|Montreal, August 15, 2004 / No 145|
by Ralph Maddocks
Most people alive in the early thirties will recall, if only from hearsay, many of the events in Nazi Germany prior to the belated realisation by Britain and France that the little man with the funny mustache really meant what he was saying and writing. Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kamf (My Struggle), wider reading of which just might have alerted the world to the dangers he would pose to peace in Europe and to the Holocaust that he would pursue so vigorously. Just after he took power in 1933, the SA (Sturmabteilung or Storm Troopers) cordoned off the main courtyard of Berlin's Humboldt University, stacked high piles of books by Jewish, communist, and other so-called "degenerate" authors, and then set light to them. The burning included such authors as Albert Einstein, Bertold Brecht, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Mayakovski, to name but a few.
Heine or Brecht (the saying has been attributed to both) said that if you
burn books today, you burn people tomorrow. Few at the time realised how
true that statement was about to become. The man in charge of such activities,
Dr Josef Goebbels, was officially Minister of Propaganda and National Enlightenment.
As such he had two main tasks. Firstly, to ensure that nobody in Germany
could read or see anything that was hostile or damaging to the Nazi Party,
and secondly to ensure that the views of the Nazis were put across in the
most persuasive manner possible. The assumption being that, if most people
believed what they were told, then opposition would be insignificant and
practised only by those on the very extreme fringes of society, who would
be easy to catch.
The above all came flooding back when, at the end of July, the US Department of Justice issued instructions to the Government Printing Office Superintendent of Documents to instruct depository libraries to destroy five publications the Department has deemed not "appropriate for external use." According to policy, written authorization from the Superintendent of Documents is required to remove any documents and as this was being written it does not seem that any such written authorization has been issued. The Department of Justice has called for five of these public documents, two of which are texts of federal statutes, to be removed from depository libraries and destroyed, making their content available only to those with access to a law office or law library. The documents to be removed and destroyed include: Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure; Select Criminal Forfeiture Forms; Select Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes; Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Resource Directory; and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA). The topics addressed in the named documents include such information as how citizens can retrieve items that may have been confiscated by the government during an investigation. Readers may be puzzled to learn that these documents have been in the public domain for as long as four years.
The American Library Association was puzzled too and has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the withdrawn materials in order to obtain an official response from the Department of Justice regarding this unusual action, and to determine why the Department has requested that documents which have been available to the public for so long must be removed from depository library collections. It will be interesting to read the reply they receive; if and when it they receive one that is.
It is quite possible that the above action is simply another part of the effort to keep all US citizens in a state of suspended apprehension. When the Patriot Act was so hurriedly and uncritically passed by the US Congress all sorts of powers were given to government, most of which, upon closer examination, expanded the powers of the various police forces to ignore or trample on the constitutional rights of all citizens. They even created a Department of Homeland Security to coordinate this new assault on the long cherished freedoms of the US population. All part of the propaganda needed to keep the children anxious, while giving them the feeling that Daddy is looking after them. Witness the recently perceived threats to New York City and some of its better known financial institutions such as Citicorp and Wall Street, plus Washington institutions like the IMF and the World bank. After flooding both places with armed policemen and military personnel and checking everyone's ID, someone mentioned that the warning was really based on information received recently in some al-Quada documents which showed that surveillance of those buildings had taken place some years ago.
In a similar happening the same week, the British police claimed that they had foiled a planned attack on Heathrow Airport by arresting the alleged "British chief" of al-Qaeda someone codenamed "Bilal" on a tip-off from Pakistani intelligence. A few hours later, news reports pointed out that Pakistani officials had denied passing any such Heathrow-related information to their British counterparts. If this wasn't so serious it would make a good comedy.
Of course, all this suits the Bush and Blair governments perfectly well. It creates the illusion that they are on top of things and furthermore, in Bush's case, the Democrats daren't attack him because if they did then they would have to promise to restore lost liberties to the people. Blair too is expected to call an election next year so making the masses believe they are in good hands could not be expected to do his chances any harm. Restoring confiscated liberties is not something any government relishes. Once removed, liberties are rarely if ever reinstated. Rather like the imposition of new taxes which seldom if ever decrease or disappear. Governments all over the world must be drooling over the opportunities which 9/11 has provided to be used as the basis to reduce or eliminate the liberties of their citizens. Witness the stampede of companies eager to push their surveillance products on willing governments.
What was astonishing in the US case was that the threat to these buildings seemed to have come as something of a surprise to the authorities. Tourists to the USA might well be advised not to circle any buildings on their maps in case it should fall into the hands of the authorities who will immediately feel compelled to issue a terrorist warning. Perhaps the authorities have been calling "Wolf!" too often, because nobody employed in the alleged target buildings seems to have let it interrupt their daily lives or routines very much. The Times of London complained that, "It has become fashionable to dismiss the campaign against terrorism with scepticism, if not outright cynicism" and a conservative commentator in the USA argued that, "cynicism is the new terrorism," claiming that terror alerts are "fictitious inventions of the evildoers in the Bush administration." If it is, as many suspect, simply a way of getting everyone used to the presence of heavily armed government employees, à la Goebbels, then the totalitarian police state may be much nearer than we think.
If this was a tactic which a government facing a coming election might well think useful for purely political ends then people may not be surprised. If this was not the reason then another suggests itself, a compelling urge to prove to the population that they are in charge and ready to deal with any and all terrorist threats. Common sense though tells us that it is only by sheer luck that they will be able to prevent some catastrophic event from taking place. Of course, they would always be able to claim that they had warned everyone. It is interesting to note that these actions have taken place because some tribesmen living in caves a few thousand miles away which the west has labelled "terrorists" are in effect directing the way the US and the UK are run. Such warnings must cost the taxpayers of those countries considerable sums of money, in terms of overtime pay for the police forces involved, the purchase of weaponry and the dislocation it all causes. Apart that is from money spent on grants to private companies in the data management field.
Following the killing off of the Pentagon's "Total Information Awareness" data mining programme by the US Congress, the US federal government seems to have responded by encouraging the building of a state-run equivalent. There are no prizes either for guessing which individual state seems to have taken the lead in all of this and what the political connection might have been. However, shortly afterwards, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the US Attorney's Office (USAO), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Secret Service (USSS) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were all invited to a meeting by a company called Seisint Inc.
Florida based Seisint Inc. was founded in 1998 and now employs over 300 people at locations in Boca Raton, Florida; Orlando, Florida; Reston, Virginia; and London. Its management and Board of Directors being formerly employees of some of the government agencies listed above. Something like poetic justice occurred when the company's founder was forced to resign after information about his own past came to light! According to Florida police, he was formerly a drug smuggler who had piloted numerous plane loads of cocaine from Colombia to the USA. Seisint already possessed a large database to allow organizations to extract, quickly and easily, valuable knowledge.
They make the claim that, "When enough insignificant data is gathered and analysed, it becomes significant." This was made possible apparently by integrating their Supercomputer technology, tens of billions of data records on individuals and businesses and patent-pending data linking methods. This was commercially useful in such fields as Debt Recovery, Fraud Detection, Identity Verification, Pre-Employment Screening, Resident or Tenant Screening, etc. By enlisting the aid of government agencies such as the above, as well as the databases of state and local police forces, they were able to create a database which now includes criminal information, convictions, arrests, prison records, etc. In addition, they are receiving $12 million from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
What the civil liberties people are calling the most massive database surveillance programme in the history of the USA is known as MATRIX (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange), and it compiles billions of records on law-abiding citizens despite almost universal public outcry and suspicion. This creation enabled police in the initial 13 participating states to investigate ordinary crime as well as putative terrorism. The database contains an exceptional amount of information such as a person's current and past addresses and phone numbers, arrest records, real estate information, photographs of neighbours and business associates, make of car, model and colour, marriage and divorce records, voter registration records, hunting and fishing licenses, etc. This means for example that an FBI or other police agent could, within seconds, find all the black haired, green eyed, single, males who attended Yale, are resident of Durham County NC and registered to vote there, who drive a 2001 Blue Honda Civic and own a house near Eno River State Park. Furthermore, an inquisitive agent could determine who this person's circle of friends and acquaintances might be, along with their photos and biographies and on and on if necessary. It is interesting to read through some of the Seisint documents obtained in answer to the Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Writing of their Factual Analysis Criminal Threat Solution (FACTS) system, Seisint explains how quickly they can produce information and of the billions of bits of information they can manipulate to produce a result. In one benchmark test their supercomputer was compared to traditional data processing technology. For those who understand such things, "The benchmark consisted of a complex predictive neural network model on a population of 267 million individuals involving billions of linked records. When the customer ran this model on only a subset of the data (50 million individuals) using traditional technology it required 26 days to complete. Seisint's technology completed the entire population in just 6 minutes."
Even Orwell could not have imagined something on this scale. The ACLU objected to its initial use by those 13 states which contained over 50 percent of the US population, although eight states have stopped participating now, leaving just under 20 percent of the population covered. The lucky inhabitants of the remaining five live in Florida, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The ACLU believes that once the uproar has died down the system will be quietly revived, not shut down completely.
The ACLU's request for information discovered some very interesting snippets of information. Although company officials denied it publicly, details emerged of another feature of the programme, called High Terrorist Factor scores (HTF). This part of the programme uses such items as: age and gender, associations with pilots, proximity to "Dirty" addresses or phone numbers, ethnicity and anomalies in Social Security Numbers and credit history, etc. As a result of its HTF analysis the company was able to provide the authorities with the names of 120,000 individuals who had high scores. Nothing is known about the fate of these individuals, although Seisint claimed that it led to "several arrests within one week," and "Scores of other arrests using the HTF." Whether these numbers included determined terrorists or were simply ethnic individuals who overstayed their visas or people who failed to pay parking tickets cannot be determined at this time. The ACLU discovered also, to nobody's surprise, that Governor Jeb Bush had taken a personal lead in trying to sell the MATRIX programme and that Vice-President Cheney was given a personal briefing on it by Governor Bush. Another discovery they made was that not only is the Homeland Security Department supporting MATRIX financially, they have assumed managerial control.
On August 3 last, the ACLU, the former Governor of Michigan, William Milliken, and a nun filed a lawsuit, asking the court to stop the state police from participating in MATRIX until they are willing to comply with Michigan's Interstate Law Enforcement Intelligence Organizations Act(1). The latter was signed into law by Gov. Milliken in 1980 to prevent unsupervised and uncontrolled access to information about individuals. As Governor Milliken stated, "I signed this act into law in order to protect the privacy of individual citizens and, at the same time, provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need. Nearly 25 years later, the technology has changed, but the privacy rights of Michigan citizens remain the same."
The repulsive Dr Goebbels would have been delighted if such technology had existed in his time, since he had to rely on people denouncing other people for real or imagined acts against the state. Come to think about it, wasn't the proposed TIPS programme, rejected by Congress but now being resurrected surreptitiously state by state(2), something similar? Perhaps some things never really change.