The optics of a male Republican House Committee Chair and a female Democratic Senate Committee Chair appearing together and mostly agreeing on substance has continued to resonate, harmonically or discordantly depending on taste.
Last Sunday Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) were interviewed by Candy Crowley on State of the Union. (Complete transcript here) From the top of the piece:
CROWLEY: The big question that’s always asked, are we safer now than we were a year ago, two years ago? In general?
FEINSTEIN: I don’t think so. I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that, the fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnatometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups that ever and there’s huge malevolence out there.
CROWLEY: So congressman, I have to say, that is not the answer I expected. I expected to hear, oh, we’re safer. Do you agree?
ROGERS: Oh, I absolutely agree that we’re not safer today for the same very reasons.
So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it’s getting more difficult because we see the al Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing to something different, more affiliates than we’ve ever had before, meaning more groups that operated independently of al Qaeda have now joined al Qaeda around the world, all of them have at least some aspiration to commit an act of violence in the United States or against western targets all around the world.
They’ve now switched to this notion that maybe smaller events are okay. So if you have more smaller events than bigger events, they think that might still lead to their objectives and their goals. That makes it exponentially harder for our intelligence services to stop an event like that.
In part — but only in part — the chairs of the intelligence committees are continuing an effort to explain and justify the sort of activities the Eric Snowden leaks have exposed. (Intelligence methods that many surveys find the American public tends to support.) This does not mean their threat perceptions are inaccurate or misplaced.
Certainly decentralized — and particularly free-lance — terrorism is much more difficult to anticipate and track. Certainly such events — Oklahoma City, Boston Marathon, Spokane MLK parade, Oak Creek Sikh Temple Shooting (should we include Newtown and Aurora, what should we exclude?) — can cause profound suffering. Certainly we would prefer to avoid such horrific consequences.
A case can be made that with more rigorous and sophisticated intelligence and policing most of these threats might have been recognized and action taken to save lives. In retrospect there is — almost always — a trail through thick underbrush, beneath a dense canopy that could have been seen.
But how much of the forest would need to be cut to bring that trail forward? Is such clearing a trade-off we are ready to accept? Is the forest that would remain sustainable? Even if less than clear-cut, would it still be the forest we have learned to love?
Between the fetid terrorist swamp at one end of our forest and the glistening peaks of freedom at the other there is a varied topography and ecology on which our living daily depends. Surely we need be vigilant. But there are options other than flattening orchards, uprooting vineyards and harvesting ancient oaks for new fence posts.
To sweep the landscape so that every terrorist trail might be exposed threatens to leave us desolate. Continue to identify and articulate threats. Post guards. Inform and empower citizens. Mitigate vulnerabilities. But the effort to obviate every threat involves a price too high (for me) to pay.