July 14, 2008

A Million Names On A List

The ACLU claimed today that the "Terrorist Watch List" has hit one million members. I don't know if that is a confirmable number. I rather suspect that the ACLU's copywriters did not pull the number out of their -- um, I mean, out of the air, but even if that's true, it doesn't mean that this number is correct.

Nor is it entirely clear to me what being on that list means. Does it mean you get the "intense" search when you board an airplane and you have to prove that the deodorant in your bag is really deodorant? One would do this by applying it to one's armpits, which I think a lot of air travelers should do anyway and if the TSA is there to make them do it, hey, that may be money well spent for the public benefit.

Now, if one in 300 Americans is suspected of having possible affiliations with terrorists, we are in a lot of trouble. And if the network of terrorists is really that large, why haven't they struck already? Obviously, the list is overinclusive. Maybe that's not a bad thing to some, but I think that yes, it probably is a bad thing because it means that at least some innocent people are going to fall under suspicion of being terrorists and at least risk descent into a Kafka-esqe scenario of national security and denial of due process.

And don't tell me, "I don't mind being investigated, I've got nothing to hide" because you do have something to hide, even if it isn't terrorism. You don't want some bureaucrat working for some government agency whose function you only partially understand finding out personal information about you like how much money you make in a year and what you spend it on, even if it isn't plastique, fuses and detonators. You might not be a terrorist but you might cheat on your taxes or you might have speeding tickets you have forgotten about. But mostly, you should want the government to mind its own damn business and stay out of yours.

Like the former head prosecutor of the U.S. Justice Department, who is on the list.

But here's the real question. We know the terrorists aren't dumb. And we know that they have access to some sophisticated machinery, maybe not in caves near Tora Bora but I'm talking about the bad guys that will try to infiltrate into the country. How hard is it to get a fake I.D.? Every college student and nearly every high school student who wants to buy beer can get such a thing with only a modicum of difficulty. Illegal immigrants can buy fake identities down by MacArthur Park for a few hundred dollars, complete with driver's license and an active social security number. So if illegal immigrants and petty criminals get themselves fake identity documents with ease, what do you think a motivated, well-financed, and intelligent terrorist can do?

And if it's that easy to get a fake identity in place, what good is the "Terrorist Watch List" in the first place?

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