by John W. Whitehead
News headlines to the contrary, there is actually more taking place right now than just the Obama administration’s conveniently distracting push for military action against Syria.
We’re still having our privacy rights ravaged by the surveillance state. The latest revelations confirm long-standing fears that there is nothing private from the government, which has used a variety of covert, unconstitutional tactics to gain access to Americans’ personal data, online purchases and banking, medical records, and online communications. The government’s methods include the use of supercomputers to hack through privacy settings, collaborations with corporations to create “back doors” for NSA access into encrypted files, and the use of strong-arm tactics against those technology and internet companies who refuse to cooperate.
We’re still being taken to the cleaners by a fiscally irresponsible and semi-corrupt government. Not only does Congress continue to spend money we don’t have on pork-barrel projects, but we’re writing welfare checks to regimes in the Middle East, sending billions of dollars in “foreign aid” to Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Egypt, among others. Earlier this year, President Obama approved a foreign aid package that translates to more than $11 million per day in military aid for Israel.
And we’re still being terrorized by an out-of-control police state. Daily, there are new headlines about SWAT teams breaking down doors and militarized police shooting unarmed citizens. A 107-year-old Arkansas man is dead after a “shootout” with a SWAT team. Then there was the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar. Or the July 26 shooting of an unarmed black man in Austin “who was pursued and shot in the back of the neck by Austin Police… after failing to properly identify himself and leaving the scene of an unrelated incident.” Or the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands.
And then there’s the news about Friday, September 6, 2013, being Janet Napolitano’s last day as head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before she starts her new job as head of the University of California school system. The student government of UC Berkley is actually considering a “no confidence” vote in Napolitano’s role as president. As one of the student representatives behind the “no confidence” vote effort noted, Napolitano “comes from a background of surveillance and apprehension and security.”
Indeed, under Napolitano’s leadership, the DHS managed to entrench the federal government’s power in an increasingly Orwellian America at great cost to Americans’ civil liberties. Her replacement has yet to be named, although it has been suggested that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, an even more egregious offender of civil liberties, could be tapped to replace her.
Lest we forget, the following are some of Napolitano’s “greatest hits” when it comes to civil liberties violations. They are explored in greater depth in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.
If You See Something, Say Something: In December 2010, Napolitano created a partnership between DHS and America’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, in order to encourage shoppers to report “suspicious” activity to store management. This blatantly Orwellian citizen spying program also spread to other outlets including “Mall of America, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, [and] Amtrak.”
Constitution-Free Border Control: With 71 checkpoints found along the southwest border of the United States alone, suspicionless search and seizures on the border are rampant. According to the ACLU: “Between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, over 6,500 people — nearly 3,000 of them U.S. citizens — were subjected to a search of their electronic devices as they crossed U.S. borders.”
Drones: Napolitano has already pushed for the expansion of drone surveillance from border zones to the interior of the United States. Drone surveillance has expanded on the American-Canadian border in recent years, including drones patrolling the 950 miles of Washington state’s north border. A 2010 document signed by Napolitano and obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation shows that DHS has begun developing plans to mount so-called “non-lethal weapons” on drones operated by Customs and Border Protection.
Fusion Centers: While fusion centers were in operation prior to Napolitano’s ascension to the head of DHS, she doubled down on the program early on in her tenure. These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. As of 2009, the government admitted to having at least 72 fusion centers.
Spying on Activists, Dissidents and Veterans: In 2009, DHS released three infamous reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” and another entitled Operation Vigilant Eagle, outling a surveillance program targeting veterans. Napolitano curtly dismissed concerns that the DHS was targeting people based upon their ideological beliefs. Fast forward to 2013, when it was revealed that DHS, the FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies, and the private sector were working together to conduct nationwide surveillance on protesters’ First Amendment activities.
Stockpiling Ammunition: To add fuel to the fire, DHS has been stockpiling an alarming amount of ammunition in recent years, which only adds to the discomfort of those already leery of the government. According to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, DHS currently has 260 million rounds of ammo in stock, which averages out to between 1,300 to 1,600 rounds per officer. The US Army, meanwhile, has roughly 350 rounds per soldier.
Defending the NSA: In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the immensity of the NSA’s spying programs, Napolitano has defended the NSA’s actions. Insisting that there are “lots of protections built into the system,” Napolitano remarked, “I think people have gotten the idea that there’s an Orwellian state out there that somehow we’re operating in. That’s far from the case…”
The reality, of course, is that we are indeed living in an Orwellian state engineered in no small part by Big Sister herself.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the Institute is available at http://www.rutherford.org.