Are we doomed to suffer another major terrorist strike? For some, it seems like a remote possibility, with the greater danger lying in policies of hyper-surveillance. For others, the real danger is complacency—the assumption that the threat has passed—and a misplaced eagerness to scale back the policies that have kept us safe for nine years.
One man who has pondered this question from a pivot point in the federal government is Stewart Baker, a general counsel of the National Security Agency in the Clinton years and a policy chief in the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. With “Skating on Stilts,” he offers a memoir of day-to-day life within a major Washington bureaucracy and an insider’s analysis of the challenges to domestic security in the post 9/11 era.
Mr. Baker opens his narrative by admitting that, in the 1990s, he had been an advocate of “the wall,” the legal barrier that kept criminal investigators and intelligence collectors apart, limiting the sharing of information. The wall had been put in place in 1995 with the high-minded goal of protecting civil liberties. Its purpose was to prevent evidence gathered without ordinary criminal warrants from being used to incriminate defendants. Continue reading