Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Most Chilling Thing Is, We Will Be Told It Works

Sixty-three percent (63%) of Americans polled, when asked if surveillance of their personal telephone calls was a fair trade-off against possible terror strikes, said yes.


I am amazed by that.


These same Americans polled decisively against a National Identity Card. National identity cards are undisputed across Europe, but they smack too much of government in your face for Americans. What difference could possibly make up for this anomaly?


  • An identity card must be filled out, filled in, stamped, approved and carried around in a purse or back pocket. "Not in my country you don't!"

  • Telephone intercepts are fiddled-with in secrecy, unstamped, unapproved and carried surreptitiously within the archives of a government who didn’t bother to ask your permission. "Ah, who cares? If you have nothing to hide . . . "

BushhaydenAnd they could have asked, of course they could, just didn't.


CIA nominee Hayden’s premise of matching phone chatter to patterns is not unknown. The similarity to racial-profiling is inescapable and we are nearly 63% ambivalent about racial-profiling because we white Americans are approximately 63% of the race that is not profiled.


Yet, leaving that issue aside, the administration could have gone to Congress and asked for permission to extend a surveillance (formerly reserved for enemies on foreign shores) to the American butcher, baker and candle-stick maker. Congress might well have gone along. Had they gone along and had they made the public case for the ‘emergency nature’ of such a request, we would at least not have been blind-sided by yet another creepiness on the Bush presidential watch.


And they will tell you (if they care to) that public awareness is exactly what they didn’t want, exactly what would have kept the bad-guys from falling into the net. Yeah, sure. The ‘net’ thus far has jailed a possible shoe-bomber (no one ever actually blew up the shoe to see) and a self destructive, egocentric and delusioned Muslim loudmouth.


RacialprofilingPublic awareness is what makes law-enforcement work and (frustratingly) what has us all taking off our shoes in airports. Clandestine phone surveillance is (or has been until now) reserved for foreign lands where the laws are less pervasive and effective than ours.


So, where’s the big problem?


The big problem is that this pattern-searching of our private phone use will be hailed as a success. There will be no demonstrable evidence to support that conclusion because there are no measurable parameters. In the absence of elephants, elephant-repellant always works. If we suffer another terrorist attack, it will be in spite of surveillance and if we don’t, it will be because your call to the baby-sitter proved not to be part of a plot.


A true win-win for the White House. The Bush-Cheney administration boasts of success either way.


If that doesn’t actually sound like a big problem, consider the creative uses to which ‘success’ may be put. Expertise 'learned in the trenches of terrorist warfare' will be palatable to Americans when it is served up in the next war, ostensibly on


  • Drug interdiction

  • Corporate fraud

  • Income tax evasion

  • Etc., etc. and another twenty or thirty etceteras.

Should your phone intersect the surveilled number of a suspected terrorist, it may simply be that you ordered a pizza and, when he was late delivering, you called his cell-phone. “No problem, Madam, and thank you for your cooperation.”


But suppose, just suppose that as the success of the NSA terrorist program migrates to the drug war, your phone number shows up (in similar circumstances) on a dealer’s network. Maybe you and the dealer share no more than a taste for the same pizza.


What then?


Your husband works for Enron and talks regularly to the CEO because they share a trivial interest. Your Uncle Dave (the one who actually looks like David Letterman) gets picked up for tax fraud and you have the same accountant, some of the same investments and a few shared chat-lines.


What then? 


All of which can be put down to (A) the possibility of good plans having unintended consequences, (B) the need to squeeze lemons to make lemonade or (C) some other tired metaphor. Except that this government has an interest in abortion and all those connected with it, a preoccupation with the drug culture and all those connected with it, a fascination with premarital sex and all those connected with it, a determined stance against environmental policy and all those connected with it, a presumption of guilt when it comes to poverty and all those connected with it.


And if that were not the case, it would still be incredibly dangerous policy.
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