These days, everything you warn about happens so fast. Time was when it took years to demonstrate what a bad idea some new policy was. Now it seems to happen within hours.
Earlier today, we ran a headline on how Angela Merkel, responding to the increased threat to Germany, is going to expand her country’s intelligence capabilities, both at home and abroad.
Commenting on that, I was less than enthusiastic about the “domestic spying” part:
It’s a different proposition to increase domestic surveillance. It’s not just part of an overall increase in the intelligence effort. It’s a change in the relationship of the German state to the German citizen. If you find that that’s increasingly the answer to your policy problems — you’re doing something wrong.
So, naturally, there was a decidedly untoward development today in Germany’s Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the agency for domestic security, which will be on point for expanding domestic intelligence operations. One of the BfV’s employees, a Muslim convert, has been arrested for plotting to blow up the BfV headquarters in Cologne. (H/t: Michael Walsh, PJM)
The unnamed man, 51, is reportedly a husband and father who converted to Islam “by phone” in 2014. He was snared recently on the internet, operating under a fake name, providing details to other Islamists about BfV personnel and activities. He’s reportedly a follower of Mohamed Mahmoud, leader of the Austrian branch of ISIS. And he was trying to recruit Islamists to the agency for fell purposes:
Online chats were apparently found between the suspect and other Islamists in which he attempted to recruit them to the intelligence agency to mount an attack on “non-believers”, carrying out a bomb attack on the spy HQ “in the name of Allah”.
The great news for Germans (and anyone else living in Germany)?
The BfV said the man “behaved inconspicuously” prior to his arrest. He had, since April, been engaged in gathering intelligence on Islamist extremists in Germany, Der Spiegel said.
So as Merkel expands this agency’s activities, residents of Germany can congratulate themselves that there’s no telling who is spying on them, or what his real motive is. I doubt that I’m the only one who would feel pretty cold and prickly about an increase in domestic surveillance by the BfV, after learning news like this.
In the interest of “national security,” nations are now declaring just about anything you do to be their business. At the same time, their agencies are more and more likely to end up with extremists inside them – spying on the public – because the same nations refuse to name Islamic extremism for what it is, and endeavor to root it out.
Americans need to apply this model to our own situation, and think long and hard about not just what we allow our government to spy on, but who may end up doing it. Two things are not in question: that there are patriotic, trustworthy Muslims, and that there are untrustworthy government workers, some of them Muslims, who should never be trusted to conduct surveillance of the public.
This is a conundrum, if you think the only option for security is to spy more and more on the people. But a better solution is to cowboy up and have policies that don’t rely so much on spying on the people in the first place. Although far from perfect, George W. Bush did better in that regard than Obama has: more targeted intervention abroad, less spying at home.
The urge to settle for spying at home can be powerful. But never forget that you will have no control over who is spying on you. The more you give up in that regard, the harder it will be to get the America you long for back.
Fortunately, the bottom line is borne out in the true American posture from our many decades as a yeoman citizenry. Be slow to arms. But if we take them up, be decisive. Settle the issue. Some things can be left behind and left undone. But the one thing that must not be left behind us, when we marshal our strength to address a problem abroad, is doubt.