You may remember Mohammed al Qahtani — not for what he did, but for what he was unable to do. Turned away by an immigration officer from America's shores in Orlando, the Saudi never made connections he planned to make for flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.
Flight 93 slammed into rural Pennsylvania after passengers overpowered the group, now without Qahtani, before presumably being aimed at either the White House or the Capitol building.
We will never know if Qahtani's absence doomed the terrorists' Flight 93 plan, but we do know he was later captured in Pakistan where his fingerprints matched those taken by Jose Melendez-Perez during the interrogation in Orlando, according to Glenn Beck's "Miracles and Massacres."
Perez did not have metadata, phone records, drones -- but he did have decades of service in the U.S. Army, along with two tours in Vietnam, and excellent powers of observation and common sense.
Fast-forward to the current collection of "exabytes" (imagine megabytes on steroids, squared) of information contained in emails, phone calls, text messages, ad nauseam, now amassed by the NSA. The Utah Data Center, for example, was completed last year at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.
Assuming Perez had a salary of $100,000 a year, we could have hired 15,000 patriots like him, and continued such efforts by not having to administer and interpret such mass surveillance.
President Obama recently reminded Americans how a "small surveillance committee" kept an eye on Boston during the Revolutionary War and reported "back any signs the British were preparing raids" against the birth of our Republic.
That was his first point during a speech on the NSA controversy -- and a misguided one.
President Obama did not point out how Paul Revere and other patriots were focused outward, on the enemies of the birthing Republic. They knew nothing, nor cared, of Benjamin Franklin's girlfriends in France, how many steins of brew Jefferson may have gulped, or whether Paul had paid tax on his now-famous horse.
Those patriots were looking outward for evil intent toward Americans -- not inward, as NSA data collection can easily become.
Consider Florida businessman John Flippidis, who has a concealed carry permit, en route to Maryland. He was recently stopped and asked "Where is your gun?" Luckily, he had left it at home. Maryland authorities somehow got that information, tracked him, confronted the man and his family, but after an hour of searching and questioning sent the group on their way.
Harassment of "extremists" like Flippidis continues -- those who support gun rights, constitutional governance, low taxes, or those who oppose abortion. These are Americans who, not violently, but through lawful discussion, lobbying and a pursuit of constitutional means, oppose the president's "transformation."
An independent report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board now urges the NSA collection efforts not only be discontinued, but all current data deleted.
The Obama administration says it will ignore the recommendation, despite the finding the massive data gave the NSA "not a single" piece of information on terrorist threats to the nation -- zip, nada, none.
As traitor/hero Edward Snowden says, "There is simply no justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a zero percent success rate."
Information can be indispensible for the defense of the nation -- or a chain of slavery.
A final note on Qahtani: under "enhanced interrogation," he gave up the name of another suspect in the 9-11 horror -- Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who taught him the Internet -- a courier who led to another person -- Osama Bin Lauden.
Surveillance can be a tool to protect freedom, or the tyrant of a police state to enslave it. One-size-watches-all metadata can morph into tyranny. Big Brother is not an American option.
To paraphrase Mr. Franklin, if we surrender our freedom for security -- we will soon have neither.
Mike Chambers is a resident of Lookout Mountain.
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