Saturday, July 21, 2012

Athan Theoharis, Emeritus Professor of History, Marquette University, has just published a new extended essay on surveillance policy and the lessons of the Cold War—"Expanded Power: The FBI, the NSA, and the Struggle between National Security and Civil Liberties in the Wake of 9/11" —documenting how the same policies and procedures adopted during the Cold War years were employed after 9/11 with similar adverse impacts on civil liberties and democratic procedures. Here is an abstract.

The full paper can be found here:


In the aftermath of 9/11, and in response to complaints about the nation’s intelligence gathering (which might have prevented the terrorist attack), the Bush administration granted expanded powers of surveillance to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The aim was to enable these agencies to uncover terrorist plots before they could be executed. In short, the agencies were to become more pro-active in preventing criminal actions, rather than simply investigating them after the fact.

This expanded authority necessarily rekindled a perennial debate in American history: the proper balance between national security and civil liberties,between the government’s need to know and
its citizens’ right to basic freedoms of privacy and thought. In this provocative essay, the foremost historian of the FBI considers the record of the past to assess the results of the broadened powers of the
present. Surveying the experience of World War II and the cold war, and comparing them with present-day activities, Athan Theoharis concludes that Americans may feel marginally safer, but at a dangerous cost to their freedoms and to the tenor of our political dialogue. To read more: