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GovExec.com

From the Magazine

October 1, 2003

On the Record

James S. Gilmore III

James S. Gilmore III is the former governor of Virginia and was in office when the Pentagon was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. A former Army counter-intelligence agent, he chairs the Gilmore Commission at RAND to assess America’s terrorism response capabilities. He is a partner at the Washington office of Kelly, Drye & Warren LLP, where he chairs the Homeland Security Practice Group, and president of USA Secure.

The Sept. 11 attacks raised a clear and present danger to Americans here at home. Since then, many reforms have enhanced security, including a major reorganization of the intelligence community and the creation of the Homeland Security Department. Many government officials are well aware that if there were more terrorist attacks on the homeland, the public would hold them accountable. This threat has unleashed a drive for government reorganization and reform not seen since the advent of the Cold War.

What is the duty of the government executive in a time of crisis and foreign attack? If it is to protect the people no matter what the cost, we begin the dark descent down a hazardous road. The goal of our society and its greatest leaders must be to preserve the safety of the people and to protect their civil freedoms and way of life. Americans have always placed a higher value on liberty than others around the world. This stems from our history of fearlessly shaping a new continent and the value on independence that made it possible. We should not allow terrorists to change us so that we lose this aspect of our national character and confidence.

History shows us that our individual freedoms are most vulnerable during a crisis. One month after the Sept. 11 attacks, former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote in the New Jersey Law Journal: “In a democracy, personal liberties are rarely diminished overnight. Rather, they are lost gradually, by the acts of well-meaning people, with good intentions, amid public approval. But the subtle loss of freedom is never recognized until the crisis is over and we look back in horror. And then it is too late.”

Today, government executives are more empowered than ever before. They are trained to identify goals and objectives, to marshal resources. They are judged on how well they carry out the task. They have unprecedented technology. Taxpayer money is available for guns, gates, guards and data management that will give them unprecedented knowledge of the personal and professional lives of citizens.

Providing security is without a doubt a key duty of government, but it is not the only one. The people’s freedom is equally important. Government officials should not have to strike a balance between freedom and security. Government programs and new laws must advance the goals of security and freedom in equal measure.

Government executives are uniquely positioned to address this issue. In fact, terrorists have forced this obligation upon them. But as they go about the task, they should remember the words of Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in 1941: “Give liberty a new birth not only in the midst of a war but in the very darkest hours of that war. . . . We must keep our freedoms, keep them in the face of foreign dangers even more tenaciously and jealously than in calmer times . . . because it is our liberty that lifts our cause above material ends and anchors our efforts in timeless things.”

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