Tuesday, December 20, 2005

December 19, 2005

One is too many
A thousand not enough

There is something George W. Bush should understand, being that he's a dry drunk; one is too many and a thousand never enough.

That little rule of thumb is doubly true of torture and spying on fellow Americans. Justifying one water-boarding becomes justification for the next, and the next until, before you know it, torture become not just another tool in the box, but the tool of choice.

The same goes for spying on one another. Humans are born suspicious of each other. Just try handing a baby to stranger and see what happens. Distrust is programmed right into our DNA, and it knows no bounds. Employers and employees share a mutual distrust of one another. Parents don't trust their own kids unless they're right under their noses. And we trust those we don't know anything about least of all.

So, when the President of the United States gives the nation's most technologically intrusive spy agency, the NSA, the green light to snoop on US citizens it's not just another legalistic nuance, it's a sea change, a very dangerous one.

Why? Because there really is only six degrees of separation between all of us. One monitored individual's phone calls, for example, inevitably leads to dozens of other "suspects." Leading to the next inevitable question -- who are they? Then "are they part of "it." (what ever the "it" de jour, real, feared or just imagined, may be.)

If Uncurious George is interested where domestic spying leads a nation all he needs to do is have one of his aides read aloud to him some of the millions of files the East German Stasi compiled on their own citizens.

"The Stasi's influence over almost every aspect of life in the German Democratic Republic cannot be overestimated. Until the mid-1980s, a civilian network of informants grew within both Germanies, East and West. By the East German collapse in 1989, it is estimated that the Stasi had 91,000 full time employees and 300,000 informants. This means approximately one in fifty East Germans collaborated with the Stasi, one of the highest penetrations of any society by an organization....The Stasi monitored politically incorrect behavior among all citizens of East Germany. During the 1989 peaceful revolution, the Stasi offices were overrun by enraged citizens... files are available for review to all people who were reported upon, often revealing that friends, colleagues, husbands, wives, and other family members were regularly filing reports with the Stasi." (More)

An extreme example? Not at all. You can be certain that if we could get unfettered access to the intel files of Israel, Egypt, Libya, Russia, China and other nations nations with neither the scruples or constitutional limits on domestic spying, we'd find Stasi-like files there too.

Because domestic spying attracts folks that suffer from a kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. Once they begin collecting information on fellow citizens, they can't stop themselves. What begins as an exception inevitably becomes a kind of nervous tick. All that's required is that you come to their attention. After that they must know all they can about you and yours -- your finances, your habits, your thoughts your friends, your family. It must all be observed, examined, categorized, kept and updated.

President contends that we must make and except to the usual rules because the nation is at war -- a "different kind of war.". Our enemy this time are not nations but "terrorists." And who are these enemies? We can't sure. They travel. Some come here. Some are here already.

So who are the enemies within? After 9/11 it was just young Arab men. But then a young American boy, John Walker Lindh, got caught fighting in Afghanistan. And then another America, Jose Padilla, was caught hanging with al Qaida types. The enemy within suddenly also had an American face. So, the Pentagon was givien the green light to spy on Americans. And who did they catch? A group of Quaker anti-war activists. (Quaker/al Qaida – close enough – for the collectors. )

The Quaker peace activists were detailed in a Pentagon risk assessment list as a "serious threat." How can a group that espouses non-violence be a serious threat to national security? Ideologically of course. The Pentagon has a long memory and they have not forgotten how the peace moment of the 60's and 70's spread causing the US -- in Pentagon-think -- to "lose the Vietnam War." So the Quakers had to be collected.

That meant someone had to report on the Quaker group's meetings. Who? Someone the group considered "one of them" -- betrayal, Stasi style.

That's where unhindered domestic spying always leads. Always. Friends report on friends, neighbor on neighbor, teachers on students, students on teachers, even children on their own parents. It's a chain reaction of paranoia, a self-generating, self-perpetuating daisy-chain of deception, deceit and betrayal. And once that chain reaction begins, it's very hard to stop.

(Excerpt from The Dublin Sunday Press, 25-Aug-1991)
Apropos recent events, in case you're wondering what will become of all the unemployed KGB men in the event of a change of regime in the USSR, I was talking to a German friend recently and asked him what had become of all the former Stasi secret police of the former East Germany.

"Oh they're all taxi drivers now," he said, "it was the obvious solution."

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Simple," he said, "you just give them your name--and they know where you live."

It's not long after learning somethng like that that those taking taxis begin to lie. They no longer give cab drivers their real address, but are dropped off a few blocks from home, even though they have nothing to hide. Why? Because, they know that once the collectors get them in their sights their entire circle of friends and family will soon have files opened on them as well. Of course by then the collectors have learned they lied to the cab driver and then -- well you know.

The collectors can never be satisfied a person is not up to something until they check out who they hang with, and who those people hang with, and on and on and on. An ever widening circle that eventually includes everyone Like that that uncle of yours, the one who makes calls to family members in France the first Tuesday of every month. What's that all about? Who's he talking to over there and about what? And does his wife know? Is she "in on it?" And just what is "it" anyway?

Domestic spying becomes a constant search for "it,"and who might be in in "it." And just what is "it?" The collectors have no idea. "It" could be anything, a bomb, a hijacking, a container, a suitcase. And just who's in on "it" can be anyone, a Arab American, an American/American, even a small clutch of anti-war Quakers. Gotta find out. Gotta know. And there's only one way to find out, only way to be sure, to be safe, only one way to really protect Americans, and that's to keep a close eye on them -- all of them.

George needs to remember the hard lesson he learned about booze – that one is never enough. Just don't go there. Ditto on torture and domestic spying. Just don't go there.

But is it already too late? Has America fallen off the 4th Amendment wagon? Has binge spying already begun?

President Bush says, no, that his administration has not gone on a binge, that they are just engaging in a bit of social spying. And he assures that we should not worry about it because they can stop anytime they want. He wants us to let them torture a few more prisioners and spy on a few more Americans. Then they'll go cold turkey on the stuff. Promise.

But it may be already too late, the damage done, and spreading. People -- ordinary folk -- are already starting to wonder; "Is someone listening to my phone calls, reading my email? Some have begun self-censoring, watching what they say or write, even in jest.

And today more Americans secretly wonder, "Have I been collected -- yet?"

4th Amendment
to the US Constitution
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. "

(The last time I checked the 4th Amendment had not been repealed or amended. So, is Bush in violation? Depends on what the meaning of "is" is he says.)

Site of the Day