Alberto Fujimori is the disgraced former president of Peru who claims that, from 1990 to 2000, he smashed two revolutionary peasants’ movements and hauled his country into the modern global economy. Unfortunately, he and his right-hand man, Valdimiro Montesinos, also ripped off their country for hundreds of millions of dollars, killed hundreds of innocents in their own “war on terrorism,” and achieved true notoriety when videotapes of Peruvian hot-shots exchanging buckets of cash with Montesinos made it onto TV worldwide.
Now, from exile in Tokyo, Fujimori is back—declaring that in this post-9/11 world, everyone can see that democracy must be thrown overboard to beat terrorists. Fujimori told The New York Times last month that “faceless judges and military courts” are the only way to go.
The Bushites in Washington are heading down that same road. They gave us the USA PATRIOT Act last year; now comes the Homeland Security Act. Both of these laws came draped in the flag and tied with enough red, white and blue ribbon to gift-wrap a horde of terrorists. . . and entangle many more hordes of innocents, including law-abiding citizens. The message is that these new rules for living in America are tough, but essential—we need all hands on deck as our president battles the evildoers.
Well, yes, all hands on deck usually is a good thing in a crisis, but the ugly fact is that these two bills add up to a manifesto for controlling the American people, trashing the Constitution, and delivering a bonanza of giveaways to Corporate America—and they’re about as likely to improve national security as that perpetual scowl George W. affects on television these days.
It was last summer, when Osama was still Evildoer in Chief and Bush was playing sheriff—remember “Wanted: Dead or Alive”?—that the USA PATRIOT Act roared through Congress with barely a whimper of protest. That bill took the constitutional gloves off the clenched fist of law enforcement. [See the Lowdowns for August and September 2002.]
Since then, Bush’s posse of Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft, Ridge, and the rest of theinner circle have been busy expanding their range. Attorney General John Ashcroft has launched a national dragnet in which all male non-citizens over the age of 16 from 20 different countries, mostly Arab and Muslim, are ordered to show up and be interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Most of the tens of thousands of immigrants summoned by Ashcroft hold valid work and study visas, but already, hundreds who reported to the INS have been locked up without even the chance to phone their families or friends. Many will be shipped to any foreign port the INS wants to send them to. Some of these guys have overstayed visas because they’re awaiting the processing of their green-card applications—and if you leave while it’s still pending, you’re likely to lose your place in line.
What awaits them from the gung-ho INS boys was reported to the San Francisco Chronicle by a couple of law-abiding computer techs who were shackled immediately upon showing up to be counted. “Hah, so many Iranians,” one immigration cop said. “Let me go get my shotgun.”
This Ashcroftian nightmare is scaring the bejeezus out tens of millions of immigrants, but will it make the U.S. safer? Will all those Al Qaeda sleepers dutifully report to their local INS office? Not likely. “All this is doing is making a bigger haystack, not finding more needles,” says Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum.
In essence, the USA PATRIOT Act allows the president or the attorney general to lock up anyone—citizen or alien—without a trial if they’re merely accused of giving any kind of aid to anyone defined as a “terrorist.”
Eco defenders, anti-globalization activists, and anti-abortion crusaders who use anything remotely like direct action can all be defined as “terrorists” under the PATRIOT Act. Since this Act breezed by the muzzled snouts of our Congress critters, Sheriff Bush and his posse have kicked things up a notch by crafting and passing something even worse.
The HSA piles it on
The first proposal for a new homeland security agency came from Sen. Joe Lieberman, who wrote it up in a tight 35 pages. Bush, who once claimed to be a proponent of “small government,” at first opposed Lieberman’s bill, but when he saw its possibilities, he not only embraced it, he had his posse rewrite it into a 435-page Trojan Horse full of pork and shackles—pork for corporations, and shackles for any of us who dare to stand up, stand out or take a stand.
Homeland Security—the act and the new Cabinet department it creates—has been dubbed “Big Brother” by every editor and columnist with at least one degree of separation from the Mediocracy—and rightly so. This is the Act that spells out how all Americans will now be put under military surveillance.
In the time since George Orwell first conceived of a Big Brother government in his famous novel, 35 years before 1984, the Biggest Brother to emerge has been Corporate America: the marketers and direct-mailers, database compilers and lifestyle-profilers, loan sharks and credit-card cads who, collectively, have made it their business to log every factoid and fib about every one of us.
They know where we live and with whom, what we earn, spend and save, our Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and even things we might think were hidden from anyone else’s eyes, like the websites we visit or e-mails we send in private—and all this so they can sell us more.
Now the Homeland Security Act brings this corporate culture of total information-gathering to Washington. In this era of corporate control, Big Brother has come home to the federal government in the form of the hydra-headed Department of Homeland Security (HSD).
The new HSD absorbs some two dozen agencies, 170,000 employees, and budgets totaling $38 billion. The centerpiece of this behemoth is a program called Total Information Awareness (TIA). The essence of TIA is a massive domestic spying operation—actually a jazzed-up version of a project launched before September 11 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which means this vast file-amassing on the American people is being managed by the U.S. military.
To run it, Bush has tapped the much-convicted Admiral John Poindexter, the man who oversaw the Reagan administration’s covert weapons sales to Iran to pay for U.S.-led efforts to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua.
Poindexter had his 1990 convictions expunged on the grounds that Congress gave him immunity for testifying about this scheme, in the course of which he declared that it had been his “duty” to mislead Congress and the American people.
At the heart of Poindexter’s plan for total information awareness is something he calls “Genisys,” which intends to “develop ways of treating the world-wide,distributed, legacy databases as if they were one centralized database.”
The idea that the military can find the bad guys by matching tell-tale online data depends on a few assumptions that we all might not share with the deceitful admiral. For TIA to work, Poindexter’s snoops would have to read every “maybe” match their computers cough up, and a multi-billion transaction trail will yield millions of false leads: Who will chase them down? And while Sheriff Bush’s posse might get bogged down in their humongous database, you can bet that teenage hackers from Indiana to Islamabad will be in there, looking for your credit-card numbers.
So far, Poindexter’s data-mining has done more to outrage his fellow Americans than to flush out any terrorists. Not only is the ACLU crying foul; so too are such far-right icons as Phyllis Schlafly, William Safire and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who, believe it or not, has joined none other than rabid right-winger Bob Barr as a consultant to the ACLU.
City councils all over the country are also standing up and being counted as supporters of civil rights. Nearly two dozen cities have passed resolutions upholding the inalienable civil rights of individuals against federal intrusion in the name of national security, and at least 60 more are debating doing the same. Not just liberal bastions like Berkeley, Cambridge, and Santa Fe—but also Tampa, Chicago, Fairbanks, and Grants Pass, Oregon.
Not content with the divisive and potentially budget-busting TIA, the Bushites are boosting another program, called CAPS II, that would collect massive amounts of information about the tens of millions of American who fly each year, looking for terrorists’ profiles.
When these two virtual dragnets fail to reveal terrorists all around us, how long will it take Poindexter and his team of latter-day J. Edgar Hoovers to work up other “profiles” to search for and persecute? If Fujimori flops in his comeback bid, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld could always invite the Peruvian Big Brother to Washington as a consultant.
In fact, according to The New Yorker magazine’s respected national-security expert, Seymour Hersh, Rumsfeld is out to remake the entire military-intelligence complex. Rummy and his sidekick, Paul Wolfowitz, have already ditched the 27-year-old Congressional ban on assassinating political enemies by using a Hellfire missile fired from an unmanned Predator drone to blow up a car racing through the Yemeni desert last November. Among the five passengers was an Al Qaeda honcho.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are also creating a new American military that attacks rather than defends, built around the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, which will kill whomever Rummy & Co. tell them to without having to report to Congress (as the CIA is supposed to); and a new spy agency under Defense officials William Luti and Douglas Feith, which will likewise deliver whatever intelligence the super-hawks want delivered.
Hersh quotes a slew of present and past Defense and CIA officials fretting that these guys are planning regime changes all over the place, without sharing what they have in mind with us—the American people—who will, inevitably, share the blame and suffer the repercussions.
But we won’t be able to find out what the Bush administration is doing in our names; because another thing the Homeland Security Act does is to put more blindfolds on We the People.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has helped scores of brave Americans uncover hundreds of outrages committed by corporate and government officials. All along, the FOIA has been riddled with exemptions that provide protection against disclosures of information that poses a security threat. Now, to make industry “comfortable” about submitting information to the new Homeland Security Director, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, our always-helpful Congress critters have included a provision prohibiting the government from releasing any information that a corporation says involves “vulnerabilities.”
In plain English, this means that all a company has to do to shield anything it wants to keep from the public eye—say, an embarrassing chemical spill—is give the documents to the Homeland Security Department and call them “critical infrastructure information.”
And that handy designation doesn’t just keep corporate secrets from the press—it also means those secrets can’t be used in civil lawsuits brought against a company by any state or federal governmental agency or a private party. There goes the enforcement of most of our hard-won environmental, health, safety and consumer-protection laws.
But the lobbyists and their pet Congress critters didn’t stop there. They decided that the new Homeland Security Department, unlike other federal agencies, canmeet in secret with advisory committees (even those unrelated to national security)—many of whom will be composed of industry reps.
Next, they further burdened this bill by including most of what Corporate America calls “tort law reform.” This passel of legalese, which has zero to do with anyone’s security other than evil-doing corporations, is a gift basket full of limits on what juries and judges can do to punish or extract compensation from corporations that injure or kill people, be they employees, customers or innocent bystanders.
And then comes the final insult to the noble idea that this bill was about making us a more secure nation: a provision that changes the definition of “vaccine” for purposes of the no-fault Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to include preservative. Huh? This gem—snuck into the bill in the wee hours by an anonymous Congressperson—means that Eli Lilly and other drug companies who put mercury-based chemicals suspected of causing autism in children in their vaccines can’t be sued! Not only that, but the bill reaches back in time to wipe out a slew of lawsuits that are (or were) pending—suits by families who have good reason to believe that Lilly’s foul-up caused the tragic, and costly, autism of their sons and daughters.
This is all a sweet reward for the pharmaceutical industry, which has consistently been one of the GOP’s largest contributors—and while no one has yet claimed responsibility for sneaking this provision into the Act, the wording was identical to a version previously submitted (unsuccessfully) by the Republicans’ new Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist.
The Bush White House, which says it’s all for this bit of corporate compassion—and which has extensive ties to Eli Lilly—won’t claim credit for the amendment. Lilly’s CEO, who has been given a seat on the Homeland Security Advisory Council, says he never even asked for the favor.
Did we say “final insult”? Not quite. The Homeland Security Act contains one more goody for the Enrons in our midst: It allows the new HSD to contract with companies that leave the U.S. and set up business fronts in the Caribbean so they won’t have to pay taxes. Until now, tax-cheating businesses were prohibited from getting government contracts, thanks to an amendment written by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Will all this make us safer?
The Homeland Security Act brings three seismic changes to our nation:
1.) It authorizes the most massive concentration of police power since the Second World War; 2.) It reverses dozens of crucial Supreme Court rulings on the Bill of Rights; and 3.) It allows the government, which these days is more in partnership with giant corporations than with the American people, to spy on every resident of the country—and for the first time, to take the Internet into its orbit of control.
Will any of this catch bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network or make America’s global presence more popular with the rest of the world?
Well, no, because it wasn’t our laws or the Constitution that stopped our CIA spies, FBI agents, and NSA and Defense Department cyber-snoops from seeing the crash-bombers coming. Those intelligence and law-enforcement bureaucracies—which eat up way more than $30 billion a year to protect us from foreign invasion—failed because they were blind to other people’s rage and potential power; because they were mired in infighting and turf-protecting; and because the Powers That Be in this country have for decades protected members of the Saudi aristocracy who spawned, financed or actually committed the atrocities of September 11.
If there was a real inquiry into 9/11, one with a real interest in making us more secure as a nation, it would talk about why we shouldn’t be spending trillions of our tax dollars to prop up oppressive regimes, and about other genuinely helpful ideas like decriminalizing drugs so as to “take the profit out of the business,” as none other than that hitherto fanatical anti-drug legislator, Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, suggested at a recent hearing.
It might also celebrate those techno-nerds out there who are working on things that might actually stop terrorism. Like using drone planes to patrol pipelines and chemical sensors to check incoming containers and trucks; or using algae in our water supplies, like the canaries in mines of old, to instantly warn of poison; or installing biochemical sensors on cell-phone towers that would report and track clouds of deadly gas—all fixes that are quick, inexpensive and non-intrusive.
Paying the likes of Ashcroft and Poindexter to keep files on every one of us 290 million Americans won’t nab the next Mohamed Atta —but it will ensure that life after 9/11 will never be the same.