William Webster, former head of the FBI and CIA, addressed Yale students yesterday about the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, stressing emphatically that “ordered liberty is the key to a dangerous future.”
Webster has seen other times of trouble in national security firsthand — he was director of the CIA under former President George H.W. Bush, prior to which he had been the director of the FBI for 10 years. Webster said that during his lifetime, the government has occasionally been guilty of letting the “pendulum of liberty make drastic swings between excess restriction and excess freedom.”
The challenge for this generation, Webster stressed, is to keep liberty balanced between extremes.
One student asked Webster whether the term “ordered liberty” could really be used to reign in people’s rights. But Webster held fast to the term, clarifying that ordered liberty is freedom with responsibility, not order in the sense of oppression.
Pointing to a security guard attending the speech, Webster demonstrated that the right to protection is one people often take for granted. Yet, he continued, no one can ever be completely safe. Webster stated that while terrorists lack the actual means to imprison us, we have the means to imprison ourselves if we go too far.
Webster also stressed that people must not, out of fear, rush to blame easy targets. While Webster said the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington showed some failures in security and intelligence agencies, a main failure was a lack of imagination: no one would have believed before Sept. 11 that 19 people would hijack four civilian airliners and then steer them into buildings loaded with thousands of people. Unfortunately, Webster said, now we must imagine all the paths that violence can assume.
Webster said the U.S. government should not lift the ban on assassinations of foreign leaders. He said that not only does he think that this is generally ineffective, he also believes that it opens our leaders up for similar retaliation.
But amidst the tone of warning, Webster showed confidence in the U.S. government. He said Secretary of State Colin Powell is particularly effective in dealing with foreign allies, whose support will be needed to fight terrorism effectively. Webster also said the U.S. Supreme Court will be critical in upholding American civil rights and civil liberties, and enforcing the Constitution in the face of sweeping new anti-terrorism legislation.