15 June 2005
Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism
This week the (US) Patriot Act - which in the super-exploitable paranoid panic that followed nineleven, was passed in great haste, unchallenged and mostly unread - is back in the news.
Some of the more radical provisions of the Act - those concerning detention, surveillance and search, which many consider an attack on civil liberties and an unnecessary extension of state powers - are due to expire at the end of the year. Before that happens, America must decide whether or not to persevere with these provisions. George Bush, would you believe it, wants to extend them.
So this week, in camera, the US Senate Intelligence Committee have been thrashing out the details. Obviously, it is difficult to say with 100% accuracy exactly what the strengthened powers will permit, because the Intelligence Committee have decided not to tell anyone. They did however release a draft of the bill last month, which is available here, should you so desire to sift through a document that will most likely be altered significantly before it is finally made law.
In summary, the amendments are set to give the FBI the power to issue personal search warrants, or 'administrative subpoenas', pretty much as and when they desire, without first having to apply to a court for permission. In a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union, Lisa Graves described the move as 'antithetical to [the] Constitution'.
'Flying in the face of the Fourth Amendment, this power would let agents seize personal records from medical facilities, libraries, hotels, gun dealers, banks and any other businesses without any specific facts connecting those records to any criminal activity or a foreign agent. The panel rejected attempts to limit this extraordinary power to emergencies - creating the likelihood that it will be used in fishing expeditions and in investigations unrelated to terrorism.'
Furthermore, in a move which will compound the already alarming levels of unaccountability afforded by the Patriot Act, the FBI may decide, if they feel like it, that every subpoena they issue is top secret and must not be discussed, or even alluded to, by anyone. Failure to keep quiet about the fact that government agents are all over your life like a plague of filth could result in a year's imprisonment, or, if disclosure subsequently hinders their investigation, five years. In Sicily they call this 'omertà'. Indeed, it has been rumoured that one extra provision that might be squeezed in at the last moment will allow for the FBI - should they feel it beneficial to the protection and expansion of democracy - to leave pig's heads in dodgy Muslims' beds. But this rumour has yet to be confirmed.
Obviously, some people think this strengthening of state powers is a really good idea. For example, Peter Huessy, who wrote a piece for news-press.com this week entitled 'Critics distort facts about Patriot Act'. Huessy defends the need for enforced silence, saying: 'A search might reveal only part of a terrorist plot. A subsequent search might reveal its full extent. Premature notice would allow other plotters to be warned, hardly helpful to law enforcement.' The worry of course is for innocent people caught up in investigations, and the fact that they will have no recourse to legal protection. None at all.
This is the same Peter Huessy incidentally, who is currently senior defence associate at the National Defense University Foundation, as well as President of GeoStrategic Analysis, 'a defence and national security consulting business'. He is also... oh, you get the idea. So maybe, just maybe, he's a little prejudiced. But then maybe we all are. Huessy is also on the committee for this rather frightening collection of vested interests.
This from their Mission Statement: 'Our mission is to educate free people everywhere about the threat posed by global radical Islamist and fascist terrorist movements; to counsel against appeasement of terrorists; and build support for a strategy of victory against this menace to freedom.' Which of course is where the Patriot Act comes in.
George Bush of course, has been doing his bit to pave the way for the new law this week, out and about across America, blathering on about democracy, and how he plans to stuff it down our throats, and about intelligence, which is always amusing. Like chatting to a vole about space travel.
Thankfully, there is substantial grassroots opposition to this relentless shuffling toward totalitarianism. Why, only this week in Massachusetts, 53 towns passed resolutions urging the government to hold back on the heavy-handedness. Also, later this month it may become the eighth state to pass an official statewide resolution in opposition to the Patriot Act.
But will substantial grassroots opposition really make a difference? Meh. It's not likely. Not this time. But one day, hopefully before it's too late, it'll have to.