Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On a related front

Oh, the bad old days when everyone was so upset with the ridiculous, error-riddled, intrusive, police-state-like "terrorst watch lists." But now that President Hopey-Changey is in office, that's all behind us, right?

Uh, not so much. From Sunday's Washington Post:
Newly released FBI data offer evidence of the broad scope and complexity of the nation's terrorist watch list, documenting a daily flood of names nominated for inclusion to the controversial list.
During the 12 months from April 2008 through March 2009, intelligence agencies proposed, on average, 1600 names a day be added to the list based on "reasonable suspicion." The FBI said that the additions may not be new people but "an alias or name variant for a previously watchlisted person." Even so, the ever-expanding list is said to contain more than 400,000 unique names and over 1 million total entries. That's something like six and a-half times the number on the list in June 2004.
Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI needed initial information that a person or group was engaged in wrongdoing before it could open a preliminary investigation.

Under current practice, no such information is needed. That led [Sen. Russ] Feingold to ask how many "assessments" had been initiated and how many had led to investigations since new guidelines were put into effect in December 2008. The FBI said the answer was "sensitive" and would be provided only in classified form.
In other words, none of the public's fucking business. However,
Feingold was given brief descriptions of the types of assessments that can be undertaken: The inquiries can be opened by individual agents "proactively," meaning on his or her own or in response to a lead about a threat. Other assessments are undertaken to identify or gather information about potential targets or terrorists, to gather information to aid intelligence gathering and related to matters of foreign intelligence interest.
So you can get on the list for pretty much any damn reason at all, including some individual FBI agent thinking you're "some kinda radical." I suppose it could be worse, though:
Feingold pointed to a November 2008 Justice Department inspector general audit showing that in 2006, approximately 219,000 tips from the public led to the FBI's determination that there were 2,800 counterterrorism threats and suspicious incidents that year.
That is, more than 98.7% of such tips involved - nothing. Not even up to the level of "suspicious." But we're not paranoid, we haven't been driven to suspect strangers who "look funny" or even neighbors or co-workers who say the wrong thing, oh, no. Not at all.

One other thing:
Nine percent of those on the terrorism list, the FBI said, are also on the government's "no fly" list.
Which means, unless that's a misprint or a misunderstanding (and as of Wednesday afternoon there is no correction to the online article), that 91% of those on the no-fly list are in addition to the "400,000 unique names" involved here.

Footnote, Actually It Could Be Worse Div.: The Daily Censored, a website of Project Censored, has a rundown of recent news chronicling the disturbing, even frightening, growth of the police state apparatus of the UK, including parents needing criminal background checks to supervise their own children in a public park; a nationwide tracking system of cars owned by people who have participated in demonstrations; allowing "town hall officials and civilian investigators" employed by government agencies the powers to "search homes, seize cash, freeze bank accounts and confiscate property" of minor offenders like fare dodgers; deliberately ignoring European court decisions against maintaining DNA databases of innocent people; a 1700% increase in spending on surveillance to include "giv[ing] officials access to details of every internet click made by every citizen" even though such information is inadmissible in court; and - and this is the one that got me - a new internet "game" with players "scouring thousands of CCTV cameras installed in shops, businesses and town centres across Britain looking for law-breakers," with monthly cash prizes for those who "catch the most criminals."

I used to really like traveling to the UK - I've been there seven or eight times - but now, even apart from the creepiness involved in flying anywhere and even though as a tourist who would only be there for a couple of weeks it would be extremely unlikely for any of this to affect me personally, the UK is increasingly becoming a place I just would not care to go.

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