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Government Surveillance

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If you thought the capture of Saddam Hussein might help in the war on terrorism, you should think again. The terrorists in Iraq aren’t the real problem, according to Daniel Levitas writing in the New York Timesrecently. The real problem is right here in River City, and it’s not Muslims or Arabs or Iraqis. It’s the “Far Right.”

Ever since 9/11, there has been an almost compulsive effort on the part of the left to “link” the right of one kind or another to that atrocity in particular and to international terrorism in general, for the purpose of demonizing virtually any right-of-center activism, bringing it under federal and local police surveillance and perhaps eventually outlawing it altogether.

That’s precisely the direction Mr. Levitas is trying to drive.

Mr. Levitas, author of a recent book on “the militia movement and the radical right,” starts off with the tale of a chap named William Krar, who recently pled guilty to the very real crime of possessing a chemical weapon. Mr. Krar, he says, is “a right-wing extremist,” and for all I know he may be. Mr. Krar, it seems, possessed “neo-Nazi and antigovernment literature,” as well as a stockpile of illegal weapons, ammunitions and explosives.

No “isolated incident,” Mr. Levitas assures us. Why, “federal authorities served more than 150 subpoenas in the case, and are still searching for others who may have been involved.”Therefore, it must not be isolated.

They also rounded up Mr. Krar’s female companion and one of his buddies, a member of a “paramilitary group called the New Jersey Militia.”

From this and similar cases Mr. Levitas deduces that the “far right” in this country is out of control, reading “antigovernment literature”and who knows what else, and he demands that “Americans should question whether the Justice Department is making America’s far-right fanatics a serious priority.”[Our Enemies at Home, By Daniel Levitas, New York Times, December 13, 2003]

What he doesn’t tell us is that when Mr. Krar and his pals were arrested, local news sources quoted federal authorities as saying they “don’t believe Krar was planning to commit terrorism.” “I have no specifics of a plot,” the FBI special agent who made the arrest said.

Nor was there any further evidence of a plot. Mr. Krar was a gun manufacturer and arms dealer, and much of his arsenal and associations may have been related to his business, as federal agents acknowledged.

But in the No Isolated Incident Department, Mr. Levitas rounds up several other of the usual suspects: Eric Rudolph, accused of bombing abortion clinics and the 1996 Olympics, and a few others, one of whom actually seems to have murdered somebody and all of whom have “links to” or “associations with” “far-right” groups—“white supremacists,” “anti-abortion extremists,” and anti-Semites.

But nowhere does Mr. Levitas show that—or even consider the question of whether—these individuals are part of organized conspiracies to commit terrorism.

The issue is important because if they are simply lone nuts, having the Justice Department launch more intensive scrutiny of right-wing groups would do nothing to stop potential violence.

The fact is that not since the early 1980s has there been any serious terrorism from the “far right” in the United States, and none of the “incidents” in recent years involving violence by far-right individuals was the work of an organized group—unlike the violence routinely committed by such movements as animal rights nuts, eco-terrorists and Jewish nationalists.

There is every reason for police and the FBI to keep any group that advocates violence, let alone practices it, under investigation.

But what Mr. Levitas and a good many others like him are demanding has less to do with what such groups do than with what they think.

It’s not violent groups or groups that advocate or cultivate violence they want under surveillance.

It’s “America’s far-right fanatics.”

His standard is political pure and simple.

Most of the people he wants the Justice Department to make a “priority” may actually need to be under investigation, but the problem is that distinctions between violent types on the right and law-abiding right-wing or conservative dissenters get lost.

Professional witch hunting groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League don’t hesitate to “link” all of the above, and most law enforcement people don’t know the difference.

That, of course is exactly what the witch hunters want: To round up the usual suspects.

The truth is that the usual suspects have done very little that merits being rounded up or even investigated. But what some on the left really want is simply a crackdown against their political adversaries on the right.

With the new state powers the Bush administration already has and the hysteria about the “far right fringe” cranked up by people like Mr. Levitas, that may be starting to happen.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance, Terrorism 
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Apparently it takes a British newspaper to confirm that paranoia about the police-state trends of the U.S. government is starting to come true.

Last week the London Independent disclosed, just as some American anti-war protestors have claimed for a year or more, that the federal government has a little list of dissidents to see whom it should stop, search and possibly detain at airports. [US anti-war activists hit by secret airport ban, By Andrew Gumbel, Independent, August 03, 2003 Pay archive free]

The list is not the same as the perfectly sensible catalogue of suspected criminals and terrorists known as the “no-fly” list the government maintains. Nobody on the previously unknown list seems to have broken the law or threatened anyone, and, until the Transportation Security Administration confirmed its existence last week, it was entirely secret.

According to the Independent, the list, “possibly hundreds or even thousands of names long,” consists of people the government “deems worthy of special scrutiny at airports.”

Indeed, thanks to what seems to be the virtually total silence of the American media about it, the existence of the list remains effectively as secret now as before the Independent reported it.

Nor is the list confined to anti-war activists. In fact, there’s really no telling who’s on the list or what its purpose is. The only reason it’s known at all is that in the course of a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the TSA spilled at least one or two beans about it. The activists who filed the suit are two peaceniks who say they have never been arrested but were stopped at the San Francisco airport last year, detained briefly and told “they were on an FBI no-fly list.”

And they aren’t the only ones. Two others described in the Independent account as “a left-wing constitutional lawyer who has been strip-searched repeatedly when traveling through U.S. airports” and, most dangerous of all , “a 71-year-old nun from Milwaukee who was prevented from flying to Washington to join an anti-government protest,” are also on the list.

As the London paper also reports, “It is impossible to know for sure who might be on the list, or why,” but according to the American Civil Liberties Union, some 300 people have already been detained at the San Francisco airport, though “in no case does it appear that a wanted criminal was apprehended.”

Finally, lefties aren’t the only people to come under government scrutiny. The Independent also says that “at least one conservative organization, the Eagle Forum, says its members have been interrogated by security staff.”

Conservatives in general have never had much of a problem with government lists of suspected subversives and terrorists and rightly so. They recognize the legitimacy of the state to protect national security, including internal security.

But what the government seems to be doing these days is quite different from what conservatives have always defended.

In the first place, not only does no one seem to know who’s on the list but no one seems to know even what the list is for. If people who have no criminal records are on it, what’s the point? And if the government can’t explain the point, how does it know whom to put on the list at all? It’s one thing to make a list of criminals and terrorists, but the only criterion for making the new list seems to be the expression of some degree of skepticism about current government policy. There is no reason to believe the purpose of the list is to keep track of people actually involved in anti-American activities, even at a legal and non-violent level.

ACLU spokesmen say there are some funny things about it. According to answers the TSA offered, “The agency had no way of making sure that people did not end up on the list simply because of things they had said or organizations they belonged to. Once people were on the list, there was no procedure for trying to get off it. The TSA did not even think it was important to keep track of people singled out in error for a security grilling. According to documents the agency released, it saw ‘no pressing need to do so’.”

Swell. The government doesn’t seem to know what the list is really for, who’s on it, why they’re on it, or why they should be removed from it.

What’s dangerous about the list and the intrusion it represents are two things: First, not so much what the government is doing with the list now, but what it might eventually do with it once it collects enough information about whoever is on it, and secondly, who else will eventually wind up on the list and why.

Conservatives who still think their government is interested only in stopping dangerous people can go back to sleep. The rest of us have reason to pay attention.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance, Terrorism 
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Even before President Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act this week, creating a governmental behemoth that swallows 22 existing agencies and turns them into one giant fist poised to crush civil liberties, the national media knew very well what the law that stitched together the new department meant.

Here is what the Christian Science Monitor reported about the DHS on Nov. 21, two days after the Senate followed the House in passing the law:

“Make a call from a pay phone at the ballpark, and it may be tapped. Pay for a sandwich with a credit card, and the transaction may wind up in an electronic file with your tax returns, travel history, and speeding tickets.

“These are some of the ways that the biggest reorganization of the federal government in half a century could trickle down into the minutiae of the daily life of Americans.”

The question Americans might want to ask, while it is still legal to ask questions at all, is: why didn’t the press report these trickle-down effects before Congress passed the law?

In fact, some people did discuss the threats to freedom and privacy the Homeland Security bill represented, me among them. Most Americans were too frightened of terrorism, too trusting of the federal leviathan, and generally too ignorant about the dangers their freedom was facing to pay much attention.

But the vast new agency just created is not the only threat they need to worry about.

The same day the Monitor was belatedly telling us about the erosion of liberty the new agency will cause, the Washington Times was belatedly reporting that the Pentagon had confirmed that “a high-tech data collection system [that] will monitor credit-card transactions and airline ticket purchases … is being created to thwart terrorist attacks.” This is entirely separate from the behemoth down the street at the DHS. This behemoth will reside across the river in the Pentagon itself and is demurely named the “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) program.

But then again, the leviathan may not really need new laws, vast bureaucracies, and secret programs driven by technologies out of science fiction to throttle what remains of American freedom. Already, inebriated with the air of the Zeitgeist, prosecutors are starting to crack down — not on “terrorism,” necessarily, but on the dissent and eccentric ideas that are really what worries the architects of the New World Order.

In Great Britain, a newspaper columnist for the Daily Telegraph, Robin Page, was arrested this month on a charge of inciting “racial hatred.” Mr. Page, the Telegraph reported on Nov. 22, had spoken at a county fair, arguing that if Londoners had the right to celebrate “black and gay pride,” then rural minorities also had the right to celebrate their own culture. “All I said was that the rural minority should have the same rights as blacks, Muslims and gays,” Mr. Page insists.

Shortly after his speech, Mr. Page was asked by county police to come down for an interview because of “complaints” they’d received about his remarks. He did, but he refused to answer questions without his lawyer present, was arrested and thrown in a jail cell. He agreed to answer questions without a lawyer to avoid spending the night in jail. He was then asked if he was a racist and told to report back to the police in January.

Great Britain is obviously a different country, but it shares the same Zeitgeist as this one, and such tales are not far from reality here either.

Last week in Orange County, California, the county prosecutor rounded up a local leader of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nation and two others “suspected of being neo-Nazis,” the Orange County Register reports. [Pay archive.] They were nabbed allegedly because they possessed “bomb-making materials,” and one had supposedly violated parole by possessing a firearm, but “no specific attack plans are alleged.” The real reason for the arrests was blatantly political. Deputy District Attorney Nick Thompson told the paper, “… I hope it would have a chilling effect on those people who are sitting on the fence regarding whether to throw their allegiance to racist causes.”

I have little use for “neo-Nazis,” but if prosecutors can openly boast of how they intend to use the law to chill free expression and ideas they dislike, then neo-Nazis aren’t the only ones facing problems. Neither of the arrests in England or in California was the result of the Homeland Security Department or the Total Information Awareness Program; they merely illustrate the Zeitgeist that has descended upon the Western world since Sept. 11, 2001. And they merely foreshadow how these government agencies and programs, among others, will be used in the future. When the Zeitgeist knocks at your door some night, don’t say no one warned you.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance 
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One result of government-created mass immigration in the wake of Sept. 11 is that personal and civil liberties may dwindle as “Homeland Security” swells.

Since there are legal limits on what government agencies like the FBI and the CIA can do to spy on the legal and non-violent activities of Americans, however, Homeland Security may come to include a few off-the-books agencies as well as those supposedly on the books.

So-called “watchdog” groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith rake in millions every year for the purpose of “tracking” what they call “extremist” activities—usually perfectly legal if sometimes bizarre political groups that the FBI and cops can’t touch unless they’re suspected of committing crimes.

Now, in the case of the Anti-Defamation League [ADL], a high-ranking official has acknowledged that they essentially help the FBI skirt the law and maybe even the Constitution.

David Friedman, director of the ADL’s Washington office, told the press last week that his organization

“has played a vital role protecting the homeland by providing law enforcement officials with valuable information about suspected terrorists.”

What is described as the ADL’s “comprehensive database on extremist groups” contains all sorts of good stuff on Arabic and Muslim terrorist groups – as well as even more stuff on “domestic terrorists, including neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups.”

Under guidelines and laws adopted in the 1970s, in the wake of such episodes as Watergate and various intelligence community scandals, limits were established on what intelligence agencies like the FBI and CIA could collect and how they could collect it.

What the ADL is acknowledging—perhaps unconsciously—is that it is helping such agencies evade those laws.

Mr. Friedman claims that law enforcement, including the FBI, which he admits the ADL has “helped,”

“are so burdened with the demands upon their time and so spread thin that they don’t have the time to be studying and searching for additional information.”

He neglects to point out that it’s actually illegal for the FBI and certain law enforcement agencies even to have some kinds of “additional information”—so the ADL collects and keeps it for them.

It’s far from clear how valuable that kind of service is. In the first place, if American voters and the Congress wanted these agencies to have more resources to collect more information, they’d probably provide it for them. Maybe they don’t want them to have more on purpose, and maybe it’s not really the business of the ADL to provide it anyway.

Moreover, what the ADL provides in the way of “additional information” isn’t necessarily what the FBI needs, nor is it always reliable. The ADL, a Jewish organization, is understandably concerned mainly about anti-Jewish extremism, but anti-Jewish extremism may not be the biggest threat to the country that the Bureau and the cops need to know about. There are foreign terrorists, far-left terrorists, and environmentalist and animal rights terrorists, and there’s no reason to think that what the ADL can provide the FBI about such groups is either more reliable or more useful than what it can get for itself.

As for reliability, a federal judge last year upheld most of a $10-million lawsuit against the ADL for falsely labelling a couple in Denver as “anti-Semites.” A few years ago, the ADL outraged many mainstream conservatives by claiming that Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition was anti-Semitic and harbored “Nazi sympathies,” despite the Christian right’s strong support for Israel.

Unlike public law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the ADL doesn’t have to answer to elected officials, so there’s no check on it. It can fabricate or slant the “intelligence” it peddles to push public agencies in directions it wants them to go, not where they should be going.

Even when their intelligence is accurate, it still isn’t necessarily useful. Mr. Friedman boasted that the ADL

“already had a profile on Timothy McVeigh before the Oklahoma City bombing by following anti-Semitic and anti-government movements.”

That’s swell. But obviously, the ADL’s spying didn’t help prevent the bombing – or even help catch those who committed it. So what good is it?

The only good that groups like the ADL seem to serve is their own, by impressing gullible and terrified donors with all the secret inside dope they rake up. By playing on the fears and fantasies of such people, the “watchdog” groups have raised millions for themselves.

The danger such groups present is not only that their slanted “research” and “intelligence” will misdirect and misinform professional law enforcement and intelligence services, but also that the law-abiding people they spy on and harass will wind up being smeared or framed for thoughts they never thought and deeds they never did.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance, Jews 
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I do not know the Rev. Matt Hale, head of the “World Church of the Creator,” have not read much about his beliefs, and have no disposition to defend him. Nevertheless, I do not believe he or his followers bear much resemblance to the international terrorist network of Al Qaeda, although that seemed to be the brunt of the message New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was determined to send his readers last week. [NYT, Hate, American Style (August 30, 2002)]

Mr. Kristof went to the trouble of traveling all the way from the safety and civilization of New York City to the wilderness of East Peoria, Illinois, where Mr. Hale lives, and taking him to lunch (Yes, no doubt to Mr. Kristof’s amazement, they do have restaurants in East Peoria, it seems).

Mr. Hale, you see, is a “racist” and an “anti-Semite,” terms he apparently uses himself to characterize his and his followers’ beliefs, and regards interracial marriage as “a form of bestiality.” Mr. Kristof wanted to meet Mr. Hale because, he says, “he has become the key figure of America’s hate community,” members of which “have shot, knifed or beaten blacks, Jews and Asian-Americans in several states.”

But the real reason Mr. Kristof traveled several hundred miles to meet, take to lunch, and write about a fellow who strikes me as both deservedly obscure and thoroughly pathetic, I suspect, is that Mr. Kristof wants his readers to believe that “racists” and “anti-Semites” of the far right are as dangerous as the real-life terrorists who leveled the World Trade Centers.

His column is part of a subtle campaign the witch-hunting left has waged for the last year to “link” the American right to Muslim terrorism, or at least to sympathy for it.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the left tried the exact same tactic, some even trying to connect House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party to Timothy McVeigh and the “militias” to which he never belonged.

One purpose of such “linkages” is to discredit the entire right, whether Republican, mainstream conservative, or far right, simply through the tactic of “guilt by association.” It’s a tactic usually ascribed to Sen. Joe McCarthy but is far more often used by the left itself. The left calls it “linking,” and it consists simply of lumping all of the above together, regardless of the vast differences among them, and claiming they’re “like” Al Qaeda (or the Nazis, or the Klan, or whatever demon haunts the left’s mind this week).

“It would be flattering Mr. Hale too much,” Mr. Kristof sneers, “to call his group America’s Al Qaeda,” though that’s essentially what he calls it. Mr. Hale and his church, which supposedly preaches the gospel of “Rahowa,” or “Racial Holy War,” are “revitalizing racism by recruiting women, children and convicts into a high-tech, energetic organization whose followers show a pattern of random brutality towards blacks and other ‘enemies.’”

“They are not a threat to national stability,” Mr. Kristof rather ruefully acknowledges, “but they are every bit as loony as Al Qaeda and they have been enmeshed in violence.”

The other object of “linking,” even by somewhat far-fetched comparisons, indigenous movements of the right to real foreign terrorists is to lay the groundwork for legal sanctions against political dissent from the right.

The left, of course, denies that, boasting of its commitment to “free speech” and the First Amendment, but the logic is obvious enough. If Mr. Hale and his merry band of racial holy warriors are as “loony” and violent as Al Qaeda, then they ought to be watched, if not rounded up and put away.

And they’re not alone, Mr. Kristof assures us. “There are plenty of other domestic counterparts to Islam’s manic mullahs. Think of Christian Reconstructionism,” a movement that advocates Old Testament laws but which even Mr. Kristof does not say practices or advocates violence.

What other groups does Mr. Kristof think are “domestic counterparts” to mass murdering terrorists?

Are there any groups on the political left at all he thinks are dangerous? He never mentions a one.

In the panic after Sept. 11, we have seen laws passed and policies adopted that allow the government to hold suspects without warrants, try them in secret military courts, spy on law-abiding groups and individuals and harass innocent “persons of interest” with no evidence against them of any crime.

Most of the targets of these policies so far have been Arabs or Muslims. Now, with the help of people like Mr. Kristof, the ground is being prepared for the same powers to be deployed against Americans- simply because of their opinions about politics, race and religion.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance, Terrorism 
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With the inauguration of a new government program that encourages American civilians to spy on their employers, co-workers and neighbors, the Bush administration may be pushing the United States over the edge of what can only be described as a new totalitarianism. The almost total silence about the plans in the press and among the usual political critics of the administration only bolsters that impression.

The program, described in the Washington Times this week, is known as TIPS–the Terrorism Information and Prevention System–and it envisions recruiting some 10 million informants to check out “suspicious” activities by those other Americans with whom they are in contact.

As the Times characterizes the plan,

“the Bush administration by next month wants to recruit a million letter carriers, utility workers and others whose jobs allow them access to private homes into a contingent of organized government informants.”

Ostensibly aimed at detecting terrorist or terrorist-supportive activities, the plan could eventually encompass just a bit more than that.

As the Times further describes the program, TIPS

“will allow volunteers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize suspect activities, to report the same to the Justice Department, which … will enter the information into a database, which will then be broadly available within the department, and to state and local agencies and local police forces.”

Does your telephone repairman notice the religious pictures and icons in your living room and the pro-life materials on your coffee table? You might be one of those nuts who murders abortionists and blows up abortion clinics. Better report to the government. Do you have guns mounted over your mantel or subscribe to gun magazines? Your mailman should let the government know. Are you a World War II buff who has photographs of Erwin Rommel or other German soldiers in your study? Your housemaid should tell the government there may be a neo-Nazi in the neighborhood. Do you keep a Confederate flag or a picture of Robert E. Lee in your home? Your electrician had better pop such information into the national database so the feds and the local Thought Police can check you out the next time a bomb explodes or a hate crime happens.

Talk about the “Red Scare,” Hollywood blacklisting, the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon, suspensions of civil liberties during World War I and the Civil War, the Alien and Sedition Acts–but you probably have to go back to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 to find anything quite comparable to what the Bush administration is preparing to set up.

This is not simply the enlargement of government power over private life; this is the extension of government power into private life. There is a major and significant difference, the difference between merely bloated government on the one hand and systemic totalitarianism on the other.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Rutherford Institute have denounced the Bush plan. The ACLU says the TIPS plan is virtually identical to searching citizens’ homes without a warrant:

“The administration apparently wants to implement a program that will turn local cable or gas or electrical technicians into government-sanctioned peeping Toms.”

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute says, even more bluntly,

“This is George Orwell’s ’1984′. … It’s making Americans into government snoops.”

The immediate rationale for TIPS seems to be the presence of so many terrorist sympathizers within the country. But why is that the case?

It’s because the government has refused to control mass immigration for decades and now confronts a massive portion of the national population that is disaffected and potentially violent and hates our guts. The TIPS scheme of course does nothing to address the immigration problem. Mass immigration is now an integral part of our political system; it’s the Constitution that has to be compromised.

Both the spokesmen for the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute point out that the new spy program will do nothing to stop terrorism. But it will do everything not only to stifle political dissent and differentiation in American political life but also to smother any intellectual tendencies, even private ones, that deviate from the narrow band of permissible thought and speech scripted by television and Hollywood.

Who would dare harbor or express such thoughts if his own household becomes a pipeline to the police?

The United States does indeed face a serious terrorist threat that has already taken thousands of lives, and it makes sense that, as in any war, some freedom might have to be curbed to fight and prevent future attacks.

But the road down which the Bush administration is now lurching goes far beyond what is necessary and will haunt law-abiding Americans long after the present terrorist threat has vanished.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance 
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No sooner had the FBI been relieved of 26-year-old restrictions on its powers of domestic surveillance and President Bush had announced his plans for the mammoth “Department of Homeland Security,” our very own domestic version of a potential Gestapo, than New York Timescolumnist Nicholas D. Kristof unbosomed himself of what the real targets of the emerging federal police state should be.

There’s just been too much obsession, Mr. Kristof tells us, with “swarthy, glowering Muslims mumbling fanatically about Allah”; the real terrorist danger in the United States is far more banal— the “home-grown nuts” of the right-wing militias. Mr. Kristof details one particular case of just such a “nut,” a gentleman named David Burgert, who with a vast terrorist network consisting of all of nine guys, was planning “a violent revolution and civil war to overthrow the entire United States government,” a “terror plan that made Osama bin Laden’s look rinky-dink,” as Mr. Kristof assures us.

Leaving aside the question of how real the alleged plot of Mr. Burgert was, the point is, as Mr. Kristof himself notes, that he and his merry band of “true American patriots” and “white Christians,” as Mr. Kristof describes them, were rounded up by the local sheriff. The awesome plot that would make Sept. 11 look like a July 4th firecracker party never made it out of Flathead County, Montana, where it was born. The larger point is that, even granting there is a real terrorist danger from crackpots of the far right, there is no reason to believe it can’t be adequately investigated, detected and prevented by either existing law enforcement, state, local or federal, under their current powers.

Yet it is Mr. Kristof’s insistence that the federal government cease being “distracted by our own stereotypes, searching for Muslim terrorists in the Philippine jungle and the Detroit suburbs” and recall that “there are blond, blue-eyed mad bombers as well.” Really? I haven’t seen many in the news of late, but I’ll take his word for it. What I won’t take his word for is that “militia members and Al Qaeda members are remarkably similar.” That sentiment ought to tip us off to the real dangers of the FBI’s new surveillance powers and the new Cabinet-level department the president proposes.

Ever since Sept. 11 the subtext of a good deal of the commentary has been that while Muslim extremists are dangerous and unhealthy, we shouldn’t forget that the real enemy is right here in River City—”racism,” “hate crimes,” “intolerance,” “xenophobia,” “stereotyping,” “gun violence” and all the other isms, manias, and phobias that go to make up the endless catalogue of “Hate.” Muslim extremists, in so far as they are a real problem at all, are mainly just an extension of “Hate” as practiced by white people, usually out in the boonies like Montana, and all of them “Christians” of one kind or another and “blond and blue-eyed” to boot.

Mass immigration and the multiracialism, multiculturalism and egalitarianism that go with it are off the table for discussion; all of a sudden they’ve become part of the untouchable essence of the American identity. Hence, any and all efforts to fight terrorism must avoid any serious reduction in the number of immigrants or any questioning of the value of immigration and the ideologies that justify it. Racial profiling, obviously necessary to any effective strategy against Muslim and Arabic terrorism, remains verboten. And, instead of radically revising our immigration policies (not to mention our foreign policy in the Middle East), the burden of the war on terror falls on Americans themselves. Immigration and multiracialism are essential and untouchable; it’s the Constitution that’s expendable.

In itself the Department of Homeland Security is probably harmless. Essentially it merely reshuffles existing agencies and bureaucracies and (at least not yet) creates no new ones. Nor does it have any intelligence collection powers (again, not yet), or appear to extend the reach of government power to any new depth. But the danger of the department is not what the president and his aides are proposing now but rather in what it could—and, given current preconceptions of where the real internal security dangers lie as outlined above, what it will—eventually become.

That is why calling the department a potential “American Gestapo” is not as off-the-wall as it may sound. Not only natural bureaucratic growth but the politically and ideologically driven crusade against dissidence on the political right, masked as a war on “Hate,” will bloat the new department far beyond what its original architects may have intended. Instead of applauding the birth of this new federal leviathan, those Americans who remain committed to constitutional liberty should greet it with a cold eye.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance, Terrorism 
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Even as the Justice Department warned, for the umpteenth time, of an “imminent” terrorist attack last week, the Washington. D.C., police force cranked into action. The cops didn’t catch any terrorists, but through the vast and nearly ubiquitous system of police surveillance cameras that clicked into operation the same day Justice was warning about terrorism, they were able to observe the entirely innocent actions of thousands of law-abiding citizens.

The new system inaugurated in the nation’s capital keeps an eye—literally, in fact quite a number of eyes—on “key federal buildings” and other important places in the city. As the Wall Street Journal described it, “The new system will link hundreds of cameras that already monitor mass-transit stations, monuments and schools with new digital cameras that will be installed to watch over streets, shopping areas and neighborhoods.” Actually, the cops are about 18 years late.

In George Orwell’s 1984, you didn’t watch television—the television watched you. The essence of Orwell’s portrayal of a perfect totalitarian regime was precisely that it had succeeded in abolishing privacy and thereby in manipulating the minds, memories and emotions of its subjects. What the Washington police are doing with their cameras is merely the first step toward the same outcome.

“We don’t have enough officers to watch everything,” Steve Gaffigan, the official in charge of the camera cops, told the Washington Times.Therefore, they’ve got to have the surveillance system. Someone should explain to Mr. Gaffigan that there’s a reason the cops don’t have “enough” officers. In a free society, police aren’t supposed to “watch everything,” and therefore the number of policemen is kept small. What the police are supposed to do is arrest people who break the law—that’s all. They don’t have to “fight crime,” “wage war on crime,” “prevent crime,” or improve society or human nature. Their sole purpose is to enforce the law, which is why we still call them “law enforcement.”

In the last century, the purpose of the police, like the purposes of many other public institutions, changed. Just as the purpose of government itself is no longer merely to defend the nation and enforce the law but rather to provide security, solve social problems, manage conflicts and offer therapy for social “pathologies” like spanking your children, so the purpose of the police is now to make sure no one anywhere behaves in violation of the imposed norms.

The Times ran a photograph of one of the new spy cameras on top of the Banana Republic store overlooking the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. That happens to be the heart of Georgetown, one of the busiest (at all times of night or day) locations in the city. The chances of serious crimes like muggings or murder being committed in that area are minuscule. The purpose of the cameras is therefore quite clearly not to prevent crime.

If this kind of surveillance were happening only in Washington, it might be harmless enough. But in fact, as the Journal pointed out, it’s hardly unique. “Many American police agencies already use some video surveillance of public spaces,” and of course private institutions—apartment buildings, banks, supermarkets, department stores—use surveillance cameras all the time. “But the plans in Washington go far beyond what is in use in other American cities,” the Journal also noted.

Quite bluntly, the real purpose, even if the police themselves don’t grasp it, which is likely, is to habituate law-abiding citizens to being watched all the time. Indeed, we already are habituated to it. Americans a couple of generations ago would have marched on city hall in protest of the police surveillance system.Now it barely makes the news.

Of course, the police assure everyone that the system won’t be used for sinister purposes, that it won’t even be used all the time—only sometimes when the police want to use it. “We don’t zoom in on someone holding hands on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Mr. Gaffigan protested. “The way we are using it does not violate anyone’s rights.” Swell.

But “You are building in a surveillance infrastructure,” says Barry Steinhardt of the ACLU, “and how it’s used now is not likely how it’s going to be used two years from now or five years from now.” For once, the ACLU is right.

The whole point about freedom and the destruction thereof is that it usually doesn’t vanish overnight. It vanishes slowly, as those who have it are habituated to losing it and are fed plausible (as well as implausible) reasons why they don’t really need it anyway, until, like the characters in 1984, they have totally forgotten they ever had it at all and have even forgotten what freedom is. The District’s omnipresent spy cameras merely drag Americans a bit closer toward Orwell’s year.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”