What Now?

The ultimate test

By Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute.

National Review Online, September 12, 2001 9:30 a.m. More by Kopel on Terrorism.

Now, Saudi Arabia will prove whether it is worthy to be an ally of the United States. The U.S. defended Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. even acceded to Saudi demands to prevent American soldiers from exercising their freedom of religion while they were on Saudi soil, defending the Saudis from Saddam Hussein. Will Saudi Arabia exercise its immense influence with the Taliban, to ensure that bin Laden and his cohorts are immediately turned over to the Americans? If the Saudis will not support us in our time of gravest need, they are no allies.

Those who demand that CIA spending be increased ought to disclose what the CIA is currently spending, and why it is inadequate. Currently, the CIA budget is completely secret. While there are good reasons to keep CIA line items secret, the national-security justification for keeping the total budget secret is very weak. Canada, Britain, and even Israel make their intelligence budgets public.

The Constitution mandates that "a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." There are no exceptions. During World War II, Congress and the president adhered to the Constitution, by making public the budget of the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA. Former CIA Directors Turner, Gates, and Deutch, as well as the unanimous members of the 1996 Brown-Aspin Commission, agree that there is no national security risk from disclosing the total CIA budget.

The CIA, having already lost two billion dollars by misplacing it, is hardly underfunded. Perhaps what the CIA needs isn't more money, but better leadership.

As surely as sleazy lawyers gather at the scene of a car crash, the lobbyists for big government will rush to exploit Tuesday's acts of war in order to demand more power for intrusive and unconstitutional government. Rather than recognizing that the crackdown on lawful travelers following the TWA Flight 800 disaster failed to protect us, they will demand more of the same failed non-solutions.

We should remember that, as in the years after Pearl Harbor, not every call for more government will really make us safer, and some will make us much worse off. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent; wage and price controls; and "emergency" rent controls in New York City (which are still in effect) are only a few of the examples of how American freedom and strength were harmed by the destructive expansion of government.

The main source of our strength is our freedom and open society. The United States already has the most powerful military in the world. We don't need the symbolic jaw, jaw, jaw of more laws, but the will to use our existing war power. Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, aptly wrote: "The truth is that if we further emasculate our Constitution the terrorists will have achieved the greatest victory imaginable. Their triumph won't just be the thousands of people they killed, the triumph will be if they see our democratic institutions crumble. If President Bush can navigate a responsible course where we make an appropriate response to those who have perpetrated these unspeakable crimes while at the same time protecting our essential freedoms in the process he will end up being the greatest President of the modern age."

To prevent future attacks, the perpetrators of Tuesday's infamies must be utterly destroyed, even if that means infringing the territorial sovereignty of nations which harbor these war criminals. Offending world opinion should be of little concern. Le Monde didn't launch the attacks, so whether Le Monde and The Guardian agree with the American response is much less important than whether every terrorist in the world understands that an attack on America will be a death sentence for himself and his entire organization.

As the failure of "gun free school zones" demonstrates, bans on the lawful possession of weapons simply embolden evildoers by providing them with criminal safe zones. It is scandalous that a few hijackers with knives were able to hold scores of airline passengers at bay. As a good first step towards making commercial airplanes dangerous for hijackers, pilots should be issued handguns. Historian Clayton Cramer asks, "If you don't trust an airline pilot with a handgun, why would you trust them with the controls of the airplane?"

The training to shoot an attacker at very close range can be accomplished in a weekend. Ammunition and handgun models can be selected which have high frangibility and low penetrability — meaning a low risk of the bullet penetrating the steel walls of the airplane, and or of over-penetrating a hijacker and hitting a passenger. In any case, the risks of hijackers facing resistance are much lower than the risks of hijackers able to act with impunity.

Cabin stewards who wish to carry concealed weapons should likewise be authorized to do so.

And passengers? Forty years ago, sportsmen routinely stowed their shotguns in overhead luggage compartments. There were no laws against bringing guns onto planes. Whatever the benefits that have resulted from the last three decades of laws against passengers carrying lawfully owned firearms onto planes, they have been far outweighed by a single day's deaths which are the direct result of turning planes into safe zones for terrorists.

And readers, if you should ever be on a hijacked plane, remember that it is better for you to die like a hero, as you lead your fellow passengers to overcome the hijackers, then for you to passively allow your plane to be used to destroy thousands of other innocents.

From the 1970s until not long ago, it was conventional wisdom that the world's terrorists avoided acts within the United States, because they knew that terrorism in the U.S. would lead to the destruction of their training centers, and the destruction of themselves. Yesterday's acts show that that deterrent was no longer credible. What kind of responses has the United States had to terrorism? Bombing an aspirin factory in the Sudan in order to distract public attention from the DNA on Monica Lewinsky's dress? A single raid on Tripoli during the Reagan administration, which didn't even kill Qaddafi? The men who hijack planes may have the Hell-bound courage of kamikaze pilots, but their cowardly masters do not. When terrorist masters and their hosts learn that an attack on the United States is a death warrant for themselves, then we will see the end of the war on the United States of America.  


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