Computer Crime Research Center


Resisting the Homeland Security State

Date: February 07, 2005
By: Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt

Okay, under the rubric of "the war on terror" (which turns out to be just so versatile, so useful for so many much-desired but once back-burner policies, programs, and products), the military is having a grand old time protecting us from the Enemy up close and personal, right in our own, previously unlawful-to-occupy backyards. But, as Dr. Seuss would have said, that is not all … oh no, that is not all. Read Part II of Nick Turse's report on our developing Homeland Security State if you want to find out just what busy little homeland-security bees exist on the civilian side of the equation. Tom

Bringing It All Back Home:

The Emergence of the Homeland Security State
by Nick Turse

Part II: The Civilian Half

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; warrantless, 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 USA 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; and 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, N.J. 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, and 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, Va., 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 antiterror 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...

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