Security: Pros and Cons: Part Deux

While we are on the subject of security policies, I should mention the FBI interviews of people from Middle Eastern and Muslim countries. I was also one of the people interviewed by US government agencies early this year. My interview was harmless. The time and date of the interview was set at my convenience. The interview lasted about half an hour. There were two agents who were very polite. They didn’t ask to see any documents. They were interested in what sort of work/research I was doing in the US and whether I had any contact with anyone who could be interested in advanced technology for the wrong purpose. Looking back at my interview, I see no harm being done. But there were people who were afraid, some because they didn’t like being singled out, others because an encounter with the police in their home countries is not a pleasant thing. There were also cases of people who had broken the law in some way (e.g. working without INS authorization to make ends meet while they were in school.) In the end, the story in Pakistan was not of polite FBI officers interviewing law-abiding people. It was of Pakistanis and Muslims being targetted and harassed. The news reports told of people being detained and deported. The media, as Aziz emphasizes, focuses only on the scandalous and sensational. What we forget is that it’s not just the US media; newspapers (which are usually more independent than TV and radio in most of the Middle East) in other countries do the same. It’s just that what they sensationalize is our follies and our policies.

Security: Pros and Cons

More countries are being added to the special registration requirement by INS (see here.)

Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy has just received an advance copy of a Federal Register notice, scheduled to be published on December 18, that adds the following groups to the “call-in” registration requirement: males born on or before January 13, 1987; nationals of Pakistan, Armenia, or Saudi Arabia, who were last inspected and admitted to the United States as a nonimmigrant on or before September 30, 2002; and, will remain in the United States after February 21, 2003. Such foreign nationals will need to register at a local INS office between January 13, 2003 and February 21, 2003.

According to INS,

Special Registration is a system that will let the government keep track of nonimmigrants that come to the U.S. every year. Some of the approximately 35 million nonimmigrants who enter the U.S. —- and some nonimmigrants already in the U.S. —- will be required to register with INS either at a port of entry or a designated INS office in accordance with the special registration procedures. These special procedures also require additional in-person interviews at an INS office and notifications to INS of changes of address, employment, or school. Nonimmigrants who must follow these special procedures will also have to use specially designated ports when they leave the country and report in person to an INS officer at the port on their departure date.

These nonimmigrants will be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed when they report at an INS office.

Another result of the war on terrorism is the authority given to CIA to kill terrorists:

The Bush administration has prepared a list of terrorist leaders the Central Intelligence Agency is authorized to kill, if capture is impractical and civilian casualties can be minimized, senior military and intelligence officials said.

The previously undisclosed C.I.A. list includes key Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as other principal figures from Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups, the officials said. The names of about two dozen terrorist leaders have recently been on the lethal-force list, officials said. “It’s the worst of the worst,” an official said.

Even though I agree with the basic principle behind both of these policies, I am a little troubled. I believe that it is sometimes (though rarely and as an absolute last resort) necessary to use assassination (which is what this policy is in effect.) However, we should be very wary because there is a huge chance that this kind of power will be misused. All we need to do is to look back over our own history during the cold war.

Another thing that needs to be considered for both the special registration and the killing of terrorists is the weighing of consequences. We need to include all direct and indirect effects of these policies. Will these policies get rid of terrorists? How about help in capture? Prevention of terrorist attacks? Effect on relations with other countries? Anger at the US among citizens of countries who have to go through fingerprinting? Hatred of US in those countries as these stories get exxagerated back home? Will assassinating one terrorist create 10 new ones? What if we assassinate somebody who is innocent? Isn’t this the sort of thing that makes Henry Kissinger “one of the ten most evil men of the 20th century” (trademarked by the Talking Dog)?

Does that mean we shouldn’t ask people from specific countries to get fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed? Not at all. I do believe the basic policy is justified. (Please note that I do not fall under the category requiring special registration.) So my question is not exactly about the policy itself, but the thought process of the administration in coming up with this policy. Did they think long and hard about it? Did they consider the pros and cons, both short-term and long-term, of their decisions? And this is where I am not confident.

UPDATE: My views on the assassination policy were probably not clear. I believe that assassinations can be justified only very rarely as an absolute last resort against terrorists against whom we have already made a very good case internationally.