Friday, February 08, 2008

Ubiquitous Big Brothers

By Carol Gee

"Infragard -- FBI deputizes citizens," is the Common Dreams (2/7, Matthew Rothschild) story headline. To quote:

Today, more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does-and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to “shoot to kill” in the event of martial law.

Our devoted Big Brothers - they are everywhere these days -- The government is ubiquitous; it is everywhere and it claims it wants to take care of us. Our current president (OCP), the Biggest Brother (see GWB Resume -- h/t to Jon for this), promises that he's going to protect the country. Our current congress brothers and sisters got together with him yesterday to pass legislation to take care of the country through "Economic Stimulus." Paul Krugman editorializes, however, that "it is still a long story with fairly dire news."

If this is what having ubiquitous big brothers gets us, we are saying "no thanks." Despite every effort, OCP (at 30% approval) and Congress (at 22%) have just hit bottom in current public opinion polls. High interest in the presidential campaigns is perhaps an indication of how sick the country is of all of this and how much we want it changed. (Memeorandum has a lot more on this aspect). Before proceeding with the ubiquitous government argument, tells about the word "ubiquitous:"

Main Entry: ubiquitous
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: ever-present
Synonyms: all-over, everywhere, omnipresent, pervasive, ubiquitary, universal, wall-to-wall

Wall-to-wall Mikes -- The Three Mikes have been up to the Hill this week making lots of headlines about how much they want to protect the country. They were everywhere on the television screen and in the news. Admiral Mike McConnell - Director of National Intelligence, General Michael Hayden - Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Judge Mike Mukasey - Attorney General of the U.S., have all testified before Senate and House committees in the past couple of days. Other high intelligence officials included FBI Director Robert Mueller and General Maples from the Defense Department. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security officials were also invited to be on the Intelligence Committee panels, though their roles were very limited during the public hearings on the state of the nation's security.

Another word, "waterboarding," was ubiquitous in the questions from Senators and House Members. Representative Jane Shakowsky asked General Hayden why water boarding had recently been admitted. The decision to use the technique was taken five years ago because of "fear of an imminent attack, a weak understanding of Al Qaeda, and the legal landscape at the times. General Hayden, who supported the decision to go public, explained that the public debate on the subject had now become widespread and was a distortion of the facts. He added that the intelligence community's actions will, necessarily, be framed and guided by the American political process. "Whatever the laws and rules are, we will obey them." It seems that water boarding in not lawful under current statutes. Another Mike, Attorney General Mukasey has refused to investigate waterboarding.

FISA law as amended may permit ubiquitous domestic surveillance -- Many of the Senators and Representatives asked various members of the intelligence panels questions about current efforts to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The bill, S 2248, is now (9:30 AM ET) open for debate on the Senate floor. Under an agreement between Democrats and Republicans, today and Monday will be for 6 to 8 hours of formal debate on amendments to the FISA bill. There will be no roll call votes until next Tuesday. TPM Muckraker reports that amendments have already been voted down. The four-year sunset provision failed, as did the Feingold-Dodd amendment to limit the use of illegally collected information also failed, 40-56. In previous posts many bloggers, including me, have urged activists to call congressional offices (linked to phone numbers) to urge modification of this too-far reaching modification of the foreign surveillance laws. With vigorous input from constituents, there is a chance to change the direction of what seems to be a steamroller trend towards Big Intel Brothers who do not have appropriate regard for the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.

To occupied countries the Military may seem ubiquitous. The New York Times reports that Military doctrine in undergoing a major change. If this is a turn-swords-into-plowshares revolution in the military I would welcome it. I get the feeling, however, it is more like Colin Powell's maxim, "If you break it, you fix it." To quote from this fascinating story:

The Army has drafted a new operations manual that elevates the mission of stabilizing war-torn nations, making it equal in importance to defeating adversaries on the battlefield.

. . . It is also an illustration of how far the Pentagon has moved beyond the Bush administration’s initial reluctance to use the military to support “nation-building” efforts when it came into office.

. . . The manual describes the United States as facing an era of “persistent conflict” in which the American military will often operate among civilians in countries where local institutions are fragile and efforts to win over a wary population are vital.

What to say to ubiquitous Big Brothers -- When you get a chance, raise your voices in another hearty, "No Thanks!" to the FBI enlisting a cadre of corporate citizens. To favor these people with extra security for the price of information and assistance to put down insurrection, seems unseemly. If you want to, say "Thanks to the Three Mikes, but only if you operate firmly within the rule of law." Later, it may be entirely possible to say "Thanks" to the military planners considering offering nation-building services as well as kinetic services to countries of interest to us, but only if the U.S. forswears the neocon way of preemptive and preventive war-making.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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