By Nick Turse
When we last left this story, we were knee-deep in the emerging Homeland Security State, a special place where a host of disturbing and mutually reinforcing patterns have emerged — among them: a virtually unopposed increase in military, intelligence and “security” agencies intruding into the civilian sector of American life; federal abridgment of basic rights; denials of civil liberties on flimsy or illegal premises; warrant-less, sneak-and-peek searches; and the undermining of privacy safeguards.
But our last cast of characters: NORTHCOM, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, the FBI and the Air Force only represent the usual (if expansive) suspects. To make America a total Homeland Security State will take more than the combined efforts of the military and intelligence establishments. The civilian side of government, the part of the private sector that is deeply enmeshed in the military-corporate complex, and America’s own citizens will have to pitch in as well if a total-security state is to truly take shape and fire on all cylinders.
The good news is — if, at least, you’re a Homeland Security bureaucrat — this process is already well underway, thanks, in large part, to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which brought a dazzling array of agencies together under one roof, including the United States Customs Service (previously part of the Department of Treasury), the enforcement division of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (Department of Justice), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Department of Agriculture), the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (Department of Treasury), the Transportation Security Administration (Department of Transportation), the Federal Protective Service (General Services Administration), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Strategic National Stockpile and the National Disaster Medical System (Health and Human Services), the Nuclear Incident Response Team (Energy), Domestic Emergency Support Teams (Justice), the National Domestic Preparedness Office (FBI), the CBRN Countermeasures Programs (Energy), the Environmental Measurements Laboratory (Energy), the National Biological Warfare Defense Analysis Center (Defense), the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (Agriculture), the Federal Computer Incident Response Center (General Services Administration), the National Communications System (Defense), the National Infrastructure Protection Center (FBI), the Energy Security and Assurance Program (Energy), the Secret Service (Treasury), and the Coast Guard (Defense and Transportation).
The DHS is, not surprisingly, the poster-child for the emerging Homeland Security State. But the DHS itself is just the tip of the iceberg — an archetype for a brave new nation where the lines between what the intelligence community and the military do abroad and what they do in the U.S.A. are increasingly blurred beyond recognition. Today, a host of agencies on the civilian side of the government are also setting up new programs; expanding their powers; gearing up operations and/or creating “Big Brother” technologies to more effectively monitor civilians, chill dissent; and bring the war back home to America.
Freedom of the Road
Recently, it was disclosed that the Department of Homeland Security had deployed an x-ray van, previously used in cargo searches at America’s borders, in a test run — taking X-ray pictures of parked cars in Cape May, New Jersey. While, the DHS claimed all X-ray surveillance was conducted on empty cars with their owners’ consent, one wonders how long this will last. After all, American Science & Engineering Inc, the manufacturer of the Z Backscatter Van (ZBV), notes that “it maintains the outward appearance of an ordinary van,” so it can stand unnoticed and peep into cars as they drive past, or with its “unique ‘drive-by’ capability [it] allows one or two operators to conduct X-ray imaging of suspect vehicles and objects while the ZBV drives past.” Since we’re all increasingly suspects (in our “suspect vehicles”) in the Homeland Security State, it seems only a matter of time before at least some of us fall victim to a DHS X-ray drive-by.
But what happens after a DHS scan-van x-ray shows a dense white mass in your car (which could be any “organic material” from explosives or drugs to a puppy, a baby, or a head of lettuce)? Assuming that the DHS folks will be linked up with the Department of Transportation (DOT), soon they might be able to call on DOT’s proposed Intelligent Transportation Systems’ (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO)’s “Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration (VII)” system for help.
According to Bill Jones, the Technical Director of the ITS JPO, “The concept behind VII is that vehicle manufacturers will install a communications device on the vehicle starting at some future date, and equipment will be installed on the nation’s transportation system to allow all vehicles to communicate with the infrastructure.” In other words, the government and manufacturers will team up to track every new automobile (x-rayed or not) in America. “The whole idea,” says Jones, “is that vehicles would transmit this data to the infrastructure. The infrastructure, in turn, would aggregate that data in some kind of a database.”
Imagine it: The federal government tracking you in real time, while compiling a database with information on your speed, route, and destination; where you were when; how many times you went to a certain location; and just about anything else related to your travels in your own car. The DOT project, in fact, sounds remarkably like a civilian update of the “Combat Zones That See” program developed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Noah Shachtman, writing for the Village Voice, reported in 2003 that DARPA was in the process of instituting a project at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, whose aim was “to track 90 percent of all of cars within [a] target area for any given 30-minute period. The paths of 1 million vehicles [w]ould be stored and retrievable within three seconds.” It gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Road.”
Pssst… Wanna Hear a Secret (Law)
In November 2004, “the Transportation Security Administration ordered America’s 72 airlines to turn over their June 2004 domestic passenger flight records.” With only a murmur of concern over the privacy of passengers’ credit-card numbers, phone numbers and health information, the airlines handed the requested information over so the agency could test its new Secure Flight system — an expanded version of the much-maligned terrorist watch list.
More recently, the Transportation Security Administration has made headlines with a change in its pat-down policies. Following public outcry, airport security screeners have been instructed to no longer grope the breasts of female passengers as an anti-terror measure. Pat downs, however, apparently remain part of TSA airport protocol in some cases, although we have no idea which ones. This is because the Transportation Security Administration has begun to dabble in “secret law” by subjecting passengers to special screenings including “pat-down searches for weapons or unauthorized materials,” while denying the public the right to know under what law(s) such methods are authorized. As Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy recently observed, “In a qualitatively new development in U.S. governance, Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know.”
When Big Brother Goes to College
Since it was enacted in the rough wake of 9/11, the Patriot Act has enabled the government to undermine privacy safeguards like those once protected by the Family Education Records Privacy Act. The government is now allowed access, without a warrant, to a student’s personal, library, bookstore, and medical records, and any disclosure that such records have either been sought or turned over is prohibited.
Now, the Department of Education has suggested upping the ante with a proposal to create a national registry that would track every one of the estimated 15.9 million college students in America through yet another “massive database” — this one containing everything from college students’ academic records, tuition payments and financial aid benefits to social security numbers and information on participation in varsity sports.
Right now, students have to give written consent for educational and personally identifiable data to be transferred out of the college. “With this new proposal, most of that power is given to the federal government,” says Sarah Flanagan, the vice president for government relations at the National Association of Independent Colleges & Universities. Moreover, if this new database comes to pass, says Jasmine L. Harris, legislative director at the United States Students Association, it would further erode various remaining privacy safeguards, allowing government agencies other than the Education Department to have greater access to student records.
Bright Lights, Big Cities
With the federal government casting off the Geneva Conventions as “quaint,” employing secret law at home, and tasking average Americans to become Peeping Toms and undercover informants, its little wonder that those in the private sector have now taken up the task of helping the Feds in fashioning a Homeland Security State. After all, with surveillance bureaucracies burgeoning and security budgets growing, there’s suddenly a fortune to be made. Last year, alone, under the Urban Area Security Initiative, the DHS doled out $675 million to 50 large cities across America. This year, the total will jump to $854.6 million.
With money flowing in and representatives of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, the New York Police Department, and the Los Angeles Police Department, among others, sitting beside operatives from the NSA, CIA, DIA, FBI and other defense and intelligence agencies at the DHS’s Homeland Security Operations Center, its little wonder that major urban centers like Chicago (which is getting $45 million in Urban Area Security Initiative funds this year), Los Angeles ($61 million in UASI money) and New York City (which is raking in a cool $208 million) have moved toward implementing wide-ranging, increasingly sophisticated covert surveillance systems.
In Chicago, a program, code-named Operation Disruption, consists of at least 80 street surveillance cameras that send their feed to police officers’ laptop computers in squad cars and “a central command center, where retired police officers… monitor activity.” The ultimate plan, however, is to use a grant from the Department of Homeland Security and city monies to purchase 250 new cameras and link them to “some 2,000 unnetworked video cameras installed around the Chicago (and at O’Hare International Airport) to create a network of as many as “2,250 surveillance cameras throughout the Windy City.”
“We’re so far advanced than [sic] any other city,” said Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley of the program, “sometimes the state and federal governments — they come here to look at the technology.”
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced a “major upgrade” for the city’s high-tech crime-tracking system, Compstat, through the creation of a “Real Time Crime Fighting Center” to provide “same-day information” for tracking and analysis purposes.
While the doings of “private contractors” still pop up in articles about prisoner abuse in Iraq, what such mercenary outfits are up to on the homefront is hardly ever mentioned. For example, CACI International Inc., whose employees were linked in news accounts to the Abu Ghraib torture scandals, boasts that its customers include not only a “majority of U.S. defense and civilian agencies and the U.S. intelligence community,” but “44 U.S. state governments” and “[m]ore than 200 cities, counties and local agencies in North America.” CACI proclaims that it plays “many roles in securing our homeland” and that it “support[s] law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Justice [and] design[s] and prototype[s] systems that collect intelligence information.” One of CACI’s fellow contractors, Titan Corp (which was also linked in news accounts to the Abu Ghraib torture cases) is at work in the “Defense of the Homeland” with programs such as Data Warehousing and Data Mining for the Intelligence Community and a Command and Control Concept for North American Homeland Defense .
Of course, these are only two of the many companies helping to secure the homeland (and fat contracts). In 2003 alone, the DHS spent “at least $256.6 million in 1,609 separate contracts or amendments to contracts to hire what the [General Services Administration] described as ‘security guards and patrol services'” and doled out $6.73 billion dollars in total. This year the DHS has raked in a cool $28.9 billion in net discretionary spending — including $67.4 million “to expand the capabilities of the National Cyber Security Division (NCSD), which implements the public and private sector partnership protecting cyber security”; $104.7 million for “Aerial Surveillance and Sensor Technology” projects; and $340 million for the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program (US –VISIT) which “expedites the arrival and departure of legitimate travelers.”
Your Role in the Homeland Security State
In the latter years of the Vietnam era, a series of exposures of official lies regarding the FBI’s various COINTELPROs, a host of surveillance and dirty tricks programs aimed at American activists, and the analogous CIA program known as MHCHAOS; of domestic spying by military intelligence agents and of the Nixon administration’s various Watergate surveillance and illegal break-in operations brought home to Americans at least some of the abuses committed by their military, intelligence, and security establishments. Congressional bodies like the Church Commission and the Senate Watergate Committee even helped to rein in some of the most egregious of these abuses and to reinforce the barriers between what the CIA and military could do overseas and what was permissible on the homefront.
In the 1980s and 1990s, however, oversight and constraints on illegal domestic activities by the military and intelligence community slowly began to drain away; and with the 9/11 attacks, of course, everything changed. Three years later, what was once done on the sly is increasingly public policy — and done with pride — though much of it still flies under the mainstream media radar as the Bush administration transforms us into an unabashed Homeland Security State.
Today, freedom — to be spread abroad by force of arms — is increasingly a privilege that can be rescinded at home when anyone acts a little too free. Today, America is just another area of operations for the Pentagon; while those who say the wrong things; congregate in the wrong places; wear the wrong t-shirts; display the wrong stickers; or just look the wrong way find themselves recast as “enemies” and put under the eye of, if not the care of, the state. Today, a growing Homeland Security complex of federal, local, and private partners is hard at work establishing turf rights, garnering budgetary increases, and ramping up a new security culture nationwide. And, unfortunately, the programs and abuses highlighted in this series are but the publicly known tip of the iceberg. For example:
It was recently revealed through the Freedom of Information Act that “the FBI obtained 257.5 million Passenger Name Records following 9/11, and that the Bureau has permanently incorporated the travel details of tens of millions of innocent people into its law enforcement databases.”
Outgoing DHS chief, Tom Ridge recently called for U.S. passports to include fingerprints in the future. While OTI, a Fort Lee, N.J.-based subsidiary of the Israeli company On Track Innovations was just selected to provide electronic passports which utilize a biometrically-coded “digitized photograph, which is accessed by a proximity reader in the inspection booth and compared automatically to the face of the traveler.”
In November 2004, California passed the Orwellian-sounding “DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime and Innocence Protection Act” which “allows authorities to take DNA samples from anyone — adult or juvenile — convicted of a felony” and “in 2009… will expand to allow police to collect DNA samples from any suspect arrested for any felony… whether or not the person is charged or convicted. It’s expected that genetic data for 1 million people — including innocent suspects — will be added to California’s DNA databank by 2009.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans to “use the latest in database technologies” to store information on and count the homeless which, the Electronic Privacy Information Center notes, “lay[s] the groundwork for a national homeless tracking system, placing individuals at risk of government and other privacy invasions.”
According to a recent report in ISR Journal, “the publication of record for the global network-centric warfare community,” a “high-level advisory panel recently told U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” that the Pentagon needs ultra-high-tech tracking tools that “can identify people by unique physical characteristics — fingerprint, voice, odor, gait or even pattern of iris” and that such a system “must be merged with new means of ‘tagging’ so that U.S. forces can find enemies who escape into a crowd or slip into a labyrinthine slum.”
Imagine if this last program were integrated with any of the aforementioned ventures — in our increasingly brave new (blurred) world. Yet, for all their secret doings, vaunted programs, futuristic technologies and their powerful urge to turn all American citizens into various kinds of tractable database material, our new Homeland Security managers require one critical element: us. They require our “Eagle Eyes,” our assent, and — if not our outright support — then our ambivalence and acquiescence. They need us to be their dime-store spies; they need us to drive their tracking device-equipped cars; they need us to accede to their revisions of the first amendment.
That simple fact makes us powerful. If you don’t dig the Homeland Security State, do your best to thwart it. Of course, such talk, let alone action, probably won’t be popular — but since when has anything worthwhile, from working for peace to fighting for civil rights, been easy? If everyone was for freedom, there would be no need to fight for it. The choice is yours.
Nick Turse is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. He writes for the Village Voice and regularly for Tomdispatch on the military-corporate complex.
Copyright C2005 Nick Turse
This piece first appeared at Tomdispatch.com.