Security efforts must not erode our freedoms

As we remember Sept. 11, 2001, a new report suggests our country’s officials pay too little attention to the threats of terrorist attacks from within.

The report deserves attention, but it should not be used to justify the further curtailment of individual rights.

Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group, comprising former heads of the federal commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks, released the report Friday, saying federal officials are slow to take seriously threats to national security from homegrown radicals.

That’s been the case for a long time. A decade ago, before the hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, government analysts reported the greatest perceived threat came from Asian drug gangs who might enter this country through Canada. American Indian reservations that straddle our northern border, which are considered sovereign, historically have had minimal federal surveillance and were considered soft spots through which Asian criminals could pass undetected.

More recently, however, our attention has turned to the obvious threat of attack from radical Islamic jihadists. Drug-related violence in Mexico also has raised worries among the American public, and public officials, although that violence has largely remained south of the border.

Those threats, however large or small, are real. Foreign jihadists, including Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, were linked to a February 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center.

It remains true, however, that the greatest acts of terrorism, besides 9/11, have been domestic in nature.

Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and even the radical Republic of Texas, a secessionist group that threatened federal judges in 1995, have all been U.S. born and raised.

Friday’s report notes that even after 9/11, most known efforts and plans to commit acts of terrorism have been domestic, including the Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up an airliner, the May 2010 attempted truck bombing at New York Times Square, and the Fort Hood massacre by a U.S. Army major.

Even so, our national focus remains on the threat from beyond our borders. Despite drastic increases in homeland security operations and spending, the government still has no formal agency to identify and investigate the threat of domestic terrorism.

To be sure, the FBI and our massive network of state, county and local police agencies address isolated incidents and reports of terrorist activity, but communications among them remains less than optimal.

The report fails to consider the greatest deterrent to crime: a population that enjoys personal rights and freedoms, and that is able and willing to defend them.

Curtailment of those freedoms, such as gun laws and curfews, would leave us more vulnerable to attack, not less. The Supreme Court recently has upheld our personal right — some say need — to arm ourselves. Several U.S. cities have imposed youth curfews, with no perceptible change in their crime rates.

It stands to reason. Any suggestion that criminals would somehow respect gun laws and curfews is preposterous. Disarming citizens gives bad guys confidence they can commit their crimes with relative impunity; they would face minimal resistance at best. Curfews turn the streets over to the criminals, giving them free rein and few witnesses.

It behooves us, then, to recognize that most crime in this country is domestic. We should also remember that the greatest defense against crime is our own diligence and freedom.