In the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, the American government implemented a wave of overt policies to fight the nation’s enemies. Unseen and undetected by the public, however, another set of tools was brought to bear on the domestic front. In this riveting book, one of today’s leading experts on the US security state shows how these “subtle tools” imperiled the very foundations of democracy, from the separation of powers and transparency in government to adherence to the Constitution.
Taking readers from Ground Zero to the Capitol insurrection, Karen Greenberg describes the subtle tools that were forged under George W. Bush in the name of security: imprecise language, bureaucratic confusion, secrecy, and the bypassing of procedural and legal norms. While the power and legacy of these tools lasted into the Obama years, reliance on them increased exponentially in the Trump era, both in the fight against terrorism abroad and in battles closer to home. Greenberg discusses how the Trump administration weaponized these tools to separate families at the border, suppress Black Lives Matter protests, and attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Revealing the deeper consequences of the war on terror, Subtle Tools paints a troubling portrait of an increasingly undemocratic America where disinformation, xenophobia, and disdain for the law became the new norm, and where the subtle tools of national security threatened democracy itself.
Karen J. Greenberg is director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, an international studies fellow at New America, and a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Her books include Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State and The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days.
"Greenberg . . . a longtime critic of expanded state power after 9/11, draws a straight line between the early U.S. response to the attacks and the abuses of the Trump administration."—Quinta Jurecic, Washington Post
"Subtle Tools strikes a . . . note of guarded hope for the rule of law against populist lawlessness."—Jonathan Stevenson, Survival
"This is an expertly researched cri de coeur regarding recapturing the processes and procedures of American democracy, which Greenberg (Fordham Univ. School of Law) argues were lost in the 20 years between the 9/11 attacks and the present."—Choice
“A superb portrait of American democracy’s encounter with Trump—and how we got there. Greenberg offers us a narrative full of fresh, eye-opening insights into the deeper lessons of the post-9/11 era. A great, not-to-be-missed addition to the field.”—Ali Soufan, author of The Black Banners (Declassified): How Torture Derailed the War on Terror after 9/11
“A valuable and original work of scholarship that focuses a new lens on American history from 9/11 to the January 6 insurrection.”—Lawrence Wright, author of The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid
“Subtle Tools has a great number of original things to say about how the war on terror reshaped the United States in a myriad of ways, many not for the good. Greenberg’s book is argumentative in the widest and best possible sense of the word, and anyone interested in the law, politics, and journalism of the post-9/11 era should read this book.”—Peter Bergen, author of The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden
“A compelling, fascinating, and original contribution to a topic that is urgently relevant. Greenberg offers the most thorough account that I have read about how the legal and policy choices after 9/11 opened the door for Trump’s rampant executive abuses.”—Jeremi Suri, author of The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office