Debate continues as to the transformations in terrorism evidenced by the September 11 attacks and since that time. Some, including the former U.S. President, point to changes in the nature of terrorism and argue that September 11 constituted a wholly new form of terrorism that demanded a novel response. Given the prior events of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the East African embassy bombings in 1998, it would appear more appropriate to depict a transformation in scale and tactics rather than nature.
This article seeks to explore a third perspective. It accepts the fact that there have been transformations in terrorism, but it focuses on the actors rather than on their actions. It suggests that one’s neighbor has become a potential foe and that this trend became apparent only gradually after September 11. There are important consequences for law enforcement beyond the major adaptations already incurred. The move toward neighbor terrorism has perhaps been masked by the other more brutal changes, but it is this trend that has the potential to cause the most lasting and insidious impact on everyone’s lives.
For more than 30 years, our country has struggled to delineate the boundaries of domestic intelligence operations. Americans tend to regard those government components exercising national security powers within the borders of the United States (whether under clear authority or not) with an inherent suspicion bolstered by historical experience.
We tolerate the existence of such components but insist that they be highly regulated, particularly with respect to any activities that impinge upon civil society. Historical circumstances influence, but never erase, this regulatory imperative. Despite this imperative, components may occasionally escape regulation – at least for a time – because they are unknown, their missions remain mysterious or only partially understood, or because (intentionally or not) a convincing illusion of sufficient regulation is presented to the examining eye.
The USA PATRIOT Act has sparked intense public debate, with proponents claiming that the Act is a necessarily hard-minded response to a national crisis, while opponents see unwarranted, even opportunistic, expansion of state power. Perhaps no provision of the Act has generated more controversy than §215, which authorizes the FBI to seek a court order compelling the production of “any tangible things” relevant to certain counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. Like many other provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, §215 will expire on December 31, 2005, unless reauthorized by Congress. The controversy, therefore, is likely to intensify over the coming months.