Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 2002/ 20 Kislev, 5763
The super snoops
are out to get you
The bad guys never give up. They understand that
persistence trumps resistance every time.
The bad guys here, the
government's snoops who are
determined to turn the America we
love into an Orwellian snooper
state, are not really bad, just naive,
foolish and blissfully ignorant of
both history and human nature.
When this newspaper reported
that the government was about to
put the most intimate records of
every American - every
credit-card purchase, every
magazine subscription, every drug
prescription, every airline ticket
purchased, every car rental, every
book purchased, every movie (pornographic or not) bought,
every event attended - on something called "a virtual,
centralized grand database," the denials were long and loud.
Pshaw! they said. Never happen, they said. How could
anyone think Congress would be a party to such a thing? All
suspicious stuff had been stripped from the homeland-security
But perhaps Americans have been sufficiently intimidated,
frightened, bullied and cowed so as not to object to anything
done to them in the name of making them "safe" from Islamist
terror. So now the Defense Department acknowledges that
well, yes, the super snooper program is actually alive and
"The bottom line is this is an important research project to
determine the feasibility of using certain transactions and
events to discover and respond to terrorists before they act,"
Edward Aldridge, undersecretary of acquisitions and
technology for the Department of Defense, announced this
He cited several examples of the kind of intimate details of
the average American's life that the government lusts to
catalog: sudden and large cash withdrawals, one-way air or
rail travel, and purchases of guns, ammunitions, chemicals or
agents that could be used to produce biological and chemical
weapons, as well as "reports of suspicious activity given to
law enforcement or intelligence services." There's no apparent
reason why these "reports of suspicious activity" could not
include tips given to cops or government agents by
utility-meter readers, postmen or other workmen with access
to American homes - just about what Attorney General
John Ashcroft briefly floated several weeks ago.
Now the congressional advocates of the
homeland-security legislation are eager to point out that the
snooping apparatus is not in the homeland-security legislation.
What is not clear is why Congress - so eager, Pilate-like, to
wash its hands of any implication - doesn't tell the Pentagon
to knock it off.
The Pentagon, with the bureaucracy's instinct for false
assurance, identifies the man behind the program as Rear
Adm. John Poindexter, the former national-security adviser to
President Reagan who was convicted of lying to Congress
about his cockamamie scheme to barter U.S. missiles to the
Ayatollah Khomeini on behalf of the Nicaraguan contras. An
appeals court overturned the convictions on a technicality.
"John has a real passion for this project," Mr. Aldridge
said of the database caper. But a shortage of passion is not
the problem, and indeed the problem-makers in the
government always come with an excess of passion. "What
this is talking about is making us a nation of suspects," Chuck
Pena, a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute in
Washington, tells Fox News. "I am sorry to say that citizens
should not have to live in fear of their own government, but
that is exactly what this is going to turn out to be."
How could it not? The government that is big enough to
give you everything you want, as Ronald Reagan used to say,
is a government big enough to take away everything you
have. A database "big enough and nimble enough," in Mr.
Pena's characterization, renders abuse irresistible.
In fact, the Pentagon concedes that it doesn't really know
what breed of beast it is setting loose. The Pentagon
spokesman insists that individual privacy rights will be
protected, but of course it's the government that will decide
when those rights are sufficiently protected. "I don't know
what the scope of this is going to be," he says.
If this sort of thing had been imposed by Bill Clinton, and
turned over to Hillary and Janet Reno to administer and
enforce, the foolish conservatives now leading the applause
would be screaming outrage. An earlier generation of
Americans would have had admirals strung from yardarms
from here to San Diego for even suggesting such
un-American scheming. Members of Congress, Republicans
and Democrats and liberals and conservatives would have
supplied the rope, or at least the rail, with tar and feathers.
Alas, the government, in the name of mindless security,
has convinced us that unless we give in to Orwellian solutions
the oil tap will run dry, our wives and daughters will be fitted
for burkas and we'll all sup on sheep's eyes and stuffed grape
leaves in celebration of September 11. It seems not to have
occurred to some of us that "our kind" might not be in charge
of the database forever.
But it has occurred to some others of
us. Scienta est potentia - "knowledge is power" - is the
chilling Latin motto over Adm. Poindexter's office. The better
advice is non illigitimi carborundum est - "Don't let the
[illegitimate ones] grind you down." They will if we let them.
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