blonde female, does it makes sense to search disproportionately more blondes? As politically incorrect as this is, airlines like El Al have dealt with the issues of terrorism and hijackings for decades, and their screening procedures are designed to provide real security.

Air travel has revolutionized the world, and has become affordable for all. But if we want to continue to reap those rewards, we can’t have a security system that doesn’t use resources efficiently. Yes, terrorists can recruit others who don’t fit the terrorist profile, but so far they’ve not yet done so. A defensive posture only makes things more difficult for all

Airport screenings are defensive measures, and while defensive measures can be valuable, they’re no substitute for a good offense. The best way to stop a terrorist plot is to stop it long before the terrorists arrive at the airport. That requires a vigorous combination of intelligence gathering – using such techniques as data mining and wiretaps – and a willingness to use the data gathered in a rational way.

If we don’t take a more rational approach to security, the situation will only get worse. A security scheme that makes passenger flight so annoying to be not worth the trouble is hardly a viable proposition. Unless we’re willing to more logically use our limited security resources to focus on the biggest threat areas, we’re simply wasting a large amount of time and money.

Why The Guest Worker Bill Must Be Defeated

The current guest-worker bill in the Senate is quite possibly the single worst bill of the Bush Administration’s tenure in office – which is in itself quite an accomplishment. Heritage Foundation researcher Robert Rector takes an in-depth look at the bill and why it will severely harm the American economy:

If enacted, CIRA would be the most dramatic change in immigration law in 80 years. In its overall impact on the nation, the bill would rival other historic milestones, such as the creation of Social Security or Medicare.

The bill would give amnesty to 10 million illegal immigrants and quintuple the rate of legal immigration into the U.S. Under the bill, the annual inflow of immigrants with the option of becoming legal permanent residents would rise from the current level of one million per year to more than five million per year. Within a few years, the annual inflow of new immigrants would exceed one percent of the current U.S. population. This would be the highest immigration rate in U.S. history.

Within 20 years, some 103 million new immigrants would enter the U.S. This number is about one-third of the current U.S. population. All of these immigrants would be permanent residents with the right to become citizens and vote in U.S. elections. CIRA would transform the United States socially, economically, and politically. Within two decades, the character of the nation would differ dramatically from what exists today.

With all the loopholes in the CIRA bill, we’d be better off in the long term to simply annex Mexico – at least we’d get some nice oil deposits out of the deal. Instead, this bill would basically destroy any attempts to control the flood of immigrants to our country. In fact, there’s a good chance that significant portions of this country wouldn’t be America anymore – you’d have essentially created vast ethnic states of relatively unassimilated immigrants who would be divorced from American politics and culture.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act would Balkanize the US in a way that should be absolutely and categorically unacceptable.

Robert Novak also notes some incredibly disastrous features of this bill:

Rector’s updated analysis, based on the Bingaman amendment, downgraded the two-decade estimate for immigrants to approximately 66 million under the reform. That remains a total that boggles the imagination. As a result, critical analyses of other aspects of the bill are getting a focused reception in the Senate.

*The bill supposedly would protect American workers by ensuring that new immigrants would not take away jobs. However, the bill’s definition of ”United States worker” includes temporary foreign guest workers, so the protection is meaningless.

*It extends the Davis-Bacon Act’s requirement for the payment of ”prevailing wage” to all temporary guest workers. That puts them ahead of Americans, who have this protection only on federal job sites.

*Foreign guest farm workers, admitted under the bill, cannot be ”terminated from employment by any employer … except for just cause.” In contrast, American ag workers can be fired for any reason.

Not only would this bill create a new American underclass, but it would place them under the same rules that were used during the Depression to keep blacks from getting federal construction contracts. That would not only shut out many small minority contractors and upend the entire agricultural labor market, but would also be tantamount to the government enforcing wage controls on a significant amount of the American workforce. This is most certainly a bipartisan bill – there is something for everyone to utterly despise about it.

The best we could hope for is that it would leave the status quo intact – why would anyone hire a “temporary worker” when they’d have to pay Davis-Bacon’s exhorbitant wages for labor that’s not worth the cost? Instead, there’s a strong likelihood that people would continue to hire illegals at rock-bottom wages unless there’s serious enforcement of rules against doing that – and actually enforcing our immigration laws doesn’t seem to be a priority with Congress these days. It appears as though the rush to please everyone with this bill will end up pleasing no one. How Congress expects a system that brings in millions of largely unskilled workers and demands they be paid well above realistic market averages (not to mention the costs in bureaucratic red tape) will work is well beyond me.

CIRA must be defeated – it is a poorly-written piece of legislation that would create profound negative changes to the American economy and society, and such a program must not be allowed to come to fruition.

Why Bush Won’t Budge

Mark Krikorian has what I think is the best explanation for the President’s views on immigration:

…I get asked this question all the time and the conclusion I’ve come to is this: The president is morally and emotionally opposed to immigration enforcement, especially on the Mexican border. He sees it as uncompassionate and un-Christian, at best a necessary evil that must be entered into with the greatest reluctance and abandoned as soon as is practical. And this is especially true with regard to Mexico because he sees it as a “cousin” nation, like Britain or Israel, and thus enforcing immigration laws against Mexicans is even worse than doing so against Chinese or Pakistanis.

I don’t say this to hurl epithets — President Bush is a conviction politician and sincerely believes this, which is why he sticks to his anti-enforcement guns despite potentially catastrophic political damage. This is unlike President Clinton, who was actually better on immigration in many ways precisely because he was (is) completely amoral and willing to embrace almost any position.

I think he’s right. One of Bush’s greatest strength is his conviction in the idea of the US’ role in spreading liberty across the globe. Even at great risk – such as Iraq. Toppling Saddam Hussein was an enormous political risk – one that hasn’t played out very well for the President at all. Immigration is the same. The President seems to be acting out of a fundamental conviction that barring immigrants from the United States is an immoral act. At the same time, that conviction is in direct conflict with the economic and social health of the United States. Bush’s non-amnesty amnesty through the guest-worker program is an attempt to take a reasonable middle ground without sacrificing his values – something that may ultimately not be possible unless Bush is willing to compromise on things such as border security.

We always clamor for a politician with strong convictions – and Bush is certainly such a politician. However, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it…

Has Bush Lost His Base?

National Review had a symposium on Bush’s immigration speech, and the reactions ranged from disappointed to very disappointed. The majority of the conservative movement does not anything that even resembles amnesty for illegals. That’s an understandable position. As a nation of laws, we should enforce our rules.

John Podhoretz calls for a more level-headed discussion of the issue. I think he’s right – there’s absolutely no excuse for the kind of self-censorship that is being practiced by some on this issue. As Glenn Reynolds observes, if you’re starting to sound like a Kos diarist, you need to step away for a moment.

I think Bush is trying to find a reasonable middle ground here, but there’s a small but vocal segment of the base that just won’t have it. Even someone as reasonable as John Hinderaker is saying that there is no middle ground on this issue. With all due respect to someone who’s one of the best bloggers out there, that’s just not true. Yes, we could deport illegals in droves. We could seal the border. We could try to retreat behind the comfortable illusion of Fortress America. However, is that really a viable option? What would be the cost of such an action? Would that be a case of the cure being worse than the disease?

Politics is a game of compromise, and if all that conservative activists want is to deport illegals en masse, that just isn’t a viable strategy. Neither is the virtually uncontrolled immigration of the Hagel-Martinez bill currently in the Senate.

President Bush at least tried to find some middle ground here. If his base isn’t willing to do the same, the political situation of the Republican Party will only get more dire than it already is. The only thing that can help the Democrats is a Republican implosion, and it’s looking increasingly like that’s exactly what they’re going to get.

Liveblogging Bush’s Immigration Speech

As is my tradition, I’ll be liveblogging President Bush’s speech on immigration in about 90 minutes. The Truth Laid Bear has a list of obsessive nerds Bush-speech livebloggers as well.

For this liveblogging exercise, I’ll be drinking some Pacifico beer and eating authentic Mexican nachos (which are flash-fried tortilla wedges coated in refried beans, a bit of cheese, and a jalapeño slice.) Somehow it just felt appropriate for the occasion. (UPDATE: Sadly, no Pacifico to be found. So instead I grabbed myself a selection of various cervasas from our neighbor to the south. Remember, these do jobs that American beers just won’t do.)

Based on the chatter in The Corner, there’s a lot of nervousness about this speech. If Bush doesn’t show some leadership on this issue, his approval ratings could plummet even more. This is one of the more important speeches Bush will give, which is why he’d better knock one out of the park. I’m skeptical as to whether that will happen or not.

The Corner also has a preview of tonight’s speech.

6:57PM CST:The President will speak from the Oval Office in just about three minutes.

7:01PM: Bush begins his speech by asking Congress to support him on the issue of immigration. The gang at Fox News argues that this is a speech targeted towards Congress, which is probably true.

Bush notes we’ve lost control of our borders. Really? Hadn’t noticed.

7:04PM: Bush begins by arguing for securing our borders. It’s about time. Bush states his record on the issue of securing the border – only 12,000 agents for one of the longest uncontrolled borders in the world?

Bush is planning to double the size of the US Border Patrol. He also argues for fences and patrol roads to secure the borders. This is going to be a tough job – there are simply too many migrants coming across the border. Going after the organized groups that facilitate this human trade would be a smarter move to me.

7:06PM: 6,000 National Guard troops will assist the Border Patrol in securing the border. They’ll mainly install the new surveillance equipment to assist the Border Patrol for one year. This seems like a relatively reasonable plan. Bush also states that he won’t militarize the border.

7:08PM: Bush also goes against the “catch and release” policies that let migrants free until a court date – and unsurprisingly they don’t show up. Bush promises to end this policy by expanding the detention facilities that house these illegals.

7:10PM: Now Bush is pushing for a guest worker program. I’m skeptical of this argument. Yes, it will help regulate the flow of workers, but it won’t solve the essential problem. My guess is that at the end of the working period, a lot of these workers will simply disappear into the country.

Bush argues to stop document fraud that use biometric technologies to make cards “tamper proof”. There’s no such thing, and the more money that can be made from forging IDs, the more incentive there is to break that system.

7:12PM: Bush comes out against total amnesty as well as mass deportation. Bush talks of a “rational middle ground”, which is what people are looking for in general. Bush basically argues for a non-amnesty amnesty – which I think will probably pass muster politically. We can’t just kick these people out, but we can’t reward illegal behavior. I’m not sure how good a compromise Bush’s plan really is, but there is nothing in this case that will serve as a perfect compromise.

7:15PM: Bush speaks directly to Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Bush needs to shore up his approval on this issue, especially conservatives. Bush is trying to put himself above the fray on this issue – which is the Presidential thing to do. All in all, that’s probably a decent enough message. Bush is trying to walk a difficult line here between enforcing the law and eroding our culture.

Bush talks of an injured Marine who came in from Mexico. Bush’s humanity always comes through when he recounts stories like that, and Bush needs that right now.

All in all, a short and sweet speech that tries to put Bush firmly above the fray and on the middle ground. I have a feeling that it will give the President a bit of a bounce, just for speaking out on the issue.


Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review: “Delivery feels a bit more Mr. Rogers than commander-in-chief. I mean we have an emergency—our borders are out of control and during a time of war. You don’t get that sense.

Get me Jack Bauer.”

Glenn Reynolds, “Bush is right to stress assimilation. That should have been the cornerstone of the speech.”

Bill O’Reilly: “It’s a start.”

Michelle Malkin: “Too little, too late.”

Securing The Borders

CNN is reporting that the National Guard will be deployed along the US/Mexico border to assist in interdicting the flow of illegal immigrants. There are a host of thorny legal issues that surround this, but it will probably help the President’s plummeting poll numbers with conservatives (and everyone else) on the immigration issue.

What needs to be done is to take down the networks that facilitate the illegal immigrant trade. We can’t stop everyone from crossing, and we don’t need to. The people we need to stop are the coyotes, the ones who run the smuggling trade across the US/Mexico border. They are not only smuggling immigrants across, but also drugs, weapons, and potentially terrorists. Just like fighting al-Qaeda, you can’t win by trying to fend off the pawns in the game – you have to go for the big fish.

The coyotes are a threat to our national security and sovereignty, and they are the ones who make a profit from the smuggling of immigrants across the border. Start making their lives difficult, and then we’ll see a significant drop in border crossings. I’d wager that a sizable fraction, if not an outright majority of illegals from Mexico use a coyote to get across the border. Even those that don’t might think twice if they see that the coyotes are being arrested and tried for their actions.

The President needs to get serious about enforcing the laws of this country, including the sovereignty of our borders. A show of force will help, but it is ultimately futile unless we also take constructive action as well. The coyotes are the ones who are actively profiting off the smuggling of human and other cargos across the border. Taking down the coyotes would be the most visible and effective way of showing that we will not tolerate our borders being mocked.

President Bush is correct to first protect our borders, then start thinking about a guest-worker program to help mainstream immigrants into American society. Until we can control our borders, anything even resembling an amnesty will quickly turn the tide of immigrants into a torrent – something we simply cannot afford. We’ll see what the President’s plans are tonight, and whether he’s serious about defending the borders or whether this is just a sop to the Bill O’Reilly-style populists.

Another NSA Scandal That Isn’t

The Washington Post finds that a majority of Americans don’t see the NSA data mining of domestic calls as a major threat to their privacy. That is, quite honestly, surprising. It’s one thing to have a narrowly targeted program that tries to uncover the connections between known al-Qaeda associates and others. It’s another thing to engage in surveillance of random American citizens. Yes, the contents of calls are not analyzed, but one would think there would be more of a backlash against this broad surveillance of the average Joe.

The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.

A slightly larger majority–66 percent–said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.

I admit to being conflicted about this program. I had few problems with the earlier NSA wiretapping as that was narrowly constructed to go after people with plausible ties to terrorists. The vast majority of people aren’t going to get calls from Pakistan from al-Qaeda suspects, so the total impact on the average citizen is minimal to non-existent. This program, however, effects nearly everyone, and as a former Verizon customer, that means my records have been given to the NSA. Granted, I’m not in the habit of calling Mohammad al-Qaeda in Karachi, but there still is something slightly worrisome about expanding our surveillance culture that far.

What are the possible benefits of such a program? Well, for one, this kind of aggregate data analysis can help reveal terrorist networks – but there is always the question of accuracy. How much value is this evidence as opposed to the standard NSA international/domestic wiretaps we already have heard about? Is such a broad program really accurate enough and truly able to provide timely intelligence that could stop a terrorist attack? I have my doubts, although the NSA undoubtedly has technology and software that’s significantly more advanced that what’s publicly known.

As Power Line points out, these records are hardly sacrosanct as it is – Ma Bell knows who you’ve been talking to, and their information security is a lot less stringent than the CIA. We’re all at the mercy of our phone company’s privacy policy, and they can and do share their information internally and even sometimes with third parties. If one wants to have absolute privacy when calling someone, it simply doesn’t exist. Your call is logged somewhere, and AT&T is hardly more trustworthy than Uncle Sam.

The IRS knows who we are, where we live, who employs us, how much we make, what we’ve purchased, and has ruined the lives of many innocent people. The chances of the NSA being anywhere near as cavalier with their data is much smaller – and chances are the NSA data is processed in an electronic system that only looks at the data in the aggregate. Arguing that the government shouldn’t breach our privacy when the government already knows damn near everything about ourselves as it is seems more than a little disingenuous. If the Congress wishes to restrict what data the NSA can collect in the name of national security, how about restricting the massive violations of privacy at the IRS at the same time. The difference between the two is while the IRS’ violations are arguably worse, the NSA makes a more tempting political issue for both sides.

In the end, the violation of privacy here isn’t all that bad. Phone call logs aren’t sacrosanct pieces of data, and we already trust the phone company with them as it is. Unfortunately, by leaking this program, it’s ensured that terrorists now know even more about our national security infrastructure and will change their tactics accordingly. It is quite clear that this information leak has once again compromised our national security and made it more difficult for this country to fight terrorism.