NSA’s Internet surveillance program builds up

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The new NSA Citizen Data Warehouse System (CDWS) in San Antonio

It takes a lot of electricity to spy on Americans. Will the NSA need to buy carbon credits as a major ‘polluter?’ Or better yet, save the coal, just shut down the NSA.

NSA To Build 1 million-square-foot Data Center In Utah

Hoping to protect its top-secret operations by decentralizing its massive computer hubs, the National Security Agency will build a 1-million-square-foot data center at Utah’s Camp Williams.

The years-in-the-making project, which may cost billions over time, got a $181 million start last week when President Obama signed a war spending bill in which Congress agreed to pay for primary construction, power access and security infrastructure. The enormous building, which will have a footprint about three times the size of the Utah State Capitol building, will be constructed on a 200-acre site near the Utah National Guard facility’s runway.

Congressional records show that initial construction — which may begin this year — will include tens of millions in electrical work and utility construction, a $9.3 million vehicle inspection facility, and $6.8 million in perimeter security fencing. The budget also allots $6.5 million for the relocation of an existing access road, communications building and training area.

Officials familiar with the project say it may bring as many as 1,200 high-tech jobs to Camp Williams, which borders Salt Lake, Utah and Tooele counties.

It will also require at least 65 megawatts of power — about the same amount used by every home in Salt Lake City combined. A separate power substation will have to be built at Camp Williams to sustain that demand, said Col. Scott Olson, the Utah National Guard’s legislative liaison.

He noted that there were two significant power corridors that ran though Camp Williams — a chief factor in the NSA’s desire to build there.

The NSA bills itself as the home of America’s codemakers and codebreakers, but the Department of Defense agency is perhaps better known for its signals intelligence program, which is reported to have the capacity to tap into a significant amount of the world’s communications. The agency also has been the subject of significant criticism by civil libertarians, who have accused it of unwarranted monitoring of the communications of U.S. citizens.

The NSA’s heavily automated computerized operations have for years been based at Fort Meade, Maryland, but the agency began looking to decentralize its efforts following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Propelling that desire was the insatiable energy appetite of the agency’s computers. In 2006, the Baltimore Sun reported that the NSA — Baltimore Gas & Electric’s biggest customer — had maxed out the local grid and could not bring online several supercomputers it needed to expand its operations.

About the same time, NSA officials, who have a long-standing relationship with Utah based on the state Guard’s unique linguist units, approached state officials about finding land in the state on which to build an additional data center.

Olson said NSA officials also seemed drawn to Utah’s increasing reputation as a center of technical industry and the area’s more traditional role as a transportation hub.

“They were looking at secure sites, where there could be a natural nexus between organizations and where space was available,” he said. “The stars just kind of came into alignment. We could provide them everything they need.”

The agency is building a similar center in San Antonio at the site of a former Sony microchip plant.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, refused to answer questions about the project. Officials from Hatch’s office said they were not at liberty to discuss a classified matter, though it is referenced in several public documents and has been spoken about openly by state officials for the past week.

NSA officials also declined to comment immediately on the project, but pledged to answer questions later this week. {source}

US Internet users fear that the US National Security Agency is going to conduct fishnet-type surveillance without any predicate, says investigative journalist and RT contributor Wayne Madsen from Washington D.C.
July 2, 2009

"Our Town" is now ‘safe’

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My front yard 1-14-09

Back on Dec. 9 I wrote that ‘Big Brother is Coming to Town.’ Surveillance cameras courtesy of homeland security for a little rural town of less than 300 people in order to ‘protect us.’

The city council didn’t waste a lot time.

From the local newspaper:
“The County 911 Director met with the council with a proposal for installing a security camera system at strategic locations. The council reviewed the proposal and accepted it at a cost of $2,749.”

Even with all of the homeland security money floating around, we still have to pay our ‘fair share’ of the costs. The only source of town taxes is the one store we have. I’ll have to thank them for their contribution the next time I’m in there.

I’ll have to do a little research but there may not be many towns smaller than ours with a full camera security system.

Sort of makes us ‘special.’


Report: Surveillance Society Running Rampant

By David Kravets

If you think you’re being watched, you’re probably right.

The American Civil Liberties Union posted a website Monday showing that government-financed surveillance cameras are running rampant across the United States.

All the while, studies suggest they do nothing to cut down on violent crime. San Francisco, for example, has spent $700,000 for dozens of public cameras, but a University of California study (.pdf, 187 pages) just concluded there was “no evidence” they curtailed violent crime.

“Violent incidents do not decline in areas near the cameras relative to areas further away,” added the study, which noted the cameras helped police bring charges against six people accused of felony property crimes. “We observe no decline in violent crimes occurring in public places.”

But the report did show that, over the past two years, property crimes such as burglary and muggings dropped an estimated 24 percent in areas within 100 feet of San Francisco camera locations.

The ACLU’s website, “You Are Being Watched,” shows a map of the 50 U.S. states with links to news accounts about where surveillance cameras are in each state. The federal government has given state and local governments $300 million in grants to fund an ever-growing array of cameras.

Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, said in a telephone interview that, while the cameras have helped nab suspects, he believes they provide a false sense of security.

“It’s the illusion of security … public authorities like to give the impression they are doing something about crime and terrorism,” Steinhardt said.

He said it is impossible to quantify exactly how many government-backed surveillance cameras are in the public right of way, but they are in virtually every U.S. state.

Two questions posed on the ACLU site ask: “Do we want a society where an innocent individual can’t walk down the street without being considered a potential criminal?” and “Do we want a society where people are comfortable with constant surveillance?”

Source: Wired

New York: Protest Against RFID in Clothing and Shoes

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Alex Constantine’s Blacklist

August 13, 2008

Protest Today Against RFID in Clothing and Shoes
RFID WHERE? You’d better look at your shoes, socks and underwear!

Protesters will gather today in Manhattan to greet attendees of the third annual “RFID in Fashion” conference, an event organized to promote the use of RFID in clothing and footwear. Dr. Katherine Albrecht, the Harvard-educated privacy campaigner featured in the film “Freedom to Fascism” and co-author of the bestselling book “Spychips,” will be on-hand to speak to attendees arriving for the opening keynote this afternoon at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

The conference features two days of speeches and events to advance
apparel-industry uses for controversial Radio Frequency Identification
or RFID technology. Past attendees include New Balance Athletic Shoes,
Reebok, Levi Strauss, American Apparel, Liz Claiborne, and Jockey, along
with retail outlets The Limited, Timberland, and Dillard’s.

Albrecht planned today’s protest after discovering the conference would promote the use of RFID in individual clothing items. Known as “item-level tagging,” the practice of placing RFID tags on consumer items (rather than on crates or pallets in a warehouse) has been widely condemned by privacy and security experts.

Experts caution that such tags pose huge privacy and safety risks to the
public. Used to track inventory in warehouses, RFID tags can easily be
used to track people as well – a fact that can be exploited by marketers, government agencies, and criminals. IBM, for example, has patented RFID “person tracking units” for placement in walls and floors to allow marketers and government agents to secretly monitor people’s movements. They suggest using the devices in public spaces like shopping malls, theaters, elevators, and restrooms once RFID is implemented at the item level.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about tracking devices being sewn
into the seams of their clothing or pressed into the soles of their shoes,” said Albrecht. “We are putting apparel and RFID companies on notice that consumers will protest any item-level use of RFID on apparel.”

In 2003, Albrecht’s consumer group CASPIAN led a successful boycott
against Italian clothing manufacturer Benetton. The resulting worldwide
opposition forced the company to cancel plans to sew millions of RFID
tags into women’s garments.

“Consumer awareness and opposition to RFID has grown exponentially since
2003,” Albrecht said. “Any U.S. company foolish enough to use RFID on
apparel will face stiff repercussions.”

The RFID in Fashion 2008 conference website can be found at:

CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering)
is a grass-roots consumer group fighting retail surveillance schemes since 1999 and irresponsible RFID use since 2002. With thousands of members in all 50 U.S. states and over 30 countries worldwide, CASPIAN seeks to educate consumers about marketing strategies that invade their privacy and encourage privacy-conscious shopping habits across the retail spectrum


Human Chipping:
RFID Tagging:
Shopper Cards:
Boycott Gillette:
Boycott Tesco:
Boycott Benetton (2003):

Dr. Katherine Albrecht is widely recognized as one of the world’s
leading experts on consumer privacy, retail issues, and RFID, or “Radio
Identification Technology.” She holds a Doctorate in Education from
Harvard University, was appointed by NH Governor John Lynch to serve on
that state’s two-year RFID study commission, and is the director of
CASPIAN, a 20,000 member consumer privacy organization she founded in

The Most Heavily Spied-On Country in the World

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No, surprisingly, it’s not America; it’s Britain. Britain has the highest ratio of CCTV cameras per head of population in the world – bar none. No other country spies on its citizens in every way more than the UK. Not just with mere cameras, but every other intrusive device the latest technology can deliver.

CCTV has been a fact of life for the British since the early 1970s, but those early, crude, black & white installations were largely confined to plush department stores and sensitive government buildings. Their blurry pictures delivered little more than disputable evidence of possible wrong-doing.

However, technology marches ever onwards, and the spy-camera toll in Britain rose substantially in the 1980s under the great Jew-admirer (according to the London Times) Margaret Thatcher. But it only entered into its really stratospheric growth phase following the election of an even bigger Jew-lover, Tony Blair, as Prime Minister of that hell-bound country in 1997.

Blair originally arose as a genuine ‘man of the people’ with over-archingly decent values. He stuck his neck on the block, took huge risks, and delivered peace to Northern Ireland (for which all credit is due). However, a short time later, his early peaceable inclinations were to suffer a sudden reversal, as they do for everyone, it seems, when they get too chummy with members of the Tribe of Satan.

Blair was unusually heavily drawn (even by politicians’ standards) to the lure of power and wealth. No one could have predicted a metamorphosis of this magnitude from such a squeaky-clean provenance. Notwithstanding his former innocence, he sold-out totally to Zionism and flogged his country to a Federal Europe in exchange for the glory of becoming the first ever President of Europe. Though yet to be ‘crowned’, that was the deal this traitor was offered, and greedily accepted.

It was Blair who sold Britain out to the interests of the New World Order program. It was Blair who took the Jews’ 30 pieces of silver and delivered a once great country into the claws of evil foreigners – just the same as George Bush has in America. And herein lies the key to understanding the blanket coverage of spy-cameras in Britain today. THEY (the British government) claim it’s all about ‘protecting the public’ (ever heard that before? – clue: Bush and Cheney).

The truth is that it’s nothing of the sort. The government of Britain (AKA ‘Airstrip One’ according to George Orwell in ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’) has gotten so deeply in hock with the NWO’s proponents that it’s become paranoid and deeply fearful of its OWN people. The cameras are NOTHING to do with protecting the PUBLIC – they are ALL about protecting a treasonous government FROM the PUBLIC.

Blair and his clones suffer paranoia with very good reason. They are all too well aware that they have delivered the country into the talons of the agents of One World Government and that if the British people were to become aware of this fact, they would rise up and chop off the heads of these traitors for all the unspeakable injustice and cruelty they have suffered as a consequence of this treacherous betrayal.

So it’s down to the mass media, with all its distractions, to take the eyes of the people off the ball for just a short while longer, whereupon Britain will become just another precinct of the Jews’ universal domain – as will the US and eventually, the entire world.

What are the enemy spies in Britain looking and listening out for? “Hey, Bill, you’ll never guess what! I’ve just found out those treasonous bastards in Parliament that have been lauding it over us for so long have been taking their instructions from a foreign power! And it’s been going on for decades! That’s why our culture is being wantonly destroyed! All those seemingly crazy rumors we’ve been reading about on the Internet lately turn out to be true!”

This is what all the spying (for that is what it is) in Britain in all its forms is REALLY all about: protecting and advancing the NWO Program.

New Legislation in the Emerging Surveillance State

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 by: Barbara L. Minton

(NaturalNews) A new measure, if it becomes law, will result in more government surveillance of innocent Americans without warrants, according to Congressman Ron Paul in his weekly column “Texas Straight Talk”. Last month, the House amended the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to expand the government’s ability to monitor our private communications.

Some opponents claim that the only controversial part of this legislation is its grant of immunity to telecommunications companies. But a deeper look into the bill reveals much more about which to be wary.

In the House version, Title II, Section 801, immunity from prosecution of civil legal action is extended to people and companies including any provider of an electronic communication service, any provider of a remote computing service, “any other communication service provider who has access to wire or electronic communications”, any “parent, subsidiary, affiliate, successor, or assignee” of such company”, any “officer, employee, or agent” of such company, and any “landlord, custodian, or other person who may be authorized or required to furnish assistance”.

According to Congressman Paul, the Senate version will go even further by granting retroactive immunity to such entities that may have broken the law in the past.

This new FISA bill will allow the federal government to compel many more types of companies and individuals to grant the government access to our communications without a warrant. Although there are provisions in the legislation designed to protect Americans from surveillance without warrant, they contain many loopholes and ambiguities. They are not a blanket prohibition against listening in on all American citizens without a warrant.

We are being told that this power to listen in on communications is legal and only targeted at terrorists. But if what these companies are being compelled to do is legal, questions Paul, why is it necessary to grant them immunity? If their past activities were legal and proper, why is it necessary to grant them retroactive immunity?

History reveals that one in every 100 citizens was an informer for the dreaded secret police in communist East Germany. They volunteered or were compelled by their government to spy on their customers, neighbors, families and friends. When Americans think of the evils of totalitarianism, it is this sort of spy network that comes to mind. Yet, with the modern technology currently in place, what once required tens of thousands of informants can now be achieved by a few companies, coerced by the government to allow it to listen in on our communications. This type of surveillance is against the principles America has always held dear.

“We should remember that former New York governor Eliot Spitzer was brought down by a provision of the PATRIOT Act that required enhanced bank monitoring of certain types of financial transactions. Yet we were told that the PATRIOT Act was needed to catch terrorists, not philanderers. The extraordinary power the government has granted itself to look into our private lives can be used for many purposes unrelated to fighting terrorism. We can even see how expanded federal government surveillance power might be used to do away with political rivals,” says Paul.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution requires the government to have a warrant when it wants to look into the private affairs of individuals. Our continuing freedom as a society now depends on our ability to defend this right, as well as all of the rights granted to us by the Constitution.

The Already Big Thing on the Internet: Spying on Users

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Published: April 5, 2008

In 1993, the dawn of the Internet age, the liberating anonymity of the online world was captured in a well-known New Yorker cartoon. One dog, sitting at a computer, tells another: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Fifteen years later, that anonymity is gone.

It’s not paranoia: they really are spying on you.

Technology companies have long used “cookies,” little bits of tracking software slipped onto your computer, and other means, to record the Web sites you visit, the ads you click on, even the words you enter in search engines — information that some hold onto forever. They’re not telling you they’re doing it, and they’re not asking permission. Internet service providers are now getting into the act. Because they control your connection, they can keep track of everything you do online, and there have been reports that I.S.P.’s may have started to sell the information they collect.

The driving force behind this prying is commerce. The big growth area in online advertising right now is “behavioral targeting.” Web sites can charge a premium if they are able to tell the maker of an expensive sports car that its ads will appear on Web pages clicked on by upper-income, middle-aged men.

The information, however, gets a lot more specific than age and gender — and more sensitive. Tech companies can keep track of when a particular Internet user looks up Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, visits adult Web sites, buys cancer drugs online or participates in anti-government discussion groups.

Serving up ads based on behavioral targeting can itself be an invasion of privacy, especially when the information used is personal. (“Hmm … I wonder why I always get those drug-rehab ads when I surf the Internet on Jane’s laptop?”)

The bigger issue is the digital dossiers that tech companies can compile. Some companies have promised to keep data confidential, or to obscure it so it cannot be traced back to individuals. But it’s hard to know what a particular company’s policy is, and there are too many to keep track of. And privacy policies can be changed at any time.

There is also no guarantee that the information will stay with the company that collected it. It can be sold to employers or insurance companies, which have financial motives for wanting to know if their workers and policyholders are alcoholics or have AIDS.

It could also end up with the government, which needs only to serve a subpoena to get it (and these days that formality might be ignored).

If George Orwell had lived in the Internet age, he could have painted a grim picture of how Web monitoring could be used to promote authoritarianism. There is no need for neighborhood informants and paper dossiers if the government can see citizens’ every Web site visit, e-mail and text message.

The public has been slow to express outrage — not, as tech companies like to claim, because they don’t care about privacy, but simply because few people know all that is going on. That is changing. “A lot of people are creeped-out by this,” says Ari Schwartz, a vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology. He says the government is under increasing pressure to act.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed self-regulatory guidelines for companies that do behavioral targeting. Anything that highlights the problem is good, but self-regulation is not enough. One idea starting to gain traction in Congress is a do-not-track list, similar to the federal do-not-call list, which would allow Internet users to opt out of being spied on. That would be a clear improvement over the status quo, but the operating principle should be “opt in” — companies should not be allowed to track Internet activities unless they get the user’s expressed consent.

The founders wrote the Fourth Amendment — guaranteeing protection against illegal search and seizure — at a time when people were most concerned about protecting the privacy of their homes and bodies. The amendment, and more recent federal laws, have been extended to cover telephone communications. Now work has to be done to give Internet activities the same level of privacy protection.

Source: NY Times

post by way of:

Instead of ‘Pay No attention to That Man Behind the Curtain!’ A Better Question Seems to Be, ‘What Happened to the Curtain?’

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by Wilton D. Alston

“I used to be disgusted; now I try to be amused.”
~ Elvis Costello

Almost everyone is familiar with the genesis of the phrase, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The Wizard of Oz, who uttered this famous phrase, had a scheme. That scheme was based directly upon an impression of omnipotence without any legitimate power. Surely that impression would be lost should anyone see him pulling levers and talking into a microphone. I can’t help but imagine that if an agent of today’s state were to switch places with the Wizard, he’d utter no such words. In fact, I suspect he’d just sit there, a nearly-naked pseudo-emperor, with no concern that we could see him. Instead of trying to be coy, he’d leave us with no choice but to exclaim, “Hey, what happened to the curtain?”

I admit that there was a time when I often found myself aghast with the naïveté of the “common man,” whoever that might have seemed to be. That was also the time when I figured that the primary reason, or maybe the only reason, that the state could so successfully infringe upon the rights of the very people it claimed to protect was due to a combination heavy smoke and mirrors, blind trust, and inexplicable deference. Voltaire is credited with saying, “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”

In a similar vein, Dresden James said, “The ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly self-administered by its victims. The most perfect slaves are, therefore, those which blissfully and unawaredly enslave themselves.” Certainly both of these sentiments are true, but I’ve recently begun to think it’s not quite that simple. Maybe it never was.

Who could blame a person for continuing to believe in his government when so much of its duplicity is obscured from everyone except crazy conspiracy theorists with too much time on their hands or ostensible whistleblowers with apparent axes to grind? Well, so much for that. Right about now, a random viewing of almost any news channel will provide a veritable cornucopia of examples that illustrate, in great and gory detail, that hiding is the last thing on the minds of today’s bureaucratic rights infringers. Basically, they do whatever they want, and do so with brazen splendor.

Need proof? Let’s take a casual stroll though a few recent and maybe even not-so-recent examples selected at random. I’ll ignore stuff like Iraq or the election, since frankly, those are just too easy. Along the way, let’s ask a few (hopefully) relevant questions.

Question 1: To Whom Does the War On Drugs Appeal?

I’ve written a good bit decrying the war against (some) drugs. This is not a rare point-of-view among libertarians. In fact, of the issues that seem to define libertarianism for the mainstream, being pro-drug-legalization is one of them. Still, there remains a relatively vocal group of people who disagree with this view, though I cannot figure out why.

Although it is a relatively rare occurrence, it still galls me when I hear someone lament the (apparently certain) fall of society should recreational drugs be made legal. I would assert that any such suggestion must be based upon equal measures of naïveté and lunacy. First of all, it’s not like drug use is down in the U.S. since the war on drugs began. This is true of both recreational drugs and, more importantly, pharmaceuticals. As I mentioned a while back:

The U.S. market [for OTC pharmaceuticals] in 1998 accounted for 40% of the worldwide market, which was $302 billion. (Certainly the use of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. has not gone down since then.) Americans love drugs! There just happens to be a war against some of the people who use some of the drugs.

Secondly, almost any objective analysis of the drug war shows that fighting it, while debatable in terms of effectiveness, results in a substantial number of casualties even among those who are not involved on either side. Manuel Lora and I noted these effects:

Economically, the drug war causes one commodity, the illegal and supposedly illicit drugs, to be inordinately expensive. This generates disproportionate spending from those who consume this commodity. These people are not “islands” and their spending habits affect those with whom they interact.

In a family where one or the other parent is a drug user, the lifestyle is negatively affected, simply because a vice, a free choice, costs much more than it should. While one could argue that this person could simply change his lifestyle, we are talking here not about the user, but those who do not use whose lives are worse off for no other reason than that the war on (some) drugs skews the market.

Under what logic does it make sense for the state to drive the cost of a high-demand commodity up, while simultaneously increasing the violence surrounding the consumption of that commodity? When the use of that commodity represents what is at worst a victimless crime – wherein one takes part in a personal vice – there is no scenario whereby the moral imperative by which the state supposedly operates can be used to justify violent sanctions against the behavior. Simply put, what you do only to yourself is your business, and can only be so. (Hat tip: Lysander Spooner.) Any attempt to circumvent this moral law can have few outcomes that are not negative. The war on drugs, like alcohol prohibition before it, has had few if any, positive outcomes.

All that said, my contributions to the anti-drug war debate have been minor. Whole books have been dedicated to the fallacies. Paul Armentano profiled one such volume just recently. He pointedly observed, citing Lies, Damned Lies and Drug War Statistics:

Since the [Office of National Drug Control Policy’s] founding in 1989, “trends in drug use, drug treatment, deaths attributed to drug use, emergency-room mentions of drug use, drug availability, drug purity, and drug prices are inconsistent with the goals of [the federal government],” the authors assert. “Yet, during this same time period, funding for the drug war grew tremendously and costs of the drug war expanded as well.”

Money spent on the anti-drug bureaucracy went up while the behavior that bureaucracy supposedly fought – and all that went with it – got worse. Usage: unaffected. Violence: increased. Well, duh. At least 15 years ago, I heard Whoopi Goldberg say it best, “I can go outside right now and yell, ‘I want some drugs!’ and get service in 15 minutes” or words to that effect. The war on drugs ain’t working. It never did. (One might argue that it was never supposed to work, at least not as advertised, but that’s another essay.)

In a bit of irony only possible in a bureaucracy gone tragically off-the-rails, not only is the DEA likely to break into a home and shoot somebody, they are likely to arm a few people (and equip them with PCs) along the way. According to a report, the Drug Enforcement Administration is losing more guns, but fewer laptops, than it did about five years ago. Wait. Does that really say more guns? Apparently DEA agents have always had a tendency to misplace their weapons and “donate” them, but now, it’s worse than it used to be. From the article we find:

The majority of stolen guns had been left in an official’s car, despite a policy prohibiting leaving a weapon unattended in a vehicle. The report cited examples of guns stolen from cars parked outside restaurants, hotels, schools and gyms. Some agents had their guns taken from their cars while they were shopping or getting coffee. One firearm was stolen while the car was at the body shop.

Come on. At the body shop? These front-line drug warriors can’t even safeguard the weapons they are given. Yet they are supposed to stem the flow of drugs? In what alternate universe? The more I read, the more convinced I am of one barely-debatable conclusion: Everyone knows the drug war is a bust. How could they not?

Yet, a SWAT team will probably be breaking down somebody’s door in the inner city this very night, ostensibly protecting the citizenry from the flow of cocaine. (One can only hope they pick the right door, but even that’s a toss up.) After all is said and done, pushers in the very city where these well-armed thugs work won’t even notice a blip in the flow.

Again I ask, “What happened to the curtain?”

Question 2: What did the Roger Clemens hearing prove?

Let me begin by saying I’m no fan of Roger Clemens. I’m already on record regarding my thoughts on Barry Bonds and that whole situation. (For the record, I tend to regard Bonds as bit of an insufferable a**hole.) I am no more enamored of Clemens than I was of Bonds. (While we’re on the subject of sports figures, in what parallel reality should Marion Jones be facing jail time for lying to a couple of federal agents about using steroids? Come on people. Give me a hint.)

Sure, Clemens’ over-confidence is partially to blame for his predicament. It was largely his own hubris that led him to this point. I guess he figured he could just rear back and throw high heat at Congress like he had done for most of his baseball career. (Evidently he has lost a few MPH on that fastball, because no one seemed to flinch.)

As far as steroids usage goes, let us be clear on that as well. Major League Baseball spent years not caring about players using steroids. They didn’t care when Jose Canseco and the Bash Brothers were lighting up the scoreboard in Oakland. They didn’t care when McGuire and Sosa were in a homerun race. They didn’t care when Barry Bonds got close to overtaking history. Stevie Wonder could see that and if he missed it, Ray Charles (RIP) could point it out, even now.

All that said, and even as bad as Clemens looked while foaming at the mouth with bluster and hoax at members of Congress, the scenario teaches each of us more about the state than about Roger Clemens.

For instance, this Kabuki Theatre was called a “hearing” but I can’t figure out why. Apparently one can be compelled, via a subpoena, to “testify” before Congress. Before one testifies, he is sworn in, ostensibly to be under oath thereafter. Yet, almost everyone will admit, if asked, that the proceeding is not a court of law. Very few, if any, of the people overseeing the proceedings are practicing lawyers. No jury is empanelled. No judge is present. In the case of the Clemens hearing, no decision was reached, nor was any semblance of one even offered. What was it all for? Please, I need a clue here.

We’re supposed to take the whole scene seriously, yet in the days leading up to the hearing, one of the key witnesses – Clemens himself – actually met with the people tasked with asking the questions, posing for pictures and signing autographs. (No, you can’t make this stuff up.)

So what did the hearings prove? Nothing.

The legislature of the United States took up a lot of time, got on TV, and we all might as well have been watching Survivor. Maybe it’s supposed to be consolation that if the Hall of Fame is “the island” Clemens may have been voted off. When did protecting the honor of a private industry like baseball become a key component of government legislation? Never, that’s when. Protecting honor?

What happened to the curtain?

Question 3: What terrorist activities are precluded by the actions of the TSA?

I did a cover story for The New American magazine some time back, where I looked at the surveillance society and what it might mean going forward. I opened that piece with a quote from a report by a group that calls itself The Surveillance Studies Network. In its 2006 report one finds this bold statement:

We live in a surveillance society. It is pointless to talk about surveillance society in the future tense. In all the rich countries of the world everyday life is suffused with surveillance encounters, not merely from dawn to dusk but 24/7. Some encounters obtrude into the routine, like when we get a ticket for running a red light when no one was around but the camera. But the majority are now just part of the fabric of daily life. Unremarkable.

Little more need be said, and frankly this statement is correct. Going to the airport is just one such scenario where surveillance of the type that would normally chafe one’s shorts will be, well, “unremarkable” in both scope and frequency. Here’s the thing though. I might not be so disgusted with the TSA if it wasn’t so mediocre. (Well, I would probably still be disgusted, but I’m just thinking out loud here.)

Further in that cover story I mentioned this tidbit.

The Seattle Times published a report of all the airport security breaches they had found between 2002 and 2004. The list was far from inconsequential, although the Times evidently stopped collecting reports after the number reached 100. According to the Times, “Screeners say that’s [only] a fraction of the incidents, and most are never disclosed.” The reported incidents included one instance when five DHS investigators posing as passengers managed to get knives, a gun and a bomb in their carry-on baggage through security checkpoints without being detected.

Wait. That can’t be right. Five DHS investigators posing as passengers managed to get knives, a gun and a bomb past security in their carry-on baggage? Surely you jest. Most likely, it was their crack skills at circumventing the surveillance measures that allowed these insiders to accomplish their feat. Nope. Not even close.

More recently, some random guy on his way to some random location managed to get his pistol beyond security as well, and he did it by accident. When he returned to the checkpoint to inform the screeners of their mistake, what happened? Airport police were alerted. (They say no good deed goes unpunished, but I didn’t know they were talking about the TSA.) Last I heard, he was scheduled to appear in court on a charge of possessing or transporting a firearm into an air carrier terminal where prohibited, which is a misdemeanor. He is, in effect, being punished for his honesty. I bet you’re wondering what happened to the TSA guys who missed the gun initially. Me too.

I’m also wondering what happened to the curtain.

The Emperor Is Wearing Nothing but a Thong, and It Doesn’t Fit

There is much more I could highlight, but time is short, and frankly, there is some NCAA basketball I need to watch. (Yes, my Duke Blue Devils took it on the chin, but hey, it’s only a game, right? Great effort, Davidson!) Before I go, let’s hit a few more examples.

Many readers are probably aware of the move toward red-light cameras in some municipalities. (This was one of the unremarkable surveillance technologies mentioned previously.) The supposed reason for these cameras is to force the number of people running red lights down, in other words, to protect us. Well, wonder of wonders, the data seems to show that red light cameras: a) don’t drive red-light-running accidents down, and; b) increase rear-end collisions. (More accurately, red-light accidents of the type supposedly addressed are already so low as to not show meaningful changes. I’ll have more on that in just a bit.) Regardless of what they do or do not accomplish safety-wise, they usually generate a nice chunk of revenue for the municipality that installs them.

Call me cynical, but I figure the cameras are only being installed for the money anyway. How do I know? For this rather obvious reason: now that people have figured out where the cameras are, municipalities are seriously considering taking them down. Apparently they cost more to have than can be covered by the revenue they generate after people know where they are. Now, if these cameras really make one safer, isn’t taking them down exactly the wrong action, that is, if one really gives a crap about safety? Not for the state, evidently.

Returning to the non-problem supposedly addressed by red light cameras, a recent report mentioned that New Orleans is instituting red light cameras. (The report came out on March 31st, 2008. Somehow waiting one more day strikes me as more appropriate, but I digress.) In the article we find this startling tidbit:

“By giving drivers a strong reason not to run red lights, the cameras are designed to reduce the number of right-angle or side-impact crashes, which studies show kill more than 800 people and injure 200,000 in the United States each year.”

That paragraph says it all. At the risk of sounding insensitive, if 800 people are killed in the U.S. per year, given the gargantuan number of traffic lights in the U.S., that’s not a problem fixable via the installation of cameras. In contrast, 44,000 people died in all categories of motor vehicle accidents (2002 data).

In other words, the number of people that can be saved via the application of these red light cameras, assuming they actually accomplished their stated goals, accounts for less than 1/10th of 1 percent of all people (generally) killed in motor vehicle accidents. There just isn’t much opportunity, and as such, there is not much likelihood of success. On the other hand, given the way the citations are handled – “just mail in the money and we’re good” – these red light cameras can generate a bunch of cash. Bingo.


So what happened to the curtain? I think the TSA is using it.

Returning to these cretins briefly, we find yet another incident, just one of many. Apparently unsatisfied with simply being mediocre – as has been repeatedly and thoroughly highlighted by people like Becky Akers – these anti-champions in the war on terror recently sunk to an even lower low and have become abusive as well. Representatives of this crack unit actually forced an airline traveler to remove her nipple rings with pliers. (Make no mistake, freedom is on the march!)

According to the Associated Press, the victim said she could hear the agents snickering as she struggled to remove the rings. At least they let her use a curtain; at least I think they did. Adding insult to injury, the TSA’s customer service manager at the Lubbock airport concluded the screening was handled properly. Really? I don’t know what’s more puzzling, the answer or the fact that the TSA has a “customer service” manager! Query: who is the “customer” of a government agency? The people who pay do so at gunpoint. To whom does one legitimately complain?!

Ironically, I recently received an interesting article from a college buddy of mine. The article, which was in the (then) current issue of appeared under the title, “Critical Thinking: It’s Not Just Important, It’s Essential” and contained this paragraph:

Critical thinkers insist upon not only gaining information but also seriously examining and analyzing it. Too often, people are uncritical receivers and accepters of information that, upon closer examination, is not only superficial and inaccurate but also utterly lacking in common sense. Critical thinking and analysis is what I refer to as the politics of unfettered thought. It is feared by the power elite but is absolutely an essential part of the struggle for economic, social, and political equality for people in America and around the world.

Maybe I’m just a pessimist, but I don’t figure the power elite – whoever they are – fears any such thing. I reckon I enjoy the politics of unfettered thought as much as the next guy, but while I’m at it, can a brother have the curtain back? At least then maybe I could pretend this was all a mystery or something.

April 5, 2008

Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he’s not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.

Copyright © 2008