Computer Crime Research Center


Resisting the Homeland Security State

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

... 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, it's 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' Homeland Security Operations Center, it's 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 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.

Private Eyes

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 home front 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 home front

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,...

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