Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Creeping American Totalitarianism: A Nation of Spies and Informers

Sometimes, I wish Orwell was alive today, just to see how his own country became the world's leader in the use of cameras in public places (and in many cases even in private homes), or of course his erstwhile allies in the American government, whose growing likeness for tactics from the playbook of  circa 1937 Soviet Union would make Stalin smile with beaming approval.  And how strange it is to see the so-called freedom lovers in the US calling for Julian Assange's head, Pvt. Manning's "treasonous" acts summarily choked with a hangman's noose (if only he had a fetishism for Confederate flags), the execution of Mike Vick, the spying and torture of us all (except white Christians), etc., but Athena help you if you want health care or some unemployment benefits.  No, that is the kind of socialism the liberty-lovers from Oath Keepers cannot tolerate.  Of course, when it comes time for these two-faced snitches to fork over your information to the same "evil" federal government, it is quite OK, even necessary.  Enter, our Orwellian state.

[Note: I am only posting the first page of this excellent story, as it is too long, even for this blog site.  The URL for the remainder of the article will be posted below.]

Monitoring America
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

Other democracies - Britain and Israel, to name two - are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny.

This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

Today's story, along with related material on The Post's Web site, examines how Top Secret America plays out at the local level. It describes a web of 3,984 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 934 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.

(Search our database for your state to find a detailed profile of counterterrorism efforts in your community.)

The months-long investigation, based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents, found that:

* Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.

* The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.

* Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

* The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.

The need to identify U.S.-born or naturalized citizens who are planning violent attacks is more urgent than ever, U.S. intelligence officials say. This month's FBI sting operation involving a Baltimore construction worker who allegedly planned to bomb a Maryland military recruiting station is the latest example. It followed a similar arrest of a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen allegedly seeking to detonate a bomb near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. There have been nearly two dozen other cases just this year.

"The old view that 'if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won't have to fight them here' is just that - the old view," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told police and firefighters recently.

The Obama administration heralds this local approach as a much-needed evolution in the way the country confronts terrorism.

However, just as at the federal level, the effectiveness of these programs, as well as their cost, is difficult to determine. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.

The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010. At least four other federal departments also contribute to local efforts. But the bulk of the spending every year comes from state and local budgets that are too disparately recorded to aggregate into an overall total.


I should also note that Dana Priest is the same reporter who, back in 2005, revealed the existence of CIA flyover torture camps, or 'black sites,' and the cooperative use of extraordinary rendition.  All of this was considered top secret at the time, and I have no doubt there were not an infrequent number of Blue Dogs and Republicans who felt she should have been silenced (or worse) for those revelations (in the same way they want to torture, assassinate, and/or imprison anyone associated with WikiLeaks).  I cannot help but wonder why this is not the focus of anti-government ire and those who think that our government is too centralized and out of control.  As I write this our friends at Fort Meade are spying on us all--cataloging our phone calls, monitoring our internet activity, chats, texts, and doing this without any semblance of respect for a warrant or probable cause. And with any luck the local fuzz might be keeping tabs and handing over information on you, as well.  Such is our respect and love for individualism.

The most upsetting part is that this is the most authoritarian aspect of American political culture since 9/11, and it is one that the two parties will not question or even allow a debate over.  That it takes a libertarian flake like Ron Paul to say anything critical, while the leadership of both parties crumble to their knees in acquiescence to this real existing government takeover of our freedoms, is the worst because it means that this type of police state is here to stay.  

I truly hope that I am wrong, but unless the courts step in I do think I will be.  Our Congress, President (regardless of party affiliation), and Supreme Court are either unwilling or incapable of defending even the most rank violations of our Constitutional rights in this country.  This is compounded by a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that validated a government prosecution of a human rights group on the grounds of "material support" of terrorism for merely communicating with a terrorist group (even as a means to pacify and convince them of the errors of their ways).  I am not very confident that this court will be stepping in for the rights of any of us from having our lives chronicled and used against us without legal recourse.  And once our government, by fiat, has eliminated any respect for its own laws and traditions, those laws and traditions lose their meaning.  I wish it could be stated another way, one with a more positive outcome in mind, but it would be dishonest to dodge calling things for what they are:  For all intents and purposes, our Fourth Amendment rights are basically dead (with only the duration of this amendment's cancellation and possibility of reintroduction being in doubt).

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