Homeland Security and FBI Getting Sneakier Than Ever
REMEMBER THOSE CLAIRVOYANT COPS IN THE TOM CRUISE MOVIE MINORITY REPORT? THEY JUST MIGHT BE AROUND THE CORNER.
President Obama’s ever-suspicious Department of Homeland Security is, of course, “renowned” for earnestly probing the private parts of travelers at U.S. airports. But the range of its inquiries into likely disloyal Americans is growing wider and deeper. Dig this header for a dispatch from the international news agency Reuters: “Homeland Security watches Twitter, social media.” That’s just to start with.
Journalist Mark Hosenball reported that since June 2010, Secretary Janet Napolitano and her insatiable Homeland Security colleagues have been “operating a ‘Social Networking/Media Capability,’ which involves regular monitoring of ‘publicly available online forums, blogs, public Web sites and message boards.’”
Hosenball also wrote that “such monitoring is designed to help DHS and its numerous agencies,” including the Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
They may be looking at some of you on such Internet targets as YouTube and Facebook. And if you express opinions via Twitter or popular blogs, you may be databased for what you leave there. If you believe your government, then you’ll believe the DHS official who pledged that “the department would not keep permanent copies of the Internet traffic it monitors.” The DHS vows to hold it only “for no more than five years.” But whom will the Department of Homeland Security give it to then? The FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency? That’s not for citizens to know. Aren’t you aware there’s a war on?
This rampant tracking of us, which is funded by our tax money, is conducted at the DHS’s National Operations Center (NOC).What is surely going to more than casually interest many journalists looking into this massive surveillance operation is that they too are being monitored and cataloged even though there is barely a shred of evidence that those winding up in this dragnet have done anything illegal.
On January 7, 2012, RT (formerly Russia Today ) reported on a Department of Homeland Security announcement that the NOC’s Office of Operations Coordination “can collect personal information from news anchors, journalists, reporters or anyone who may use ‘traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.’”
On what Constitutional grounds is the government digging into the personal lives of journalists doing their job? Now that I’ve asked this hostile question, I guess the Department of Homeland Security and its Big Brother cohorts will eventually find out I have an FBI file starting with my long and irreverent disrespect for J. Edgar Hoover. On one page, an FBI official instructed his field hands: “Watch Hentoff!” My favorite insertion in that file was a footnote in a report to Hoover about something I’d written questioning whether the bureau’s longtime director had ever read the Constitution.
Said footnote went beyond characterizing me as “a person of interest.” It also mentioned: “Besides, he’s a lousy writer.” I figured that if I were to ever sue that FBI agent for defamation and lose, the upholding of the FBI’s judgment on what I do for a living could have hurt my career. Meanwhile, Robert Mueller’s FBI—I guess he has that lifetime director job now—is going much further to discover not only what citizens have allegedly done to threaten national security but also what we’re supposedly thinking of doing.
On January 26, 2012, DigitalTrends.com delivered a chilling preview of how the government can track our most speculative thoughts, not even dim intentions:“The FBI is looking into the creation of a new application that would allow them to not only monitor ongoing threats but also predict potential terrorist attacks and other crimes before they even happen. … If that sounds suspiciously like Minority Report, you’re not alone.”
This reference was a reminder that Minority Report , starring Tom Cruise, had scared me when I first viewed it. The 2002 film revolved around special cops in the year 2054 who could actually read the minds of people who looked law-abiding but would soon terrorize.
So what are we to make of today’s snooping? It is painfully clear that everything we post online is being watched. And if the FBI gets its new social media alert application—which seems inevitable— the eyes with which it scrutinizes our tweets and other messages will have superhuman vision. Less obvious is how the government’s quest to “protect” the public good will be abused by technology to further trample legitimate free speech.
Since the 9/11 attacks, Republican and Democratic majorities in Congress, as well as Presidents Bush and Obama, have shredded the U.S. Constitution. Keep and protect a copy of your own lest it be banned eventually.
Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America; Living the Bill of Rights ; and the forthcoming Is This Still America?