From Kenyan horrors, lessons about the need for American secrecy

     A line of soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces run in front of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on Sunday. Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted Sunday morning from the upscale Kenyan mall where there is a hostage standoff with Islamic extremists nearly 24 hours after they attacked using grenades and assault rifles. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

    A line of soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces run in front of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on Sunday. Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted Sunday morning from the upscale Kenyan mall where there is a hostage standoff with Islamic extremists nearly 24 hours after they attacked using grenades and assault rifles. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

    The weekend attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya killed at least 68 people, including the nephew of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

    Allegedly carried out by 10 to 15 militants from al-Shabab — a terror group affiliated with Al Qaeda — the attack was meant to avenge Kenya’s involvement in a peacekeeping operation in Somalia, according to published reports.

    The fact that that such an attack was carried out is more than troubling to me, but it’s also a stark reminder of how fortunate we are as Americans.

    Levels of terror

    For all our bluster about security nuisances — from long security lines at airports to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs — Americans are lucky. We don’t live with the constant looming threat of premeditated, organized terrorism.

    This is not to say everything is completely secure.

    As we saw in the latest mass shooting by a lone gunman at the Washington Navy Yard, we remain incredibly vulnerable to acts committed by determined, well-armed individuals. But, we are rarely subjected to the kind of targeted, paramilitary style attack that was carried out in Kenya.

    Even so, Americans should be concerned about the details of the Kenya attack and others like it, because more and more, the terrorists who carry out these kinds of operations are living in our midst.

    Homeland insecurity

    Sources within al-Shabab, which took credit for the Kenya Mall attack, told CNN that three alleged perpetrators are from America, two from Somalia and one from each Canada, Finland, Kenya and the United Kingdom.

    The Boston Marathon bombers were not from America, but they’d lived here for a number of years, and blended in seamlessly prior to hatching their attack.

    My point, quite simply, is that our security efforts have largely kept us relatively safe, but things could change quickly. So, should we really be discussing anything that hampers our security efforts?

    Do the leaks provided to media outlets by Edward Snowden, a man whom I consider a traitor, mean we should shut down the telephone and email surveillance programs of the NSA?

    Can we afford to do that when the terrorists who commit large-scale attacks on civilian targets are living so close?

    Different times

    I’m fully aware of the Benjamin Franklin quote stating, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    I’m also aware that in Franklin’s day, neither semi-automatic weapons nor emails (nor telephones, for that matter) existed.

    The right to bear arms to which Franklin and his contemporaries referred were muskets, not AK-47s.

    With that truth in mind, I wonder whether it’s time for us to admit that even Ben Franklin could be wrong; that even the Founding Fathers’ edicts could be reinterpreted; that nothing is sacrosanct when it comes to saving American lives.

    As I watch the bodies pile up in Kenya, and in one mass shooting after another, I believe we should give programs like the NSA’s a fair hearing.

    We should put safeguards in place to make sure those programs aren’t abused.

    We should make sure that the right people have access to secret materials.

    We should do everything possible to extract the maximum benefit from the information.

    But, in the age of modern-day terrorism, we should not let everyone know the methods we are using to keep America safe. That’s stupid, and it has to stop now.

    Like it or not, sovereign countries need to keep secrets.

    Nations need to be able to operate on a need-to-know basis.

    Commanders should have the option of making decisions without telling the world beforehand.

    Why do we need to be able to operate that way? Because that’s the way the terrorists operate. And if we don’t come to grips with that simple truth, our shopping malls could very well be next.

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