Friday, February 08, 2008

Into Your Life It Will Creep 

Earlier this week, as Attorney General Michael Mukasey was formally reasserting the core legal principle of the Bush administration ("Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law"), we found ourselves in an unusual position of sympathy with President Bush, who has repeatedly insisted upon retroactive immunity for the telecommunication companies that functioned as accomplices in his efforts to spy, illegally, upon American citizens. Given the choice between seizing the prerogatives of the tyrant and serving several consecutive terms of hard time, who among us would choose the latter? Not us! -- and certainly not Mr. Bush. (Clearing brush, si! Breaking rocks, no!) The language of the FISA amendment that the White House favors would, in a tidy coincidence, also immunize the President and his cronies from prosecution, and it is easy to see why he like to have it passed sooner rather than later: his crimes are of recent vintage, and the statute of limitations will not run out before he leaves office. Nor can he rely on having a cheap, bootlicking gangster at the helm of the Justice Department after January 20, 2009.

In defense of his felonies, the President has explained that "9/11 changed everything." He is mistaken, of course: one thing that 9/11 did not change was his warrantless wiretapping program, which began more than six months before that endlessly exploitable Day of Infamy. As with so many of its depredations, the administration routinely argues that its domestic spy program was necessary to protect American citizens from terrorists -- but we have yet to hear any compelling reason why Mr. Bush's snoops might need to elude the oversight of the FISA court, which exists solely to ensure that federal wiretaps are in fact directed against terrorists, as opposed to ordinary, law-abiding citizens or (perish the thought) political enemies.

In short, we would very much like to believe that for the last few years Mr. Bush has been committing his crimes For Our Own Good. We are not, alas, sanguine that he is altogether clear on the distinction between the American citizens he means to protect and the terrorists he means to protect them from. In a recent SF Chronicle opinion piece, Messrs. Lewis Seiler and Dan Hamburg suggest that, in the President's mind at least, there is considerable overlap between the two groups:
Beginning in 1999, the government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States. The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.

According to diplomat and author Peter Dale Scott, the KBR contract is part of a Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of "all removable aliens" and "potential terrorists."

Fraud-busters such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, have complained about these contracts, saying that more taxpayer dollars should not go to taxpayer-gouging Halliburton. But the real question is: What kind of "new programs" require the construction and refurbishment of detention facilities in nearly every state of the union with the capacity to house perhaps millions of people?
For clues, take a look at the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act; the Military Commissions Act of 2006; National Security Presidential Directive 51; and Rep. Jane Harman's Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. The ostensible goal of Operation Endgame is "to remove all deportable immigrants by 2012." Once the infrastructure for managing detainees is in place, however, there are quite a few demographic groups that might be classified as "homegrown terrorists" -- and quite literally railroaded, should our Omnipotent Executive sense the potential for mischief:
A clue as to where Harman's commission might be aiming is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law that labels those who "engage in sit-ins, civil disobedience, trespass, or any other crime in the name of animal rights" as terrorists. Other groups in the crosshairs could be anti-abortion protesters, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists, environmentalists, peace demonstrators, Second Amendment rights supporters ... the list goes on and on. According to author Naomi Wolf, the National Counterterrorism Center holds the names of roughly 775,000 "terror suspects" with the number increasing by 20,000 per month.

What could the government be contemplating that leads it to make contingency plans to detain without recourse millions of its own citizens?
Now, we are a constitutionally jovial monarch, and we would never wish to be accused of promoting undue paranoia. By the same token, we would hate for you to visit your local newsstand, pick up a copy of The Progressive, and be hopelessly traumatized by Matthew Rothschild's cover story. Better, we feel, to give you the bad news now:
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 . . . .

To join, each person must be sponsored by “an existing InfraGard member, chapter, or partner organization.” The FBI then vets the applicant. On the application form, prospective members are asked which aspect of the critical infrastructure their organization deals with. These include: agriculture, banking and finance, the chemical industry, defense, energy, food, information and telecommunications, law enforcement, public health, and transportation.

FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005 . . . . He urged InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they “note suspicious activity or an unusual event.” And he said they could sic the FBI on “disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers” . . . .

In its list of benefits of joining InfraGard, [the InfraGard website] states: “Gain access to an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.”

InfraGard members receive “almost daily updates” on threats “emanating from both domestic sources and overseas,” Hershman says.

“We get very easy access to secure information that only goes to InfraGard members,” Schneck says. “People are happy to be in the know” . . . .

One business owner in the United States tells me that InfraGard members are being advised on how to prepare for a martial law situation—and what their role might be. He showed me his InfraGard card, with his name and e-mail address on the front, along with the InfraGard logo and its slogan, “Partnership for Protection.” On the back of the card were the emergency numbers that Schneck mentioned.

This business owner says he attended a small InfraGard meeting where agents of the FBI and Homeland Security discussed in astonishing detail what InfraGard members may be called upon to do.

“The meeting started off innocuously enough, with the speakers talking about corporate espionage,” he says. “From there, it just progressed. All of a sudden we were knee deep in what was expected of us when martial law is declared. We were expected to share all our resources, but in return we’d be given specific benefits.” These included, he says, the ability to travel in restricted areas and to get people out.

But that’s not all.

“Then they said when—not if—martial law is declared, it was our responsibility to protect our portion of the infrastructure, and if we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn’t be prosecuted,” he says.
Because we prize optimism, however cockeyed, those of you who still believe that It Can't Happen Here should know that you have our unalloyed envy. It is nonetheless our burdensome duty to recommend, in sorrow, we assure you, a couple of topics for further research: A) the Bush administration's uneasy relationship with posse comitatus law, and B) Col. Oliver North's FEMA plan, originally devised during the Reagan administration to cope with the mass antiwar protests that might ensue should the U.S. elect to invade an unnamed Central American country. Kindly do not think us vain if we recommend that you begin here and here.

(Thanks, as always, to our beloved colleague A. Carol for the Chas. Pierce link.)

UPDATE (2/12): We are grateful to commenter Joel Hanes for directing our attention to the blog of Jim Lippard, a member of the Phoenix InfraGard Members Alliance who asserts that InfraGard is in no way a paramilitary outfit, but rather an organization that "facilitates communications between members about sensitive subjects like vulnerabilities in privately owned infrastructure and the changing landscape of threats." Our own concern is not that private citizens are being trained as "Bush's hit team," to use one hyperbolic formulation Mr. Lippard dismisses in his comments section; it is that private citizens are being recruited and trained not just to assist the government in emergency-response situations, but -- assuming that Mr. Rothschild's sources are correct -- to prepare for the imposition of martial law, a prospect that is never quite as remote as most of us, including Yr. Mst. Bnvlnt. Dspt., would like to imagine.

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