Ed Driscoll

Paging Steve Forbes To The White Courtesy Phone, Please

Mark Steyn writes, “there are now two basic templates in terrorism media coverage:

Template A (note to editors: to be used after every terrorist atrocity): “Angry family members, experts and opposition politicians demand to know why complacent government didn’t connect the dots.”

Template B (note to editors: to be used in the run-up to the next terrorist atrocity): “Shocking new report leaked to New York Times for Pulitzer Prize Leak Of The Year Award nomination reveals that paranoid government officials are trying to connect the dots! See pages 3,4,6,7,8, 13-37.”

How do you connect the dots? To take one example of what we’re up against, two days before 9/11, a very brave man, the anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, was assassinated in Afghanistan by killers posing as journalists. His murderers were Algerians traveling on Belgian passports who’d arrived in that part of the world on visas issued by the Pakistani High Commission in the United Kingdom. That’s three more countries than many Americans have visited. The jihadists are not “primitives”. They’re part of a sophisticated network: They travel the world, see interesting places, meet interesting people — and kill them. They’re as globalized as McDonald’s — but, on the whole, they fill in less paperwork. They’re very good at compartmentalizing operations: They don’t leave footprints, just a toeprint in Country A in Time Zone B and another toe in Country E in Time Zone K. You have to sift through millions of dots to discern two that might be worth connecting.

I’m a strong believer in privacy rights. I don’t see why Americans are obligated to give the government their bank account details and the holdings therein. Other revenue agencies in other free societies don’t require that level of disclosure. But, given that the people of the United States are apparently entirely cool with that, it’s hard to see why lists of phone numbers (i.e., your monthly statement) with no identifying information attached to them is of such a vastly different order of magnitude. By definition, “connecting the dots” involves getting to see the dots in the first place

If an enterprising conservative politician wanted to watch a few heads (figuratively) explode, this would be the perfect time to re-introduce discussions of a flat or consumption tax, and when the inevitable shrieks against it are raised, simply reply, “Oh, I’m sorry–I thought you wanted to get the government out of the data collection business. Isn’t the IRS as good a place to start as any?”