Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Chaos at the Convention

The Federal Government has made it clear that it is bound to President Bush's simplistic declaration that "You're either with us or with the terrorists." The latest move to consolidate this dichotomy is the pitting of the government and the Republican party against protesters at the upcoming Republican National Convention.

The convention is likely to draw many protesters across a broad political spectrum. They are more likely to be treated as terrorists than the patriots that many of them are. The battle has already started, even before the convention begins. The FBI has been harassing and intimidating political protesters across the country about their plans for the convention.

They claim to be conducting interviews as part of the "Joint Terrorism Task Force" and are simply following up on leads they have received regarding potential disruptions at the elections. A task force on terrorism should be concerned with identifying terrorists, not questioning citizens who plan to exercise their constitutional right to protest. Unless the government views them as one and the same. If the "war against terrorism" is conflated to mean a war against everyone that opposes the current administration, we are dealing with a dangerous paradigm that threatens the liberties of all Americans.

On the ground, the government's forces are seemingly preparing for battle, securing public areas and militarizing zones. A federal judge has denied access to the Great Lawn of Central Park. Over 10,000 officers have already been deployed and are posted at designated areas throughout the city, They will also be unveiling new sonar technology to control the crowd.

The Long Range Acoustic Device allows the police to bark orders at 150 decibels and enables the use of an ear-splitting sound that can trigger physical sickness. The 45 pound acoustic sound machines cost $35,000 apiece and will be in full force at the convention, mounted on Humvees posted outside Madison Square Garden. This will be the first time that an instrument which can beam sounds for 300+ yards is used on civilians.

If the Bush administration anticipated such a negative response to the convention then why did they decide to hold it in a city where more than 80% of the public voted against the sitting president? Of course they want to exploit the attacks on 9/11 for political gain, but there is more to it than that. The Bush administration also seeks to provoke conflict with dissenters and to paint them all with a broad brush as political agitators and potential terrorists. In this way they are able to perpetuate an us vs. them mentality and further solidify centralized control and power over the public.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Neo-CIA - Possible CIA Head Advocates Cracking Down on American Citizens

In a distrurbing development, Porter Goss has introduced a a bill to further centralize and insulate the CIA, while increasing its power domestically to unprecedented levels. The potential for violations of civil liberties is great and could mark a radical change in the CIA from an organization based on foreign intelligence work to one more closely resembling a domestic STASI.

August 12, 2004

Rep. Porter Goss, President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, recently introduced legislation that would give the president new authority to direct CIA agents to conduct law-enforcement operations inside the United States—including arresting American citizens.

The legislation, introduced by Goss on June 16 and touted as an "intelligence reform" bill, would substantially restructure the U.S. intelligence community by giving the director of Central Intelligence (DCI) broad new powers to oversee its various components scattered throughout the government.

But in language that until now has not gotten any public attention, the Goss bill would also redefine the authority of the DCI in such a way as to substantially alter—if not overturn—a 57-year-old ban on the CIA conducting operations inside the United States.

The language contained in the Goss bill has alarmed civil-liberties advocates. It also today prompted one former top CIA official to describe it as a potentially "dramatic" change in the guidelines that have governed U.S. intelligence operations for more than a half century.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The al-Quida-Diamond Link

Ever wonder why diamonds are so expensive? The value of diamonds is not high because of their scarcity but rather the difficulty in excavating the gems. Often, borderline slave laborers meet their death while toiling in the vast mines. The danger of the labor increases the price of the diamonds.

In addition, diamonds are often the focus of raging civil wars . In Sierra Leone, such a war resulted in forced amputations, human rights abuses and the displacement of the vast majority of the rural population. When you buy an expensive diamond you may be contributing to this practice.

Now there is another, more visible, reason to avoid the valued stones. Terrorists, especially al-Qaida, rely on diamond revenues to finance terrorist attacks. Back when the Bush administration sponsered advertisements linking minor drug purchases to terrorism, I was arguing that there was likely a much stronger connection to diamonds but no ads guilting diamond purchasers to give up their habit.

The evidence is now very strong and the article (link above) outlines the details:

Constitution Watch: The Patriot Act and its Threat to Civil Liberties

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. The People are the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty.

-- Thomas Jefferson

After studying the Patriot Act and the proposed Patriot Act II, I am completely disturbed by the threat to the Bill of Rights and our civil liberties. There are numerous blatant violations of the Bill of Rights, including denials of due process, free speech, the right to protest, privacy, property rights, etc.

For example, did you know that the government can detain American citizens without a trial, representation, or even a charge for indefinite periods of time for having tenous "associations" with terrorist organizations? Terrorism cases now have their own "shadow constitution", rendering protections of civil liberties null and void. Some may say, "that only matters if you're a terrorist and they don't deserve the same protections." What is most disturbing is that the lines between what constitutes "terrorism" and what constitutes genuine political protest or disent is increasingly blurred. Furthermore, what distinguishes terrorist activity from traditional crimes is completely unclear. In this statement, the Department of Justice attempts to explain how terrorist investigations are handled differently;

"A terrorism enterprise investigation may be initiated when facs or circumstances reasonably indicate that two or more persons are engaged in an enterprise for the purpose of furthering the political or social goals wholly or in part through activities that involve force or violence and a federal crime..."

The language in vague, to put it mildly. The use of terms like "reasonably" and "in part" creates a wholly arbitrary method of investigation, ripe for abuse. Who decides what constitutes a "reasonable" affiliation with a terrorist group? Could sending a check to an orphanage in Africa that also funds terrorist activity place you in that company? Could protesting an IMF meeting, picketing as an animal rights activist or demonstrating in front of an abortion clinic be considered terrorist activity and warrant, by these standards, striping the accused of their constitutional rights? Protests can result in violence and they do threaten, in some capacity, the established order. "Obstruction" at some events or at abortion clinics can also be catergorized as a federal crime. This is a dangerous path to take.

If some one violates the law, by all means, they should be charged, but they are still entitled to a fair trial and their civil liberties. The problem with the Patriot Act is that it blurs these lines and allows for people charged of crimes to be stripped of their rights on the basis of protecting the public from "terrorism". It is easy to overlook these dangers in times where terrorism truly is a threat to security. However, once these lines are blurred, the checks on the power of the centralized government are minimized and our liberty is threatened, A snowball effect is probably the biggest concern. Once one liberty is stripped for a few, it makes it much easier for more to be stripped, eventually effecting the many.

These threats transcend political ideology and should concern all Americans, left, right or center. It is true that if the federal government monitered all of our activities their would be a lessened threat of terrorist attack. But at what expense? If we sacrifice our freedom for supposed security we have already lost. It is the responsibility of each American citizen to resist threats to our civil liberties as outlined by the founders of this nation. Never surrender to fear and continue to fight to secure freedom, against the terrorists and enemies of liberty in government.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

U.S. Government Terrorizing the Public

Incidents like the following are becoming increasingly prevelant in post-9/11 America. The goverment claims that it is attempting to better prepare the public for potential future terrorist attacks. Often, officials never even reveal that the mock attacks are simply drills and civilians in small towns are left in confusion over what has just taken place. Many of these staged acts of terrorism serve to further terrorize and desensitize the public, further perpetuating a culture of violence and terror.

It also appears that the objective of these drills is not to better prepare the public, but to better assert control of the public in the event of an attack (or possibly in general). It is for this reason that the government wants to make these drills as realistic as possible and often don't disclose that the attacks are fake. They wish to simulate dealing with a truly frightened group of people.

While this may help the government control the population, It doesn't seem to benefit the general public. Beyond genuinely frightening people, the mock attacks may desensitize us too much, possibly to the point where we assume that a real attack is just another drill. A situation such as this could be disasterous.

While this particular event seems extreme, these type of drills are a regular occurance. Often they go unreported, or coverage is limited to the local news. Many times the publc is completely in the dark as to what really happened and even the media is unsure whether an event was a real atack or a drill. It is this secrecy that alarms me most.
Tenn. Official Suspended After Mock Terror Drill Disrupts County Meeting

The Associated Press
Published: Aug 4, 2004

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (AP) - An official who staged a security drill that disrupted a county commission meeting with guns and mock hostage-takers has been suspended.

Ernest Jackson, Carter County's emergency management director, will be off the job until the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation finishes its probe of Monday's drill, which upset officials, law enforcement and members of the public, Carter County Mayor Dale Fair said.

Jackson was suspended with pay Tuesday, Fair said.

The meeting was about to take up two tax proposals when three men and a woman burst in with guns drawn and claimed to be taking hostages. One man threatened to explode a bomb with a device he was holding, and another fired a shot, which turned out to be a blank.

As the meeting dissolved in confusion, Jackson announced it was only a drill.

Some officials were told about the drill shortly before the meeting but didn't know the details. The city police didn't know a drill was planned and responded to what they thought was a hostage situation.

Renee Bowers, who will take over while Jackson is suspended, said her agency had been trying to make disaster drills more realistic.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Recent Terrorist Threat a Fake?

When I heard of the recently described plans by terrorists to attack various financial centers in the United States I was extremely alarmed. However, after looking beyond Secretary Ridge's announcement and doing a little research, I was even more alarmed by what I found. The "intelligence" used to formulate this "recent" terrorist threat was actually 3 to 4 years old, according to some sources. Thus begging the question, why now?

The reason, according to officials, is that they had received intelligence that Al Qaeda was planning an attack on New York and/or Washington DC and they just put 2 and 2 together and figured that they may target the buildings they had researched years ago. I have two primary problems with this logic.

1) When isn't Al Qaeda planning to attack New York and DC? The focus of the announcement was about the specific targets, and this specificity is what was most alarming. If Ridge had simply announced that Al Qaeda was planning to attack New York, it would have seemed like business as usual. Conflating recent intelligence about a general attack on a region with specific intelligence regarding sites in those regions from years ago is, at best, misleading.

2) The intelligence of the specific sites actually predates the 9/11 attacks! We now know that those attacks also targeted New York and Washington DC. If these sites were the primary targets, why weren't they attacked instead of the towers and the pentagon? At the very least, this discredits the intelligence to some degree. Combined with the fact that it very well could be obsolete intelligence, it doesn't seem to warrant a massive public warning.

So, I return to the question at hand. Why now? An announcement such as this, at the heels of the Democratic National Convention and filled with partisan rhetoric must at least raise a few eyebrows. I understand that this is a hefty charge and shows little respect to Ridge and the Bush administration, but, the timing on this seems odd - and I am just raising the question. Perhaps it is better to be safe than sorry, err on the side of caution and all. It's an added bonus if it helps get the President get reelected. I hope this isn't the case.

Capitalizing on the terrorist threat for political purposes is extremely unethical and actually serves to terrorize the public. People are afraid to go to work, go near the buildings, investors are on edge, etc. To justify this type of announcement, there better be some current evidence in my opinion. But, as I said during Bush's last State of the Union address, maybe they have access to intelligence that they can't share with the public. I was skeptical then and I'm skeptical now.