The Global War on Terror Is Perpetual and So Are Its Costs

by James Holbrook

As a taxpayer, I am concerned that the billions of dollars we spend each year to collect telephone call metadata and store them apparently forever cannot be justified using traditional cost-benefit-risk analyses.

It is difficult to get a straight answer about how many terrorist attacks on the U.S. have been identified and disrupted by using this expensive program. We do know, however, that the program did not identify the homeland attacks by two actual terrorists who bombed the Boston Marathon. These individuals were persons of interest to the Russians who brought them to our attention to no avail. It is clear that our telephone metadata collection program did not prevent their killing and maiming innocent Americans. 

How is it we can justify spending billions of dollars a year on a program that cannot protect us against known persons who were suspected of having terrorist connections?

Most critics of our nation’s budget deficits and growing national debt defend the program as necessary, but they do not question its cost. Where is the evidence that the program is cost effective? If the program has disrupted only a few attacks, are there other ways to spend less money that will keep us just as safe? Are there other ways to spend the same amount of money that would have prevented the actual terrorism committed by the Boston Marathon bombers?

The Global War on Terror is perpetual and so are its costs. Thirty years from now our children and grandchildren will be paying taxes to collect and store telephone call metadata in a program that has never been subjected to a public cost-benefit-risk analysis.

James Holbrook is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. Professor Holbrook teaches Lawyering Skills (interviewing, counseling and basic negotiation), Advanced Negotiation and Mediation, Arbitration, and a seminar on educating military veterans for continued national service.