Who's czarry now?AMERICA was settled by people escaping czars, kings and other despots with armies at their disposal. Nowadays the czarist threat is strictly domestic.
We already have a drug czar whose troops wage a continually losing war against drugs, despite broad powers of search and seizure. Now we have a terrorism czar with secret armies already in the field, and more to come.
I don't know about you, but that terrifies me more than terrorism does.
Richard A. Clarke, appointed by President Clinton as the government's counterterrorism coordinator, has a secretive mentality, a desire to raise public fears and an $11 billion annual budget to fight the threats Clinton says are under the bed.
That vast space beneath the national box spring has to be filled, now that communism has crawled out and slouched away.
Our terrorism czar not only wants to protect America from chemical and biological attack, he wants to protect us from those who attack business and governmental computer systems.
"An attack on American cyberspace is an attack on the United States, just as much as a landing on New Jersey," Clarke told the New York Times. "The notion that we could respond with military force against a cyber-attack has to be accepted."
What's he going to do? Launch cruise missiles at a rec room where a couple of 14-year-old hackers are holed up?
Clarke and the president see a cyber-threat coming from the usual terrorist sources. You know who I mean.
"Why would anyone want to mount such an attack?" said the terrorism czar. "To extort us. To intimidate us. To get us to abandon our foreign policy 'Abandon Israel now!' "
Abandon Israel, or they'll shut down a city's electricity, mass transit and 911 systems.
To threats like that, Clarke would put the Poseidon missiles in launch mode off the coast of Libya, or the rogue nation du jour. Or maybe he'd take the Bruce Willis route and saddle up the Delta Force for an operation against a radical Islamic computer cabal in Jersey City.
Do we want this man in charge of secret military operations within the United States? Do we want anyone?
Clarke is the genius who overrode the State Department, the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and got Clinton to launch cruise missiles at training camps in Afghanistan and a medicine factory in Sudan, in hopes of killing the alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
All he got was a night watchman and a few guerrilla trainees whose comrades are now even madder at us.
In 1986, Clarke hatched a plan to wage psychological warfare against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi by having spy planes set off sonic booms over his head. Just for starters, you have to wonder about a guy who feels it necessary to drive Gadhafi crazy.
Still, Clinton has put Clarke in charge of military responses to domestic terrorism. If I were a hacker in a rec room, I'd start pouring concrete for a bunker.
Clinton may be a libertine, but he's no civil libertarian. In his 1996 anti-terrorism bill, he restricted rights of habeas corpus, which allow prisoners to challenge their imprisonment. He has pushed for increased wiretapping powers for the FBI.
That was before the Tripp tapes. I wonder how he feels about secret taping now.
Clinton's new budget includes more than $1 billion to improve computer security, and $250 million over six years to fund 10 military SWAT teams to help civilian authorities respond to terrorist attacks on our soil.
Just what America needs more SWAT teams, and military ones, even though the military has traditionally been barred from civilian police work.
The federal teams, to be attached to the National Guard, are meant to go to the scene of chemical or biological attacks and help local authorities. The teams are to be called Rapid Assessment, Identification and Detection, or RAID, as in the chemical warfare we wage on bugs.
We're entering a new age of duck and cover, to use the 1950s phrase for defense against Soviet nuclear attack namely, getting under our desks.
There's no ducking and covering from chemical and biological weapons, as Clinton and Secretary of Defense William Cohen are so eager to tell us.
We live "in a grave new world," said Cohen, in a too-cute play on words meant to convey the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons which easily can be carried across borders. Not to mention cyber-threats that only take the movement of a mouse.
Befitting an age of wide-screen Dolby disaster, Cohen says we live under the threat of "catastrophic terrorism."
You'll hear that phrase often in coming months, and it bodes ill for our rights. "We're going to have to reconcile how much we're willing to give up in the way of our individual liberties in order to be secure," said Cohen in a speech in December.
We may be giving up far too much and not feeling secure at all.