Book Review: More Secure Less Free?

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Indeed, the cover of Mark Sidel’s More Secure Less Free? Antiterrorism Policy & Civil liberties after September 11 would find an adequate home fronting some new thriller novel with the image of a red, weather-beaten door looming ominously behind a dull gray chain link fence kept secure by a rusted iron chain and imposing padlocks. One could easily imagine the pages beneath telling the story of some stalking serial killer that locks his prey up in some disused boiler room and waiting until the time is right to exact his hideous experiments.

And yet these fictional horrors in many ways pale in comparison to the actual text of the book; in this regard, the cover does not do the volume justice.

At the onset, I suppose I expected yet another riff on the follies of the Patriot Act, and almost immediately I found myself in error. As Sidel explains, the enormous act, passed in answer to the attacks perpetuated on September 11th, 2001, could take in and of itself a volume much greater in length to analyze, and yet is only a fraction of the overall problem.

At its core, More Secure deftly sheds light upon a pattern almost like a disease not just in our modern society, but one that has been passed down from one generation to the next in societies throughout the world, the assault on civil liberties that begins almost immediately following a wide scale attack of nearly any sort. Before exploring the realm of a post September 11th world, Sidel walks us through history to show us this, to remind us of where we have been, and how through time we seem to keep going back there again and again. From President Lincoln’s suspension of Habeus Corpus, straight through to President Bush and the numerous attempts to foster a “resurgence of the state”.

And it is here that we see the chilling efforts of the government to expand its power, and the unfortunate misuses of these programs. Adeptly, the author goes far beyond a simple laundry list of legislation and programs (TIPS, TIA, the MATRIX, Eagle Eyes, etc.), and carefully highlights the after effects of such items throughout our communities, from the national level to the state level and through such institutions as our charities and colleges, even going so far as to show the effects abroad on foreign government’s and pointing out the parallels between the U.S. and nations such as England, Australia, and India.

The effect is unnerving. In truth, Sidel’s work, had history only been slightly different, could prove to be a nearly seamless prologue to Orwell’s. Indeed the following passage and its associated imagery will most likely remain with me for some time to come:

“The Orwellian-sounding Total Information Awareness program (originally accompanied by an even more Orwellian symbol depicting a large eye surrounded by the motto “knowledge is power” in Latin) was the brainchild of former Reagan national security adviser John Poindexter. Poindexter was charged and convicted of conspiracy and making false statements to Congress for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, though convictions were later overturned on appeal. He resurfaced in the Bush administration’s Defense Department as director of the Total Information Awareness initiative within the secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”

From here, there be monsters, or more specifically, program after program each one more restrictive on freedoms than the previous, like a movie monster encroaching on privacies we thought we had, and rights we thought were being upheld as they huddled shivering with fright in a dark and vulnerable closet.

But for every good spook story, there has to be a hero, and Sidel provides that as well; the often strange and uncommon unions that have formed in the years since the terrorist attacks on our soil between liberals typically associated with civil liberties battles and members of the right wing, from former conservative congressmen Armey and Barr, to, surprisingly enough, the NRA.

In this regard, the battle is epic, the alliances uncommon, and the ultimate goal to establish a state that is more secure, and yet not less free, a balance that is difficult to achieve, and must be fought for, but can, to some degree be attained.

Now typically when I read a book, especially for review, I’ll scan through what reviewers have said before me, mostly to get a feel, but here, I noticed a trend for reviewers to recommend this book to “concerned” readers who worry about the status of liberty here at home and around the world. I disagree. Yes, if you’re concerned, pick the book up, please, I enjoyed it, and while I’ve only had it for about a week, it’s already dog eared and highlighted beyond recognition, but this book is even more important for the unconcerned; for those who all too easily support motions like the Patriot Act, or Operation TIPS, for those who think there is no harm in the loss of liberties for some people in the name of increased security, and for those who just don’t care.

For those who have only a vague, or no understanding of what’s at stake, and what is being threatened, this book is for them.

Note: If you have a book due out for publication soon, or has been recently published, and would like to have it reviewed here at Comments From Left Field, please email either myself at or Michael Tedesco at, for mailing information. Please allow at least one week from the time of delivery before the publishing of our review.

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