We could find out eventually that heroic clandestine efforts have thwarted terrorist attacks. Certain non-specific and anonymously sourced stories have suggested as much.
But it is also possible that security bureaucrats were overreacting with little to show for the trouble they caused to travelers over the holiday season.
Either way, American society has been tied in knots and relations with allies have been damaged.
Newport Beach (Calif.) Rep. Christopher Cox, who heads the oversight committee for the new Homeland Security department, has suggested the yellow-orange-red terror alert system — which provides little real information and is usually accompanied by an unhelpful “be worried but go about business normally” from officials — could use some fine-tuning. We hope he and his committee ask even more pointed questions about the entire array of security measures instituted since Sept. 11.
For example, with the recent announcement that the United States will require fingerprints and photographs of some 24 million foreign visitors each year — a program that seems simultaneously too onerous and not strict enough — yet another aspect of American freedom and openness is threatened.
There are, of course, genuine dilemmas. In the wake of Sept. 11, the natural bureaucratic impulse is to react strongly to every threat, probable or improbable, so as not to be put in the position of missing or having seemed to ignore a real threat. But when does clamping down on visitors become counterproductive?
The new US-VISIT program, which will digitally take fingerprints and photographs, is an example of a poorly focused program. On the one hand it greets visitors with “welcome to the land of the free; we will now treat you like a criminal.” On the other hand, tourists and business travelers from 27 mostly European countries, plus Mexico and Canada, are exempt from the new measures. Does anyone doubt that some terrorists might be smart enough to acquire European passports?
Americans are willing to put up with a certain amount of inconvenience in the name of security, but inconvenience unrelated to genuine security threats is unnecessary.