The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The definition of “national security” was changed forever on a certain date in September, 2001. The attorney general of the United States of America had to place this fact, yet again, in so many words, to his fellow citizens and to the rest of the world in June last year. The occasion was the public announcement of the US justice department’s national security entry-exit registration system, redesigned to protect American citizens from possible terrorist threats with greater rigour. This new initiative will enable the US government to track the activities and whereabouts of eventually “all” the 35 million foreign tourists, students and workers who visit the country every year. From June, 2002, to the present day, this entire system of intelligence and its various criteria for operation have evolved significantly. This evolution reflects the changing perception of international terrorism in America, and the transformation in the nature of what the US continues to call a “war” against terrorism.

First, a system of registration that was mandatory for all nationals of just five clearly named countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria), has now expanded to include 148 countries. Strangely, the latest briefing from the US immigration and naturalization service mentions this new number of countries but refuses to name these countries. The brief takes in “essentially every country on the earth that I could point to on a map”. This move towards expansion and non-specification is reflected also in the criteria for determining “elevated” national security risk. The identification of those who must register would be “intelligence-based”, determined in each individual case by the personnel manning the points of entry and exit. Third, the photographing and fingerprinting which make up the system will not only identify wanted felons (around 70 “hits” per week and 2,000 arrested between January and July, 2002), but will also have a pre-emptive function. Those who “potentially” pose security risks will be weeded out as well. The criteria for judging such potential are also intelligence-based. What is clear from these trends in the patterns of evolving intelligence is the emergence of a system that must be founded on the blurring of definitions and criteria, on the rhetorically skilful withholding of specific information. An “evolving intelligence” implies, more than anything else, a strategic open-endedness about principles and procedures, in which traditional notions of evidence and transparency must be redefined constantly.

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