Mission Creeps

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Reader Bryan Alexander passes along the latest evidence, as reported by those dastardly liberals at Fox News, that mission creep has come to the Patriot Act:

FBI agents investigating two strip club owners in Las Vegas on bribery charges bypassed a grand jury and instead used the Patriot Act to subpoena the financial records of the bar owners as well as several prominent city and county officials.

Former Rep. Bob Barr tells Fox why this is bad: "The administration presented the Patriot Act to the Congress two years ago as a carefully tailored and limited piece of legislation specific to targeting terrorism. And now they're using it for purposes that are obviously and completely unrelated to terrorism." Unless, of course, they're smuggling boxcutters in those thongs.

(For Reason's interview with Barr, go here.)

NEXT: Potty Parity

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  1. none of the people wrongfully arrested by our secret police were plotting against the U.S.?

    I’m sure some of the arrested really are terrorists, but according to that wrinkled Philadelphia artifact everybody clamors about, justice is not a colander. The failing on 9/11 was that people with boxcutters and knives were allowed onto multiple planes at roughly the same time. Not that our foreign policy created terrorism, or that we haven’t lined our prisons with enough Arabs. It was already a good idea not to let armed people onto planes, in fact, it was already a good idea to search people to the very limit of what is reasonable, because there is something immediate and tangible to protect: the passengers who are about to spend the next hour(s) confined to a flying aluminum can with a highly explosive gas tank. So now, two years after Patriot, we still see stories of people who can get the same materials onto planes. What exactly did we gain? The people on planes now are obviously no safer than they were on the morning of September 11, 2001.

    What I find most frightening is that the Constitution was always held as the closest thing to an objective moral basis for an upright government, one which could create a world of freedom and peace if applied in every country. When the government begins painting boundaries for where the Constitution is appropriate and inappropriate (Camp X-ray vs. USA), it illustrates the subjective nature not only of the document itself, but also the 200+ years of pseudoscientific nonsensical case law and legislation that buttresses the quandary we find ourselves in today. You are no safer or happier. You are poorer, your government and its deficit is growing, and terrorists can still get weapons onto planes.

    Bang up job, so far.

  2. A great example of mission creep is MADD, which accomplished its original mission years ago

    MADD never accomplished its original mission. They changed to MAD (Mothers Against Drinking) without actually changing the name. They failed their mission, because they redirected their advocacy from The Problem to Not The Problem.

  3. So it would seem our lesson in all this is to do whatever we can to ensure that any legislation is explicit and restricted as to its purported intent. The Patriot Act is just one more example of how the good faith expectations of those who support the broader law are, at least, ignored and probably abused. Thus legislation in the future must be developed such that the letter and spirit of the law are explicitly the same.

    And, yes, I realize after reading what I just wrote that I sound like some hopeless freakin optimist!

  4. “The administration presented the Patriot Act to the Congress two years ago as a carefully tailored and limited piece of legislation specific to targeting terrorism.”

    HA HA HA HA HA
    Now pull the other one congressman.

  5. Andy and Ryn,

    This may seem like old news because there have been so many different stories about federal attempts to use USA Patriot powers to go after non-terrorist offenses of one kind or another. They sort of blend together. Anyway, mission creep shouldn’t be a surprise. Look how the same thing happened with RICO and the drug war: “If we can do x to fight drug dealers, why can’t we use the same weapon against [insert soccer mom moral outrage here]?” When you give the government a big-ass hammer, is it surprising it starts to treat everything like a nail?

    The Barr interview was enough to make me forgive him for that little quip after the Powell UN speech, about the duty of “loyal Americans” to believe their commander-in-chief (I thought he was CinC of the armed forces).

    He’s perfectly right about the continuity with Clinton-Reno: Clinton’s 1996 Counter-terror legislation was arguably a worse inroad on the Constitution than the Patriot Act. It gave the executive branch power to declare any organization “terrorist,” by mere fiat, and subject it to forfeiture proceedings under RICO. At the time, I thought it amounted to a legislative suspension of the Fifth Amendment.

  6. to do whatever we can to ensure that any legislation is explicit and restricted as to its purported intent.

    ’tis an old lesson: if your actions do not reflect your words, then your words have no value and you are just a resounding cymbal. The government is beholden to its own law, and if it cannot follow that law, then the law itself is of no value, and its framers just wrinkled old noisemakers in a heavily guarded building.

  7. Listen, no one is going to smuggle boxcutters in thongs…all the dollar bills that get stuffed in there would get schredded.

  8. This is VERY old news (at least in the Internet age) – this was reported a couple of months ago in other outlets.

    This, along with Daily Brickbat that is hardly “fresh” is making me wonder if Reason is getting their news by Pony Express now…

  9. If it’s months old, go complain to FOX who only posted the article ten days ago.

  10. In my understanding, “mission creep” refers to tasks that sneak up on people in the process of carrying out their primary task. The army was supposed to escort food convoys in Somalia. The food convoys were attacked by militias. The army fought them off when they happened. Then they started hitting the militias pre-emptively. Then they started to try to destroy one of the militias. Each step is the logical, almost inevitable, extension of the previous one.

    This is not a case of terrorist hunters being sucked into other tasks that reasonably follow from their core mission. This is a deliberate, calculated attempt to use the tools provided for one mission in order to accomplish a completely unrelated mission. Fox is using the term “mission creep” in order to blame the problem on bureaucratic momentum, when the real cause is politics. This abuse of the Patriot Act is not the inevitable outcome of antiterror activities. This DA had to really, really try to create this situation.

  11. This is VERY old news (at least in the Internet age)

    Better late than never, right?

    Actually, I was convinced that Hit & Run had already covered this when Bryan sent me the article, but I wasn’t able to find a past reference to it on the blog. I might have missed it, I suppose, but unless that earlier post suddenly turns up, this one stays.

  12. Joe,

    Well then how about, give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile!!? 🙂 I think the point to those of our ilk is that if you make it possible for government to do X, they’ll do it, whether or not someone once claimed that they never would. That’s why when you come up with all your nice and measured steps for enforcing zoning codes, I point out that those actually doing the enforcing don’t always seem to have the same senstivities that you do. There is a certain inevitability to the abuse of bureaucratic power, even if the mechanism doesn’t perfectly mimic the military issues for which the term “mission creep” was created.

  13. Jesse, I seem to recall it being mentioned here in some form as well.

    As for this (ab)use it ? and like (mis)using the Dept of Homeland Security to track fugitive Texas Democrats ? only too well undermines the supporters of such laws that insist that their use will only be as mandated.

  14. AND, this sort of example is fuel for those who make “slippery slope” arguments.

  15. This abuse of the Patriot Act is not the inevitable outcome of antiterror activities.

    This isn’t abuse. This was its original intent. The American people were hoodwinked into thinking otherwise. The government’s windfall has come with the relative silence of domestic attackers. The coincidence is airbrushed into appearing as though it is the fruit of their legal wrangling, when it is merely the calm before the storm. The government failed us on 9/11, and it will fail us again, likely with similar consequences. At that point, The Fear will again be so great that Congress will pass some kind of Patriot 3. Rabidly lather, rinse, repeat.

  16. RST, just playing devils advocate, are you saying none of the people wrongfully arrested by our secret police were plotting against the U.S.? Should the crack down on people who might be a threat have occured before sept 11? Is that how the government failed us? Should they have arrested the hijackoffers BEFORE they commited their crime? How else could the government NOT have failed us? (have them shot or something?) Just satan’s advocate…

  17. The fact that the slippery slope arguments were made before PATRIOT was passed, can only support rst’s point that these consequences (especially since they happened so fast) were intended and not “mission creep”. Therefore the proper term is not “mission creep”, but rather “lie”.

    Government failure is kind of redundant.

  18. Fox should fire all those liberal bush-haters and hire a few moderates and conservatives:)

  19. Mission creep, to my mind, happens in nearly all bureaucracies, as the original mission gradually is expanded for the purpose of empire building, maintaining funding, or whatever. A great example of mission creep is MADD, which accomplished its original mission years ago, but keeps going with new missions relating to underage drinking, college binge drinking, date rape, who knows what else.

    Mission creep is how the institutional imperative to survive and grow plays out.

    One thing to keep in mind about the PATRIOT Act is that it restated a certain amount of prior law. It may be (I don’t know) that the feds have long had the authority to do what they did in Las Vegas, so that they would have done it without the PATRIOT Act.

  20. I agree with Fyodor. There’s a “certain inevitability to the abuse of bureaucratic power”. That will never change.

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