Mary Theroux, of the Independent Institute, offers a creative and thought-provoking solution to America’s intrusive and liberty-destroying security network.
Back in 1971, when I was ten, our whole family was glued to the TV every Sunday night, watching Masterpiece Theatre’s Six Wives of Henry VIII. It was that series that sparked my passion for British history. I suspect that, if I were to see the series today, I would find it rather primitive compared to the historic TV spectacles we’re used to today, which rely to good effect on CGI and amazingly large budgets. Back then, though, I thought the six-part series was the most lush and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Sitting here now, though, and looking back over the decades, only one thing about that show stands out in my memory. In the episode about either Anne Boleyn or Kathryn Howard, both of whom Henry had executed based upon the claim that they cheated on him (Anne probably didn’t; Kathryn definitely did), we saw spies at work. Anne or Kathryn would be in her private chamber, pouring her heart out to a confidant (or, in Kathryn’s case, perhaps locked in a treasonous embrace), and the camera would then reveal that there was a peephole behind the ornate paneling in her room through which Henry’s agents peered. Considering that this spying led to each woman’s death, I found it a surprisingly oppressive image, which is probably why it’s lingered in my memory for so long.
I mention this memory for two reasons. The first is that even a child (which I was) understands how dangerous it is when a government that has over you the power of life, imprisonment, and death, covertly watches you. The second is as a reminder that spying is as old as government. Some of the earliest correspondence from the ancient world concerns monarchs and their spies. Elizabeth I’s famous adviser Robert Cecil was also her spymaster. Cardinal Richelieu had spies throughout France to weed out dangerous Protestants. George Washington had such a good spy network that it likely was a pivotal part of his ability to fight the British to a standstill.
Governments and spying go together like brass knuckles and thugs’ fistfights. It’s not a pretty combination, but it’s pretty much an inevitable one.
Outside of America’s Civil War, during which each side spied on the other, America first set up its official spying apparatus with the Espionage Act that Wilson signed off on in 1917, when America entered WWI. No surprise there, as Wilson was an early fascist and sought to accrete as much government power as possible to create a “perfect” nation, ruled by experts. White experts, of course, as Wilson was a notorious white supremacist and the president who officially segregated the federal work force.
While the accompanying Sedition Act, passed in 1918, was repealed in the early 1920s, the Espionage Act hung around, and was augmented over the years to deal with new threats and new federal government powers. Of course, the next big change was the Patriot Act, passed follow the attacks on 9/11. And that’s where this post really starts.
I attended a talk today by Mary Theroux, the Senior Vice President at the Independent Institute. The Independent Institute is dedicated to true constitutional liberty and focuses on ways to educate the public about the virtues of extremely limited government.
The Institute shares with the late, great Andrew Breitbart the belief that politics is downstream from culture. Rather than lobbying politicians, the Institute seeks different ways to introduce Americans to the very idea of liberty. One of the best, most clever, approaches is a series of five 5-minute videos called “Love Gov.” They feature a young millennial woman, her friend Libby, and her boyfriend, Gov, who insists that he will protect her but invariably ends up making her life worse. Here’s the first episode:
I recommend all five episodes. Also, Season 2 will be out soon and, if it’s as good as Season 2, it will help change young people’s minds. (Look at what Dennis Prager has been doing with Prager U, to Buzzfeed’s great horror.) I did a bleg for Bookworm Room last week (and thanks to all who gave so generously). This week, if you’re feeling flush, you might want to send a few dollars to Prager U or the Independent Institute. They are making a difference.
Back to Mary’s talk today. Five years ago, Mary spoke to the same group about America’s surveillance state. I wrote about her talk here, expressing my concern about the fact that our government had the ability to spy on every citizen, but also conveying my doubt that the American government could really be that bad. Current events, of course, have proven that I was wrong to doubt and that Mary was prophetic. Indeed, in today’s talk, she explained how the entire attack on Trump, which was intended to help Hillary win, to cover up her grotesque national security violations, and to destroy the Trump presidency, reflects the Deep State’s use of the vast government security network.
[Before I go any further into this, I should warn you that I did not take notes. I apologize to Mary if I misstated anything she said. To the extent there’s anything stupid or erroneous in what I write below, the fault is entirely mine.]
As I understand it, Mary’s position is that the entire security apparatus needs to be dismantled. It can’t be fixed; it must be destroyed.
It’s hard to disagree with her considering that the government has massively powerful tools that can turn on our phones and spy on us; satellites that can read the text in our book if we’re sitting outside reading; giant warehouses that store every bit and byte of information collected from all American phone calls, web browsing, emails, and even the addresses on envelopes we snail mail; and, of late, a mindset that says it’s okay to use these tools against Americans, not for national security purposes, but for political purposes. That’s scary stuff.
But if you dismantle our security apparatus, doesn’t that leave Americans vulnerable to terrorist attacks? Before getting to the dismantling part of that question, it’s worth noting that with our security apparatus we’ve still been vulnerable to terrorist attacks. We’ve seen in everything from 9/11, to the Boston bombing, to the Pulse nightclub shooting, to the San Bernardino shooting, to the recent Valentine’s Day murders in Florida that our security apparatus, even when the information is presented to it on a silver platter, doesn’t work. [Here’s one more example I just read about.] Repeated tests with the TSA show that they miss things — they miss just about everything that matters, although they will take away your nail clippers.
I don’t mean this as an insult to any individual American who works as an FBI agent, a TSA agent, a sheriff, or a police officer. But the reality is that we’re not dealing with little things slipping through cracks. We’re dealing with Mack trucks (loaded with explosives) driving through giant holes in security. And then of course, the Left responds by trying to leave us even more vulnerable, with demands that the same government agencies that signally fail to protect us should take all our guns.
Mary, however, says there is a real solution and one that is proven to work: privatizing American security. [Again, a reminder that I’m working from memory here, so anything stupid or wrong in the following paragraphs is my fault.] After all, corporations have vast private security details in place all over the world. And I had forgotten, but Mary reminded us, that, while the American military failed to rescue the hostages in Iran in 1979 (tragically dying instead), Ross Perot successfully used private security to save his employees (although the private military might of that rescue might be more myth than reality).
The interesting thing is that the Constitution, written by men who wanted a small government that didn’t threaten the individual, explicitly allows the federal government to hire private security contractors:
The Congress shall have Power To …grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal…. (Art. I, Sec. 8, Clause 2.)
The Heritage Foundation explains the above text as follows:
The Marque and Reprisal Clause plays an important supporting role in the debate over the original allocation of war powers between the President and Congress. At the time of the Founding, the sovereign authorized holders of letters of marque and reprisal to engage in hostile actions against enemies of the state. The common understanding of “Reprisal” is a seizure of property (or sometimes persons) of a foreign state for redressing an injury committed by that state. Because the word marque is the French equivalent of reprisal, many scholars believe that the constitutional term “Marque and Reprisal” is best understood as a single phrase.
The only serious debate over the meaning of the Marque and Reprisal Clause is whether it extends only to authorizing private parties (known as “privateers”) to engage in reprisals for private, commercial gain, or whether it also gives Congress the power to authorize reprisals by the armed forces of the United States for public purposes.
Outside of the law reviews and scholarly debates over the allocation of war powers between Congress and the President, the Marque and Reprisal Clause has played little if any role in modern law. The United States has not issued letters of marque and reprisal since the War of 1812, and has not seriously considered doing so since Andrew Jackson’s presidency. In addition, the 1856 Declaration of Paris prohibits privateering as a matter of international law. Although the United States has not ratified the Declaration, it has upheld the ban in practice.
In addition to private security teams that can rapidly deploy around the world, the government can also give rewards to bounty hunters. Instead of the massive government spying on us, it would encourage people to be aware of and responsible for their own security — and provide a cash incentive.
In response to my concern that this private system could turn America into a Stasi-style state (a la The Lives of Others), Mary said that people would have recourse to civil law to rein in private security firms or bounty hunters who were a little too enthusiastic. In many ways, we’d be safer under that system than we are today from our own government because government has proven to be completely unaccountable. It’s not just the bounty hunter, it’s also judge, jury, and executioner.
I’m not entirely sold on privatizing America’s security but I completely agree with Mary that, if we wish to remain a free country, we cannot continue as we are going now. With every passing year, another generation of young people is born who thinks that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is a myth. Instead, our children and grandchildren are growing up in an America that is made up of fearful people who having willingly ceded their freedom to a government that, by spying on us — often ineffectually and for solely political purposes — nevertheless gives us illusory promises that it will keep us safe.
As always, because I am blessed with intelligent, informed, and thoughtful readers, I am very interested in your take on the matter. So, what do you all think about my understanding/interpretation of Mary’s proposal?