Big Brother may have been dozing on 9/11, but you can bet he’s watching you now.
The line between liberty and security is thin, writes former Wall Street Journal correspondent Brzezinski (Casino Moscow, 2001). It’s getting thinner, and liberty is losing as America’s intelligence services struggle to catch up with events. It’s not that they didn’t have a head start: Brzezinski opens this bracing narrative with an anecdote set in the Philippines in January 1995, when al Qaeda operatives were caught plotting to destroy a dozen American airliners simultaneously. “We told the Americans about the plans to turn planes into flying bombs as far back as 1995.” Brzezinski quotes a Filipino police officer. “Why didn’t they pay attention?” Now, armed with a battery of constitutionally questionable laws, those services are scrambling to secure a daunting inventory of potential targets; as Brzezinski notes, for instance, most of America’s nuclear power plants are easily accessible to outsiders, and “the United States has 600,000 bridges to protect and 14,000 small airports from which terrorists can wreak havoc.” Given our failure to curb the drug trade, the utter lack of screening of airborne cargo, and the fact that just about anyone can walk into the White House, it seems reasonable to assume that terrorists will find a tempting target—and that they’ll succeed. Brzezinski offers examples of security operations that get it right, many of them to be found, not surprisingly, in Israel, where, one agent tells him, “Even the lowest beat cop . . . knows things that would be considered top secret in the States.” In other words, security need not mean secrecy, pace John Ashcroft and gang.
“An America where people . . . lived in fear of terrorists and the government would no longer be the same country,” Brzezinski cautions. That world may be upon us. An alarming, wholly provocative work.