Former CIA Deputy Director: Civil Liberties Are ‘Powerful Antidote to Violent Extremism’

Confirmation hearings for Gen. Michael Hayden to be CIA Director are sure to renew the debate over President Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance and the balance between civil liberties and national security.

Prominent conservatives working to stifle oversight of the program, including Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and John Cornyn (R-TX), have taken to repeating the line that civil liberties don’t matter much “after you’re dead.” Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned this past February that “terrorists and criminals…would exploit our open society to do us harm.”

John Gannon, former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, has a different view. In testimony last week to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gannon said that Americans’ Constitutional freedoms “work against the development of domestic terrorist networks that could be exploited by foreigners.” In an email published today to the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News, he offered some more thoughts:

Americans have unparalleled Constitutional and legal protections to express grievances and to openly criticize government at all levels. … It means that the terrorists or other extremists would find less fertile ground to build networks in the US because local support would be harder to come by and because local opposition would be more certain.

In this sense, our liberties are a powerful antidote to violent extremism.

This is not an academic point for me. It is an observation from a career of watching the domestic consequences of repressive regimes elsewhere in the world–including US-friendly Islamic governments such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Read Gannon’s full statement HERE.