Putting Safety First
Safety first means overriding silly objections to biometric identification. Of the 50 million annual U.S. visitors, 70 percent do not even require visas. Safety first means revising the notion that someone who enters our countryterrorist or notis treated as a U.S. person. The barriers to surveillance are much higher than they would be if the visitor were regarded as a foreigner.
Safety first means removing the walls between foreign intelligence abroad and law enforcement at home. Little things count, as we learned after 9/11. The British cleric who heard the al Qaeda boast in April passed on a general alert but not the language suggesting medical people might be involvedand so none of the eight doctor suspects in Britain were under surveillance.
Safety first means the intelligence community itself must focus on dissemination of information. According to the director of national intelligence, the community collects more than a billion pieces of information every day. Given that no single agency can survey all of this, the entire intelligence community must work together in new ways, share information, and exchange viewpoints. Safety first means a readiness to indemnify against lawsuits those communication and financial systemsmostly privatethat could pass along intelligence.
This is a critical time for leadership the American people can trust, leadership that will not conceal what can be explained (and justified), leadership that will hold our liberties sacred but understand that our freedoms, enduring through civil turmoil, hardship, and war, will be at risk as never before if the American people conclude, in the wake of another catastrophe, that their safety has come second to bureaucratic inertia, political expediency, and partisanship.