Top secret America: Billions used to spy on Americans
By Jessica Barrow
Monday, 12.27.2010, 08:50pm
A large network of military and intelligence agencies working with large corporations. The government spending billions of dollars undermining citizens’ privacy. A major database filled with names of everyday people. Self-described experts on terrorists. Battlefield technologies being used in neighborhoods.
Though it sounds like something out of a futuristic film, it isn’t. These points describe the current post 9/11 homeland security measures, which the government says is intended to protect citizens from terror threats, according to a recent ongoing series of investigative reports by The Washington Post.
The Post released the report on the extensive security measures entitled “Top Secret America.” The investigation was first released in July of 2010, and is a series that is being updated, with its latest installment “Monitoring America” released on December 20.
Dana Priest, one of the lead reporters on “Top Secret America,” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for her investigation into the Walter Reed hospital debacle, and a 2006 Pulitzer for her beat reporting on CIA secret prisons.
The investigation goes into what the Washington Post calls the “fourth branch” of government, private intelligence communities that have the goal of defeating “violent extremists” according to the report. The organizations, 263 of which have been created or reorganized in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, receive billions of dollars from the government, and do not adhere to the usual standards of personal privacy, the report said.
Ronald Stockton, professor of Political Science at University of Michigan Dearborn who authored the book “Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11, spoke about the system that has taken shape following the attacks and since the institution of the PATRIOT Act.
“After September 11, Americans were so afraid that we threw billions of dollars at the FBI and Homeland Security and other agencies, not really knowing what needed to be done,” he said . “We created a bureaucratic monster that is so large that it cannot possibly analyze and absorb its own data or even read its own reports. The system is so big that even those who lead it cannot understand it.”
Critics of the security measures find flaws, not only in the billions used to fund the operation, but the possibility of profiling innocent individuals.
“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,” the latest report said.
This database is updated by “experts” who receive their expert status from themselves, not previous studies in institutions. They train FBI members in the understanding Islam, Muslims, and American Muslims.”
They use specialists to provide training for FBI and analysts who are supposedly specialists on Islam. People who have no PhD , and who have animosity towards Islam,” said Sally Howell, PhD, a professor of history and Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who also contributed to Stockton’s book. “It’s distressing to see these people are empowered in America.”
Local community leaders and scholars are concerned about this intelligence apparatus leading to a McCarthyism practices of conducting “witch hunts” against American Muslims. The report indicates that Michigan has been a target of the intelligence community.
“The current surveillance being conducted by the FBI, Homeland Security and the Defense Department on American citizens and residents invites abuses,” said Dawud Walid. “It is disturbing that the intelligence community equates Michigan as a location for potential terrorists simply because of our large Muslim population.”
Howell agreed with Walid’s assertions about Michigan.
“There were multiple references on Michigan. Michigan being focused on for techniques and staffing because we have a large publicly visible Muslim population in the area. There is no precedent in history where (the government) targets an area because a religious minority is there,” said Howell.
When suspicious activity is reported, often by neighbors or co-workers for reasons that are not always clear, the accused individual is not informed, and the file remains open for five years. This could lead to profiling and abuse.
“We should remember the Law of the Hammer: A little boy given a hammer for his birthday will discover that there are many things that need to be pounded,” said Stockton. “A bureaucratic system this large, with this much money to spend, will inevitably discover threats that do not exist and will do great harm to innocent individuals.”