The Myth of National Security

Remember that White House dinner party that a couple crashed in November? It turns out another uninvited person managed to attend. Not to mention the White House breakfast that uninvited tourists walked into in December.

With the most powerful and expensive government security apparatus in the world, the federal government can’t even protect the president’s home. This is the same security apparatus that failed to protect its military headquarters on 9/11, to say nothing of its citizens. So when Obama talks about the “systemic failure” of the Christmas lap bomber and his administration fastens on a new set of onerous security precautions onto airline passengers—including ones that are just inherently incoherent (would you really want passengers not to be walking around and armed with blankets if there is a threat of sitting terrorists starting fires on planes?)—we must remember that the national security state is a myth. They cannot protect their top institutions and personnel, at least in the way they claim to be able to, and yet they will supposedly guard the rest of us?

In a freer America, presidents were not guarded with legions of armed officers and the federal government did not need to lockdown entire neighborhoods or cities when the chief executive came to town. A relatively humble office was the presidency, and so there was not much threat to the president’s well-being. You could walk up to the White House and knock on the door, and you might catch the president strolling around the city streets among the rabble. So ideally, party crashers at the White House wouldn’t even be regarded as a threat to national security in the first place, and indeed even now the hysteria is completely misdirected. But what this does illustrate is that the Hollywood view of the Secret Service as an invincible shield, the best of the best, an impenetrable institution of American security, is all a fantasy. Like all government enforcement agencies, this branch of the national security state is irredeemably flawed.

As for protecting the rest of us, 9/11 is Exhibit A in the case against the nation-state. The security measures did not stop the lapbomber, or the shoebomber. The private sector—passengers and crew—did more to stop terrorists than government ever did. Then add in the fact that gun control renders the American public sitting ducks and U.S. foreign policy is the reason we have all this terrorism in the first place (far more Yemenis have been killed by American forces than have Americans been killed by Yemenis), and we see the timeless truth about the state is once again reinforced: in war and crisis, the state does not protect the people, rather it pressures and forces the people to rally around it and protect the state.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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