Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Canadian broadcaster plays gotcha with Secretary Napolitano

The CBC interview with Secretary Napolitano gives a good feel for the continuing demonization of DHS in media north of the border.  The passport/passcard requirement is attacked as unnecessary right out of the box:

"[A] lot of people in Canada, and I suspect a lot of people in the northern part of the United States, are wondering why, why tamper with something that has clearly worked so well for so many years?

Then, when the Secretary defends the initiative by saying that "to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border," the journalist leads her into an error:

NM: Are you talking about the 9/11 perpetrators?

JN: Not just those but others as well. So again, every country is entitled to have a border. It's part of sovereignty. It's part of knowing who's in the country.

Having set her up, the journalist pounces:

NM: You know you mention terrorism, and there have been a lot of prominent American officials, including Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton when she was a senator and a number of other congressmen and senators, that have said that there has to be tighter security because a lot of the 9/11 perpetrators came in through Canada.

The fact, of course, is that they didn't. They all came directly into the States, sometimes with U.S. visas. Senator [Charles] Schumer cited terrorists crossing at Buffalo, and then had to concede that that hadn't happened. I think there's kind of a popular misconception in this country that Canadians have been battling for a long time that we're somehow a nest of terrorism. But in reality it's not the case. And why is that view so common here?

Arguably, the Secretary should have known where all of the 19 came from, but that is history, and she's got a lot to worry about in the present.  I don't see any sign that she actually believed the hijackers came from Canada or that this impression was driving policy.  What's driving policy is the other terrorist threats that she cites.  It looks to me as though she was simply going along with what seemed to be the journalist's statement of fact.

But if the journalist wanted to know why Americans worry about Canadians' commitment to the fight against terrorism, he provides it himself by grousing that the US hasn't taken Maher Arar off our no-fly list, making the dubious claim that Arar was found "not guilty" by a Canadian judge.  When the Secretary says that Arar's case was reviewed and we concluded that his status shouldn't change, he insists on treating this as hostility to Canada:  "So Canada was wrong."

That's it.  On terrorism policy, the Canadian media's two main concerns are getting the US to defer border security measures and getting us to take Arar off our no-fly list.


Ron said...

If the Secretary can't remember how the 9/11 perpetrators entered the country, she deserves what she gets. Excusing it as mere "history" is to ignore the lessons that it teaches and allows all sorts of ridiculous, dangerous and expensive ideas to be afforded credible status.

The whole notion of the no-fly list is flawed. Getting rid of it would at least be a start to a credible national defense.

stewart.baker said...

I agree that history is important, but I don't believe in misleading pop quizzes as a press tactic. And if you really believe in history, it's hard to understand why you want to scrap the no-fly list.

Ron said...

The problems with the no-fly list are:
1. It only stops the "honest" terrorists (i.e. the ones who use their real names), or the ones who aren't clever enough to circumvent it (various methods have been reported frequently. They probably all don't work, but I bet many do).
2. It generates way too many false positives. Depending on who you believe, there are between 2000 and 700,000 names on the list. They aren't all deadly threats. This drives the costs way up and takes money away from some more effective defenses.
3. The whole notion that some people are so dangerous that they can't be allowed on an airplane, but so innocent that they can't be arrested seems a bit odd, don't you think?

stewart.baker said...

1. This is a variant of the "If it ain't perfect, it ain't worth doing at all." Last time I looked, police patrols didn't stop all crime. So we should fire the cops, too?
2. We are making it harder for people to get fake ID, and it isn't as easy as you think.
3. The numbers have been misrepresented. Lots of the added names are just phonetic variations. And in any event, the real problem here is that the privacy campaigners have prevented the government from asking for birthdates so we can separate the people we're looking for from the ones we're not. If you think the ACLU is screwing up your travel experience, I won't disagree with you.
4. No, it's not odd at all. and when the Administration brings Gitmo detainees to the US and tries to try them, I bet you'll see plenty of people who can't be convicted but shouldn't be on planes.