Mitt Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts as the man who saved the 2002 winter Olympics. While much of his focus had been on righting the games in Salt Lake City after its organizing committee became mired in a U.S. bribery scandal, security was also a top priority. These were the first U.S. Olympic games since the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and, taking place just five months after the 9/11 attacks, they presented an enticing and high-profile target for terrorists.
Dealing with those threats in Salt Lake City led Romney not only to overhaul homeland security in the Bay State, but to shape policy on the national level. When he was sworn in as governor on Jan. 2, 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was less than six weeks old, and President George W. Bush’s administration was still looking for people who could help it make sense of the new post-9/11 world. Romney stood out.
“Of all the governors that we worked with, he was by far one of the most proactive and engaged in the country,” said Joshua Filler, the Homeland Security director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination from 2003 to 2005. “The Olympics experience exposed him to some of the very real threats faced by the United States in a post 9/11 world. It was clear that experience played a role in his involvement and thinking on homeland security issues.”
Now, as the Republican party’s presumptive nominee for president, Romney talks mostly about slashing the size of the federal government. More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, “homeland security” doesn’t even rate its own page on Romney’s campaign website.
Yet some of the most controversial aspects of the U.S. intelligence apparatus constructed after Bush declared war on terrorism have Romney’s fingerprints on them. As governor, he pushed for vast data-mining centers, wiretapping of mosques, spying on foreign students and enlisting average citizens to keep tabs on fellow Americans. Romney has vowed to continue the policies as president.
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