Skating on Stilts

Skating on Stilts

Why We Aren't Stopping Tomorrow's Terrorism

Author: Stewart A. Baker
ISBN: 978-0-8179-1154-6
Publication Date: 6/15/2010
Pages: 360





ABOUT THE BOOK      ABOUT THE AUTHOR      REVIEWS      LINKS

ABOUT THE BOOK
Stewart Baker examines the technologies we love—jet travel, computer networks, and biotech—and finds that they are likely to empower new forms of terrorism unless we change our current course a few degrees and overcome resistance to change from business, foreign governments, and privacy advocates. He draws on his Homeland Security experience to show how that was done in the case of jet travel and border security but concludes that heading off disasters in computer networks and biotech will require a hardheaded recognition that privacy must sometimes yield to security, especially as technology changes the risks to both.

In a lively memoir, the author tells how he overcame the European Union's privacy campaign against U.S. security measures in the wake of 9/11 and built a new border security strategy based on better information about travelers. He explains how that approach would deal with air security risks such as Umar Abdulmutallab (the "Christmas Day Bomber"). He admits to failures as well, showing how the privacy and business lobbies that guard the status quo were able to defeat attempts at increased Internet security and stronger regulation of biotechnology. Instead of fighting all technologies that strengthen government, he concludes, privacy campaigners must look for ways to protect privacy by working with technology, not against it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stewart Baker Stewart A. Baker was the first assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009. He now practices law at Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, D.C., and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. His law practice covers homeland security, international trade, cybersecurity, data protection, and foreign investment regulation. Baker has also served as general counsel of the Robb-Silberman Commission investigating intelligence failures before the Iraq war (2004–5), as general counsel of the National Security Agency (1992–94), and as deputy general counsel of the Education Department (1979–81). He clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court and Judge Frank M. Coffin on the First Circuit Court.


REVIEWS

National Review—August 30, 2010
"The title of [Baker's] new book refers to accelerating technological change and the new dangers it's creating. Our society is advancing, technologically, at a very rapid clip; but so, unfortunately, are the terrorists. 'It's like skating on stilts that get a little longer each year.' he writes. 'Every year we get faster and more powerful. Every year we're a little more at risk. We are skating for a fall, and the fall grows worse every year.'

That prognosis is more than a little unsettling, given Baker's résumé. As general counsel to the National Security Agency (the Pentagon's foreign electronic-surveillance arm) during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, he was a staunch privacy advocate. As policy chief at the Department of Homeland Security during that of George W. Bush, he spent years locked in a tug-of-war with privacy advocates over every initiative to adjust our security strategies.

If Baker is not precisely a pessimist, he is certainly gloomy; but even the most optimistic national-security official would find himself chronically dispirited by the effectiveness of the constituencies arrayed against all efforts to devise new ways of protecting ourselves from terrorists. Baker's book is a treasury of examples.

The book recounts some important successes, and in his unremitting gloominess Baker is almost certainly guilty of not giving himself, or the Bush administration, quite enough credit.
Click here to order the August 30, 2010 issue with the full review, "On Thin Ice," by Mario Loyola.

Wall Street Journal—August 4, 2010
"Are we doomed to suffer another major terrorist strike? For some, it seems like a remote possibility, with the greater danger lying in policies of hyper-surveillance. For others, the real danger is complacency—the assumption that the threat has passed—and a misplaced eagerness to scale back the policies that have kept us safe for nine years.

One man who has pondered this question from a pivot point in the federal government is Stewart Baker, a general counsel of the National Security Agency in the Clinton years and a policy chief in the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. With "Skating on Stilts," he offers a memoir of day-to-day life within a major Washington bureaucracy and an insider's analysis of the challenges to domestic security in the post 9/11 era.
Click here to read the full review, "The Hazards of Safe-Keeping," by Gabriel Schoenfeld.

The Providence Journal—July 23, 2010
"Part of the problem is that our telecommunications network is largely privately owned. Any government effort to secure it raises the specter of Big Brother. So thanks to computers, one of our most cherished values — the freedom to speak without the government’s listening in — has unexpectedly been pitted against our safety.

One of the clearest accounts of this dilemma can be found in Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism, a new book by Stewart Baker. A former top policy official at the Department of Homeland Security, Baker is excellent on the way our technologies outrun our ability to use them safely, a message that applies as much to deep-water drilling and Wall Street as to cyber-space."
Click here to read the full Providence Journal article, "Cyber-attack could make Gulf oil leak look small," by M. J. Andersen.

Washington Times—July 14, 2010
"In Skating on Stilts, Stewart Baker warns that the exponential growth in airplane travel, information technology and bio-technologies has been empowering new, increasingly lethal forms of terrorism against America. This was first demonstrated by al Qaeda's success on Sept. 11 when it exploited gaps in our air travel system to hijack four aircraft simultaneously and launch its catastrophic attacks.

In an important book that deserves wide recognition, Mr. Baker sounds the alarm that in the future, we will fail to defeat such lethal threats, which are escalating, unless we succeed in overcoming resistance to government policy changes in regulating them. Such resistance is being mounted by business, foreign governments and privacy groups that favor something of a lassez-faire approach to national defense matters.

Drawing on Mr. Baker's expertise as the Department of Homeland Security's first assistant secretary for policy (2005-09), as the National Security Agency's top lawyer in the 1990s and in his current practice at one of Washington's top law firms, this book, an insider's memoir, describes his efforts while in government service to tackle these threats.
Click here to read the full Washington Times review, "Tackling mounting terror threats," by Joshua Sinai.

Los Angeles Times—July 6, 2010
"Skating on Stilts is full of such anecdotes, and Baker, who was a key Homeland Security player from 2005 to 2009, makes a persuasive case against the privacy absolutists. He reprises his successful effort to pry airline passenger data out of the Europeans, who are even more uncompromising about privacy than American activists. He tells the story of how the wall erected between intelligence-gathering by the FBI and law enforcement, though designed to protect civil liberties, ended up blinding authorities to the unfolding 9/11 plot. And he recounts how other agencies blocked, on privacy grounds, DHS' bid to maintain and update a database to continually screen the backgrounds of scientists who work with deadly biological pathogens.

Baker deftly skewers the original legal theorist behind the right to privacy, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was scandalized in 1890 by the fact that newspapers published flattering details about a party at his house. Brandeis also found it outrageous that a newspaper could take and publish a photo of a person without his permission. Obviously, the idea of what constitutes an invasion of privacy has evolved dramatically. Baker portrays privacy advocates as fussy Luddites.

When the government collects information about people, Baker acknowledges, some bureaucrats may improperly access it, as when State Department employees rifled Barack Obama’s passport file during the 2008 presidential campaign. But the employees were easily caught and disciplined, Baker notes. The answer is to hold bureaucrats accountable for abuses, he says, not deny them important security tools."
Click here to read the full Los Angeles Times review by Ken Dilanian

LINKS


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Stewart A. Baker

Stewart A. Baker was the first assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009. He now practices law at Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, D.C., and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. His law practice covers homeland security, international trade, cybersecurity, data protection, and foreign investment regulation. Baker has also served as general counsel of the Robb-Silberman Commission investigating intelligence failures before the Iraq war (2004–5), as general counsel of the National Security Agency (1992–94), and as deputy general counsel of the Education Department (1979–81). He clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court and Judge Frank M. Coffin on the First Circuit Court.



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