A recent Washington Post investigative story titled “Monitoring America” provided insight into the vastness of information gathering taking place relating to everyday citizens.
The story describes an enormous network of over 4,000 federal, state and local entities that are involved in intelligence gathering related to “suspicious” persons, with Michigan being a “high-threat” area because of our large Muslim population. What it also provides is a look into how such sweeping information gathering is not only ineffective but also targets people based upon their cultural, religious and political affiliations.
The FBI’s current Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR) files reports into a database, which is accessed by other law enforcement entities to track potential terrorists. According to FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Knoxville office Richard Lambert Jr., “Ninety-nine percent [of the FBI’s tracking of suspicious persons] doesn’t pan out or lead to anything.” However, once the FBI has collected information about them and are found to have no connection with terrorism, their names are still kept in the database, which can cause them to come under scrutiny, even harassment, by other entities. Hence over recent months, the public has been made aware that the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and local police forces have spied on hundreds of peace activists and Tea Party organizers under protocols explicitly stated to track potential terrorists.
Adding to Orwellian environment, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano will be speaking at a Walmart near you via television monitors asking shoppers to be wary of “suspicious behavior” and people wearing “inappropriate clothing.” Even the shoppers are now being asked to add to the database of information in which they can call and report people who they feel are dressed funny, so Walmart can pull up their pictures via their security cameras and pass their names on to DHS for the database via their credit/debit card information.
None of this, however, is making us any safer, yet is costing tax-payers literally billions of dollars while violating the privacy of citizens, which we are supposed to be protected from under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The late historian and activist Howard Zinn is famously quoted as saying, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” If we as citizens fail to voice our disagreement with militarization of American law enforcement such as the usage of predator drones hovering over us on the U.S. — Canadian border to the intrusion into our privacy under the guise of fighting terrorism, we can expect not only thousands more of innocent Americans being spied upon for their protected speech, political activities or even their religious or cultural dress, but we can also expect the methods and the reach of domestic spying activities to become even more intrusive.
Let us tell the President and our lawmakers that we want to live free from both the threat of terrorism and neo-McCarthyism, COINTELPRO government activities.