I’ve found 2011’s list of Top MuckReads at ProPublica and wanted to highlight the investigative articles involving homeland security. I have to admit that the patterns are ominous. It seems that domestic surveillance is the new reality.
First up is an article that shows how NYPD sends spies to Mosques.
Highlights of AP’s probe into NYPD intelligence operations, Associated Press
“Mosque crawlers” who monitor sermons and “rakers” who embed themselves into minority neighborhoods are among the tactics the New York Police Department has used since 9/11. It was done with the assistance of the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans.
Next is one that shows that the FBI isn’t beyond setting folks up for fun and arrest numbers.
Terrorists for the FBI, Mother Jones
Almost all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. The story details “how informants are recruited and used and how and why agents are pursuing these aggressive sting operations.”
Here’s an interesting one on the use of force by the Las Vegas Police. This would make me rethink vacations plans.
Deadly Force: When Las Vegas police shoot, and kill, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Analyzing each police shooting in the region since 1990, the Review-Journal found “an insular department that is slow to weed out problem cops and is slower still to adopt policies and procedures that protect both its own officers and the citizens they serve.”
Here’s an interesting set of stories from the Center for Investigative Reporting published as a project called “Under Suspicion”. Basically, investigative reporters have looked at the reports of suspicious activity at The Mall of America and how the Homeland Security programs have worked. Ever visited the Mall of America? You could wind up in counterterrorism reports!
On the week of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, the Center for Investigative Reporting and NPR published “Under Suspicion,” a joint yearlong investigation that looked at suspicious activity reports at the Mall of America and how the U.S. government has gathered intelligence since Sept. 11.
For CIR’s first live Behind the Story event, we teamed up with the San Francisco Film Society to give people a full look at how we put together an investigation in this digital age. “Under Suspicion” was published in print, broadcast, radio, as an animation and with multimedia components. Watch CIR reporters, producers and editors discuss their methodology and how they put together this innovative package.
There’s a lot of videos and interviews in the link. You can check out NPR’s role in the investigation here.
Since Sept. 11, the nation’s leaders have warned that government agencies like the CIA and the FBI can’t protect the country on their own — private businesses and ordinary citizens have to look out for terrorists, too. So the Obama administration has been promoting programs like “See Something, Say Something” and the “Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.”
Under programs like these, public attractions such as sports stadiums, amusement parks and shopping malls report suspicious activities to law enforcement agencies. But an investigation by NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting suggests that at one of the nation’s largest shopping malls, these kinds of programs are disrupting innocent people’s lives.
One afternoon three years ago, Francis Van Asten drove to the Mall of America, near Minneapolis, and started recording. First he filmed driving to the mall. Then he filmed a plane landing at the nearby airport, and then he strolled inside the mall and kept recording as he walked. He says he was taking a video to send to his fiancee in Vietnam.
As he started filming, he didn’t realize that he was about to get caught up in America’s war on terrorism — the mall had formed its own private counterterrorism unit in 2005. And now, a security guard had been tailing Van Asten since before he entered the mall. Van Asten was first approached by a guard outside a clothing store.
“And he asked me what I was doing. And I said, ‘Oh, I’m making a video.’ And I said, ‘Are we allowed to make videos in Mall of America, and take pictures and stuff?’ He says, ‘Oh sure, nothing wrong with that,’ ” explains Van Asten. “So I turn to start walking away, and then he started asking me questions. Why am I making a video, what am I making a video of, what I did for a living, and he asked me, what’s my hobbies?”
The guard called another member of the mall’s security unit, and they questioned Van Asten for almost an hour before summoning two police officers from the Bloomington Police Department.
“I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, according to them even. I asked the policeman why I was being detained,” says Van Asten. “He said, ‘Listen, mister, we can do this any way you want: the easy way or the hard way.’ ”
And then, the police took Van Asten down to a police substation in the mall’s basement.
He waited until New Year’s Eve to do it…but he did it. While expressing “serious reservations” about the bill, President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve signed legislation that cements into law two highly controversial tenets of the war on terror: indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charge, and the jailing of American citizens without trial. It also takes terrorism-related cases out of the hands of the FBI and the civilian court system and hands them over to the military.Obama approved the bill (known as the National Defense Authorization Act), but at the same time, in a signing statement, claimed his administration would not allow the military to detain Americans indefinitely.Civil libertarians were nonetheless outraged by Obama’s approval of the legislation. They claim that Obama is taking a “Trust me; I won’t do it” position. However, even if he does refrain from abusing the law, there is no guarantee that future presidents won’t imprison Americans and others indefinitely without trial or even without charge.
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 – 1790)
The vote last week on a civil liberty robbing provision tucked deep into a Pentagon Spending Bill reveals how little today’s politicians truly understand the constitution they are sworn to protect. Many of our greatest public leaders have reminded us throughout history that sacrificing our civil rights and liberties for public safety is not prudent or wise. We need that lesson more than ever.
This article at Alternet spells out 20 Ways the Obama Administration has continued Bush Policies that directly infringe on domestic civil liberties. It is amazing to me that there remains few differences between political parties in most major policies issues other than exactly how far to push distinct religious sanctions. There is a long list that begins with violations that continue with the passage of the Patriot Act. There are examples of suppression and criminalization of decent and wrongful use of police powers. We are seeing the militarization of police in their suppression of Occupy and other protest movements as well as weaponizing border and homeland security functions at the state and local level. There is expansion of wiretapping and domestic spying. There is singling out of religious communities–Muslims–for unconstitutional spying, control, and assassinations.
The last two administrations have clearly used the threat of terrorism to expand the power of the executive branch, limit the rights of law abiding citizens, and enact laws and policies that clearly violate constitutional rights. This is truly a frightening list of abuses. Here are specific examples of the militarization of domestic state and local law enforcement activities. I remember clearly how the Bush administration bullied then Louisiana Governor Blanco to attempt to get her turn the Louisiana National Guard over to the executive branch. The late and poor response to Katrina was one example I saw was partial punishment for our Governor’s refusal to do so.
Anyone who has gone to a peace or justice protest in recent years has seen it – local police have been turned into SWAT teams, and SWAT teams into heavily armored military. Officer Friendly or even Officer Unfriendly has given way to police uniformed like soldiers with SWAT shields, shin guards, heavy vests, military helmets, visors, and vastly increased firepower. Protest police sport ninja turtle-like outfits and are accompanied by helicopters, special tanks, and even sound blasting vehicles first used in Iraq. Wireless fingerprint scanners first used by troops in Iraq are now being utilized by local police departments to check motorists. Facial recognition software introduced in war zones is now being used in Arizona and other jurisdictions. Drones just like the ones used in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan are being used along the Mexican and Canadian borders. These activities continue to expand under the Obama administration.
The Muslim Community has been particularly vulnerable. The majority of our domestic terrorist attacks have come from white supremacists and militarists that are not Muslim, yet many resources have been used to infringe on the rights of Muslim Americans.
Muslims in the US have been targeted by the Obama Department of Justice for inflammatory things they said or published on the internet. First Amendment protection of freedom of speech, most recently stated in a 1969 Supreme Court decision, Brandenberg v Ohio, says the government cannot punish inflammatory speech, even if it advocates violence unless it is likely to incite or produce such action. A Pakistani resident legally living in the US was indicted by the DOJ in September 2011 for uploading a video on YouTube. The DOJ said the video was supportive of terrorists even though nothing on the video called for violence. In July 2011, the DOJ indicted a former Penn State student for going onto websites and suggesting targets and for providing a link to an explosives course already posted on the internet.
There are additional activities.
The CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans, works with the police on “human mapping”, commonly known as racial and religious profiling to spy on the Muslim community. Under the Obama administration, the Associated Press reported in August 2011, informants known as “mosque crawlers,” monitor sermons, bookstores and cafes.
The Alernet piece is full of examples where the CIA, the FBI, local and state law enforcement and Homeland security have overstepped constitutional boundaries in the
name of “security” and “safety”. There are so many examples that it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that we are living in a police state. After Katrina, I spent months watching armored vehicles and armed soldiers patrol our city. We heard many stories of both police and homeland security abuse after learning that many of the stories of people firing at helicopters or firing on police were sheer fantasy.
Additionally, we experienced a homeland security practice run that was labelled as an exercise for handling food riots that included having many, many black helicopters buzz our neighborhoods over a series of evenings. Many folks took days worth of of video footage and photos of the exercises. This happened in 2009.
The New Orleans Police Department, along with 150 active duty U.S. troops, are currently engaging in what they describe as “military training” as black helicopters whizz around the city dropping bombs in the latest example of Americans being incrementally conditioned to accept a state of de facto martial law.
The training has been ongoing since January 27 and involves “the use of military helicopters flying after dark throughout the city,” according to an Associated Press report.
Residents were warned “not to panic” if they witnessed the training and were assured that the activities had “been carefully planned and are safe”.
However, initial reports before the exercises began claimed that the training would only involve police, when in fact 150 U.S. troops from the U.S. Special Operations Command are also involved as part of urban warfare training.
I have no idea if you have ever experienced things like this but believe me, it makes you very uneasy. I was one of the first folks home in my neighborhood. The first set of soldiers to see me where obviously startled. I later learned that one of my friends had been chased by black berets while trying to drop dog and cat food to neighbors trapped animals directly after Katrina. We were all basically chased out of the city and unless you were securely locked in your house, you were basically subject to arrest. These are not the kinds of things that we are used to seeing here in the U.S. but the more I read the incredible long list of cited examples in the Alternet article and compare them to my post Katrina experience, the more I think that we are just beginning to experience it. Just think of having most days in our neighborhood being like your experience getting on a US flight these days and I think you can imagine what it will feel like.
I know most of you have seen this video or one like it from UC Davis yesterday. This is the most shocking version I’ve seen so far:
For the past couple of months, we’ve been watching Occupy Wall Street grow from a few thousand protesters in New York City to hundreds of thousands of protesters in cities and towns all over this country. One interesting side effect of the Occupy movement is that the militarization of police forces since 9/11 has been put on full display. Police departments have reacted to peaceful protesters as if they were dangerous terrorists. All those billions poured into “homeland security” have created a monster. And now we can see it plainly. We live in a police state.
Earlier this week, Digby wrote an excellent piece on how this happened: Militarizing the Police: How the Drug War and 9/11 Led to Battle-Dressed Cops Cracking Down on Peaceful Protests. Basically, she wrote, if you build it…it will be used.
The US has actually been militarising much of its police agencies for the better part of three decades, mostly in the name of the drug war. But 9/11 put that programme on steroids.
Recall that six short weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US congress passed the PATRIOT Act, a sweeping expansion of domestic and foreign intelligence-gathering capabilities. This
legislation gave the government the ability to easily search all forms of communication, eased restrictions on foreign intelligence-gathering at home, gave itself greater power to monitor financial transactions and created entirely new categories of domestic terrorism to which the PATRIOT Act’s expanded powers to police could be applied.
It was one of the greatest expansions of government police power in history, an expansion which, after some tweaking, has been mostly validated by the congress and reaffirmed by the courts.
I already linked to her article in one of my morning posts, but if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, please do.
The American ruling class has become more and more powerful and less and less accountable to the rest of us. For a long time I’ve thought that our best hope is that they will become so arrogant and drunk with power that they overreach and reveal the truth–we are no longer free and the goal is to turn us all into cowering serfs.
So far the iron fist has mostly been concealed under a velvet glove, but now we are seeing the price we’ll pay if we demand our rights and freedoms back. I salute the protesters–young, old, and in-between for the courage they are showing in putting their bodies on the line.
As our President blithely gallivants around the world and our “representatives” fight over the spoils in Washington, we are beginning to see clearly the structure that Bush built and Obama has accepted–a domestic military force to protect the elites from the people whose homes and jobs and retirement savings they have stolen. A police state.
I fear if the push for austerity and the inaction on jobs continues, we are going to see riots in the streets that will make 1968 look tame in comparison. There a so many of us in the 99%. They can’t jail or kill all of us. Fortunately they are making the stupid mistake of showing us what is going to happen to anyone who resists. The more violence and cruelty they display, the angrier many Americans will get and the more backlash there will be.
Americans don’t like to be pushed around. Somewhere deep inside of each of us is a burning desire for freedom and the willingness to fight for it. In the end we will win, but it won’t be easy. We need to stick together.