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The Sun Never Sets ...

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005 10:58 PM

The House and Senate have reached a tentative agreement on the USA-PATRIOT Act, extending several provisions and limiting some aspects, but not others.

Of concern on the civil liberties front is the continued provision allowing government access to library and bookstore records. To be honest, I'd like to see an example of a paper trail that clearly identifies not only a terrorist, but the exact correlations of material to their thought processes, and the materials applicable to any threat they may conceive and/or execute.

In short, let's abandon the scare tactics and show that it is feasible and practical for a terrorist to access the necessary materials for a square-one startup (that is, no prior experience or training) and successful execution through purchasing books at the local Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and/or a trip to the public library.

Does that sound reasonable? That al-Qaeda would dispatch untrained personnel and say, "Buy these books, study these items, and, inshallah, you will understand how to execute your mission, Allahu Akbar!"

I imagine it's more likely that terrorists learn to build IED's by the simple expedient of word of mouth and a bit of show-and-tell.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say it is possible. How would you tell if someone is perusing the stacks to develop practical information on this subject? If the material is esoteric, requiring extensive knowledge of chemistry, mechanical engineering, building safety, and the occasional Michelin guide, how do you discern a terrorist from a chemistry student solely on the basis of their purchases and library record?

I mean, why aren't we monitoring trips to Home Depot, Radio Shack, and whether or not someone is buying gasoline in a can for a lawnmower they don't own?

Let's be sensible. The only reason these records would be pertinent is if we're already following the subject and have sufficient cause to suspect his actions are towards a specific goal, namely, carrying out a terrorist act.

It seems highly unlikely that we would be able to identify a terrorist-in-hiding, one who remains above suspicion in all other details of their daily life, by saying, "Aha! He's checked out the 1957 Edition of the Chemical Rubber Publishing Company's Standard Math Tables and Helen Gaines Foucher's Cryptanalysis! I deduce, Watson, that this man is a terrorist!"

Staying one step ahead of the terrorists does not mean burying oneself in trivial data.



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