It seems that every day brings new revelations from mainstream media about governmental spying on Americans.
MS-NBC started the ball rolling on the 14th when they informed us that the Pentagon had a database of “protesters including the Raging Grannies and a dozen or so Quakers in Florida”:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10454316. This must have prompted the New York Times to publish a story they had been sitting on for a year: the scoop that Bush had ordered the super-secret “National Security Agency to start evesdropping on Americans”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/15/politics/15cnd-program.html following the 9/11 terror attacks. It’s revelation was an FBI agent’s email complaining about “radical militant librarians [who] kick us around”:http://www.ala.org/al_onlineTemplate.cfm?Section=alonline&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=111469. Two days later we received the almost-humorous news that the Department of Homeland Security was hard at work monitoring the “Massachusett’s inter-library loan system “:http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/12 [UPDATE: this has been “revealed to be a hoax”:http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/12–05/12–24-05/a01lo719.htm by the student]. Trying to outdo the DHS in ridiculous, we learned on the 20th that “the FBI has been infiltrating vegan potlucks”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/20/politics/20fbi.html. Today it turns out the “New York City Police Department”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/22/nyregion/22police.html has been doing its own extensive investigations into protesters. They even apparently staged mock arrests in an attempt to incite violence (their contribution to the self-parody has been to send officers undercover on bicycle protests).
Are we surprised by all this? Well, not really. The fears unleashed after 9/11 ignited a firestorm of paranoia in the ranks of spydom. Nonviolence.org got a call from the U.S. Secret Service when Osama bin Laden posted to the board that he wanted to kill President Bush (well, actually we’re pretty certain it was a acne-faced fourteen year old procrastinating on his geometry homework). When I shot “shot photos of a scuffle at a Biodemocracy protest a few months ago”:http://www.nonviolence.org/articles/2005/06/biodemocracy_pr.php a Philadelphia police detective was in my office an hour later wanting to see it (the “melee” was harmless except for a policeman with heart conditions who took that moment to have a heart attack).
While some monitoring and prudence is indeed necessary, what ties together the string of stories this week is the randomness of the targets. It’s as if the agencies had lost all sense of judgement. Anyone critical of the war (or even mainstream culture: witness the vegans) was considered a threat. All leads were investigated, no matter how silly.
While invading American’s privacy is upsetting and unwarranted, the greatest danger is the sheer mass of irrelevant information that’s been collected. What’s an agency to do with reams of data on bicycle riders and Quakers? Who’s watching the flight schools and fertilizer depots while Agent Nincompoop is trading hummus recipes with the cute vegan with the nosering?