- Series: Hoover Institution Press Publication
- Hardcover: 360 pages
- Publisher: Hoover Institution Press; 1st edition (June 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0817911545
- ISBN-13: 978-0817911546
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,884,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren't Stopping Tomorrow's Terrorism (Hoover Institution Press Publication) 1st Edition
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The title of [Baker's] new book refers to accelerating technological change and the new dangers it's creating. Our society is advancing, technologically, at a very rapid clip; but so, unfortunately, are the terrorists. 'It's like skating on stilts that get a little longer each year.' he writes. 'Every year we get faster and more powerful. Every year we're a little more at risk. We are skating for a fall, and the fall grows worse every year.'
That prognosis is more than a little unsettling, given Baker's resume©. As general counsel to the National Security Agency (the Pentagon's foreign electronic-surveillance arm) during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, he was a staunch privacy advocate. As policy chief at the Department of Homeland Security during that of George W. Bush, he spent years locked in a tug-of-war with privacy advocates over every initiative to adjust our security strategies.
If Baker is not precisely a pessimist, he is certainly gloomy; but even the most optimistic national-security official would find himself chronically dispirited by the effectiveness of the constituencies arrayed against all efforts to devise new ways of protecting ourselves from terrorists. Baker's book is a treasury of examples.
The book recounts some important successes, and in his unremitting gloominess Baker is almost certainly guilty of not giving himself, or the Bush administration, quite enough credit.--National Review
Are we doomed to suffer another major terrorist strike? For some, it seems like a remote possibility, with the greater danger lying in policies of hyper-surveillance. For others, the real danger is complacency—the assumption that the threat has passed—and a misplaced eagerness to scale back the policies that have kept us safe for nine years.
One man who has pondered this question from a pivot point in the federal government is Stewart Baker, a general counsel of the National Security Agency in the Clinton years and a policy chief in the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. With Skating on Stilts, he offers a memoir of day-to-day life within a major Washington bureaucracy and an insider's analysis of the challenges to domestic security in the post 9/11 era.--Wall Street Journal
Skating on Stilts is full of such anecdotes, and Baker, who was a key Homeland Security player from 2005 to 2009, makes a persuasive case against the privacy absolutists. He reprises his successful effort to pry airline passenger data out of the Europeans, who are even more uncompromising about privacy than American activists. He tells the story of how the wall erected between intelligence-gathering by the FBI and law enforcement, though designed to protect civil liberties, ended up blinding authorities to the unfolding 9/11 plot. And he recounts how other agencies blocked, on privacy grounds, DHS' bid to maintain and update a database to continually screen the backgrounds of scientists who work with deadly biological pathogens.
Baker deftly skewers the original legal theorist behind the right to privacy, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was scandalized in 1890 by the fact that newspapers published flattering details about a party at his house. Brandeis also found it outrageous that a newspaper could take and publish a photo of a person without his permission. Obviously, the idea of what constitutes an invasion of privacy has evolved dramatically. Baker portrays privacy advocates as fussy Luddites.
When the government collects information about people, Baker acknowledges, some bureaucrats may improperly access it, as when State Department employees rifled Barack Obama's passport file during the 2008 presidential campaign. But the employees were easily caught and disciplined, Baker notes. The answer is to hold bureaucrats accountable for abuses, he says, not deny them important security tools.--Los Angeles Times
Stewart A. Baker, a former Homeland Security official, examines the technologies we love–jet travel, computer networks, and biotech–and finds that they are likely to empower new forms of terrorism unless we change our current course a few degrees and overcome resistance to change from business, foreign governments, and privacy advocates. He draws on his Homeland Security experience to show how that was done in the case of jet travel and border security but concludes that heading off disasters in computer networks and biotech will require a hardheaded recognition that privacy must sometimes yield to security, especially as technology changes the risks to both.
Top customer reviews
His perspective is great. Decision made with limited information. Why some controversial decisions were made. There are a lot of books about the war on terror but very few that go into the detail he has on the policy side. Agree with other reviewers - if you are working in policy relating in any way to Homeland Security this is a very good book to read.
Mostly - I disagree with the choices he made. Admittedly he hints at reasons that can't be discussed for National Security reasons, but he is very hawkish. That said, his conclusions at the end suggest a compromise between security and freedom. A way for the watchers to be watched without compromising security.
The only other item I have read/watched that is in a similar vein is The Fog Of War. This books isn't quite as reflective as Fog of War, but it is current and I am grateful for his writing it.
Anyone who wonders why government is so slow, so complicated, will no longer think that the reason is lazy people in Washington. Baker points out how difficult it can be to get through the process and end up at the right policy decision -- even when the goal seems obvious.
Surprisingly, he includes quite a lot of information about his personal emotions and actions in this book, so you end up with a real feeling of rapport as you move along.
Just as importantly, Mr. Baker turns his eye to the future with a thought-provoking look at both bio-terrorism and cyber-crime and terrorism, drawing from his experience with the protection of international travel to suggest why we are not yet adequately prepared to face the current and coming generations of terrorists. Throughout, he crosses swords with the privacy community, blaming them where it seems appropriate for opposing or derailing measures to protect against real security threats in the name of theoretical risks to personal privacy and posing some difficult questions about the future of our discussion of personal privacy in a world where the bad guys don't play by the same rules.
I highly recommend this book to students of terrorism, government security policy and privacy issues. It's a fast read, and Mr. Baker offers a perspective and level of experience that needs to be heard.