Tag: homeland security

Why I’m not Blogging about 4/15

Because we don’t know enough to engage in anything resembling responsible commentary.

And those things that we can say something worthwhile about–including comparisons with other terrorist attacks past and present, such as what happened on the same day in Iraq; and the socio-political dynamics of the US response so far–don’t exactly demand my input.

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Scenes from Security Theater at Dulles Airport

Dulles Airport, just before noon. My daughter and I have dropped off my father in-law. We’re sitting in our compact car, waiting for one of the vehicles blocking us to move on. After six minutes, I notice that the engine of the Acura SUV sitting to my left is off. 

Me: Hmmm. I don’t think there’s anyone in the car.
Daughter: What do you mean?
Me: We can’t leave because of that Acura… but I don’t think there’s anyone in it.

I wait another minute or so. I Attempt to pivot the car away from the curb and on to freedom, but fail. I get out of the car, and walk up to the SUV. There is, indeed, no one in it. I spot a security officer sitting by the luggage-cart dispenser. I walk over to him.


Me: Sir, I there’s an unattended vehicle over there.
Security Officer: No there isn’t.
Me: But it’s been sitting there for at least five minutes, and its totally empty.
Security Officer: He got out and got in line. He’s allowed to do that.

I glance at the nearest “no parking/no standing/unattended vehicles will be towed.”


Me: Okay. What line is he in?
Security Officer: The United line.
Me: Inside?
Security Officer: […]
Me: Well, it’s been a while, and I just thought you might want to know.
Security Officer: If he doesn’t come outside in a bit, I’ll look into it.

A limo leaves, creating space for me to pull out as well. I walk back to my car and drive away.

‘Tis a pattern.

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Standing Up against the “Patriot Act”

It’s great to see a few of our elected representatives fighting back against the Democratic and Republican leadership’s attempt to renew the Patriot Act for another four years without amendment or even debate.  
I highly recommend reading a few of the statements and speeches by the handful of Congress people brave enough to stand up against the leadership of both parties.  Here is one of Republican Senator Rand Paul’s speeches from a few days ago.  Here is John Tester.  And here is Democratic Senator Tom Udall.  They make many telling points about the Patriot Act’s gutting of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment–and the lack of meaningful debate that America has had about this. 
Their bold effort may be futile given the powerful political and economic forces behind continuation of the Patriot Act’s invasions of all Americans’ privacy and rights (not to mention the broad foreign policy effects).  But the attempt is worth paying attention to.
 For one thing, it is one of the most important issues facing our country.  Over the last 10 years, we have traded freedom after freedom for the illusion of “security” and the enrichment of the “homeland security” industry.  Even 10 years after 9/11, political leaders continue to use fear to empower the government, intelligence and military institutions.  Those tactics help generate the “I don’t care” or “I have nothing to hide” attitudes that too many Americans claim to have–but which, with a bit of probing and debate, often fall away. 
What is particularly sad is that both mainstream Democrats and Republicans avidly support these incursions on American liberties and stoke the fear-mongering.  Party loyalty—what Glenn Greenwald rightly calls “tribalism” by both sides–prevents all but the “fringes” of the parties from fighting back.  Yet just a bit of long-term thinking should make even hardcore loyalists think twice:  It is inevitable that the “other side” will hold the reins of power again soon.  Yet, for instance, Democrats servile to the Obama administration, think not about what might happen if Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman became President—and wield these very same instruments of government.
Taking a more optimistic view, another reason to pay attention is that this might, just might, be one of the early signs of an eventual ebb in attacks on Constitutional freedoms in the name of homeland security.  It’s true of course that these efforts to debate the Patriot Act are receiving relatively little coverage in the mainstream press.  It’s also true that the coverage is often biased.  The New York Times’ backpage story for instance headlines that the delay in reauthorizing the Patriot Act “could hinder investigators.”  Shudders!  Those always trustworthy government agents won’t be able to read our emails, listen to our phone calls, and monitor our financial transactions without warrants.  We face grave peril!  The Times’ headline could just as easily have read that the delay will restore Constitutional liberties. 
But possibly, just possibly, the pendulum will begin to swing back.  If it does, it appears this will require an unusual coalition of libertarian politicians on left and right to fight the establishments of both parties.

Taking some time to understand what’s happening in Congress now—and to support debate about the Patriot Act—can only help.  Maybe someday this blot on our Constitution will actually be repealed.

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Dr. Strangelove’s Mineshafts

What would the world be like after a nuclear attack of some type? That’s the question answered by the President’s National Security staff in the June 2010 second edition of the Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation.

I haven’t read the entire 130 page document, but I did read a chunk of it, as well as an interesting article about it by Ira Chernus, a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here’s the provocative opening paragraph that got me to click on his piece:

Good news! You’ve got a pretty good chance of surviving a terrorist’s nuclear blast in your city — especially if you’re a rich white man.

Chernus seems particularly interested in the fact that the Obama administration has produced this report — even though the first edition (available here) was issued on January 15, 2009, just before Barack Obama’s inauguration. Moreover, the original report noted that a future edition would do “additional work” on “relevant topics” such as “psychological impacts to the population.”

What does the second edition of the report say about psychiatric disorders — and why will rich white men inherit the world?


According to the latest report, attack survivors will realize they have severe ARS (“acute radition syndrome”) and many are doomed to develop psychiatric disorders as well. Among the “risk factors” listed, the National Security staff (pp. 95-6) includes female gender, ethnic minority, and lower socioeconomic status. In Chernus’s words, “once they [women, minorities and the poor] start going crazy they’re less likely to survive.” Here’s how the report (p. 96) phrases that last claim:

The social, psychological, and behavioral impacts of a nuclear detonation will be widespread and profound, affecting how the incident unfolds and the severity of its consequences.

Chernus compares the report’s frequent optimism about survival rates to Eisenhower-era policy discussions about civil defense. “The big problem, in his [Ike’s] view, was ‘how you get people to face such a possibility without getting hysterical.’”

Though the report concerns the likely aftermath of even a single terrorist nuclear use, the discussion of psychological response and potential survival rates reminded me instead of the prescient film Dr. Strangelove –made not long after Ike’s presidency ended.

Near the end of the film, President Merkin [a-hem] Muffley asks the title character the following question:

But look here doctor, wouldn’t this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they’d, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

The nuclear strategist Strangelove largely dismisses this particular psychological concern and asserts that the privileged white men in the room should be protected as priority survivors in the post-apocalyptic world:

Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy… heh heh…at the bottom of ah… some of our deeper mineshafts. The radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep. And in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in dwelling space could easily be provided…

A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess… that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.

…a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

By Dr. Strangelove’s reckoning, the female-to-male ratio in the mineshafts should be about 10-to-1 — and “women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.” That’s a different post-war psychological concern, eh?

Indeed, the gender politics in the film are obviously quite provocative, essentially equating male sexual fantasies with war and nuclear planning. The latest Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation suggests that absurd nuclear fantasies continue to influence today’s security policymakers.

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Homeland Security Heads Roll in Pennsylvania—But the GWOT Keeps on Rolling

 Two weeks ago, I wrote about Pennsylvania’s Perverted War on Terror.   This week the state’s Homeland Security Director James Powers, Jr. resigned.  Governor Ed Rendell had refused to fire him, saying Powers was not the only one responsible for hiring the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR).  True, enough:  Rendell had command responsibility, and Robert French, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, apparently had oversight too (neither has resigned).  But it appears that Powers was the person who okayed the $103,000 contract that resulted in numerous “intelligence reports” on everyday political activities here in the Keystone State, including environmental meetings against natural gas drilling—then passed some of those reports on to natural gas companies.  

In his resignation statement, Powers still seems confused—not about our country’s First Amendment this time, but about his former office’s responsibilities.  He wrote that “the primary goal of commonwealth preparedness strategies” and “our greatest challenge” is “to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from incidents resulting from all hazards (terrorism attacks, major disasters and other emergencies).”  With such an unlimited conception of homeland security’s role, it is little wonder that his department happily paid ITRR for its “intelligence reports.”  Of course, the far bigger scandal remains the “global war on terror’s” waste, hubris, and threat to our liberties.

For those of you worried about Mr. Powers, who did at least have the decency to resign:  the ex-Special Forces man will no doubt find a job with one of the many “homeland security” operations still feeding at the public trough.  Indeed ITRR is probably looking for a few like-minded employees.  
When I wrote my original post, I was unable to find their website; my mistake perhaps, but ITRR may have suspended it themselves (or perhaps been hit by the Stuxnet worm).  In any case, ITRR’s website appears to have re-appeared.  Check it out!  As a birdwatcher, I do have to say I was taken by the owl on the website’s frontpage (Great Horned, I think)–though wisdom does not seem ITRR’s strong suit.  In any case, ITRR links to an article justifying the surveillance on Pennsylvania’s environmentalists, written by Anthony L. Kimery, who describes himself as a “respected award-wining editor and journalist who has covered national and global security, intelligence and defense issues for two decades.”   It is also reassuring to see that ITRR,  along with Philadelphia University, will be holding a Hometown Crisis Management Series program on Oct. 22.  
I have not had time to peruse ITRR’s website fully, though it looks to make fascinating reading–perhaps worthy of another post one day.

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Pennsylvania’s Perverted “War on Terror”

How does America’s bloated anti-terror bureaucracy spend its time and our money? A story out of Pennsylvania last week throws light on the earth-shakingly important work these saviors of our soil perform, defending us all from the scary monsters who pose such a dire menace to America.

Or rather it illustrates, yet again, the myriad ways in which our homeland security hogs work to rationalize their existence and perpetuate their wallow in the “homeland security” slops-trough—even while eroding our civil liberties.

The swine this time: International Terrorism Research and Resources (ITRR), a recently formed company with the right sounding name and the right sounding “experts.” ITRR was hastily hired last year by the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, just weeks before the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
(It’s not exactly news, but in these times of national budget woes it’s worth noting again: With the gusher of Homeland Security funding since 9/11, every state and numerous localities have formed their very own Mini-DHS’s pledged to defend their very own patch of the homeland. Austin Powers’s Mini-Me would be most proud of his pork-barrel protégés.)
The $103,000 annual contract called for ITRR to file reports three times per week about “credible threats” to “critical infrastructure.” ITRR apparently performed that contract to the letter—though its definitions of “credible” and “critical” may have been just slightly aggressive. But no matter, “intelligence bulletins” must be filed–and thrice weekly at that!
So ITRR began digging for threats—any threats. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, these included crowds expected at a Michael Moore film screening, gay activists promoting same-sex marriage, a protest against Arizona’s immigration law–and (shudders!) a rally against the mistreatment of a killer whale at a Florida aquarium. A particular favorite of ITRR’s monitoring: the budding environmental movement against natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale deposits.
Conveniently enough, ITRR sent some of the latter “intelligence bulletins” to companies planning to drill for the gas. In a memo leaked to the Post-Gazette, state Homeland Security Director James Powers, Jr. made his priorities (and profound understanding of “homeland security”) clear: “We want to continue providing support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against these same companies.”
But it was not just suspects on the Left who ITRR monitored. With three bulletins a week that must be written to keep the government checks rolling in, even an “intelligence” company must get creative. In fact, ITRR was an equal opportunity homeland defender—targeting activism of any political stripe. Its bulletins also covered tea partiers, gun rights proponents, right to life groups, and white supremacists.
All of this may seem a sideshow— a puny and pathetic one at that. A “deeply embarrassed” Governor Ed Rendell quickly terminated the company’s contract. Just as quickly, ITRR and its top officials dropped a Get Smart-style cone of silence around themselves.
But this case is in fact a microcosm of the whole “homeland security” cesspool. ITRR transformed legal political activity—the heart and soul of the homeland—into “credible threats.” It inflated nothing, literally nothing, into ominous “intelligence bulletins” emailed to various Pennsylvania government offices, corporate intelligence bureaus, and god knows who else.
It is little solace that a spokesperson for the state Attorney General claimed that his office saw “no value” in the bulletins and deleted them from in-boxes when they arrived. (For ITRR, of course, the value of those emails was $103,000 in taxpayer money.) Nor is it comforting that Gov. Ed Rendell felt shame—not when Pennsylvania doubtless has contracts with other similar outfits and the other 49 states certainly do as well.
But the bigger scandal is how the bottomless pit of “homeland security” dollars generates unstoppable demand for its own consumption. Consider the trillions spent or earmarked for “homeland security” and for the wars in Aghanistan and Iraq: When CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted a few months ago that “we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less” al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan and when National Counterterrorism Center czar Michael Leiter asserted that there may be somewhat “more than 300” in Pakistan, the eye-poppingly irrational dollars-to-“terrorist” ratio caused no embarrassment and generated no outrage. Nor, of course, did the collateral carnage regularly wreaked by what Colin Powell has called our “terror industrial complex.”
There are just too many proud “defenders of the homeland,” like ITRR, feeding at the trough to end the waste. And in any case it is simple to invent a new existential threat–the latest in, of all places, Yemen, one of the poorest and most backward countries on earth.
But, in fact, portraying Yemen as a “national security threat” is easy in the current craven climate–even to a country with the world’s largest military spending and biggest economy. After all, for the last nine years we’ve been waging war to the tune of billions per year in Afghanistan, also one of the poorest and most backward countries on earth.
Keep that gravy train rolling–all the way from Scranton to Sana!

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“Disappearing” Intersex, Trans, and Genderqueer Persons


Though it has been in the works for a while, in recent months the TSA has implemented its “Secure Flight” program, where it assumes responsibility for those on “Don’t Fly” and “Extra Search” lists. The catch? It does so by asking passengers for extra information when they book their tickets.

You might have noticed this on airplane ticket purchases in recent months – you are asked for three pieces of information: your name, your birthday, and your “gender” (by which the TSA actually means sex). You can enter your name and your birthday, but then you have to select your “gender” from a pull-down menu. There are two options: male and female. Apparently, persons who are (or consider themselves) neither or both need not bother to buy plane tickets in the United States, or are a threat to national security on the basis of their refusal to buy into a (false) dichotomous notion of sex?

This problem isn’t unique to flying: its on our census forms, on our tax forms, on our loan application forms, etc. But when I was buying a plane ticket this morning for a conference in DC in the fall, I felt particularly outraged by it. After all, why should I have to identify a “gender” to go give a talk about the falseness of gender? And why do I have that privilege, where someone unwilling to do so does not?

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