Sunday, March 25, 2007

Power Run Amuck

Now when you hear the phrase "he's on an FBI watchlist", you realize it means absolutely nothing since it seems that everybody and their brother can be on any one of numerous lists for any reason. Once on, it requires the act of some deity to be removed. Almost half a million people. And counting.
The 80 TIDE analysts get "thousands of messages a day," Travers said, much of the data "fragmentary," "inconsistent" and "sometimes just flat-out wrong." Often the analysts go back to the intelligence agencies for details. "Sometimes you'll get sort of corroborating information," he said, "but many times you're not going to get much. What we use here, rightly or wrongly, is a reasonable-suspicion standard."
Why does that not give me comfort? Maybe because the New York police spent so much time, money and manpower tracking innocent Americans who planned to protest at the Republican Natiional Convention.
From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show.

They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the department’s Intelligence Division. Other investigators mined Internet sites and chat rooms.

From these operations, run by the department’s “R.N.C. Intelligence Squad,” the police identified a handful of groups and individuals who expressed interest in creating havoc during the convention, as well as some who used Web sites to urge or predict violence.

But potential troublemakers were hardly the only ones to end up in the files. In hundreds of reports stamped “N.Y.P.D. Secret,” the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, the records show.

These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.
Those officials made the mistake of endorsing a Martin Luther King day event, which is how they got on the list. The oversight committee consists of a high (!) police official who must determine that there is at least an indication of illegal activity, which in this case was the date and an event that was cosponsored by several charities that included some of them turban people. Like it is every year. Common sense was obviously never considered but profiling was.

Well, what happens to all this information?
By searching the Internet, investigators identified groups that were making plans for demonstrations. Files were created on their political causes, the criminal records, if any, of the people involved and any plans for civil disobedience or disruptive tactics.

From the field, undercover officers filed daily accounts of their observations on forms known as DD5s that called for descriptions of the gatherings, the leaders and participants, and the groups’ plans.

Inside the police Intelligence Division, daily reports from both the field and the Web were summarized in bullet format. These digests — marked “Secret” — were circulated weekly under the heading “Key Findings.”
Hmm, circulated? We all know that once it gets into one report, it finds its way on to others, such as one of the aforementioned lists that the Washington Post mentioned.
President Bush ordered the intelligence community in 2003 to centralize data on terrorism suspects, and U.S. agencies at home and abroad now send everything they collect to TIDE. It arrives electronically as names to be added or as additional information about people already in the system.
We know from earlier in the article how some of it is processed.
Every night at 10, TIDE dumps an unclassified version of that day's harvest -- names, dates of birth, countries of origin and passport information -- into a database belonging to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center. TIDE's most sensitive information is not included. The FBI adds data about U.S. suspects with no international ties for a combined daily total of 1,000 to 1,500 new names.
Whew! I feel safer already, don't you? Is human nature so predictable that a man who's been dead for sixteen years (my dad) correctly foresaw the rise of a police state? And that the populace would sit back quietly and let it happen? No wonder people believe that Nostradamus stuff.

Fight or flight? That's the question, though I might have to walk if I'm on one of the many lists.


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