On Nov. 25, 2002, a little over a year after the 9/11 attacks, the most significant change in the domestic operations of the U.S. government in history was adopted in the U.S. Senate with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Created from 22 existing agencies with disparate and discrete missions, from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to the venerable Customs Department and the Coast Guard, which date to the founding of our republic, the DHS was a closing of the wrong barn door. In stone cold hindsight, we had many opportunities to deter 9/11 – but as the 9/11 Commission itself made clear, the principal dot-connecting failure involved the CIA and the FBI, and neither of these agencies was affected by the creation of the DHS.

The Department of Homeland Security has an Orwellian name with unfortunate overtones of Nazi Germany. From the beginning it has suffered from a blurring of mission. The pre-DHS Customs Department and the Coast Guard understood what they were about. Adding “homeland security” to the mix raised the ante, instantly transforming garden-variety smugglers into threats to national security, and border violators into potential terrorists. Domestic agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were militarized in the name of national security.

Central to the creation of the DHS, as well as to the Department of National Intelligence, a useless superstructure over what is conventionally known as “the intelligence community,” a gaggle of agencies that is not particularly intelligent and certainly no community, was our own senior senator from Maine, Susan Collins. Today in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere we are seeing what comes of such good intentions. Secret federal agents operating under the aegis of the DHS have been deployed in violation of ancient principles of the common law. They have teargassed our citizens exercising their constitutional right to protest, including Portland’s elected mayor. The fact that some protesters have also violated the law should not obscure the fundamental attack on our liberties, as the Trump administration searches all too obviously for its Reichstag Fire.

Maine’s other U.S. senator, Angus King, has spoken out eloquently about this abuse of the rule of law. “The United States has always held the right to protest as sacred, you may even say ‘self-evident’ – but today, we’re seeing unidentified federal officers using physical force to take that right away. That is not the America I know,” he said in a recent statement. “We’ve seen protesters tear-gassed, members of the free press attacked and individuals grabbed off the street and thrown into unmarked vehicles – hallmarks of tyrannical regimes, not free societies. This is a moment of truth, when America must stand up for its values or risk losing them.”

One could search Sen. Collins’ website in vain for a comparably forthright expression of outrage – or even for her usual milquetoast statement of “concern.” This is not bipartisanship. From one of those responsible for the creation of the agency responsible, her silence is a craven surrender to the Trump administration. The voters of Maine must hold her to account in November for this abdication of responsibility.

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